Next Thursday, at 1:50pm, my daughter turns two. Two feels SO old to me. Two feels like "little girl." And there's so much I could say about what motherhood has taught me. So many lessons, both big and small. But perhaps the greatest lesson I've learned is to listen and celebrate the voice within. The voice within that knows how to mother my daughter better than any book or friend or family member.
When my daughter was born, I was surrounded by encouragement to breastfeed. Family, friends, doctors, nurses...they all reminded me of the importance of breastfeeding, the benefits of breastfeeding. In many ways, I felt like I was a professional runner in a stadium with adoring fans cheering me on.
And those cheers and words of encouragement were priceless because they helped me persevere through the first few weeks, when breastfeeding was NOT easy, NOT fun, NOT something I wanted to do or thought I could do. I needed those words and cheers of support. Without them, I don't know if I would have been able to press on.
When my daughter turned six months old, my adoring fans held up signs with the word "SUCCESS" painted on them. I had breastfed my daughter exclusively for six months! Cheers could be heard near and far.
When my daughter turned one, my fans exclaimed, "You finished the race! You met your goal!" A standing ovation! Requests for a victory lap!
And then, slowly but surely, I watched my fans file out of the stadium.
(Because in our culture, we breastfeed our babies for a year, maybe a year and a half. We cheer on mamas to breastfeed when they clutch their newborn babies to their chests, but then when those babies start to walk or talk, we don't quite know what to do with their desire to still suck on our breasts.)
And so I stood in the stadium and realized that the support I had once so desperately needed was now gone. But instead of feeling depressed, I felt liberated. Free.
Because here's the beautiful news: by the time my daughter turned one, I was ready to leave the stadium too. I was ready to run in the midst of a beautiful forest, or beside a crashing beach. I could run for the pleasure of running. I could run simply because I knew it was something my heart and my mind told me to do. I no longer needed my fans. I no longer needed approval. That first year had not only taught me how to breastfeed, but it had taught me how to listen to myself, to drown out the rest.
And so yes, my daughter and I will breastfeed past two. We will breastfeed because we want to breastfeed. It's really as simple as that. We will breastfeed with or without the approval of family and friends. Why? Because I have learned to listen to my intuition as a mother. And while I could write a long defense about the benefits of breastfeeding a toddler, I won't. Because, to be perfectly honest, I don't need to defend my decision to nurture my daughter. Because, to be perfectly honest, I'm more confident now than I've ever been.