When my child was born my goal was to breastfeed for one year. I was open to the possibility of continuing beyond the one year mark, but from where I sat a full year of breastfeeding— with all of the time and discomfort and pain that went along with it— seemed like a lofty enough goal.
Twelve months later and on the verge of a move, my daughter was still happily breastfeeding and showing zero signs of slowing down. As the weeks ticked by people began asking if I planned to wean anytime soon. That was the point in time when I first sensed the categorization that all mothers face; was I the “crunchy” mom who passionately lobbied for breastfeeding, or was I the more mainstream mom who strictly adhered to the APA guidelines for my child?
Throughout our move I was continually reminded of what a gift breastfeeding was— not just to my child, but to me. It made a tough transition a lot easier by giving me a simple tool to comfort and smooth out the rough edges of our ever-changing world.
And yet… I grew weary. I began to desire the increased flexibility that a weaned child would give me.
I also noticed a distinctive shift in the tone of the conversations surrounding breastfeeding. For the first twelve months of my child’s life, I was a caring— heroic, even— mother for choosing to breastfeed. But breastfeeding a toddler makes a surprising number of people uncomfortable, and I quickly realized that this act of motherhood would now (at least at times) yield criticism in the place of praise.
I was surprised at how much this bothered me. I’d faced other parenting controversies relatively undaunted, but this time was different; this time, I was navigating uncharted waters with no clear plan in place. I had the aforementioned mixed feelings about continuing to breastfeed, thus making it more difficult to stand my ground.
Life continued to move at a hectic pace. After our move came the first set of canines (I am still shocked at how such a small body part can wreak so much havoc). A few short weeks of reprieve were followed by the second set, then a stomach bug, then a spring cold. Throughout all of this, breastfeeding remained the most powerful medicine to calm my child’s discomforts. Denying her the milk she so fervently desired never seemed like a viable option. My mother gut staunchly insisted that this was best for now, to be patient with my baby, with myself, as we weathered the various storms of young toddlerhood.
This isn’t meant to be a conversation about breastfeeding. I deeply admire all of the mothers who feed their babies in the best way they can. It’s a conversation about how motherhood is a changing force. Breastfeeding could easily be replaced with one’s approach to labor or sleep training and yield the same result.
All my life I’ve struggled with how others see me. This extends to caring for my child; I can’t deny that I want to be seen as a “good” mother. But there are times when the contrast between what others—whoever those others may be— will think of my parenting choices and what my child needs from me are too great. In those instances, I need to do what’s best for my child. Even when it’s unpopular.
There are endless choices to be made as a mom. The battles over weaning and sleep schedules will eventually give way to much more complex divides. While these choices may not be the singular force determining who our children become, they are anything but insignificant.
I can’t help but ponder as I, a woman with a thirst for sleep, begin this winding journey, will I be strong enough? Will I be brave enough to set aside the opinions and looks and contempt from others long enough to search my child and find what she needs from me? Will I have the presence of mind to make those decisions, rather than doing so on autopilot? It’s certainly easier said than done.
What I do know is that motherhood, along with the choices and controversies that accompany it, is a refining process by which we are molded and shaped. It’s a powerful force and it’s life-altering in more ways than one. As such I’m shaking the need for approval, one peanut-butter stained day at a time.