Breastfeeding, the story of Archie Valentino by Marcia Leone

I haven’t been overly vocal about my breastfeeding story, rather choosing to cheer from the sidelines in support of the brave mamas – particularly in the Instagram community -who have made it their mission to #normalizebreastfeeding. You see, although I obviously applaud and support this movement, I feel it’s much easier to be loud and proud when breastfeeding a 6 month old, but the reality is, it’s almost taboo to “still” be nursing a two or three year old. I recently weaned Archie at two and a half and to be honest, I felt judged for continuing to nurse after 12 months. The sad thing is, the judgment didn’t come from faceless people in a crowd, it came from people I know- including other mothers who breastfed their babies.

My objective isn’t to call people out or tell anyone how they should or shouldn’t react, but more to find out why our natural instinct is to feel uncomfortable or think it is “weird” to see a toddler or older child being nursed. The answer I keep coming back to is that we have been conditioned to view breasts as sexual objects- when in actual fact, they are not. Their purpose is to produce milk to nourish and comfort their children. I remember being in my early 20s and seeing my aunt feed her three year old. I was completely shocked and although I didn’t vocalize it, it made me a little uncomfortable. Now that I have been a breastfeeding mother, I can assure you there is absolutely nothing sexual about nursing- for the mother or the child, and by framing it as “odd” is to sexualize our children. And that is really sad.

What doesn’t make sense is that we are frowned upon if we don’t nurse a newborn, and then frowned upon for continuing to feed past 12 months. So unless you fit into this window, you’re probably going to feel judged and start to doubt yourself. Hopefully our story will not only offer support to those who continue to nurse, but remind others that we don’t know every mother’s journey, so let’s support and accept the decisions they make- weather that is not being able to/choosing not to breastfeed, nursing for a few months or a few years. We are all doing the best we can with the cards we are dealt.

Archie’s birth is my happy place. It definitely didn’t go as planned. I was induced, administered IV antibiotics and had a traumatizing, very long second stage, but the moment I pulled that sweet boy onto my chest, I was in heaven. One blissed-out, loved-up mama bear. I was overwhelmed with the love I felt for this tiny being we had created. Archie rutted up my chest and latched on in his own time and we basked in our “brand new family” glow.

12 hours later our world was turned upside down. Within minutes of the midwife telling us she noticed bright green spit-up on Archie’s blanket, he was whisked away to be poked and prodded and passed from Doctor to Doctor for invasive scans. An hour later he was transferred to the Sydney Chien Hospital’s NICU, placed in an incubator and hooked up to machines and IVs. I couldn’t hold him and had to ask permission to touch my own baby. I kept hearing our lactation consultant’s voice in my head saying not to let anyone hold him for a few days so we could establish our bond. I stood by helplessly, my head spinning, feeling as though I was in a bad dream. I kept telling my husband through my sobs that I just wanted him back in my belly. I had to fight every instinct not to scoop him up and run away.

Marcia BF 2

We were told Archie needed emergency surgery for a mal-rotation of the bowel. I collapsed in tears and felt like I was out of my body- looking at the scenario from above. Surely this could not be happening. During his surgery I prayed, and cried, and rocked and ached to be with him, comforting and humming to him like I did every day when he was in my tummy. I was worried he would feel I abandoned him to strangers.

Surgery went well, but the recovery was long and there were a few setbacks. The next three weeks were a blurry emotional roller-coaster. Exhilaration when we hit a milestone and despair when we had a setback. I refused to go home without my baby, so after I was discharged we stayed at a hotel next to the hospital. I was by his side every minute I was allowed to be- to the point where the nurses were annoyed. Late at night my husband and I would play music to sooth him and Archie’s favorite was Crowded House- Don’t Dream it’s over- it instantly calmed him. To this day I crumble every time I hear it.

Archie wasn’t able to receive any milk through the feeding tube for a week- only clear fluid by an IV. His veins kept bursting and it would take three or four nurses to hold him down as they tried to find a new one. At one point, the only option left was his head. He was so hungry. He wailed for hours on end and I would sit by him with breasts literally bursting with milk. It was torture for us both. My body was physically aching to comfort him. I clearly remember standing by his crib and telling him that when we could start feeding I would never deny him, we would sleep side by side and he could feed whenever he wanted for however long he wanted. I focused all my energy into expressing so that when he was well enough he could receive my milk drop by drop via a feeding tube. I pumped every three hours for weeks- the hospital fridges were overflowing- I gave Dairy Farmers a run for their money.

Two excruciatingly long weeks later, I was finally allowed to feed my baby. I was told it may take a while for him to latch on, but before the nurse had finished her sentence he was on- suckling away like he’d been doing it every minute of the day. This was one of the best moments of my life. So you see, breastfeeding is more than nourishment for Archie; it is an emotional connection- a bond, a comfort between a mother and her son. Something we will never take for granted.

Marcia BF 3

Although he fed easily, our journey wasn’t without its challenges. At about 6 weeks I developed Nipple Vasospasm, which meant due to poor circulation and cold extremities, I would have intense, toe curling pain every time I fed. I would cry coming up to feed time and even though it was summer, had to wear socks and gloves when I fed. I was quite the site- a topless crying, mad women with a breast pump on one nipple, baby on the other, wearing socks, gloves, undies. But, I persevered and it subsided within a few weeks. Then, of course we went through the teething/biting phase at about 8/9 months, but this too passed and we continued to feed into Archie’s second year.

I felt I was ready to start weaning when Archie was 18 months, but he hadn’t dropped any feeds, wouldn’t take a bottle and definitely let me know he wasn’t ready. I knew he still needed to nurse. I know, I know he didn’t “need” it for survival (I was told this continually by everyone) but he needed it for comfort, and to me, his emotional need was just as important as the physical, nutritional need (of course, there are still nutritional benefits too). And so I continued.

When friends asked if I was “STILL breastfeeding?” their response was rarely, “Wow, good on you”. It was often met with shocked expressions and advice on how to be strict and say ” no”. I was actually told (by a breastfeeding mother) that I was either a “freak or mad for breastfeeding so long.” I gave up trying to defend my decision and the last year I actually hid the fact that I still nursed from those who didn’t know. I found support through online communities with like-minded mothers who helped me realize I wasn’t alone and it was actual quite normal for some one/two year olds to still be feeding throughout the night. I also connected with some mamas through Instagram- one in particular, who had a boy the same age as Archie. Like me, she felt ready to stop, but wanted her son to be ready enough so that weaning was a gentle, gradual process. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to connect with another mother who totally gets you. We sent each other “Boob File” updates and have supported each other through weaning.

When he turned two, my naturopath prescribed herbs to start drying up my milk and we night weaned by having him sleep with my husband. It wasn’t super easy and there were some difficult nights, but I knew it was time for us to both sleep through. Archie was old enough to start reasoning with, so each feed I would tell him that my “boobies hurt” and we put Band-Aids on them. He picked them out- Mickey Mouse or Spiderman and helped to put them on. It took a good 3-4 months, but we did it pretty much without tears. And I feel proud of that.

There is not one part of me that regrets nursing Archie for so long. The only regret I have is that I let other people’s judgments get to me. Next time, I won’t hide it or make excuses. I will say “Yes! I still breastfeed… aren’t I doing a wonderful thing for my child?”

Big love to the amazing Doctors at Sydney Children’s Hospital and to my supportive, pro-breastfeeding husband, mother and sisters. You guys are the breast. xo

Marcia BF1

 

 

This blog by Marcia Leone is reprinted with permission from Marcia’s site Not so Mumsy

 

9 Comments

  1. Anne Schmitt Says Reply

    Fantastic story, I feel sad that Marcia felt the ‘judgement’ for continuing to breastfeed Archie, I hope she gets lots of positive feedback from this site and others. Her family obviously are a great support. Anne

  2. Niki Says Reply

    This made me cry I am still breast feeding my just turned two year old and many ppl including my mum and family all keep telling me to stop already its a weekly discussion to the point I answer before they even ask “yes he still loves his boobie time” I have tried to wean but he get so upset and after 2 yrs and a rocky start that’s not how I want to end this journey. I guess like you my journey has an emotional connection. Great to know you got there it makes me feel like I can too one day finish this journey on a happier note then tear stained red cheeks

  3. Angela Says Reply

    I wept when I read your story. My son had a rocky start too (we were told that he was brain damaged and would probably never walk or talk or throw a ball), and his birth didn’t go to plan, at all. We didn’t get to go home for the first two weeks. I pumped my breasts and my son was fed my milk through a tube, to start with. But my husband and I were lucky enough to be able to hold him and give him skin to skin. It was difficult establishing breastfeeding, but I had a great lactation consultant, who was as determined as I was to make sure that I breastfed my son. My son was still at his birthweight, two weeks after he was born, but thankfully the paediatrician realised that he would probably start to gain weight in the sanctuary of our own home. The hospital would send a midwife to our home to weigh him every day. They stopped needing to home visit after four days, when they saw his weight gradually escalating. I would have to tape a silicon tube to my breast, that went into my son’s mouth at the same time as my nipple. The other end of the tube went into a jar of my pumped breastmilk, so it was acting like a syphon. As his suckle was very weak to start with, he was able to get more milk for his light suckle, gain weight and become strong enough to eventually suckle as much milk as he needed, without the add on tube. I had already decided, before he was born, that I was going to long term breastfeed on demand, where he’ll self wean. He is 3 years and 8 months (with no sign of brain damage) and still loves having boobie. He has told me that boobie makes him feel better (when he hurts himself or if he is sad from missing Daddy, who works away). If he has been out with his Daddy for a couple of hours, the first thing he does when he gets home, is find me, cuddle me and ask for boobie. Breastfeeding is not just about food, it is definitely about emotional comfort and reconnecting. In the few times he has been unwell and has been off his food, I have been thankful that I am still breastfeeding, because I know that he is still getting sustenance, as well as having his immune system boosted by mine. I feed discreetly, as I know that unfortunately a lot of people are uncomfortable with my still breastfeeding my son (and he’s tall for his age). My son’s wellbeing comes first, and I know that I’m doing the best I can for him. I’m sure that he’ll know when he no longer needs boobie (mine, at least). My dearest friend also breastfed her three children until the ages of 4 and 5, so I’ve been lucky to have her example and support. My family don’t bother saying anything to me about it, as they know what I’m like and I’ll do what I think is best for my son, regardless. All the best, to all the Mummies out there, whatever your decision regarding breastfeeding; only you can truly know what is working for you and your little one/s.

  4. marina Says Reply

    I still breastfeed my 2.5 year old and I totally get the judgement. Now that I’m 9 weeks pregnant it’s ramping up to. But he just isn’t ready. He too was in an incubator for the first 10 days of his life, we missed the immediate bonding time when he was born and I feel that his need to keep nursing is connected to that experience.

  5. Margie Says Reply

    Thanks Marcia, beautifully told, I cried reading Archie’s Story. I have two girls and breast fed them both past two, and yes felt judgement and had advice (from some of my best friends!) telling me I had to stop, I was too soft etc etc. Thank you for expressing (pardon the pun) so clearly the need for women to feel free to mother and breastfeed by following their instincts. Your story (and Archie’s) will stay with me and I hope that other mums who are just launching on the breastfeeding journey with their babies feel inspired and empowered by it!

  6. twitter.com Says Reply

    And who could fault the little boy for his sobering, direct answer.

    So many young men become the kind of moody, depressed,
    and angry boy that media often creates and then society wants to fix.
    This has been something the Eagles have done for years.

  7. RJ'S Mum Says Reply

    Well. I pretty much just cried through that whole post. What an amazing mother. You’d almost think it was a crime to love and care for your child. Isn’t that what we’re built to do as mothers? I mean, all those strong emotions and hormones in our bodies are there for that reason and we are uniquely chosen as the right people to care for our kids. Thank you so much for sharing this story. My philosophy now is, my baby – my rules. No one should feel it’s their place to tell you what’s best for your baby when it’s founded on nothing more but their own insecure opinions.

  8. Anon Says Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story, it really helps to read it. I’m ‘still’ breastfeeding my 2.5year old a few times a day (tho only in bed, before sleeping & when he wakes). I keep it hidden from family & just don’t talk about it for that very reason – pressure to stop.
    I know my son just isn’t ready to wean yet – I sometimes wish he was! – but I figure there’s so few things a toddler has any control over, and this is so important to him, I’d like him to have a say (if I can stay patient enough).
    But most people definitely think it’s freakish if they find out – lucky they don’t really have a vote…

    Stay strong, all you fabulous breastfeeding mums out there! x

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