Meet a Need

I love breast feeding and I am a huge advocate of extended nursing and child-led weaning. Anyone who is close to me knows the dogged determination with which I have pursued nursing relationships with all of my children. None were without difficulty, but we hung in there until we got over the hump and they each enjoyed the benefits breast milk and nursing into their toddler years. Is it always easy? No. Right now, I’m experiencing one of the less than blissful moments in nursing a toddler. This is the 3rd night of no sleep and I’m so sleep deprived it’s ridiculous. In a rash knee jerk response, I cried, “That’s it! We’re done. No more nursing at night!” Any nursing mamas out there care to comment on how successful that was? Now it hasn’t been without a foundation. I have been saying for 6 months or more that “we sleep at night, we nurse in the day.” To that I get a “Mmm.” I know that response. She gets it from me. It means, “Yeah. I hear you, I just don’t agree with you.” 

Last night was a clear example of a power struggle. I lost. I hung in as long as I could, but my heart gave way and I caved. Here’s the skinny. We nurse to sleep. We talk about  how we’re going to sleep tonight. She agrees. I go to bed right after she does. 45 minutes into my delightful dream state, she wakes up screaming. “Need Mama, need Mama!”. I try to snuggle and assure here that Mama is right here. I try to rub her and tell here that we’ll nurse in the morning, now is time to sleep. No luck. I ask if she’s hungry, if she wants rice milk, if she hurts. No luck. The screaming intensifies to a crazy level. I get angry. I’m so, so tired. We get up, I refuse. More screaming. After about 10 minutes of a full on meltdown, I’m concerned she’s going to blow out her vocal chords. It’s a deep guttural scream that is not relenting. I spend the next hour trying to distract her with no success whatsoever. She’s determined. My heart is breaking. I’m wavering. And then it comes to me: meet a need and it will go away.

I knew this with my first daughter. She, like all my children, is a spirited child. My first daughter is a visionary. She sees clear images in her head and that is the way it must be. This is similar to what Temple Grandin describes in her movie. When my eldest was a toddler, this would come out in something so simple as the shape of her sandwiches. If I cut them the wrong way, it was a huge meltdown. I had this deep sense that if I allowed it, it would go away. Meet a need, it will go away. For what ever reason, she needed this level of control at this stage. I gave it to her. I chose my battles carefully. I was told I was coddling, I was spoiling her, I was being manipulated. I heard them, but followed my inner guidance. Today, she is this amazing, well-adjusted and flexible soul. I met the need. It went away.

Back to the present…in that moment, I realized that this was a need. She’s not intentionally abusing me. She’s not manipulating me. She needs this and she was telling me that. We both had our heels dug in and I chose to be the adult and let go. There was a reason my heart was breaking. It felt wrong. I then had to ask myself why I had such a strong reaction. I wasn’t getting my needs met. I needed sleep. Where else could I get it? I needed to be napping. Every new mama knows this: sleep when the baby sleeps. I have never been good at that. I take that opportunity to “get things done!” Well, time to reassess priorities. The truth: if I was napping, I wouldn’t be so exhausted and I could meet her needs at night without freaking out.

My sense is that she’s going through a growth spurt. She’s seemingly growing before my very eyes. When she’s had nursing marathons in the past it has been followed by a new tooth, an illness (which is usually innocuous after an increase in breast milk"), a large development. There is always a true need. I choose to meet the need instead of trying to break her spirit and get what I want.

That feels right.


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