In the Beginning…

If we are going to talk about kids and food, we need to start at the beginning. That’s with the boob. Insert photo here that FB would consider “pornographic” even though it shows less boob – and nipple – than J Lo did at the Oscars:

So…breastfeeding. The most natural thing in the world. The actual purpose of breasts. The way, for millennia, primates started off life.

And now, a fierce debate. Because science and progress have finally freed women from this time and energy consuming chore. And as with washing machines and the telephone, we ought to take what is offered to us with gratitude, knowing it will inevitably improve our lives and lead the species to new heights of perfection.

Ok, not really. As the formula companies never tire of repeating, the breast is best (followed always by that little rejoinder, “But if it’s not working for you…or you just need a break…or…or…or…” – without noting that once most babies try an easy-sucking bottle and super sweet formula they are more than happy to go with scientific progress over Mom).

Certainly for health of the child, if not always the mother. Certainly for the brain of the child, if not always the mother. Certainly for the growth of the child, if not always the mother (only that is a GOOD thing…dropping baby weight was a piece of cake for me when I nursed my children).

At this point I have been breastfeeding one child or the other for just over 3 1/2 years, and consider myself something of a pro. But in the early days, it was incredibly difficult, stressful, tiring, and time-consuming. This is truth: anybody who says breastfeeding should be “easy” or “shouldn’t hurt if you’re doing it right” is completely full of shit. It hurts – even the second time around, when you’re supposedly “toughened up” – and we do mothers a disservice by saying it doesn’t or worse, it shouldn’t.

These days, with a 20-month-old, nursing him is something I anticipate that floods me with joy and peace, and makes me feel super-close to my son – it is also oftentimes the only way I can get to sleep, as the hormones it releases are a natural cure for insomnia.

As for those who can’t breastfeed and really want to, my heart goes out to them.  They shouldn’t be judged or made to feel “less than”. For those who don’t want to, I try to live and let live, but I’ll admit that in my more soapbox moments, I do feel that they maybe should try a little harder, like I did (but I realize that’s bitchy of me. Wanting others to suffer like you did is one of the worst things women do to each other – especially in the workplace and academia – so I really have no place adding to that misery. Still it’s sure tempting).

The one thing that drives me batty is people who present a case that makes those of us who managed – who did grit our teeth through the pain and endured the endless nights and finally, finally found that perfect latch that made it actually pleasureable (which lasted about 10 minutes until teeth set in and everything changed…including the wonderful new world of biting!) – I don’t find it helpful or feminist (in the sense of promoting what’s best for women – which includes our baby daughters) to make those women feel like tools because we haven’t figured out that we could really be liberated by science if we’d just get over ourselves.

Get over YOURself, science!

OK, before this devolves into namecalling, I’ll get to my point…the line I once read that really stuck with me is that breastfeeding is only free if you consider a woman’s time to be worth nothing.

Sounds right, except: what in the world could I be doing with my time that is more important or fulfilling than feeding another human being?! Than providing her everything she needs – not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually!

The whole problem is thinking of breastfeeding as a waste of time, as something you have to get through, to get on to whatever in your life is more important than this little leech that just wants to suck your life juice out.

Or…you can think of it like this: there’s a helpless human being that knows nothing in the universe except the sound of your voice and heartbeat, who trusts you with her very life, with everything she is, to provide her warmth and love and fill her tummy, all while giving her the only thing she needs besides nourishment: your attention, your self. Yes, sometimes it’s all of yourself. Yes, sometimes you lose yourself in it. Yes, you don’t have your own thoughts or worries for a while.

Wait, isn’t that a good thing?

I have gotten to the point with breastfeeding that not only do I derive great pleasure from the act, both chemically and just from the closeness it provides, but I welcome the respite from the busyness, a chance to read a book or just watch my incredible baby, look in his eyes. I am glad to have something to offer him that almost always serves as a comfort and a sanctuary of peace for us both.

Breasts are so much more to a baby than a bottle ever could be. They are comfort and food, they are playthings and security, and they are basically a friend. So while not diminishing those who cannot, let me just add that for those of us who breastfeed, there is a lot to be said for it. I, for one, am in no hurry to give it up (especially with this, my last child, still going strong as a big toddler!). I stopped doing it out of some sense of guilt or dispensing medicine a long time ago.

You know what? It is good for this mommy. It’s not taking anything away – it’s adding to my life. It’s so much better for me than if I were trying to mix bottles and convince my husband to offer half of them. How much nicer to just lay down next to my darling one and pull him close to me? It’s so relaxing, and there’s no wondering if he’s had enough, and no forcing more on him, and no waste at all. And when I can remember to calm down about it and just be there with him, I derive so much satisfaction and fulfillment from the act. I feel complete as a woman.

Maybe that’s horribly un-feminist to say; then again, what is more womanly than using what God gave me? I not only helped to create life; I help to sustain it. In this way, I emulate my Mother in Heaven. What’s more awe-inspiring than that? Why in the world do we think that is somehow less than going to an office all day?? If it is what a mother want to do, what she feels called to do, then she is not selling herself short at all.

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2 thoughts on “In the Beginning…

  1. I firmly believe support is one of the biggest factors in the success of breastfeeding. Influencers, good and bad, can really make a difference to an inexperienced mom. When those around you are breastfeeding or encouraging about the choice to try it, breastfeeding is so much easier. Likewise, if all a mom hears is doubt and stories about how so-and-so tried but never could breastfeed, it makes it all the more likely that she will fail.

    So if you want to try it, surround yourself with positive reinforcement–it works!

    • That is true. But oddly the thing that got me to stick with it was when you told me I could quit. That was both a relief, in that it took the pressure off, and also an incentive, in that I suddenly wanted to prove I could do it. So for me, a little negative reinforcement – or maybe just reverse psychology – was key.

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