“The secret to being humble is minding your own business.” --- Paraphrased quote by Mother Teresa of Calcutta
After returning home from the hospital with my first baby, when I wasn’t rushing him to the emergency room to have a booger removed from his nose (oh, yes, I did), I was contemplating two very important issues. First, would my cha-cha ever go back to normal?
(“Oh my God!” I wailed to my husband, “It’s HUMONGOUS! What happened to it?!” And he shrugged, “It’s swollen – you know, just like your ankles. It’ll go back to normal.” To which I sobbed, “But what if the swelling never ever ever goes down – what then?!” And he calmly re-iterated, “It will.” I responded by bawling hysterically, “But will you still love me if it doesn’t?”)
He is a saint, my husband – I don’t know how he does it.
The second most important issue on my mind was, Why is everyone so concerned about my boobs all of a sudden? And unlike my obsession with my cha-cha, that was not just post-partum craziness speaking. It’s a weird weird fact.
Breastfeeding got off to a slow start for J and me. So slow, in fact, that several different nurses in the hospital nursery were frequently groping me in a very aggressive manner in an attempt to help us figure out how to do it. My breasts are big to begin with and once my milk came in, each one was like twice as big as J's head and to add to the drama, it turned out that I had “flat nipples,” which are evidently not helpful in establishing the nursing relationship. The nurse promised me that once nursing got established I would never have flat nipples again.
In the end we did figure it out, (mostly thanks to my husband's great support, since I'd turned him into a breastfeeding zealot during my pregnancy by convincing him that our kid would be weak, sickly and dumb if I couldn't breastfeed) and by the time J. was six months old, not only did I not hate nursing anymore, but I started to mist up at the thought that he would some day wean. And the nurse was right. I have good nipples now. Not to be confused with perky, unfortunately, just good.
So I joined La Leche League and, according to my mother, went on to breastfeed my kids until they were thirty-five.
Or I might as well have.
In actuality, I nursed both of my babies for twenty-one months on the dot, much to the shock and disgust of most, if not all, of the people I know. Except the ones I knew from La Leche League – who just found it really really really – well – sad – that I didn’t want to nurse my kids until they went to kindergarten. "Nobody's still nursing when they go to college," they would joke in an attempt at reassurance. Neither baby ever took a bottle, not of formula or expressed milk either. So to say that I’m “pro-breastfeeding” would be to greatly understate the case.
But that said, while I’m not opposed to educating people about the benefits of breastfeeding and returning to it as the normative way of feeding infants in our culture, I object to the scare tactics used to accomplish that.
Is breast milk perfectly designed for babies? Of course. Is a baby’s life “ruined” if he doesn’t get breastfed? Um, I really don’t think so. A baby’s life can be ruined by being dropped on his head down a flight of concrete stairs, but not by drinking formula. It’s particularly irritating to hear formula referred to as “poison.” Anti-freeze and Clorox are poisons. Formula is the next best thing to mother’s milk.
In addition to La Leche League meetings, I read Mothering Magazine and a variety of other pro-breastfeeding literature, all which implies that by breastfeeding you can single-handedly bring about world peace and an end to human suffering as we know it. This is how important, holy and world-changing they make it sound. But, come on, at the end of the day, it’s milk, for God sake. That’s it – get a grip.
And women like the few in this comment section, do not help, with their suggestions that mothers who bottlefeed are clearly selfish and more enamored of possessions than their babies. Shshsh! No one tell them that lactation is a natural physiological process designed to benefit both mother and baby. (Lactation helps the mother’s body return to its pre-pregnancy state, and it’s a protective factor against breast and ovarian cancer. Plus, if you’re lazy and can do it in your sleep, like me, it makes middle-of-the-night feedings so easy.) If those judgmental nuts find that out, mothers who do breastfeed will be the rotten, selfish bitches - breastfeeding their babies for their own personal gain. Because God forbid a mother take into account her own needs, limitations and well-being when making decisions about what’s best for her baby.
I felt judged pretty harshly for my so-called “crunchy” parenting. On J’s first birthday, some family members told me the milk I was producing suddenly had “no nutritional value whatsoever,” and of course they knew it was true because – well, someone had told them. (I asked, hello? How did that happen? Did it suddenly stop being milk and start being paint thinner or what?) They weren’t sure.
But I’ve had a lot of practice with people treating me like I’m crazy, so it didn’t bother me all that much. And my kids are really smart and healthy now – everyone agrees, so I got the last laugh. I also figured out how to make my life easier by, for example, pretending that I didn’t find it the least bit outrageous that someone would nurse an eight-year-old, so that when my kids weaned at two, people would just be so relieved that they wouldn’t say anything more about it.
I know. I should be nicer.
What life experience hadn’t prepared me for, however, is learning to notice when other mothers might feel judged by me, based on my own personal choices.
When one of my dearest friends had her first baby she had a lot of difficulty breastfeeding. There were a lot of issues that one on top of the other just made her decide she couldn’t do it anymore after eight weeks. And she sent me an e-mail about the difficulty she was having and how tired she’d grown of it. When I read the e-mail I thought that she was asking for help. So I sent her all kinds of links, phone numbers for lactation consultants in her area, and, no doubt, my own helpful tips. And then I didn’t hear from her for several days (we e-mail on nearly a daily basis).
So I went back and read her e-mail again and (smacking myself on the forehead), I realized she had not said, “help me figure out how to breastfeed.” She had said (in so many words), “you psycho breastfeeding fanatic, tell me you don’t think I’m a rotten mother if I switch to formula, because I’m telling you I can’t take this anymore.” At which point I felt like a schmuck and called her to say that lots of smart and healthy people grew up on formula (Hello! Look at us!), she’d done a great job of trying, and I love her no matter how long she breastfeeds (or doesn’t). And since she’s still my friend today (with a beautiful, healthy and smart little girl, I might add), I’m guessing that was a good move.
My nursing days are now over (with any luck). In the end it really was a beautiful experience for me, and I’ll always cherish the memory. But I’m really glad to be done with it. I might have nursed J. until he was – I dunno, thirty maybe?
I like to think that at some reasonable point one or both of us would have tired of it. But neither of us was “done” when I actually had to wean him at twenty-one months (my milk dried up due to being five months pregnant with Little One).
With my second baby I was ready to throw in the nursing bra at ten months. But my good ol’ maternal guilt made me nurse him as long as I did his brother. So on precisely the day of Little One’s twenty-one month birthday I was just like, Beat it kid… I’ve had enough.
Alright, I was a little more gentle than that, but I really was just so ready to move on to having my whole body to myself and being the mom of older kiddos. It sounds terrible I know. It’s not that I loved him any less, but nursing and sleeping with and just generally being with babies and toddlers twenty-four/seven requires nearly constant selflessness and I apparently only had about three years or so worth of it in me. At that point the well (hence the boob) had run dry, as they say.
Still, my hippie parenting style aside, milk stains in embarrassing places are not indicative of a “good” mom, nor is a bottle indicative of a “bad” mom. Feeding method is greatly influenced by the logistics of our particular situations, how well our babies and bodies cooperate (or don’t) and how much help and support we get (or don’t) from friends and family. And none of those things have anything to do with the inexplicable depth and magnitude of our love and concern for our babies. So give a mother a break already.