I’m the youngest of three kids, fairly well-adjusted (my siblings might disagree), and have a great and close relationship to my mother. However, if there’s one thing I could change about my childhood, it’s that I wish I couldn’t remember my mother nursing me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of breastfeeding and I’m very thankful my mother did that with each of us. I’m a nutritionist and I know all about the health benefits of nursing. But whereas my mother stopped nursing my brother and sister around 15 and 18 months — still a pretty long time and a really long time back in the 1980s when she was doing this — she kept nursing me until the age of three. Three years and three and a half months, as she confirmed for me last night.
I remember nursing and I remember the taste and everything. And it kind of weirds me out. I love my mother but I feel kind of sketched out about her breasts. Not in the logical sense. I appreciate that she nursed us and I know that there’s nothing too damaging about nursing children that long. But I just seem to feel more confusion about breasts, and my mother’s breasts in particular, than my siblings do. In fact, they seem to have literally no confusion about breasts. They do agree that it’s weird that mom nursed me so long. And I know that they wouldn’t do that with their children.
We’ve talked about it and even my mother concedes that she was nursing me that long mostly because she was sad about not being able to have more children. I was her third C-section so my dad got fixed after I was born. My mother is a great mother and she had always wanted more children. So she kind of clung on to me and babied me. I guess all parents do that with their youngest children to some extent. But they seem to get by without nursing three feet tall pre-schoolers, you know?
Nursing for that length of time helped my mother cope with the end of her childbearing years. But it didn’t help me have proper respect for my mother’s body. And I think it may have confused me about my own breasts. Now that I’m married — and hoping for children — I think I’m doing better. But when I started developing as a teenager, I couldn’t conceive (no pun intended) of breasts apart from their service to children’s health. And so whenever people wanted to talk about developing breasts or whenever boys noticed mine, I felt like I was being pressured into having children.
Again, I don’t want to make this out to be a bigger deal than it was. Obviously we all survived. But when I see covers like that Time magazine cover asking if you’re “mom enough” to nurse a 50-pound boy, I think sometimes the opposite might be more true. It might take more courage and strength as a mother to wean a child than it does to cling to nursing beyond a reasonable point.