Today I read an article online that talked about when to stop kissing your kids on the mouth. In my opinion it was completely ridiculous and I found myself becoming infuriated by how humans find a way to make everything dirty.
For starters, I come from an affectionate family. We always kissed our parents on the mouth and, in fact, I still do. I have also always kissed aunts and uncles and close family friends on the mouth as well. My parents never forced me to do this, it’s just something we did.
My husband and I kiss our daughter on the mouth and I hope she never feels ashamed to do so.
Reading that article prompted me to think of how many people bath with their children in the western world. Because if kissing your kids on the mouth is taboo, then bathing together most certainly would be too.
Here in Japan, people bath together. Public baths are common and popular. In fact onsens, as they are called in Japanese, are one if my most favorite things about Japan. A traditional onsen has water from a natural hot spring and the waters are claimed to have healing benefits.
I went to my first onsen a month after moving here. It was winter and this bath was outside and surrounded by snow. It was one of the most beautiful baths I have ever seen. I’ll admit, I was extremely nervous and self conscious about disrobing in front of the other women. But by the time I walked to the bath and got to soaking in the milky white water and felt the snow falling on my head all my self consciousness melted away. I was hooked.
In the last ten years that I have lived in Japan I have learned many things, one of them is that my body is nothing to be ashamed of. In western culture we are often taught at an early age to feel shame about being nude. This is a cycle we are hoping to break with our daughter. Of course, modesty is still important to us and we don’t want her to dress in a risqué fashion but we don’t want her to feel shame about her body in any way.
In Japan, it may surprise you to hear, bath time is typically the responsibility of the father. When you take a bath here you first shower up and then soak in the tub. Often times, the same water is used by all family members and it is kept heated until the last person has their soak. This might sound strange but if you’re not washing in the tub, then it’s no different than a hot tub or swimming pool.
Back to my point, fathers are typically the ones that do the bathing with the children. Fathers and sons and fathers and daughters. Sometimes fathers, sons and daughters all together when they are small enough to fit in the tub together. A female usually bathes with her dad until she enters Jr. High School. Then she might bathe with her mother or sister. I can imagine all the thoughts that might be going through your head while reading this, but there is nothing untoward about this practice. As my friend put it, “Here in Japan we are used to bathing together because of the onsens. Public bathing is common and we undress around each other so there is no worry about undressing around your family. When we hide our bodies from each other we begin to think of our differences in a different way. It changes the way we think about our sexuality.”
In our house, we both share bathing duties. When Violet was a newborn she bathed in the small baby tub a few times and in the sink as well. But I soon figured out that just getting in the bath with her was the easiest way to do it. Japanese bathtubs are very deep, you can’t just lean over the edge and give a bath to a child. Getting in together is definitely easier.
As an infant, often times she would nurse to sleep in the bathtub and I would transition her to Daddies arms and we would carefully dress her and lay her in our family bed. It was calm and peaceful and an easy way to get to down for the night.
In the last couple of years bath time has become Daddy/daughter time. Violet loves her bath with her Daddy. The laugh and splash and giggle and play for at least half an hour. It’s a great way for them to get some time together one on one and for stay at home moms it also gives mama a short break.
Dad’s of exclusively breastfed babies are often looking for ways to bond with their children. When mothers breastfeed we get that skin to skin contact that is so important between parent and baby. It’s important for Dads to have this opportunity as well. Co-bathing is a great way for Dads to do that.
There is no reason to be afraid or ashamed of being nude around your baby or young child. We have always taught our daughter the proper terms for our body parts and she knows that Daddy’s body is a little different than hers and mommy’s but it is not something that she focuses on. She asked about her Daddy’s body each time at first and we answered very honestly and openly. Now, it’s not an issue at all.
Violet knows that no one is allowed to touch her body and that we don’t take off our clothes around people we don’t know (except at the onsen when we are all together). We teach boundaries and awareness and always try to foster openness.
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon sitting in the cancer ward waiting to hear my name called. I have been experiencing some pain in my right breast and felt some places that didn’t seem right to me. So I went to the hospital to see my OBGYN. I waited and waited and was finally seen. The midwife first examined me and I told her of my family history. Since my mother died of breast cancer at the age of 44, she felt that the Dr. should also come in. I explained that I was still breastfeeding and wasn’t sure if it was related to that or not.
The Dr. was very thorough and checked both of my breasts. But then said that he would like to send me over to the oncologist for a better examination. They asked if I had ever had a mammogram and I said that I hadn’t, so they called over to the oncology ward and gave an introduction for me.
I felt pretty confident that it wasn’t cancer but still, having your doctor tell you to go to the cancer ward is a bit disconcerting. I walked down the hall and registered with the oncology department with the help of a very kind nurse. She had no idea whether I had cancer or not but she saw me as a mother with a young child and treated me with the utmost kindness.
I felt my heart beating a little faster than usual and I worried as Violet heard the doctors talking about where I was going. She understands more Japanese than I do. And she heard them telling me that i was going to be checked by a different doctor, she wanted to know exactly where we were going. She knows about cancer because of all the family members we have lost to this disease. I didn’t want to lie to her but also didn’t want to cause her undo worry. So I just told her we were going to get my milky looked at by another doctor who would look at a picture of the inside of it. She was satisfied with that.
We sat there waiting and I couldn’t help but notice how the lights were darker in this ward than in the OBGYN ward. It was quiet and most of the patients that we saw waiting there were hunched over and seemed to be in a certain amount of pain. Some were young and some were obviously in there late 70’s or 80’s. The ones who made eye contact with me gave me sympathetic smiles and I could tell they were wondering how I was and what I was there for. Violet’s smiles and energy definitely seemed to lift their spirits too.
I figured that I was going to get a mammogram but was hoping they would let me have an ultrasound instead as I was concerned about radiating my breast milk. Just in case though. I told Violet that she might not be able to drink milkies after my exam for a bit. She looked worried and said she would like to drink some before we went in. A woman in her mid 70’s walked up and said “おいしそう“, which means, looks delicious. She went on to say how rare it was to see a girl her age drinking breastmilk and how wonderful it was. I felt encouraged and continued to smile down and my sweet girl.
Sitting there, waiting with her in the cancer wing filled me with so many memories. My mother was everything to me. She was my first friend, she was my confidant she was my hero. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wasn’t there. I was away at college and had to hear about it over the phone. How I wish I could’ve been sitting there holding her hand instead.
I was able to sit with her through some of her treatments and drove her to some of her appointments during spring and summer vacations. We would sit there holding hands and trying to make each other smile or laugh. I was scared and she was scared. She was brave, she was selfless and showed me how to endure the impossible. Losing her was the hardest thing I have ever experienced and I pray that Violet is spared from watching me die from a disease that ravishes the body.
We sat and waited, Violet holding me and smiling at everyone around her. Finally my name was called and I had my first exam by an oncologist. I told him I was breastfeeding and he immediately offered to do an ultrasound instead of a mammogram. I didn’t even have to ask. He checked both of my breasts and and looked as thoroughly as possible. I felt very well taken care of and was thrilled to hear him say that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Violet understood the results at the same time as I did and immediately came over and rubbed my chest and said, “Milkies! You are ok!!!” And then she patted my hand and said, “I knew you would be ok, mama! I love you!”
Today, I am thankful for the excellent health care I have experienced here in Japan. Today, I am thankful for my healthy breasts. Today, I am thankful for today!
This PSA is so powerful and never fails to make me cry. I ask you all to remember to “touch yourself”. For your self, for your husband, for your children, for your friends. Set a date and check yourself every month. It’s easy, it’s free and it’s painless.
As of April 1st 2014 I have become a stay-at-home mom again! I couldn’t be more thrilled with my new daily routine. It has been a joy to wake up knowing that I get to spend the whole day with our precious daughter. We have been enjoying taking long walks and having nature scavenger hunts, reading till we can’t read anymore, singing, playing the piano, painting and dancing. It is what I always longed to do.
Having said all that, I have recently gotten out of the swing of writing on my blogs. So in order to get back into the groove I have decided to try a couple of things to get me started again.
On Mondays I am going to try writing about a memory, “Memorable Mondays”
Wednesdays will be “Wordless Wednesdays”, where I will try to post a photo or an inspiring image I have found.
Thursdays will be “Thoughtful Thursdays”. I will try to share an inspirational quote or verse.
So here we go…..
Memorable Monday #1
When I was a teenager, I had an Aunt who was breastfeeding her first daughter. My aunt has always been a very strong, independent woman and she came across to me as a very confident breast-feeder. She would feed my cousin whenever she was hungry. No matter where we were. She was the first of my 8 aunts that I ever saw feeding outside of the back room at my grandmother’s house. She always had on clothing that provided easy access for nursing and she laughed when my little cousin would call out “teta mama teta!”. Her eyes sparkled when she laughed and smiled down at her growing baby.
I remember one particular occasion when the whole family was taken aback by her nursing in public. We were at my oldest cousin’s wedding. My brothers and I were singing at the altar when we looked out at the pews to see my aunt opening up her blouse and exposing her breast so that her baby could drink. My youngest brother gasped and we all tried to hold in our giggles.
After the wedding was over my other relatives and my grandmother lovingly teased her about showing so much of her skin and all wondered how she could dare breastfeed during a wedding and in a church pew for that matter. It became a family inside joke that everyone had seen Aunt ***’s breasts. She never seemed to mind and laughed along with everyone else.
My Aunt also breastfeed her children longer than any of my other aunts. Her oldest nursed until the age of three. Everyone nagged her about weaning and even I joined in on the teasing. Me, a childless teenager, teasing my aunt about breastfeeding. I can’t even imagine doing something like that now. She took it all in stride though. At least that is what I gathered from the outside….
Now here I am still breastfeeding my 4 1/2 year old daughter and the shoe is on the other foot. I get occasional questions from family members about when I am going to wean. But the fact that I live across the ocean and only see my family for about 2 weeks out of a year probably has something to do with that. I think I am the most blatant public nurser in my family. And when I nursed her in the pews of both my grandparents funerals last summer, they all turned a blind eye.
I truly believe that although I didn’t know it at the time, watching my aunt nurse with such confidence helped mold me into the mother I am today. The memories I have of being around her while she breastfed her children gives me courage and strength and help me to feel like what I am doing is normal and natural. So, although I am not going to mention her name, I know she will know this is about her when she reads it and I want to tell her thank you. Thank you, dear aunt, for being brave and fearless. Thank you for being strong and confident and for showing me how beautiful this experience truly is. I love you.
Thank you to all the mothers out there that nourish their children in the company of others. You may not know it, but you are paving the way for so many other mothers. You have the ability to change the way breastfeeding is perceived. You can make a difference in the lives of those around you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
When Violet was born, I had no idea how long I would breastfeed her. I only knew that I would breastfeed her. By the time she was 1 year old, I knew she wasn’t near being ready to stop and so I decided to just keep going.
I know that I am not the only one practicing full term breastfeeding, but at times, I do feel like the odd ball in the group of nursing mamas. When I attended the Big Latch last year, I was, by far the one with the oldest nursling. Part of me felt slightly concerned with what the other mamas might be thinking, but most of me felt proud and accomplished.
If those of us that do continue to nurse our older babies and preschoolers can’t talk about it with others or always feel we have to do it behind closed doors, we might start to feel strange or even embarrassed. I write this post to share with you all in hopes that it will encourage other full term breastfeeders to do the same. You are not alone and there are others out there like you. I hope that by reading this it will encourage you to not give in to the pressures of friends, family or those around you to wean before it feels right for you and your nursling. I am trusting my heart and my own judgment to know when it is best for my child to wean and I hope that you can trust yourself as well.
According to Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D.,an award winning anthropologist, professor, and mother, the natural age of weaning for modern humans based on our size, development and life span is between 2.5 years and 7 years. Therefore, a child still nursing at 4 years old is normal, natural, and o.k.
I am planning to continue breastfeeding Violet for as long as she would like to continue. I have been practicing baby/child led weaning since Violet was about 2 months old. From the moment she was born, I practiced on demand feeding. If she cried I usually checked her diaper and if it was clean, I put her to my breast. She has always been an active nurser. She went from every hour in the first 2 months to every 2 hours and gradually to where we are today.
Violet wakes up slowly by nursing herself awake. Her body wakes up first and before she has even opened her eyes she reaches for my breast. Since she sleeps right next to me all she has to do is reach up and nuzzle in. She nurses there for anywhere between 5-20 minutes. I usually wake up as she first begins to wiggle and so I am awake while she is nursing. I stroke her hair and kiss the top of her head. If it is still very early I whisper into her ear that she can go back to sleep. If it is close to the time I need to get up, I start whispering good morning and gently massaging her back and legs to wake her up. I sing to her, softly, “Good morning to you” (to the tune of happy birthday” She smiles sweetly as she gradually opens her eyes. Some days she sits right up and says “good morning, mama!” and other days she puts her hand up on my chest as if to say let’s stay in bed a little longer. Eventually she wakes up and stops nursing. And then we get up for our day.
Violet goes to school Monday through Friday from 8-3. On those days she doesn’t usually nurse again until 5 or 6 pm. Sometimes, though, she wants to nurse as soon as we get in the car after picking her up. Since she turned 4, I’ll admit that I have become a little more apprehensive about nursing her in public. I don’t feel like I am doing anything wrong but some days I just don’t feel like enduring the looks or questions. I try to practice “don’t offer/don’t refuse” as much as possible, but sometimes I do tell her we need to wait until we get home. She is capable of understanding the need to wait for something and this is a way we practice having patience and consideration for mama’s feelings. She doesn’t always wait patiently and she sometimes cries and gets angry because I have said no but we try our best to work through it. Thankfully, our drive from her school to our house only takes 5 minutes. I know that she is yearning for that connection for “skinship” as is it called here in Japan, skin to skin contact, and so I understand where her anger is coming from.
When we get home, as soon as we walk in the door, she takes off her shoes and takes me by the hand and says “Mama it’s time for milkies”. We head to the couch and she hops up on my lap. As I get my clothes situated, she smiles up at me and giggles. Then, at last, she dives into my chest and wraps her arms around my chest and pulls me as close as she can. She drinks there and looks up at me with eyes of contentment and relief. I can feel her body relax and I feel mine relax as well.
There is a word in Japanese that describes this feeling that I think we both have during this time, it is あんしん,安心(anshin). Anshin translates to relief or peace of mind, obtaining peace of mind through faith or ascetic practice. It is so much more than that though. To really grasp the meaning one needs to look at the etymology of the word. The characters that make up anshin are these 安,which means relax, quiet, rested, contented, peaceful and 心, which means heart, mind, sprit. I actually feel that my entire being relaxes and her whole being relaxes too. My heart feels peace after a day of adult worries and stresses and her heart releases any worries that have built up in her mind during our day apart. It is a time we can unite and really be present to one another.
After that we play a bit and then I am off to make dinner. She doesn’t usually nurse during dinner anymore (unless she isn’t feeling well) and so we finish our meal and transition into our bedtime routine. She has a bath with daddy, usually, and then we either watch a short program on our computer or we just play and read together as a family. We head up to the bed with our books for the night and situate ourselves in our family bed. She is usually playful and shouts out “I’m gonna get those milkies!” as I try to arrange the blankets. When we finally lay down she settles in once again for her last nursing session of the day. I read to her as she nurses off and on and she sometimes falls right asleep during the 2nd or 3rd book. Other times, we finish the 3rd book and then I turn off the light and sing her lullabies as she nurses herself to sleep.
There have been a handful of nights when she has fallen asleep while snuggled up instead of nursing herself to sleep, but for the most part, she still falls asleep at my breast. She rarely awakens during the night anymore, but if she does, she whispers up to me “mama, may I have some milkies, please?” Then she nurses herself right back to sleep. And then we start our day over again.
Nursing a four year old is not something that I set out to do in the beginning but it is where we are today. I am fully confident that one day she will wean herself. I know that one day she will just not want to or need to do it anymore. And when that day comes, I hope that she will know that I am still here for her when she needs me. My arms will always be wide enough to hold her, my lips will always be ready to talk or offer a comforting kiss, my ears will always be ready to listen, my lap will always have a spot for her to rest on and my heart will never run out of love for her.
She often tells me that when she is all grown up and I am an old lady that has grown small again, she will hold me and rock me and give me her milkies. To her, I believe, this is the ultimate expression of love, to nourish and comfort someone at the breast. I am honored and overwhelmed by love that she imagines doing this for me one day.
So, here we are 4 years and 4 months old and still nursing, still co-sleeping, still living this life the way we feel we should be. Still feeling anshin.
Some great links for full term breastfeeding mama’s and those that love them:
A Natural Age of Weaning by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD
Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives (also by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD
Handling Criticism about breastfeeding on KellyMom.com
Dr. Sears on handling criticism on extended breastfeeding
Are you still breastfeeding an older baby or child?
Have you felt pressured to stop or overly criticized?
I hope that you felt encouraged by today’s post.
If you feel like sharing your story, do so in the comments below.
And if you’d like to make a guest post here about your story please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org