Thursday, 15 September 2016

First Foods and Final Feeds


It has been a month of no longers recently.

I am no longer 'extended' breastfeeding.
I am no longer tandem nursing.
I am no longer exclusively breastfeeding.

The first two I'll admit I'm rather pleased about. Feeding my 4 year old through pregnancy was an uncomfortable experience but even that didn't prepare me for feeding her after the baby was born. I was hoping for a magical bonding experience: I got extreme discomfort and almost a sense of revulsion. The feeling of aversion was overwhelming.

Don't get me wrong, there were perks. In the early days when I got engorged and Ezra's tongue tie meant he wasn't feeding efficiently I was very grateful to have a child who had feeding down and could bring some much needed relief. But when things settled down it became toe-curling. Just with her, weirdly, feeding Ezra never bothered me.

I started setting limits until eventually we were down to one very short feed in the morning. She started to complain that the milk didn't taste right, or she couldn't get much, and I suggested maybe her mouth was changing shape so it wasn't as easy to keep feeding. (There is some science behind that I think although I was using it rather selectively!) I gently raised the idea that she would eventually be too old to breastfeed, and off her own back she said she'd stop when she started school.

Phew.

In the end, it didn't even take that long. In mid-August, the day before we went on a 2 night trip to the coast, she had her morning feed then said she was done having mum milk now. When we got back from the holiday she asked a couple of mornings but when I gently said, "I thought you said you were finished with mum milk?" she would happily distract herself playing with Ezra. I think one morning she wouldn't be put off, and then one night she woke up and asked for mum milk. That was the last time I fed her, sat on her be in darkness.

I thought I'd feel sad when she stopped breastfeeding, but the relief of not having to endure the discomfort any more, and the fact I've still got Ezra to feed, has meant that I'm actually happy about it. I feel a bit guilty for nudging her towards weaning by putting limits on feeding and planting the idea that she would grow out of it, but in the end she was happy enough to stop and, for goodness sake, I fed her for FOUR AND A HALF YEARS! What the heck is there to feel guilty about in that? I've fed her through teething, developmental leap, toddler tantrums, scraped knees and all the challenges being a preschooler brings. And I do believe it's helped her to be the confident girl she is by giving her a sense of attachment and grounding through these tough early years.

Then a couple of weeks later, Ezra turned six months and started eating solid foods. And he loves his food! On the second day of weaning we gave him curry: every time he ran out of food he would bang on his tray and grumble until we gave him more! While it's interesting and exciting to see him enjoy his grub, I do feel sad about the fact I'm not his sole source of nourishment any more. He's my last baby so I will never exclusively breastfeed again. I'll never look at my baby and think, "I grew every ounce of that!" (And he weighed nearly 20lb at six months so that is an achievement I think!)

I know that solid food isn't the end. I know I probably will 'extended' breastfeed again. Heck, if he's like his sister I might have another four years of breastfeeding ahead of me! But coming to the end of so many parts of my breastfeeding journey all at once feels very strange.

I'm so proud of myself for what I have achieved. I think back to the early weeks with Eleanor when I didn't think I'd last a month breastfeeding, and can't believe I managed it. And I'm still managing it. I may not be a great mum most of the time, but if there's one thing I can do well, it's nurse my little ones!

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Summer holidays, starting school and lost opportunities

I had such plans for the last six weeks.

We had a long list of things to do, places to go. We were going to have so much fun. Above all, I was going to shower my 4 year old with love and affection, filling up her bucket with assurance in the hope it would help her to cope with the behavioural expectations school will place on her.

Instead, I seem to have spent much of the holidays stressed, tense, shouty and angry. And her behaviour has got worse, creating a vicious cycle.

What went wrong?

Maybe I planned too much, overestimated what we could achieve whilst still having much needed downtime. Maybe I underestimated how hard it would be to balance the needs of a 4 year old and a baby, even with my husband on hand for most of the time. Maybe we tried to do too much in terms of housework, meaning that one on one time with the kids was too scarce.

And I know I'm probably focussing on the negative. We have had fun. We've spent time with family and friends, been on a lovely (if tiring) glamping holiday to the Yorkshire coast and enjoyed a few day trips too. At times, it's been great.

But the prospect of school has loomed large. I've been preoccupied with getting her ready - getting her to dress herself, go to the toilet in time, eat sensibly. Worrying about how her strong willed, assertive, defiant and mischievous nature will be received by school. Will her self esteem be crushed as she sees her name on the red traffic light again and again? Will her self-perception as a 'naughty kid', started by nursery, become ingrained? Will they see her as a go-getter who will one day use her traits to go far, or as a nuisance who needs to be tamed?

I set myself a gargantuan task in trying to kerb her challenging behaviour in just six weeks, while also looking after a baby, working freelance and trying to get on top of all the jobs that have been neglected since Ezra arrived in the scene. And now, just days off starting school, I feel deflated. The opportunities we seemed to have at the start of the summer are now lost, and I've not been the mother I planned to be.

I hope my fears about school are misplaced. I hope that we've had enough good times this holiday for Eleanor to have good memories of it. Above all, I hope that she knows I love her unconditionally - even if I shout a lot.