The woman poured hot tea from her cup into the saucer, gave it a couple of cooling swirls and gulped it down in one, refreshing slurp. Having never seen someone drink out of a saucer before, Eryn gave the woman the oddest, what-on-earth-are-you-DOING look and drew closer to my leg. The woman laughed heartily and coaxed Eryn with a chocolate. By the end of tea, Eryn was flying through the air to give her kisses.

Hajiya’s hands were covered in traditional Iraqi Bedouin tattoos. As were her feet, chest and, to my surprise, much of her face. From her eyebrows to her toes, this kind elder stuffing my toddler full of chocolates was officially the most tattooed woman I had ever met. And I desperately wanted to hear the story behind each dot and talisman flowing like poetry on her skin.

For almost two years Hajiya and her lovely daughter have taken care of my sister-in-law – sharing food and family support since both extended families live an ocean away. I’ve heard many stories of Hajiya’s desert wisdom and kindness and was very excited to meet her.

Speaking broken English and though translations of a Kuwaiti dialect, we discussed my sister-in-law’s upcoming boxing match and my current pregnancy. Eryn interrupted and put her hand on my belly, saying: “Baby! Mama, womb.” Then, nodding for emphasis, she took the opportunity to mention our nursing arrangement.

Eryn has recently decided to “allow” the future baby to nurse from my right breast since she gave it up for “blech” about four months ago, and explained:

Touching the right:  “Baby num-nya. Eryn no num-nya.”
Patting the left:  “Eryn num-nya, yes. Baby no num-nya. Eryn num-nya here.”

Eryn is not in the habit of groping me in public, but ever since my milk dropped, she’s been sweetly protective of my breasts – perhaps because “num-nya” is slowly disappearing or she senses that she soon won’t be the centre of my attention. But just like I never thought that horrendous prayer conditions would help me get over my fear of nursing in public, I never saw myself as potentially tandem nursing (in just a few months)!

So you can bet I’ve been scouring my library of parenting and pregnancy articles – from Today’s Parent to Dr. Sears – for information on child-led weaning and the benefits of tandem nursing. Even though Islam encourages breastfeeding women to nurse for at least two years, not everyone is thrilled that we’re still going strong – so I’m arming myself with every drop of advice I can get.

One of my searches led me to a lovely story relating the breastfeeding relationship between the Prophet and his nursemaid. As an infant, he was sent into the deep desert – where children learned wisdom, pure Arabic and grew strong and healthy. Because he was an orphan during a time of drought, only a poor nursemaid with barely enough milk for her own child offered to take him. But the moment he sat on her lap, her breasts were filled with more than enough milk for both children – even their dry camel suddenly started producing rich milk.

Expecting a lecture, I was surprised when Hajiya didn’t bat an eye at Eryn’s explanation: “You’re still nursing? Good. Just know that the milk will change in the fifth month of your pregnancy. It’ll be less milky and go back to the sticky substance you had at the beginning. It might cause some stomach upset for Eryn since it has a mild laxative effect.”

Confirming what I already knew from the “experts” about colostrum and tandem nursing I could only shake my head and laugh. She said EXACTLY what my Pregnancy 101 app told me in an automated alert the day before. When I replied that she knows better than my entire parenting library, we marvelled at the expert wisdom from the desert.

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