On Releasing the Way Things Should Be: A Parenting and Imperfection Post by Stephanie Gates

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Greg and I are still on the river, assuming, of course, we haven’t met our untimely demise or murdered each other over our tent erection differences. You can pray for us.

In the meantime, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Stephanie Gates, blogger behind A Wide Mercy, who’s sharing this space for the first time. I love Stephanie’s perspective, the words she uses and the ways she champions other mamas. I hope you do, too. 

x’s and o’s, friends… always,

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On Releasing the Way Things Should Be
by Stephanie Gates

Can I tell you a secret?

I’m tired of breastfeeding.

I hesitate to admit it, even to myself. Before I get the words out, I hear the reprimand in my head. Women spend years trying to have a baby. YOU waited for years for your babies!  Remember how long you prayed for a baby to nurse? And how many new mothers work so hard to breastfeed their infants, and their bodies just won’t cooperate? You should enjoy this extra time with him!

I should. But I’m not.

I love my baby more than I can say. Nursing him this past year has been a lifeline, connecting us to one another during an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable time. I am unspeakably glad to be his mom, and for the time both nursing and bottle-feeding requires us to spend holding our  little ones. But I birthed four babies in five years. My body has been keeping another human being alive since 2006. When I began this endeavor, Barack Obama was a newbie Senator from Illinois, and the housing market was booming.  

I could have earned a PhD in growing and sustaining humans by now. I’ve been either pregnant or nurturing a baby for a long, long time.

Now I’m tired. I will always carry sweet memories of snuggling my baby in the middle of the night, or falling asleep on the couch with a newborn curled against me.  I’ve loved nursing my babies, I really have. But I’m ready to move on.

Only, my baby just won’t wean.

More importantly, he won’t sleep through the night because he still wakes up to nurse. Twice a night, at least. Every single night of his life.

He’s over a year old. He sits in his high chair, signing “eat” and downing chicken, pasta, fruits, and yogurt just like his brothers and sister. He’s old enough to throw books from the shelf and to pull his sister’s hair when she encroaches his personal space. He is at the age when a baby should naturally wean.

He should. But he just won’t.

I have cried, I have pleaded, I have prayed. I’ve complained to my husband and asked every  friend for advice. Nothing has worked. That stubborn baby refuses to give up. I tried reasoning with him, explaining he is getting to be a big boy and really doesn’t need this anymore. He didn’t buy it. I tried reasoning with God, insisting I would be a better mother if I could just please, for the love, have my body to myself again and get a decent night’s sleep. Nothing changed.

So I did the next most rational thing. I asked Google for help.

It’s been years since I turned to Google to help me parent. But last night, as I dreaded the thought of another night of sitting up with my baby to nurse him in the wee hours, I typed in “13-months-old sleep?” and “weaning over one year?” I scrolled through the results and remembered why I stopped asking Google in the first place. The first website bemoaned my selfishness, that I would even consider weaning a baby his age. They insisted it was good and natural for 13-month-olds to wake up numerous times at night to nurse. What isn’t natural, they said, is a mother who expects her baby to sleep twelve hours at a time.

Moving on.

The next site smugly declared how easy it is to get a baby to wean – and, by extension, sleep – at his age. “Within a few days, he should be happy and adjusted to his new schedule,” it said. Apparently my baby never read that article, because I’ve already tried their approach. It was a spectacular disaster. Every time I dropped a daytime feeding, he woke up once more at night. He was happy all right – happy to wait until 2 a.m. to declare his displeasure at our new arrangement. At one point he wasn’t nursing at all during the day, but woke up screaming every two hours at night. Maybe he can adjust to that change in our schedule, but I cannot.

Another site gave a list of common mistakes mothers make. Perfect! Please tell me what I’m doing wrong.  If I’m wrong, then I can fix my mistake, and if I can fix it, I can wean him. I read the list eagerly. Not a single thing applied. Not one. According to this site, I was doing all the right things for my baby.  Damn.

I sighed and closed the computer. I closed my eyes, and suddenly a thought occurred to me.

Maybe fatigue and nursing isn’t my problem.  Maybe my problem is how tightly I’m holding on to the idea of the way things should be.

Instead of changing my circumstances, maybe it is time for me to change my expectations. Maybe I need to accept where we are, and let it be okay. I am tired of breastfeeding, tired in general. I would give anything for just one night of uninterrupted sleep. But my baby needs me anyway. He’s happy and healthy. He eats and drinks well, yet he still needs to nurse often. It doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes, and it’s nowhere close to where we should be. But it’s where we are.

Maybe it’s time to ask for a different sort of help. Instead of asking God for an escape, maybe I need to ask that He will widen my capacity. Help me to be gracious to my baby in the middle of the night.  Help me to dig deep and be patient with my other children on the days when I’m especially tired. If you won’t make my life easier, God, then please help me find grace, and offer it to my family, in the middle of my exhaustion.

I am so ready to move into the next phase of life with small children. But this stage just won’t end. Maybe, instead of clutching all the shoulds, it’s time to ask for the grace to live where I am.

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StephanieAWideMercy

I am Stephanie – mom to four beautifully rambunctious little kids and wife to a guy who still makes me smile. Last spring I moved to Colorado, where I fell in love with the mountain air and the Anglican church. If you have ever abandoned religion in search of faith, ever had to leave your hometown to find your home, or ever climbed to the very tip-top of a jungle gym to rescue an overzealous toddler, come sit by me.  We’ll talk.


You can follow my story at A Wide Mercy or follow along on Facebook.  

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You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection series posts here.

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
13 comments
  1. I never managed to nurse my babies that long but my kids still don’t sleep through the night until they’re around 3. My youngest is almost 2.5, my oldest is 8 and I have had 8 years of interrupted sleep. The amount of times I have slept through the night uninterrupted I can probably literally count on one hand. I totally sympathize with you on the sleep deprivation. I fantasize about sleeping, it is almost an obsession – how many hours of sleep I can get uninterrupted. Hang in there.

  2. Wow – this is breathtakingly honest. I have older children and my own feelings about my breastfeeding experience but I just think it’s so beautiful and achingly hard that you’re taking your own journey, unlike anyone else on Google apparently. You’re very brave to readjust your expectations.

    Thank you for your honesty.

    Heather

  3. […] stellar 3-writer Parenting and Imperfection block (see Mary Beth’s beautiful post here and Stephanie’s poignant post here) with Sarah’s hilarious post: The Very Real and Necessary Dangers of a Secret Chocolate […]

  4. I am nursing my 28 month old son. it’s very natural, babies wean when they are ready!

  5. Wow it sounds like the topic of this post resonated with a lot of us!! I too have a determined nurser who at 18 months shows no sign of stopping or of learning to sleep through the night. I’m working, raising three small children and preparing for an international move…I’m tired. Just last night I was whining at the baby for not being finished nursing when I thought she should be. Thank you for the reminder of what needs to change…not my circumstance but my expectations and my attitude..and for the camaraderie of seeing that I’m not alone in the middle of the night.

  6. I loved this post! I keep reading it over and over again and feeling moved by the words! Thank you both for sharing!
    Kristen

    1. Thank you Kristen! I’m so glad you liked it!

  7. This is definitely one of those right place- right time situations. My little man is 17 months, and still nursing (a lot!) I started nursing him with the idea that we would continue until he didn’t need it anymore, and just last night I was hoping that he will wean sometime before he starts college… Lol. But seriously, I have had to have several sessions with my self evaluating this choice. I am a single mom who works basically full time, and I am *tired*. But for me, it is a chance to bond with and snuggle my baby who is growing up far too fast. I know that someday soon he won’t want to cuddle with his mommy, and so I cherish those moments. I know it doesn’t help, but it is nice to know that we are not alone 🙂

  8. So glad I clicked on this. I don’t know if it’s because we are raising a generation of children that need to be stubborn and stick to their guns but I too have an 11 month old who is by far my worst sleeper, I guess I was bound to get 1 out of 6. This is a great reminder to just be and ask for the strength/patience/endurance I need to get through each day. Thank you!

  9. My youngest is 25 months. He is still nursing at night – generally only at about 5 am and then he goes back to sleep until 7 or so. I will tell you that 14 – 18 months is a time of intense development and the nursing helps. It will likely slow doown in the next couple of months. This doesn’t help. I know. I get the bone deep tired and the being done. I find that taking the middle of the night nursing as time for me to indulge in something – a book, a netflix queue, uninterrupted email – helps with the aggravation of not having the ideal.

    The days are so long. I hope that you recognize your grace.

    Katrina

  10. How is it Beth, that your blog speaks to me at the exact moment I need it? Even when you have a guest post like today with Stephanie. Today I’ve decided to start completely weaning my 7 month old. I too am tired. I too have 4 that are 4 & under, it’s time. And of course it’s bittersweet as this is my last babe. But of course the guilt & then I’m stressed as I’m not producing enough anyway & I so want to make it a year, & she’s been the fussiest by far with eating & wanting to nurse. I could go on…,

    Anyway time for me to let go as well, like you said Stephanie & accept. It’s hard, but knowing I’m not alone definitely helps.

    Thanks to both Stephanie & for Beth with your guest bloggers.

  11. I totally know what you mean. My 16-month old still nurses like she’s 3 months old. I set out to nurse so long as it works well for both of us. Apparently it works VERY well for her. She as well eats like a champ outside of nursing. I can only imagine 8 years of this! I’d say about the 13 month mark I got very surly with her at night and had to have a major brain adjustment. We’re now going strong and when I get frustrated I just remind myself that any nursing session could be the last and it helps me relish that time. Great job sweet mama, hats off to you!

  12. I cannot tell you how much this speaks to me. My guy just turned 14 months, and his sleep/feeding schedule still feels exhausting. And I’ve not always handled it with the amount of grace I would have liked. I’ve had my heart sink whenever other moms bragged about their “good” babies who sleep all night. Is my baby really bad because he still wakes up for food, snuggles, and comfort? Of course not. But I need to be reminded of that sometimes. So, thanks for the inspiring reminder that this is ALL okay. It’s me who has to continue to try to get over it.

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