Monday, July 4, 2011

Waiting for the Right Time: Lactational Amenorrhea

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.



Sheila said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks a lot for this! I have wanted to conceive for awhile, but although my cycle came back early, I seem unable to. It's probably because I'm still breastfeeding, but this is a good reminder that THAT'S OKAY. Letting my son keep nursing is a decision I'm happy to make ... even if it does mean I'll have to wait longer before I can give him a baby brother or sister.

I do believe that God, and my body, know when it's time for me to get pregnant again. Clearly, not yet! My son still needs my one-on-one attention, which is why he's still nursing all the time. It's hard to accept that I can't just get pregnant at the day and hour of my choosing, but that's part of what life is all about ... accepting those things you can't change.

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

@Sheila Thank YOU for responding. It's good to know I'm not alone! If you haven't read it before, I'd definitely suggest picking up the Natural Child Spacing book and Toni Weschler's Taking Charge of Your Fertility since you are ttc. Both books really help you to understand how perfectly your body is designed to be fertile and how to understand its messages more clearly. Of course, all that is secondary to just knowing that some things take time! I'll pray that you conceive soon . . . as I pray for everyone who is ready to have a baby, but is not there yet. It's a much harder process for some than many realize!

Law Mama said... [Reply to comment]

I finally started cycling again 18 months post partum... and so now we've decided to take that as a sign to start trying for number 2.

It was still really awkward when people asked me if we wanted another baby and I almost wanted to tell them, yes, we'd love another, but I haven't had a period yet. TMI much?

Tam said... [Reply to comment]

I started cycling again at 9 months PP even though my son was/is still nursing like a champ. When I found myself pregnant again at 14 months all I could think about was my son losing his "baby milk" as he became increasingly frustrated at the breast. I felt terribly guilty for possibly "forcing" an end to our nursing relationship (he's all about his milk, milk milk)

I ended up losing the pregnancy at 10 weeks, and while that was very hard, I didn't lose my nursing relationship with my son that's what has gotten me through it.

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

@Tam Thank you so much for sharing your story with me! I am so sorry about your loss, but I am thankful that your nursing relationship with your son has helped you through that hard time. (By the way, I love your blog! I'm already a follower! Thank you so much for reading me!)

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

@Law Mama I know exactly what you mean! My son will be two in two weeks and I have to fight the urge not to just tell people when they pester too much!

Tara said... [Reply to comment]

I nursed my son until he was 2 1/2, and at exactly 2 weeks before his second birthday, I had my first period (or real one - I had spotting (or a normal pre-pregnancy period for me) two months prior then nothing, then wham!). What surprised me the most was the sex drive that came with it! As soon as my son was sleeping, I demanded my husband get to bed - and of course, I immediately got pregnant - even though I hadn't been worried about it because it took so long to conceive my son. HA on me! I just had my daughter on the 4th and I plan on nursing her as long or longer than my son (my son weaned gradually - over the course of 8 months. I can't imagine rushing the process) if only because I won't be pregnant this time. And I love nursing her as much as I did her - the connection to her, no period and it burns 600-1000 calories daily? Heck, as I joke often, I'll nurse her until high school and never exercise again! (Except now I know about the sex drive that comes with periods...)

Thanks so much for writing this - there's so much in our society that involves women complaining about breastfeeding, it is so refreshing to hear someone else with a positive experience!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

@Tara Sorry I missed your comment Tara! Hearing your experience helps me a lot! Sometimes it's hard to be patient enough to let things happen naturally. We're at 25 months with no fertility back, yet, but I'm hoping it will come, soon. And that sex drive sounds awesome! I hope that happens to me, too!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

I just got my first post-partum period with my son at just over 27 months old and I did not do any mama-led weaning!

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