So, when are you going to give your toddler a new baby brother or sister? When do you think you'll try again? Are you planning on having other children?
I know that people mean well when they ask these kinds of questions. I know that they are just excited and want to know more about how we plan to shape our family. However, these questions just aren't relative to our lives right now because I have had no fertile cycles since my son was born almost two years ago. I am in the midst of lactational amernorrhea. This means that I have not had a regular period since October of 2008. So, when am I going to give my toddler a baby brother or sister? Um, sometime after my body decides it's ready to support another child.
Before I started nursing my son, I knew almost nothing about breastfeeding. In fact, I was even a little scared of it because I had never personally known anyone who nursed their children. (Apparently, I had some relatives who did nurse their children, but it was before I knew them or I didn't grow up around them.) My plan when I was pregnant was to try nursing and I hoped it would work, but I didn't really expect it, too. Especially since I didn't really have anyone in my day to day life that knew anything about it. If it worked, I was sure that I'd wean my baby by the time he was a year old.
Then, I became a mother and not just any mother, the mother to my son and all of his needs, emotional and nutritional. In fact, I sometimes think that God might have created my son's cesarean section, colic, reflux, severe food sensitivities, inability to sleep, and head cyst surgery (at the age of ten months), because without that kind of incentive I would never have chosen to research and do the things I do now (like co-sleeping, healthy, organic eating, extended nursing, cloth diapering, even chiropractic care!). These are aspects of our relationship and our lives that I treasure and that I am thankful to my son for leading us to every day! He has made me be a better mother than I might have been to an "easier" child.
And two years later, we're still going strong with no immediate plans to do weaning at any pace other than the one my son is currently setting. Is it weird nursing a toddler? Nope. Not for us. It's a mutually content relationship and I think that our nursing relationship, like our bed sharing relationship, fulfills his need for security and anyone who knows my toddler can attest that he is one independent and secure little guy. He's even dropped quite a few nursings and is sleeping a little better at night, so I know that the inevitable weaning will occur.
Yet, my period has not returned. If someone had told me five or six years ago that extended nursing would keep my monthly cycle at bay for years, I would have said, can I start now? Because, well, periods aren't very much fun. However, I'm finding more and more that I miss mine. I miss what they stand for. Even though I'm not sure our family is ready for a fourth member quite yet, I miss having the option of making that decision. As a woman who is now thirty, I worry about how much time I might have left. I'd like to have two more children, but if my fertility does not return soon and it takes us awhile to conceive a second when it does . .. well, I may have to rethink that plan.
I know that this is the point when many of you are wondering why I do not night wean my almost two year old son and then start weaning during the day. I know that is an option, but at this point, I respect that our son is only asking for what he still psychologically (and even physically) needs. I see it as very similar to my choice last year (when he was almost one) of accepting his night waking and sleep sharing as normal. I decided to trust that when he was ready, he would sleep through the night, and although that has not happened yet, I fully believe that he has come a long way and it will happen when he's ready (like walking, talking, and all of his other milestones). Weaning will be the same. What I'm trying to do is to trust my body as much as I have trusted his. It's a hard thing to put your faith out there and trust, but I think it is necessary in this case. I have placed my trust in my body and God before and I feel like I should again. I could try to take fate into my own hands and force him to wean, and know that my fertility will likely return shortly thereafter, but that would be no guarantee (as every woman who has had to "try" to get pregnant knows, that I would actually get pregnant when I wanted to. What is guaranteed is the child I already have and his needs. It is possible that I might not get pregnant until when our natural nursing relationship would have ended anyway.
Last year, when his sleeping patterns involved waking up seven to eight times a night. I kept a copy of Dr. Sear's The Baby Sleep Book next to my bed and whenever I felt myself doubting, I would pick it up and be assured that my son would sleep eventually. This year, I've replaced that book with Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley. Before reading that book, I had no idea that I was "ecological breastfeeding," I was just nursing my child when he seemed to want and need it. According to that text, my fertility will likely return any time, and will certainly return before he is four, and considering the thoroughness of her research, I believe her. Until then I wait.