Saturday, May 9, 2009


We have been held prisoners in the Jiffy Lube waiting room for over an hour. Sophia has briefly manipulated and discarded every toy that I brought along, we’ve scoured OK! magazine for shots of celebrity babies, and I’ve exhausted my supply of organic cheddar bunnies. She is wilting. Sophia looks up at me, or rather that area just below my neck, points to her own chest in an invented sign and pleads, “mi, mi, mi.”

Not just yet, I whisper, feeling the eyes of all four men in the room upon us. When we get home. Soon.

My name is Melissa, and I am an extended breast feeder (EBFer). For those unfamiliar with the term, this means that I have chosen to continue to breastfeed Sophia beyond a year.

There is some irony in this. I can remember years ago, before I was a mother, before Kevin and I were even married, I ran into an acquaintance on the street who told me she was headed to a La Leche League meeting. Because she from Spain, I assumed it was a ex-pat mothers’ support group. But when I mentioned the encounter to another friend, she rolled her eyes and said, Oh, THOSE PEOPLE. They’re the ones who believe in breastfeeding ten-year-olds. And we agreed, if a baby could ask for it, it was probably time to give it up.

Years later, but still before I had Sophia, a very respected colleague and dear friend of mine confided that her four-year-old was still breastfeeding. I know the shock registered on my face. I am ashamed to say I made an inappropriate joke, because I didn’t know how else to react. I didn’t understand why someone would even consider this. I assumed that it was attachment parenting gone wild.

Now, here I was, 17 months post-partum, in the Jiffy Lube with my hyper-verbal toddler requesting the goods. How did I get here?

1. I don’t mind sharing, in fact, I feel compelled to share that breastfeeding was a hard-won success for me. As “natural” as it may be, in the beginning both of us had no idea how to do it. Certainly, it didn’t help that I hemorrhaged after the birth, developed a rare hematoma, and lost a ton of blood. Because of the trauma, my milk came in late, and Sophia lost over 10% of her bodyweight before things got flowing. Throughout this period, I pumped to stimulate production, which led to a surplus that rendered me able to feed every hungry baby on the block. When she nursed, Sophia choked and sputtered as the milk shot down her throat. She clamped down on my nipples to stem the flow until I was cracked and sore and bleeding. I cried every time she latched on, with pain and frustration that I was unable to do this very simple thing. It required every bit of tenacity I could muster to see it through.

One saintly lactation consultant and eight weeks later, Sophia and I found our groove. When the pain finally lifted, it was one of the most deeply satisfying experiences I have ever had. I was feeding my child with food produced by me. When Kevin would come home at night and we would exchange stories of the day, I would begin with, “I kept our baby alive with my body. What did YOU do today?” I take great pride in the fact that I stuck it out for her sake—not in holier-than-thou martyry sort of way, but in a I-kicked-breastfeeding-ass kind of way.

2. I would never continue breastfeeding simply for my sake, or jut because I worked so hard to get to this point. I’ve always thought that if Sophia initiated weaning, I’d go with the flow. And so, as she’s grown busier with life, she’s generally less interested in breastfeeding, and we’ve cut back. I don’t whip out the boob every time she gets a distressed look on her face. I don’t nurse her to sleep. It doesn’t replace food or all fluids. And I very rarely initiate. She generally asks first thing in the morning, once during the day, and once as part of her nighttime routine, and I oblige. Fact is, she likes it too. Sometimes, as she’s drinking she pulls back and exclaims, “Mmmmmm!” I like knowing that she thinks my milk is delicious.

3. It’s also about health. I was sick with chronic ear infections throughout my toddler and preschool years. So was Kevin. I wound up having three myringotomies. We both had our adenoids removed. The mantra we heard in our birthing and breastfeeding classes was that breastfeeding reduced the incidents of ear infections. Ditto for diarrhea. We hope that Sophia will not have to go through what we did.

4. And then there’s vanity. You just can’t beat the calorie burn.

So, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, Sophia and I will continue to breastfeed as long as it is mutually desirable, which might be next week or it might be months from now. But one thing I am certain of: I am sorry for having judged others for the choices they made.

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