Mothering my nursing 3.5-year-old

“I can’t stop crying,” Talitha wailed. There was a look of panic on her face. She had literally lost control of her big emotions. She was pleading with me to help her, to restore the peace.

We’d had a trying afternoon. Ophelia has been ill for the past couple of days and, well, now, I guess Talitha wasn’t feeling too hot either.

Without going into detail, it was one of those sessions where the sentiment “They are not giving me a hard time; they are having a hard time” would not have gone amiss.

Really without going into detail, I was impatient, disrespectful and unkind in the way that I parented them through this unsettled time. It was an afternoon where I needed to get a grip but the grip was not fully got until they’d gone to sleep.

The moment she said “I can’t stop crying”, I regretted that I hadn’t seen it sooner, that she was not testing me. She needed me.

Instinctively, I offered her “milky”, suggesting that it might help her stop crying. I couldn’t have known back when she was Ophelia’s age that, at 3.5-years-old, breastfeeding would still be the most natural comfort to offer her.

I half expected her to turn me down, though, because more often than not, it isn’t the solution she chooses these days. Some days she doesn’t breastfeed at all. Others, she’s insistent on that one nursing in the morning, even if it is only for seconds.

She even stopped for the two whole weeks we were in Trinidad. It was as if from the moment we left home she just forgot about it. I thought that was it. The journey was done. I began to compose her weaning story in my head as a way of making sense of this sudden end.

Breastfeeding my 3.5-year-old-2

She asked the day we got back, though. I’m sure I could have brought things to a gentle close by telling her we didn’t do that anymore and distracting her, but in that moment, I had no concrete reason to say, “No more”, and, actually, I still don’t.

Breastfeeding is mostly a non-issue. Sometimes I find it uncomfortable but, more than not, it’s such a natural part of our lives, small and big at the same time.

As I say, she doesn’t nurse very often. And the word “nurse” feels more appropriate now than “feed” as it is sometimes so short, a quick checking-in.

If it’s longer, it’s usually because something is going on, like it was yesterday. I took her into my bed and because Laurence wasn’t home yet, I latched them both on. I don’t often breastfeed them in tandem because I usually find it uncomfortable but it was surprisingly fine that time.

I make a point of really focusing on Talitha when she nurses now because I know we will soon close this chapter of our lives. With two of them there, I locked into my heart the image of them holding hands across my lap.

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to breastfeed Talitha to weaning as a single child; whether the changes that came with her little sister would have come anyway.

I can’t think of either of them in isolation, though. They are so much a part of each other, so much a part of me. Never is this clearer than when I am breastfeeding them.

Realising she was drifting off to sleep, Talitha unlatched and turned over on her pillow, scooting backwards to make sure she was touching me.

Ophelia unlatched too – and tried to grab her sister’s hair!