Anshin and the Breastfeeding Preschooler

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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 violetsmama.wordpress@outlook.com

Thank You

I want to begin by thanking you all, dear readers, for your support and well wishes for the release of my book. The response to it has been humbling, to say the least.

I promise that this blog is not going to turn into constant advertising for the book but I did want to mention these special upcoming dates.

The artist, Katie m. Berggren, will be holding a Virtual Art Opening of the original paintings from the book Mama’s Milkies.

The first 6 paintings will be shown on Thursday January 30: 4-5pm PST

and the last 6 will be shown on Friday, January 31, 730-830am PST

The original paintings are on 10×10 inch canvases and can be purchased for $240/each. Each painting also comes with a free copy of the book.

They are also available as prints for $19/each.

I am very much looking forward to seeing the opening.

Thank you, Katie, for sharing your amazing talents with us all.

 In other news, there is a sitewide Valentine’s Day sale going on right now on Lulu.com (the printing company) and you can purchase Mama’s Milkies at a 14% discount

Use the coupon code AMOR14 at checkout time to receive the discount. The coupon expires at 11:59 PM on 2.14.14

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Mama’s Milkies

I have been anxiously waiting to share with you all some very exciting news!

I have written and published my first children’s book!

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Mama’s Milkies is a children’s book about a full term breastfeeding child. The reader will follow the little toddler through the day as they wake and play, read, sing and finally drift off to sleep. All the while knowing that mommy still has “Milkies” when they feel like nursing.

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to work with the very talented Katie m. Berggren on this project. She has illustrated the book with such careful thought and close attention to detail. She brought so much warmth and light to the text and I treasure each piece as a work on its own and as a part of the full project.

I wrote the text to this book when Violet was about 15 months old. We were lying in our bed nursing one morning and the words just started flowing out. Thankfully, I had saved the poem on my Ipod, as our computer was lost in the tsunami. I always dreamed of turning it into a book but wasn’t sure how to go about it. With the helpful advice of Katherine Havener, author of Nursies When the Sun Shines, and the support of my husband, I decided to go the self publishing route.

As a breastfeeding, co-sleeping family, we often look for books that portray our life style to read to Violet. There just aren’t enough books on the market about breastfeeding babies and only one that I could find about a breastfeeding toddler. So I thought, why not make one myself.

I hope that the lyrical text and Katie’s gorgeous illustrations find their way into your hearts and that you will enjoy reading it with your child. Whether they are still breastfeeding or not I hope that you find it brings a smile to your face and snuggles to your arms.

I now present to you Mama’s Milkies.

The website for the book is www.mamasmilkiesbook.com

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Click the above button to buy your own copy and receive it in time for Valentine’s Day! It would make the perfect gift for your favorite nursing couple.

Other exciting news is that each individual piece of art will be available for purchase through Katie M. Berggren! Stay posted for information on her Virtual Art Opening.

The Big Bad Cough and Mama’s Fears

Three weeks ago my sweet little girl started coughing. I had been coughing the week before that and so I assumed we both had caught the cold that was going around. Then on a Monday night she was trying to sleep and just couldn’t stop coughing. Her cough seemed to be choking her and she was waking herself up almost gagging on the sputum when she could finally cough it up.

I tried everything I could think of. I held her near the humidifier, had her sip cold water and stood in the steamy shower. The only thing that seemed to stop the coughing was to keep her awake. So at 3 am I decided to just let her stay awake. We played quietly in the dark and watched a little bit of Blue’s Clues. I was exhausted but too scared to let her sleep. I just held her close and let her nurse as much as she wanted and prayed that the cough would go away so she could get some rest.

At 5am I woke up my husband and said we needed to go the pediatrician as soon as it opened. We go to the hospital for pediatric visits here in Japan. So he dropped us off and luckily we were one of the first patients there. I looked around at all the other little sick children and worried that she would catch whatever it was they had too. She was so tired though that she just wanted to be held. I put her in her “pouch” (we use the Baby K’tan) and she snuggled up close to my chest and looked up at me with tired eyes and said “Mama I really want to sleep now. Is that ok?” I kissed the top of her head and told her to close her eyes and everything would be alright.Image My mind was racing with fear and panic. I had been going over her vaccination schedule and worried that I had missed something. She had not (has not) received her last DPT vaccine. I was terrified that she had pertussis. Although, I know it is not as dangerous for a preschooler as it is for an infant, I was still scared. I had made the mistake of reading too many stories about pertussis that ended fatally. My heart raced and my stomach was in knots.

She finally got about 45 minutes of uninterrupted sleep snuggled up next to my breast and I closed my eyes as we waited to be seen. The doctor called us in and she tried to listen to Violet’s chest without waking her but Violet stirred and started to scream terribly. She listened to the front and the back and said her left lung sounded a little weak. So she asked us to go across the hall for blood work and a chest x-ray. We had been through this last October and it was so traumatic for Violet. I was dreading it but I knew we needed to figure out what was going on.

We got to the blood lab and she was shaking and crying uncontrollably in my arms. The nurse held her arm out and Violet clung to my chest. I try so hard to be brave when these things happen but I was sleep deprived too and scared as well. Silent tears started to stream down my cheeks. I just whispered in her ear that I loved her and asked her to please not look at the needle but to look at me. She looked into my eyes and cried out in fear as the needle pierced her soft, milky skin.

When it was over she was trembling and kept trying to tell me she wanted to be brave. I told her she was brave because she did it. My husband and I are always trying to tell her that feeling her feelings is o.k. I wanted to express to her that being brave doesn’t always mean that you don’t cry. Even brave people cry sometimes. So she smiled through her tears and exclaimed “I’m brave, mama! I’m brave!” We both half laughed, half cried. Then we walked down the hall a little further to have her x-ray done.

She had just had an x-ray in October and knew that it wasn’t going to hurt but she still began to panic. I am still learning how to handle parenting in our gentle style when something has to be done. I don’t mean that I get angry when she cries or even impatient in a situation like this. What I mean is I struggle with getting the other people to wait and understand how she is feeling. In a medical office (in the US or here in Japan) the nurses and doctors often just want and need to get a procedure or test done. They see crying, fearful children every single day and I guess sometimes they get numb to it. I have often felt pushed aside or felt that my daughters feelings were not validated in situations like these.

When she was 2 years old and receiving a vaccine, somehow I was pushed out of the office and had the door shut in my face. I had cried during her 9 month well baby check up because I felt they were being too rough with her at that clinic and was branded weak by an overpowering nurse. So for some reason on this day she decided I just needed to leave the room. I have seen other parents leave their baby/toddler with the nurse too. I don’t know if I have ever seen this at the doctor back home. I am fairly certain that I haven’t.

Violet was crying and I was struggling to keep her still for the vaccine. So the nurse grabbed her from my lap and forced me out of the door. It happened so fast and took my breath away so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to stop it from happening. The door was closed in my face and I was left there on the other side listening to my daughters terrified screams, screaming for mama. I stood up against the door calling out her name. Other parents stared at me but I didn’t care. I cried and cried out her name. When the door was finally opened I gave the nurse the angriest look I could muster up through my tears. I cradled my sweet girl and promised her that I would never let that happen again. I still have nightmares and suffer from guilt that I wasn’t more assertive. I have learned from that experience though and I have never again let a nurse or doctor take her from my arms.

Back to the most recent experience. When we were trying to get her x-ray taken I couldn’t get Violet to hold still and stand in front of the x-ray machine. She wanted me to hold her. Of course I couldn’t hold her during the x-ray. So I stood beside her trying to hold her in place. Two male technicians were in the room and they ended up grabbing her arms and holding her arms out to either side. One of them grabbed directly on to where she had just been poked with a needle for her blood work. I wanted them to wait and to let her calm down first. But again, it happened fast. And they had a remote that they could control the x-ray machine with. So all of this only lasted 10 seconds max. Still I felt like I had failed to let her work through her feelings and come to do it on her own. Maybe she never would have. I am not sure. How do other gentle parents handle situations like this?

I feel that my lack of ability to speak proper Japanese often impedes my ability to parent the way I want to in public places such as this. We left radiology and made our way back to the pediatric ward to wait for the results. She was too shaken up to fall back asleep and just nursed through her tears until she finally calmed her breathing once more. Forty-five minutes later we were called in to get the results. The doctor showed us the x-ray and pointed out the little white lines in her lungs that showed she had an infection.

Mycoplasma. Again. She just had mycoplasma in October! How could this be. Violet never had a fever this time around and so I didn’t know her cough was anything serious. The cough was much worse this time around though. Much more violent. We were given a 3 day dose of zithromax, an expectorant and bronchial dilating patches that go on her back. I was relieved that the diagnosis wasn’t more serious, in my mind I was fearing the worst. Pertussis or TB. We went home and had a little lunch and I held her upright on the couch as she took a little rest.

We ended up going back to the hospital 3 times in 2 weeks. On the second trip we were given a nebulizer for free that we get to keep at home. It is small and portable. I was so thankful to have it and it brought me comfort that we had something to give her relief during the night. I held Violet in a cradle position but more upright, while sitting on the sofa every night for 2 weeks. She slept for about 5 hours max each night and I slept maybe 2 hours. It was a long and exhausting 2 weeks. But thankfully she is finally not coughing anymore. We are sleeping in our family bed again and my body is trying to recover from the lack of sleep.

It was so hard to watch her struggle with this cough. She had a decreased appetite for those 2 weeks as well. Thankfully, she could still nurse whenever she wanted and I was never worried about her getting dehydrated or going without nutrients. Full term breastfeeding has so many wonderful benefits. Even though she was sick we definitely enjoyed our time at home together. We snuggled, we drew, we read,we laughed, we danced, made muffins and she ran around the house naked (one of her favorite things to do).

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The night before Violet was to return to nursery school I started having severe panic attacks about her getting sick again. I heard from a friend that TB was becoming more prevalent in Japan and we did not vaccinate her for that. My heart raced and I couldn’t catch my breath. My husband and I scoured the internet for information on TB in Japan and the BCG vaccine. My mind often gets the better of me and what ifs start haunting my mind. Ever since the Tsunami I find that my worry and panic are at a higher level than they used to be. When it concerns my daughter’s health and safety especially. Gabe and I finally arrived at the decision that she was safe to go to school but that we would definitely get her vaccinated when she was 100% well again.

My mind still plays tricks on me though and I go back and forth as to whether or not it is necessary. It is so hard to live and raise a child in a foreign country when you are not fluent in the language. I kick myself for not studying harder. I feel ashamed and feel that i have let her down. Also, I really dislike my tendencies to panic and worry. I am trying to rest in the peace of knowing that I cannot control everything. I can only do my best to make well informed decisions. Being a mom is hard work! It is the best job I have ever been granted but it is definitely not easy.

How do you deal with worries about illness for your children?

What are your favorite cough remedies?

What are your feelings toward vaccination?

Reading is fun!

Reading is Fun!posterI have been an avid reader since I was a little girl. If I had a picture of my favorite place to read as a kid and teen, I would post it. We had this high backed chair in our house that was reupholstered 2 or 3 times I think. It came from my Grandmother’s house originally. When I was about nine it was upholstered in a pink,white and turquoise, southwestern pattern. (Very popular in the early 90’s) I used to love to lay on it with my back and head on the seat and my legs up along the back of the chair and feet hanging over the top. Sounds weird for reading, I know, but I loved it. I loved reading all kinds of books and I was lucky enough that my mom was an avid reader who happened to have a wonderful collection of books from her youth too. So I was stocked! I had my own personal library plus mom always took us on trips to the library to check out whatever books we wanted. I can still remember the smell of our little library and how the cold steel on the doors felt so revitalizing on a hot South Texas day. Walking into that quiet library knowing that there was an endless number of adventures awaiting my mind and my fingertips was exhilarating to me. I still feel that sense of excitement when I step into a library today.

During summer vacation, my mom and I would often read a book together. I would wake up in the morning and go crawl into her bed. She would pull the soft cotton sheets over us both and we would pick up where we had left off the day before. Reading aloud to each other, alternating after a chapter, the stories would come alive. My mom had a great reading voice and always drew us into the story with her enthusiastic reading. One of our favorite books to read together was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The copy we read from was my mother’s from when she was a young girl. The pages were a bit yellowed and there were some small tears here and there. The scent of the old paper and the inscription on the inside cover “To Pamela with love, The Roberts” drew me into her world. I could picture her as a 10 year old girl opening the pages with anticipation of what adventures might lie within this new gift. She had some neighbors who gave her books on special occasions. We read The Secret Garden aloud to each other the summer of my freshman year in High School. We had both read it several times before but it was one of our favorites so we decided to reread it together. We were lost in the gardens together and lost in the love of a mother for her son even after she had passed on to the next life. Little did I know that 7 years later my own mother would no longer be with me in this world. And so that book still holds special meaning for me.

I read to Violet every day. I have read to her since she was in my womb in fact. Every night we read at least 3 books. We started out with just 1 book a night but as her love for the written word has grown we have added to the nightly ritual. We read throughout the day as well but definitely at least 3 books as we are lying in bed. If she is feeling particularly sleepy she will nurse while I read. She struggles to see the pictures and will often tug down on the pages to get a better look. Other times she is content just to listen to my voice as I read to her. She has memorized the way I read her favorites and if I put emphasis on a different word than I usually do she will correct me. Or if Daddy is reading one that I usually read she will correct him if he doesn’t emphasize the same words. For example I usually say “I just can’t wait to dance.” But if I say, “I just can’t wait to dance” she will ask me to read it the right way. With a smile. Another funny thing she does when I read is if I yawn while reading she will say “Mama, can you try that again please?”

I love snuggling up with her and reading. It is hard for me to see the words over her sweet head as I hold it down for her to see the pictures while she is nursing. But I love how she wants to be close to my heart. I can remember laying on my own mother’s chest and feeling her voice as she spoke to me or read to me. It was enough to soothe me even as a teenager.

I am thrilled that Violet has developed the same love for books that I have. I can’t wait for the day when we can read aloud together alternating and sharing in an adventure. But for now, I am enjoying entertaining her with my own renditions of our favorites and cherishing the closeness of our nursing/reading sessions before bed.

She is growing so fast and I can hardly believe how much she changes even week by week. Two weeks ago, Violet read her very first book aloud all by herself. We have been using The Bob Books as a tool for reading and she just adores them. The stories are simple and have words that use the first phonetic sounds only. For example, “The cat sat.” She was so pleased with herself and when she finished it she looked up at me with a surprised look on her face and said “I read that book, mama.” It was a special moment for us all.

Just in case your interested, our favorite books to read together are:

Zippity Zebra and the Windy Day by Claire Henley

Someday by Alison McGhee

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

any Sandra Boynton Book (especially The Belly Button Book)

Bear Feels Scared

Bear Stays Up For Christmas

Bear Snores On

Bears Loose Tooth

Don’t Be Afraid Little Pip (and all the above Bear Books) by Karma Wilson

Nursies When the Sun Shines by Katherine Henley

Winter Days in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I Wear My Tutu Everywhere by Wendy Cheyette Lewison

What are some of your favorite books to share with your little ones?
Do you have any special memories involving reading?

Why are you away from me?

Being a working mom is not easy. I never really imagined I would be working outside the home while our child stayed with someone else. It has been difficult to accept that this is what our life looks like. I have a hard time not allowing my brain to be filled with thoughts of guilt and worry. Adding more pain to my aching heart is the fact that our daughter asks me daily, not to leave her. Her first words in the morning as we wake in our family bed are usually “No school today?” When I have to tell her that it is a school day she usually begins to cry real tears. The light in her precious eyes turns a little dimmer and her sweet tulip mouth begins to quiver as she says “Mommy please don’t leave me.” And then she clings to me and starts to nurse and hold me as close as she can. It breaks my heart every time. How could it not. So what do I do? I have read that showing your emotions on the subject often causes children to feel more upset. Then I have also read that it is important to be true to your emotions with your child to teach them that feeling a feeling is ok and normal. I try to be honest without being overly dramatic. I try to hold back from sobbing uncontrollably while also not hiding the fact that it makes me sad to be away from her. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do but it feels right to me to be honest with our child.

This morning as she clung to me and said through tears, “please don’t leave me. I want to be with you mommy!” I just wanted to stay in my bed and rock her. I told her “It breaks my heart into a million pieces baby, to be away from you.” She hugged me close and nursed. Then she started to try and make me laugh and smile.

On Saturday on the way to her ballet ballet class, as we passed her school, Violet asked, “Mommy why is my school not next to your school? Why is my school far away?” I said “because the people who built the schools decided this would be a good place for them. I wish they were next to each other. That would be neat!”
Violet said, “Mommy why do I have to be far away from you when you are at school. Why can I not hug you when I am at school?” I said, “Because my physical body is not next to you at that time. But my heart is always with you. I am always hugging you in my heart.” Violet said, “I always want to hug you mama. But I am not going to school today! So today I can hug you all day long!”

It is so hard to work away from home. It is especially hard when you are a breastfeeding mom working away from home. I am so thankful that I didn’t have to go back to work until she was 2. But I wish I didn’t have to be gone at all. I think that because we are still a nursing couple, our connection is still very strong. I am sure it will still be strong after she decides to stop nursing but in a different way. We are still so very much connected to each other and it makes it so very hard when we have to be apart. I miss her all day long.

When we say goodbye we hug and kiss and I remind her that I will be in her heart all day long and she will be in mine. We give each other “a kissing hand” And then we say goodbye. I carry her kiss with me all day and pray that she is feeling loved.

always in my heart

Does anyone else still nurse a toddler while working out of the home?

How do you and your child handle separation?