I’ve always been an advocate for breastfeeding….but let me be clear, I had my limits. I used to give a major side-eye to moms that breastfed for unimaginable lengths of time, like beyond a year. Ugh! I didn’t understand it. It seemed weird, unnatural, and like some strange mother-child dependency thing that just went on way too long. Clearly, a breastfeeding mother carrying on for this length of time needed some sort of intervention to end this inappropriate behavior.
Where did these thoughts come from? Who knows. Perhaps because they said so. Or maybe I didn’t know anyone personally that breastfed for that long. It’s also possible that I just plucked this idea from the American page of “Good Breastfeeding.” Whatever the case, I was part of the they that pushed these ideas. Breastfeeding beyond a year was just, as my toddler eloquently says, “GROSS!”
I breastfed my oldest for 6 months and I felt that was waaaay too long. When I had my second child, I actually breastfed for an entire year *gasp.* That was a huge deal to me because I never thought I would go through with it for that long. But this little diva wouldn’t take bottles and didn’t care about my little breastfeeding societal rules. So I caved and kept going. One year was obviously the perfect stopping point because:
- Anything beyond that was udderly ridiculous (pun intended)
- Society agreed
Plus, the pediatrician didn’t help. As I was nearing the 12 month mark she proclaimed, “you still breastfeed?” She was basically telling me to wrap it up and that message was the icing on the cake that confirmed the rule that breastfeeding beyond a year was unacceptable. At exactly 12 months, I pulled the plug, bought some cabbage leaves, and went cold turkey.
Then I changed my mind
When I had my 3rd child I noticed something in me was changing. By this point, I had a lot of breastfeeding support, was becoming a self-appointed lactation expert consultant (aka know-it-all), and I was beginning to understand and appreciate that breastfeeding was actually an amazing miracle! Most importantly, I was extremely proud of myself!
I no longer cringed at the thought of breastfeeding beyond a year and started to question why we even rush to end nursing. Abrupt weaning seemed a bit unnatural and borderline cruel, now that I thought about it. Omg, had I been a monster? I decided to let my last child naturally wean when he was ready and hoped it happened quickly because I didn’t think prolonged breastfeeding was for me.
A breastfeeding, PR nightmare
I was totally unprepared for what happened next. My baby kept nursing. And nursing. And nursing. We officially had a problem. My plan to let him naturally wean seemed to be backfiring before my eyes and some days he seemed to be nursing even more! What the heezy had I gotten myself into? I thought, omg, I’m becoming THAT mom!
As I ventured into months 14, 15, and 16, there were no signs of this magical self-wean situation the “more fortunate” moms spoke of. Why couldn’t I be the lucky mom whose baby threw the deuces to the breast and let her just walk away free and clear? But I was facing another, more dire problem.
A PR nightmare, so to speak. Although a small circle of individuals knew I was still breastfeeding, it wasn’t public knowledge. I didn’t exactly lie about it, I simply never mentioned breastfeeding after the one-year mark and everyone assumed it was a done-deal. It was a breastfeeding don’t ask-don’t tell policy going on and I ain’t no snitch! I wasn’t about to voluntarily sign up for this public ridicule.
Breastfeeding and the black community
You’re probably thinking, what public ridicule? I’m glad you asked! You see, breastfeeding isn’t always talked about openly in the black community and breastfeeding beyond a year is, well, not always well-received. Don’t get me wrong, black women DO breastfeed despite a common narrative that we don’t. But stigmas still exist, and many older black women did not breastfeed in their day for various reasons. I discuss this more in “Breastfeeding While Black. Let’s Normalize It.” In short, breastfeeding is typically not a subject talked about over dinner or out in the open with “mixed company.” And nursing a toddler in public? ForgetabouTit!
My secret life of breastfeeding
I was already quasi-worried about what others in my community would think about me breastfeeding, let alone breastfeeding a toddler. The perceived cultural “snub” made it easier for me to hide because no one would ever fathom I was still nursing a two year-old. And when I say hide, I mean that literally. I nursed in the car, in a closed bedroom, in the comfort of my own home.
They laughed at me
At one point I did try to check myself. What if I was just being hyper-sensitive and this was my paranoia talking? Eighteen months in, I decided to test the waters and admitted to a group of associates I still breastfed.
LAUGHTER FILLED THE AIR.
And they weren’t being mean. It wasn’t like a “ha ha look at you” type of laugh, it was a “that was the best joke of the year” type of laugh. When I followed it up with “I’m not joking,” an awkward silence commenced and I died a little inside. In that moment, I stood there muted, embarrassed, and then ashamed that I was embarrassed. More importantly, it validated my fear of ridicule.
Now I’m one that can normally laugh at myself. Heck, I mock myself all the time and make myself the butt of a lot of jokes! But not this day. I cowered in shame. I wanted to hide and cry. I kicked myself for even opening up and I made a vow that I would not admit to anyone else that I still breastfed.
Dissecting the shame
After my son’s 2nd birthday I panicked. On one hand, I wasn’t ashamed that he still breastfed because I was totally fine with my decision by then. But on the other hand I was ashamed to admit it. I was afraid that people would think I was weird, ruining my child, or that I had some sort of dependency to feeding him. And then it hit me- I was afraid of people like the OLD me!
These falsehoods birthed a complicated shame and I was petrified of the potential stigma. I was also worried that I would never be able to wean and imagined myself on the cover of Time Magazine breastfeeding a kindergartner, the laughing stock of the world. The dichotomy of my “problem” was quite complicated and the solution wasn’t exactly clear. But my husband supported me, so I continued.
My BF buddy
I also found comfort in a dear friend that I met online named Morgan. We had sons days a part and she was still breastfeeding too. We found humor in our “breastfeeding hostage” situations and even competed to see who would end first. One week I told her “this is the week, I’m weaning.” She said “me too.” A couple weeks later we checked in on each other and laughed that we were both STILL breastfeeding, and at that very moment.
But unlike me, Morgan didn’t have any shame because she had always planned to breastfeed for a long time. As a white woman, she didn’t have a community stigma to fight against. We were opposites in that regard.
Weaning was mutual
When my son was 2.5, we came to a mutual understanding that our time was done. I look up to those who were not ashamed to admit to breastfeeding beyond a year and quite frankly, didn’t care what others thought. Like my friend Alexandria that published My Tit’s, My Terms, Why I’m Still Nursing A Toddler. I realized I was perfectly normal all along! Not only is breastfeeding beyond a year OK, it’s OK to talk about it too and there are many people that agree. And THEY say I am normal.
I am writing this because I am now able to step back and reflect on my past breastfeeding insecurities and hope that others can feel empowered through my own revelations. I am no longer ashamed to speak about it and hope I am able to reach someone that can relate.
If you’re struggling with breastfeeding past your cut-off date, I leave you with these final thoughts:
- Forget a clock. There is no magical stopping point
- Tune society out and listen to your baby and body
- Find a breastfeeding buddy or support group; there are strength in numbers
- Be encouraged
Stop listening to what they say and “worry about yourself!” Focus on your body and your baby. That is where your breastfeeding destiny lies.
Thanks for reading!
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