Image and text by Sara Waldecker.
The full-term breastfeeding story I’m going to begin by telling is my story. I don’t remember it, though.
I was exclusively breastfed by my own mother in a time and place when doing such a thing was rare. I nursed until shortly after my little sister arrived when I was two and a half, tandem nursing with her until I moved on.
I have no memory of actually breastfeeding. I clearly remember the birthing center Bradley birth of my baby sister–I cut the cord. I remember snuggling with my family. I remember nursing my baby dolls and sleeping in one big bed with my family and feeling safe… But no memories of nursing.
I can’t even recall knowing that my family was at all different until I was much older. My extended family breastfed, wore and often co-slept with their babies.
When my husband and I find out I was expecting our daughter, I never once questioned how I was going to feed her.
I’m so incredibly lucky in that respect! Breastfeeding was not always easy, and it’s certainly not always fun. I’ve had the same cracked nipples, oversupply, blocked ducts, milk blisters, and latch problems as anyone else does.
Yet, as I saw the mothers around me given misinformation, struggling with pain alone, accused of martyring themselves, giving up and doubting themselves, I can’t tell you how profoundly grateful I feel that my family was around to give me confidence and provide the advice that sustained me through the toughest times.
Listening to my grandmother tell me about pumping and breastfeeding in the 1950s while I cluster fed my newborn daughter, hearing her tell me that my daughter’s eyes look just like mine did while I nursed at my mother’s breast, and having her gently kiss her great-granddaughter’s head while I breastfed her brings tears to my eyes nearly four years later.
Being able to breastfeed my three and a half year old with her family around her, loving and supporting both of us without reservation no matter when she decided she’s done–that’s one of the best gifts she could ever possibly receive.
As my daughter has gotten older, I’ve never been asked by my loved ones when I was going to cut our nursing years short. They know and respect that it’s Evelyn’s decision. No one around me questions the benefit of so much breastfeeding. My mother told me when my baby was very small that I would want to continue well into the toddler years for it’s ability to calm an unhappy or frenetic little one.
I feel like I haven’t only just given my daughter the best start in life, for as long as she needs it; I’ve joined the women in my family in doing something very beautiful, very selfless and very difficult.
And that, that is what all of us who are giving our toddlers and preschoolers our milk are doing. We’re normalizing it for our families. We’re amassing knowledge that we can pass on to any mom we care about, and forming a new, supportive village.