Saturday, October 14, 2006

Yes, He's Old Enough to Ask For It

I'm talking about Simon, age 2, and I'm talking about breastfeeding.

When Anna was about 3 months old, I shared a recital with my clarinet quartet. We had our customary gathering of celebration afterwards, and of course, Anna was there with me. I went nowhere without her, because she was breastfed and didn't take a bottle. I was the only woman in the quartet, and Bryan and I were the only couple at the gathering with a child, so I stole off to an upstairs bedroom when Anna needed to nurse, in the interest of my comfort and the comfort of the others present. (Today, I would probably just nurse right there, because all of those people have seen me nurse in far more public places, like concert sites.)

When I returned from my upstairs exile, a conversation started between me and some of my more curious co-workers.

"Does it hurt?"

"Is it...messy?"

"Is it really any different from the stuff you can buy in a can?"

I enjoyed answering these questions and giving folks the opportunity to learn about something they had likely never had any contact with, at least any that they remembered (though most of my age group was not breastfed at all). But then, the conversation turned a bit:

"I'm glad I don't have to see it."

"It's OK when they're babies, but when they're old enough to ask for it, that's just gross."

This "old enough to ask for it" business has come up more than once in my nearly 4 years of breastfeeding. It seems that public opinion includes provisions for the non-verbal child, but one who can indicate with his voice that he wants to breastfeed is just a blink away from a pervert. Turning gay. A molester in the making. Porn addict. Right?

I had to laugh about this at the time. When Anna was just 3 months old...heck, when she was 3 days old, she let me know, in no uncertain terms, that she wanted to breastfeed. She "asked" for it by smashing her little bobbly head into my chest, pulling back and quickly "banging" on me. After a few weeks, she'd make a little noise: "uh? uh? uh? uh-uh-uh-uh!" There was never any question what she wanted.

Of course, once she got to be 3 years old, and beyond, Anna could clearly express, in conversational terms, that she wanted to nurse. She told me what it tasted like (macaroni), why she liked it so much ("because I love your smell, Mamma"), which side she wanted, and how long she expected to be there. Now that she's done, she still tells me, in a wistful tone, "I sure did like mamma-milk. I used to enjoy it so much, when I was a baby." She still likes to be cradled in my arms when we're sharing some special time together...only now we talk or laugh instead of nursing.

Simon, at age 2, is nowhere near his sister's verbal level at that age, but he has his own way of communicating. One of his first "words" was un, which is how he describes breastfeeding. (This is not to be confused with untch, which is his word for drinking anything else from a cup, or even a reference to the cup itself.) Simon is happy to let me know not only that he wants to nurse, but where! "Un-cha" is nursing in the chair. "Un-bit" is nursing in the bed. "Un-ball" is nursing here at the computer, while I'm sitting on my yoga ball. Lately, when he's tired, Simon's been asking for "un-car!" (nursing in the car!), and getting very upset when I tell him we are not going to the car to nurse.

Having been through a full course of breastfeeding, through a primarily child-led weaning (with some encouragement from me, tandem nursing was starting to wear me down a little bit after almost 2 years of it), I can't imagine denying a child's requests for nursing (I'm talking in the grand scheme of things -- there are definitely times I distract Simon, like when he asks for "un-store"). He knows what he wants, and he asks for it the way he knows how.

And he's always so happy with a tummy full of "un."

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