🌻 These two milk siblings, blood brothers, M and J. Just over 5 years and almost 2 years old, respectively — the former the same age as my nursing journey overall and the latter the same as my experience in tandem nursing. Such tiny numbers really. Hard to imagine we were nothing and growing and birthing and birthed and empty and nourished more than once over in that amount of time.
M and J don’t like to be separated. Though they annoy each other and feel overwhelmed with the art of sharing from time to time, as siblings do, they prefer each other’s close company. J learns a lot from his big brother (like how to get dressed and sing) and M never hesitates to include J in his activities.
Their bond began when J was in my womb, every day growing stronger until one day he’d feel ready for life Earthside. From age 2.5 to 3.5 years, M watched my belly swell bigger and bigger. He knew his little brother was inside ‘swimming in water.’ He knew J could hear him so he spoke to him often. He said “Good morning!,” and “Good night!” every day for months, with a morning kiss and night kiss (and lots of extras in between).
He saw J for the first time around midnight, about an hour after he was born. I was laying in our bed with J on my breast. M gave J a kiss — a real, live, salty, good morning and good night kiss — right on his freshly born little head.
M had the honor of separating his little brother’s cord. We chose a Sacred Severance ceremony involving quiet, meditation, and burning of the cord instead of cutting. M, his dad, and our doula held candles to the cord in gentle recognition of this significant alteration. M was not present for the birth so this was his special contribution to our welcoming of J into the land of lung breathers.
J has known M his whole life. Though M was Earthside 3.5 years longer, it seems he’s known J just as long.
Simultaneous tandem nursing (both children breastfeeding in the same nursing session) has always been a rarity for us. My history of aversion and feeling touched out has given me limits, and blessed me with the power to set them.
In the first half year of J’s life, they seemed to nurse together whether I agreed or not, and there’s only so much a mother can gripe when she’s too exhausted to speak.
These photos capture the last time they nursed together. I’m sure it won’t be the last-last time, but M has only nursed twice in the past few months. This year will certainly be the one in which his nursing frequency tapers off into nothing more than memory. Of course, I’ve believed that every year since he was one, but it was never a prediction of confidence. Now I feel its looming truth in every way, shape, and form. Every time could really be the last-last time.
You can trust they will wean eventually on their own. Like a baby’s birth day or ripening fruit, everything is ready on its own time, in good time. Until then, nature speaks through us and knows what is healthiest for our bodies, minds, and spirits.
The process of child-led weaning is based on these instincts gifted to us by nature, beginning with the first taste of table food and ending with, well… I haven’t experienced this yet! A child’s declaration? A mother’s recognition? A random glance at the calendar and a subtle nag in your gut that enough time has passed since nursing that it’s officially over?
I don’t have all the answers or wisdom, so I wanted to share a few quotes from other mothers who have been there, too.
“Mothers often report that especially during the initial bonding period they feel a primal mama-grizzly protectiveness toward the new baby, and it can be quite hard to turn off. Indeed, your toddler may look like an unwelcome intruder in your breastfeeding love nest– even though you may have chosen tandem nursing specifically to include your toddler! A clear feeling of affection for the toddler may sometimes be elusive, instead you may feel an uncanny and alarming indifference for this important child in the early days.” ― Hilary Flower, Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond
“If tandem nursing is difficult, you may ask yourself: ‘How much of this would be happening if I weren’t tandem nursing?’ So many things are new during this adjustment period, it’s hard to tell what your choices and behaviors are affecting and what must be chalked up to some combination of adjustment to the new baby, typical toddler behavior, and your specific child’s temperament.”― Hilary Flower
“Tandem nursing may acquaint you with new mothering heights and depths. Adding to the problem, the high levels of oxytocin that characterize the early breastfeeding months has been shown to take the edge off of mental sharpness. When you’re suffering from ‘milk of amnesia’ it can be hard to remember your own name — so it’s no wonder that you can’t come up with brilliant solutions to every toddler conundrum. Add a layer of sleep-deprivation and two needy children and you get a stressed-out mother — not always the paragon of kind mothering.” ― Hilary Flower
“Your siblings are the only people in the world who know what it’s like to have been brought up the way you were.” ― Betsy Cohen
“To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were.” ― Clara Ortega
“Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future.” ― Gail Lumet Buckley
“To nourish children and raise them against odds is in any time, any place, more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons.” ― Marilyn French
“Trust yourself to make the best choice for your family.” ― Hilary Flower
Photos credited to Amy+Leonardo Photography.
“Women, the building blocks of society, the wound weavers, the love givers, the spirit endearers, wisdom seekers, the source of nourish throughout life, the strongest force of nature yet also the most gentle creature. Sending all my love to all the Mothers out there, never underestimate how much you have to give to others and yourself.” – Amy LaFortune, Amy+Leonardo Photography
(If you’re wondering how we managed to snap these pictures, I described the intent of the photo shoot to M in advance. I said we would be taking photos of J nursing, and he was welcome to join if he wished. “Sounds great! I want to do that!” he said. Of course, photographer Amy had a super cool sand table that was far more fascinating to M than nursing for as long as J wished. But that’s to be expected. As they get older, they have the same love and affection for breastfeeding. They just also make room, time, and heart space for an increasing number of other things like super cool sand tables).
Read about full-term breastfeeding:
Read about tandem nursing:
Read about weaning:
Read about misconceptions:
Read about M’s thoughts on breastfeeding: