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How I Accidentally Became an Extended Breastfeeder

Photograph by Twenty20

When I was pregnant with our first daughter, I knew I wanted to nurse. Like many moms, I chose one year as my goal. In retrospect it seems somewhat arbitrary, but that's the number you always hear, so that's where I placed a big red X in my mental calendar.

Fortunately, breastfeeding came easy to us, and I relished the bonding aspect of it tremendously. Shortly after her first birthday, we started introducing cow's milk—again, because that's what you do, right?—and within a month, she was pretty much fully weaned.

I had taken a friend's advice and, rather than decide ahead of time that, "This will be our last nursing session," I decided it afterward. That way, I never had the experience of sniffling through a feeding, lamenting our last time in this exact same lovely, warm position. I was sad, but not too sad, as my husband and I hoped to have another child, and I was comforted by the fact that I'd get to breastfeed again. So I went out, bought some good pushup bras to help my new post-baby breasts look a little happier, and packed away the pump that said, "Uh oh, uh oh, uh oh."

Seven months later, to everyone's immense and very happy surprise (including my uterus), I was pregnant again. (Back story: We needed years of medications and, ultimately, IVF, to get pregnant with No. 1. Natural conception was not supposed to be in the cards for us. We are that cliché you always hear about.)

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Daughter No. 2 arrived in June of last year. My milk came in faster this time around (Day 2 instead of Day 4), I never really got engorged as I had the first time, and I was shocked (and a little bummed) that the insane hunger that lived in my belly throughout my first postpartum experience, driving me to do things like buy extra tubes of cookie dough to slice onto my Edy's Cookie Dough ice cream, didn't return.

Nursing this time around was different in other ways: I rarely wore a Hooter Hider. In fact, anyone shopping at Costco on June 29, 2014 likely saw my boobs as I raced through the aisles, a toddler in my grocery cart and a newborn at my chest, and struggled to simultaneously steer the cart, nurse Little, grab samples for Big and figure out where the two packs of natural peanut butter were hiding. I also stopped pumping and dumping after wine—something I was pretty religious about the first time around. This time I realized that if I was sober enough to drive, I was sober enough to breastfeed.

In a nutshell, now that I'm a mom of two, I'm more relaxed about nursing—about everything, actually—and I kind of just forgot that when our daughter turned 1, that was the benchmark we used to wean her older sister. And the truth is, neither the baby (now 16 months old) nor I seem to have any interest in stopping.

Sometimes when people ask me if I'm still nursing, I'll say yes, then make a joke along the lines of, "Don't worry, I'm not going to be the TIME Magazine mom." I guess I say it to make them feel more at ease, but in actuality, that's a pretty messed-up joke.

Before, when I heard the phrase "extended breastfeeding," I thought of crunchy, hippy earth mother mamas. I thought of people who wear their babies in slings. I thought of Mayim Bialik. True, those are some examples of women who breastfeed past a year (and they all rock!) but there are other, more diverse personas hiding behind extended nursing breasts, too:

The lawyer who works in an office five days a week but still nurses in the morning and at night while enjoying some much-needed cuddle time.

The stay-at-home mom who has three kids and enjoys the time-managing and financial benefits of nursing her 18-month-old.

The mom who loves to travel and realizes that nursing her kid is much easier than lugging, cleaning and keeping track of bottles and nipples.

The mom who travels a lot for work and kind of hates pumping but doesn't want to quit nursing, so she shleps her pump, parts, cooler bag and ice pack with her.

Sometimes when people ask me if I'm still nursing, I'll say yes, then make a joke along the lines of, "Don't worry, I'm not going to be the TIME Magazine mom." I guess I say it to make them feel more at ease, but in actuality, that's a pretty messed-up joke. There's nothing wrong with the TIME Magazine mom. There's nothing wrong with Mayim Bialik nursing her son until he was 4. Women have the right to control their own bodies and to make healthy decisions for their children, and if that includes nursing past a year—or two or three—so be it. Similarly, if she opts to bottle-feed from the get-go, that's her right, too.

While nursing past 16 months has been rewarding and positive for me, I wouldn't say it's all roses and sunshine. My boobs have gone wonky. Lefty is still keeping up, but Righty is about half the size and working at about 30 percent capacity. A friend of mine who breastfed until her daughter turned 2 struggled with crippling neck pain afterwards, which her doctor chalked up to 24 months of poor nursing posture. I've been fortunate that our baby has only four teeth, but some EB women certainly have been on the receiving end of some serious chomps.

As a total aside, why is it that so many people feel that, "If the kid is old enough to ask (to nurse), they're too old to be doing it"? When a child learns the word for water and starts asking for it, do we start withholding water? That never made sense to me.

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For now, we'll keep on keeping on. I work from home with the help of a nanny, and one of my favorite times of day is when the baby wakes from her nap and I happen to hear her first. I go get her, bring her back into my husband's and my bedroom, switch on our other daughter's Hello Kitty boombox and sweep the dial until I find a great song. Then we lay in bed and nurse. It's usually around 3:30 p.m. and the late afternoon sun is spraying in through the windows.

A Sting song will come on and serenade us as we cuddle, belly-to-belly, and everything feels right.

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