People always congratulate me in an awed tone of voice when I tell them I'm still nursing my 2-year-old – as if I've logged some special merit badge to put on my motherhood troop vest. Honestly, I don't feel like it's worthy of congrats. It's just part of our routine, like bedtime kisses or story time.
We got off to an easy start with nursing, and because it's my only foolproof method of calming my daughter down, we just kept going. Over these two and a half years, my nursing relationship with my daughter has run a wide range of emotions, from elation to hair-pulling frustration.
Here are six realities of extended nursing I could have never foreseen when she was a newborn.
1. She still nurses throughout the night and won't stay asleep without it. This means no super late outings and no overnight trips for me.
2. She's still in our bed. I went against all advice and shared my bed with my baby from day one. So because of the comfort and breast milk on tap, she has adamantly refused to sleep anywhere else. Many nights we all toss and turn, and somehow a 30-pound child manages to take up more than half the bed. Every. Night.
3. Nursing has increased my patience immensely. I used to dedicate every spare minute of my time to productivity, but breastfeeding forces me to stop and sit. Whether I'm reading a book, playing a game on my phone, or staring at my daughter, this routine helps me relax and be present (or, at the very least, take a break from focused productivity).
4. Breastfeeding a walking, talking child is surprisingly not weird. Whether because of societal norms or my own concerns, I used to worry it would be harmful or confusing to have an older child latching onto my breast. But now that I do it, I see that any sexual association with breasts disappears when I'm nursing my child. It is no more awkward or unusual than giving her a bath or changing her diaper. And the way she asks for "nursies" so straightforwardly reinforces that what we do is just fine – and helps me disregard what anyone else might think.
5. Most people are accepting of extended nursing. The media would have you believe the world is grossed out by mothers who breastfeed toddlers, but my experience has been otherwise. My very traditional parents haven't said a word against it, and strangers express amazement rather than disgust when they see me nurse in public.
6. Hearing my daughter explain how she feels about it is beautiful. Recently my daughter pulled off the breast in the middle of a nursing session and looked up at me. She had just turned 2, so she didn't often put together full sentences, but she said, "I love Mama's nursies." The awe and love in her eyes was overwhelming.
There are certainly times when I lament my loss of freedom, but I am not such a prisoner that I feel ready to wean. I don't continue to breastfeed to make a political statement or to follow some impossibly rigid parenting ideology. The truth is I nurse because it feels right for me and my daughter, and this is just how it worked out for us.
With every month of motherhood that passes, I care less about what is "right" in the great nursing debate, and more about who's picking her up from daycare, or how to pry daddy's smartphone out of her hand, or even how on earth to get her to eat something besides cheese crackers for breakfast. But I am so grateful to have this kind of focused, intimate time with her, and I will miss it when it's gone.