In the meantime, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Stephanie Gates, blogger behind A Wide Mercy, who’s sharing this space for the first time. I love Stephanie’s perspective, the words she uses and the ways she champions other mamas. I hope you do, too.
x’s and o’s, friends… always,
On Releasing the Way Things Should Be
by Stephanie Gates
Can I tell you a secret?
I’m tired of breastfeeding.
I hesitate to admit it, even to myself. Before I get the words out, I hear the reprimand in my head. Women spend years trying to have a baby. YOU waited for years for your babies! Remember how long you prayed for a baby to nurse? And how many new mothers work so hard to breastfeed their infants, and their bodies just won’t cooperate? You should enjoy this extra time with him!
I should. But I’m not.
I love my baby more than I can say. Nursing him this past year has been a lifeline, connecting us to one another during an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable time. I am unspeakably glad to be his mom, and for the time both nursing and bottle-feeding requires us to spend holding our little ones. But I birthed four babies in five years. My body has been keeping another human being alive since 2006. When I began this endeavor, Barack Obama was a newbie Senator from Illinois, and the housing market was booming.
I could have earned a PhD in growing and sustaining humans by now. I’ve been either pregnant or nurturing a baby for a long, long time.
Now I’m tired. I will always carry sweet memories of snuggling my baby in the middle of the night, or falling asleep on the couch with a newborn curled against me. I’ve loved nursing my babies, I really have. But I’m ready to move on.
Only, my baby just won’t wean.
More importantly, he won’t sleep through the night because he still wakes up to nurse. Twice a night, at least. Every single night of his life.
He’s over a year old. He sits in his high chair, signing “eat” and downing chicken, pasta, fruits, and yogurt just like his brothers and sister. He’s old enough to throw books from the shelf and to pull his sister’s hair when she encroaches his personal space. He is at the age when a baby should naturally wean.
He should. But he just won’t.
I have cried, I have pleaded, I have prayed. I’ve complained to my husband and asked every friend for advice. Nothing has worked. That stubborn baby refuses to give up. I tried reasoning with him, explaining he is getting to be a big boy and really doesn’t need this anymore. He didn’t buy it. I tried reasoning with God, insisting I would be a better mother if I could just please, for the love, have my body to myself again and get a decent night’s sleep. Nothing changed.
So I did the next most rational thing. I asked Google for help.
It’s been years since I turned to Google to help me parent. But last night, as I dreaded the thought of another night of sitting up with my baby to nurse him in the wee hours, I typed in “13-months-old sleep?” and “weaning over one year?” I scrolled through the results and remembered why I stopped asking Google in the first place. The first website bemoaned my selfishness, that I would even consider weaning a baby his age. They insisted it was good and natural for 13-month-olds to wake up numerous times at night to nurse. What isn’t natural, they said, is a mother who expects her baby to sleep twelve hours at a time.
The next site smugly declared how easy it is to get a baby to wean – and, by extension, sleep – at his age. “Within a few days, he should be happy and adjusted to his new schedule,” it said. Apparently my baby never read that article, because I’ve already tried their approach. It was a spectacular disaster. Every time I dropped a daytime feeding, he woke up once more at night. He was happy all right – happy to wait until 2 a.m. to declare his displeasure at our new arrangement. At one point he wasn’t nursing at all during the day, but woke up screaming every two hours at night. Maybe he can adjust to that change in our schedule, but I cannot.
Another site gave a list of common mistakes mothers make. Perfect! Please tell me what I’m doing wrong. If I’m wrong, then I can fix my mistake, and if I can fix it, I can wean him. I read the list eagerly. Not a single thing applied. Not one. According to this site, I was doing all the right things for my baby. Damn.
I sighed and closed the computer. I closed my eyes, and suddenly a thought occurred to me.
Maybe fatigue and nursing isn’t my problem. Maybe my problem is how tightly I’m holding on to the idea of the way things should be.
Instead of changing my circumstances, maybe it is time for me to change my expectations. Maybe I need to accept where we are, and let it be okay. I am tired of breastfeeding, tired in general. I would give anything for just one night of uninterrupted sleep. But my baby needs me anyway. He’s happy and healthy. He eats and drinks well, yet he still needs to nurse often. It doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes, and it’s nowhere close to where we should be. But it’s where we are.
Maybe it’s time to ask for a different sort of help. Instead of asking God for an escape, maybe I need to ask that He will widen my capacity. Help me to be gracious to my baby in the middle of the night. Help me to dig deep and be patient with my other children on the days when I’m especially tired. If you won’t make my life easier, God, then please help me find grace, and offer it to my family, in the middle of my exhaustion.
I am so ready to move into the next phase of life with small children. But this stage just won’t end. Maybe, instead of clutching all the shoulds, it’s time to ask for the grace to live where I am.
I am Stephanie – mom to four beautifully rambunctious little kids and wife to a guy who still makes me smile. Last spring I moved to Colorado, where I fell in love with the mountain air and the Anglican church. If you have ever abandoned religion in search of faith, ever had to leave your hometown to find your home, or ever climbed to the very tip-top of a jungle gym to rescue an overzealous toddler, come sit by me. We’ll talk.
You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection series posts here.