Two Years of Nursing, One Week of Weaning

Photo Credit: Mericris Scott

Moulay is two years old now in both the lunar and solar calendar. His solar birthday found us here in New York with family. For his lunar birthday, we were still in Oman and that’s the day we started weaning our little man off of breastmilk. I had hoped that Moulay would end on his own before that point. He had been nursing exclusively at night for about nine months and never asked for milk at naptime or during the day. I assumed we could coast until he was ready to resign, but my side of the breastfeeding relationship was discontented. There was no shortage of milk or energy, just an instinctive feeling that we needed a reorientation in our relationship and that we would both benefit from uninterrupted night sleep.  I knew that Moulay’s diet was varied and robust enough to support him nutritionally without my milk and felt strongly that he was mature enough to be comforted in different ways.

Regardless of age or timing, Moulay’s attachment to night nursing was evidently strong, and I prepared myself to support him through the transition. Urbndervish tried putting Moulay to sleep on weekends but after a few weeks, our guy caught wind of our strategy and resisted. I thought of the dissuasion techniques I read about on mothering forums like applying aloe vera to the nipples or putting band-aids on them, but they seemed dishonest and I wasn’t that desperate–at least not yet. After a sleepless night of contemplation, research, and prayer, I rose the next day with a confident resolve that it was time and that I could love him through this loss.

The first night we changed rooms and I held, sang, and rocked Moulay until he slept. It was about an hour of fussing, whining and dozing until he finally succumbed to sleep. Naturally, I hated hearing him cry, but I heard frustration and disappointment in his voice more than fear or anger. I wasn’t leaving him alone or disappearing suddenly.  I was assuring and comforting him in every way I could. The next night was similar but shorter. The next night, even shorter but eventually, he stopped asking for or looking for milk. At around the seven-day mark, transitioning back into his bed next to his sister’s was a mild setback, possibly because of him associating the space with our nursing time. However, I knew we weren’t going back and so we pressed on.

I was torn about initiating weaning in Oman or during holiday, since I always notice new developmental leaps when we travel. However, for this delicate matter, I thought it best to not have the added pressure of other sleepers in the home and adjusting to time zone changes. This round of weaning wasn’t as easy as it was with Lil’ Z, but I’m learning to stop comparing the two and allow Moulay to shine and thrive in his own unique way.

Ten Reflections for Round Two

Lil' Z draws Mama

Lil’ Z draws Mama

 

At 37 weeks pregnant, it’s about time I start acting like a baby is on the way.  My birthing bag is mostly packed.  We have an in-bed bassinet for our co-sleeping arrangement.  I’ve got a stash of coconut water and dates for my labor snacks.  The appropriate pads are on deck for all of that lovely post-partum leaking I anticipate and I’m taking all of the herbs and supplements I can tolerate.  Most mornings, I’m still able to do a bit of yoga, light cardio exercise, or walk in the park.  But I’ve mostly reached my threshold of preparation that I can currently sustain.

When pregnant with Lil’ Z, I had lots of time to fill with reciting Qur’an, reading parenting books, and doing lengthy yoga workouts but now, time is less abundant and I have to find resolve with what I’m able to do and not do.  As a parent, worship is not only what you do in quietude but also who you are and what you cultivate in your children.  We try to sow seeds in our daughter’s life and faith that will blossom into character and actions and that’s a big priority for us everyday.

Thankfully, we resolved a lot of our parenting decisions on round one, so now we’re mostly updating our positions and perspectives on the childrearing matters we grappled with more than four years ago.  Seeing the fruits of our choices in Lil’ Z affirms what worked really well for our family but we’ve been also taking mental notes of what we would do differently with our second baby. This is what we’ve come up with so far:

  1. Birth Outside of the Hospital

We preferred the idea of birthing at home or a birthing center with Lil’ Z but didn’t have the opportunity to do so in Oman.  Part of our leaving Morocco was to have the option to birth outside of a hospital, and this is our hope for round two.

  1. Oral Vitamin K drops

With Lil’ Z, we didn’t want any needles puncturing her delicate skin in the early moments and days of her life.  In fact, it wasn’t until she reached the age of one that she first had blood drawn for lab tests.  Instead, I took alfalfa supplements to deliver Vitamin K to our baby via nursing, but we plan to use oral Vitamin K drops to guarantee adequate blood levels this time around.

  1. Reconsider Newborn Screening

Attached to the no-needle policy, we didn’t want Lil’ Z screened for Phenylketonuria (PKU), a dangerous though rare disease not commonly found in people of African descent.  Currently in Florida, the routine newborn screening tests for thirty four different diseases that have no immediate outward manifestation but can be immediately treated.  Our midwife would do this during our two-day visit while the baby is nursing or comforted in some other way.

  1. Mobiles

I didn’t really get the point of mobiles until I read Maria Montessori’s work and vowed not to miss out on this valuable developmental tool for the next baby.  Mobiles are not for mere entertainment: immature eyes can be strengthened and learn to track moving objects by looking at mobiles.  Later on, mobiles can foster the eye-hand coordination required to bat, grab, and pull.

  1. Splitting Up Sometimes

With Lil’ Z, we reveled in the newness of being parents and did everything as a family.  Every walk, outing, or adventure was attended by all.  In retrospect, it would’ve been better for us to occasionally do some activities apart so either of us can have much-needed alone time or rest, while the other enjoys one-on-one bonding time.  When we’re apart, I do miss my people and worry about their safety, but I entrust them to Allah’s care and look forward to the warm hugs and stories that will accompany them upon their return.

  1. More Floor Time

Lil’ Z spent a lot of her early days on mattresses or beds; both of which carry the fear of falling.  Instead, we could’ve invested in soft, comfy rugs and a good vacuum cleaner to support early scooting, rocking, and crawling.

  1. Hold off on the Potty Seat

Elimination Communication worked really well for us, but we spent way too much with Lil’ Z sitting on the potty.  Instead, we plan to hold the little one over a toilet seat.  When the little one is walking, then we can introduce the potty as a step towards toilet independence.

  1. Give more space for exploration, germs, and dirt

We were mostly fine with Lil’ Z playing in sand but had difficulty letting her roam in parks filled with debris, bugs, and dirt.  It’s natural to fear the first insect bite, cold, or infection but immunity does not build itself in a cocoon. Resilience is bred from exposure.

  1. Don’t Obsess over Sleep

I spent too much of my time rocking, singing, and nursing Lil’ Z to sleep, all for the sake of keeping to a schedule.  I was so uptight about maintaining a schedule that I was slow to see how her sleep needs were changing and adjust accordingly.  Instead, I hope to set up a restful environment when signs of sleepiness arise—a restful and relaxing environment for both me and baby.  In that way, even if sleep is not achieved, we can both still have some much needed quiet time where I can recite Qur’an, read a book, or just take some deep breaths alongside my little one.  If it takes more than thirty minutes for the little one to fall sleep, maybe that nap needs to be skipped or that bedtime needs to be pushed back.  At this stage in my life, I want our days to end peacefully and our nights to be restful.  Even if our nights start at the same time, I can make up for my own quiet time in the early morning.  I’ve personally found more blessing and productivity in my time when I wake up early, as opposed to staying up late.

  1. Don’t Fear Food

We were so convinced that breastmilk is the best food for babies that we almost feared the introduction of solid foods.  At some point late into Lil’ Z’s eight month of life, we started to introduce foods and she wasn’t so interested.  This made us overly anxious, fearing that she would not be eating enough after her first birthday.  This time around, we’re hoping to start offering different foods to taste after the first six or seven months and support the baby-led weaning approach thereafter.

Even with these matters resolved, I still feel at times that I’m not yet ready to give birth or to bring a new life into our home.  There is nothing static about parenting.  It is constantly stretching, evolving, and throwing all kinds of curve balls.  But much like this pregnancy that we prayed our way through, we will continue to pray through our parenting, day by day and season by season.

Rediscovering Ramadan as Parents

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It seems that each year’s Ramadan brings a new set of challenges and opportunities to raise the bar, up the ante, and climb a little higher.  On one hand, we consciously made the choice to stay in Nizwa—in spite of the imprisoning heat—so we would have no major interruption in our rhythm.  For the last few years, we’ve spent Ramadan in various places, trying to make the most of our family time in the US but then making it back to our “home” to spend the last days of Ramadan in solitude and solace.  This year, we postponed our summer travel plans until later for personal and professional reasons, so we’ve enjoyed being cozy in our little nest this month.  Urbndervish’s work schedule is shortened from 8am to 2pm daily in observance of Ramadan, which has been great for our family time and energy conservation.  And, thankfully, overcast mornings and cloudy afternoons have given us welcomed breezes of mercy throughout the month.

On the other hand, we’re learning to share Ramadan with our daughter.  She has finally grasped the idea that the much-awaited Ramadan is not a person or thing but a special time with special habits.  Sometimes, she offers us food throughout the day, to which we reply “We’re fasting”.  Then she affirms “I’m fasting too” as she finishes her meal.  As the sun begins to set, Lil’ Z turns on the Ramadan lights, counts out three dates for everyone, and carries them to the dining area.   Sometimes, she turns down afternoon snacks, insisting that she’s waiting for the call to prayer, whereas other times, she can’t resist sinking her little teeth into the freshly dried dates.

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Making our calendar, decorating the house, and sharing our fast-breaking meal give us an opportunity to see Ramadan through our child’s eyes—making the festivity more palpable and palatable.  However, the rest of the day is mostly long and hot.  Lil’ Z sleeps less than in past years, so the opportunity to worship without her is rare, giving us the new challenge to worship with her and remember that our care and nurturing of her is worship itself.

While Lil’ Z is too young to comprehend Ramadan and its significance at a cerebral level, we still have fun singing about Ramadan, making Ramadan cards for our dinner guests, and making Ramadan garlands to hang on our front door.  Then all of our Ramadan creativity ran out, so we had to come up with other ideas—low energy ideas that we can do with her without exhausting our stamina or patience.

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We started an alphabet book which combines all of her current favorite things to do—cutting, using glue sticks, and talking about letters and phonetic sounds.

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Also, with the encouragement of one of my sister friend, we started finger painting.  There’s also a lot of reading, cooking, and playing that goes on too.  We didn’t get around to as much “traditional” cooking, as is characteristic of Ramadan in many other cultures, but we did make two Jamaican delights:  festival dumplings and plantain tarts.

We’ve been fortunate to have some quiet moments early before dawn and during Lil’ Z’s naps but things don’t always go according to schedule.  If she wants to pray night prayers with us, wake up for pre-fasting rounds of water, or take her nap on our laps while we read Qur’an, we’re learning to just roll with it.  As long as everyone’s needs are being met, why fight it?  Our sleep schedules have shifted a bit but we’re all sleeping enough…eventually.  Our Ramadan goals have been pared down, but we’re still stretching ourselves a bit.  Ramadan is not exactly what we thought it would be, but it has still been very blessed and merciful.  It’s difficult seeing the ugly parts of yourself that surface while fasting, especially when reflected in the eyes of your offspring.  But even this is a mercy in its own way as recognition is the precursor to rectification.

"Blessed Ramadan"

“Blessed Ramadan”

As with every Ramadan, we’re reminded to relearn good habits, rethink how we spend our time, and realize and rectify our shortcomings.  So, in these last blessed days, we’re planning to dig in a little deeper, pray a little harder, and be better than before.  Hopefully, the most significant Ramadan lesson Lil’ Z will take from this year’s experience is that she is not a barrier to our worship but an integral and welcomed participant in our life of worship.