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5 Common Barbs In The Battle Over Breastfeeding

Has there ever been such a hot topic as breastfeeding? From states banning or unbanning it in public, to Instagram pictures of topless stars, we are seeing a trend lending itself to attacking the very ones being debated: the new mother and her sweet bundle of joy.

"Obviously, the only right thing to do is to personally attack this woman by passing judgment, giving her unwanted/unwarranted advice, and making her feel that we know better than she does about the choices she should make for her life and the life of her baby," said no sane and decent person ever.

So, in honor of all of us mamas out there, let’s take a calm and rational look at this breastfeeding conundrum, shall we? On a personal note, I’ve chosen to nurse my little man and have been doing so with a modicum of success for over 3 months now. I say this because, first of all, nursing is hard. We’re talking seriously difficult, here! When you see movies of a baby being born and the nurses setting the gooey little one on the mother’s chest for that first feeding, it looks so easy. The baby instinctively knows how to suck and finds his way to his mama’s breast as the woman on the big screen sighs with contentment. To this, I'm calling B.S. I mean, my six-year-old instinctively knows how to suck on a straw, yet she chokes religiously because she’s in a hurry to go play. And I, as a mother, instinctively want to protect my children from harm, and yet they still experience falls, scrapes, bruises, and scars. A baby is born with the intrinsic need to suck. And he does. But not well. At least not at first. And a mother’s breast is conditioned to produce milk after nine months of carrying her child inside of her. But she may not produce enough. She may not know which positions she and her baby are most comfortable nursing in, or she may simply recoil at the pain of having a small creature chomping at her tenders! I know for a fact that for the first month of breast-feeding my small one, hearing his little “NOM NOM NOM!” noises as he swiveled his head back and forth trying to latch onto any part of me that was closest to him resembled an episode of the walking dead.

 That being said, I chose to breastfeed. And many women choose to bottle feed. It seems unnecessary to have to explain why one woman chooses one way while another woman chooses the other, because the fact of the matter is, it’s not really our business, is it? When we come right down to it, we are all women, juggling life. We have work schedules, health issues, modesty concerns, social/peer pressure, latching difficulties, and a million other factors that play into our decisions. And we don’t want to be the cause of making another loving mama feel “less than” for her choice to do what’s best for her and her family, do we? So, a quick word to the Booby Pushers and to the Bottle Feeders: Let’s all take a deep breath, that’s right. Now, relax. We’ll all make it through this article alive if we show a little love to one another, OK?

As you may have guessed, my biggest issue with the breastfeeding conundrum is the judgment surrounding it. I, myself, have wavered back and forth on certain areas of nursing, such as how many months to nurse, how to do it in public without betraying my own personal desire for modesty, and how to work through the pain when my baby literally sucked part of my nipple off (yes, this can happen, mamas, so beware!). And what I found to be most helpful during these personal dilemmas that I experienced was to have compassionate, understanding professionals and friends to confide in. During those difficult times, I was given amazing information on the many benefits of nursing (reducing the risk of breast cancer, the zero cost of nursing vs. the cost of formula, the healthy ingredients found in breast milk, etc.). This useful information, along with help from lactation consultants to correct poor latching, helped me with my decision to continue nursing, despite my desire to quit in those earlier weeks.

So, let’s take a look at a few of the hot topics related to the breast vs. bottle controversy.

1.) “Breastfeeding is beautiful!” 

This person is probably the same one trying to convince women everywhere that childbirth is totally beautiful, as well. And we all know the truth to that, don’t we? It’s messy, bloody, sweaty, pukey, and downright painful! But God makes ugly things sometimes (I mean, you’ve seen testicles before, right?) but the end result is what’s beautiful. And that same end result, my baby, is the only part of breastfeeding that I personally consider beautiful, because Lord knows my breasts are lacking all sorts of beauty these days! Saggy or engorged, nothing covers these fleshy bags of milk better than an unattractive nursing bra. But that beautiful baby is there whether mama chooses breast or bottle, so let’s be careful to not make anyone feel less than beautiful.

2.) “Breastfeeding is natural.”

Of course it is; there’s no question about it. We are beautifully designed to do some utterly amazing things! Although something being natural isn’t the sole factor on whether or not a woman chooses to nurse or not. Eating organically is natural and has many benefits. However, there’s something about Ben and Jerry’s and a big ole scoop of mac and cheese that gets me going more than a bag of organically grown carrots. I can tell myself that it’s natural, but my taste buds sometimes literally scream for processed foods. And honestly, I’m ok with that. Most the things we engage in throughout our days are anything but natural, from cell phones to microwaves to wearing make-up. And yet we aren’t quick to point fingers at people for using these items, so why should we get so upset when we see a woman lovingly feeding her newborn with a bottle?

3.) “Breastfeeding shouldn't be hidden."

I have the right to do it wherever I want, whenever I want.” This seems to be one of the biggest debates regarding nursing these days. Even women who have chosen to nurse are being attacked by other nursing women for not being “open enough” about it! (I’m calling a spade a spade, here. These women are in desperate need of a hobby.) It’s important to keep in mind that plenty of things are natural, but many women choose to do them in private, nursing being one of them. (Other things done in private include, but are not limited to: moving your bowels, showering, and sex. Yet, I don’t see many people debating these acts of privacy. Thank God!) For many of us, it’s hard to wrap our minds around it being taboo to pull out your boobs in public one day, and yet you’re supposed to do so the next day with righteous inhibition just because a baby is attached to the other end. Not to mention the issue of exposing, not only one’s breast, but one’s side and stomach… areas that a woman may feel less than confident about in the weeks and months following her delivery. Ladies, if we truly loved one another, we would spend more time encouraging others to feel beautiful, united, and confident instead of forcing our own agendas and confidence onto them. Something that I have found helpful is to do this: out of courtesy to those in my life, I will ask them if they mind if I nurse openly in front of them. If they seem uncomfortable with this notion, I will wear my shawl or simply go to another room. I could get a chip on my shoulder and act like they've truly offended me, or I could recognize that their level of comfort may be different than mine. Likewise, if a woman decides to nurse around me, I try to assure her that she can be free to do this in any way that is comfortable for her and her baby. She can be open, covered, or I can set her up in the next room if she prefers. Heck, I’ll even sit outside the closed door and talk loudly just to keep her company if that’s what she needs. Because it’s not just about me in the world. It’s about us. And wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all be just a bit more flexible?

4.) “Breastfeeding in public is appalling.”

Ah, the other side of the spectrum. We women sure do like our extremes, don’t we? Please keep in mind that one person’s idea of appalling may not necessarily be another person’s idea of it. For instance, I personally find it appalling when I see someone’s 5-year-old pick his nose and smear it on a restaurant table at which I may be blessed to sit next. And strangely enough, it is probably that 5-year-old’s mother that is calling breastfeeding appalling in the first place. Now, I’m not saying we should all sit around Times Square with our knockers blowing in the breeze. But it could be beneficial for all womankind if we took into account that what is truly appalling is the lack of places where a mother can feed her baby more discreetly. Some women may be awesome enough come prepared with their pop-up tent and lazy-boy recliner, complete with a built in nursing pillow, but for the average Janes out there, I’m pretty sure we can agree that this is just a touch impractical. A touch. In my opinion a woman refusing to feed her hungry baby because there isn't an appropriate location for it far more appalling than one who chose to feed him as kindly and respectfully as possible for her current surroundings. Let’s keep some perspective, shall we, ladies? Starvation is far worse than public nursing, and I’m pretty sure that’s something that we all can agree on!

5.) “Breastfeeding should only be done until the baby is no longer considered a newborn or you’ll be seen as ‘That Woman Who Is Nursing A Full Grown Man’.”

Yep. That’s actually out there. We’ve all seen the magazine cover donning the rather large child dressed in his school clothes, latched on to his mom’s ta-ta while smiling for the camera. And yes, perhaps a little judgment is necessary when we’re still nursing children who could legitimately down a porter house steak in one sitting. Just saying. However, the slippery slope is evident when a woman admits to nursing her nine-month old baby and she sees the faint hint of disgust on the other person’s face. If we realized how many walls we put up with our glances and turned up noses, if we knew how many eyes we caused to fill with tears or hearts we caused to feel shame or bitterness.

What if, just for a second, we let mamas be mamas? Wouldn’t the world be a sweeter place? A freer place? Being milk-producing snobs or boob-shamers is like penis measuring…. It’s in poor taste and, frankly, kinda ugly. Instead, let’s remember to encourage fellow mamas out there and help them to be the best kind of mother she chooses to be!

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A Farewell to Nursing

          After 13-and-a-half months, I’ve finished nursing my little guy. I have to say, even writing the title of this article, I’m sure there will be some that will roll their eyes and say to themselves, Good grief, is she hurting for material THAT badly that she’s writing a good-bye piece to breastfeeding?? And to those people I have this to say….

            Before having children, I had ideas of what motherhood would look like. I would do the right things, say the right things, and I would always know what the best thing for my children would be. And then life didn’t go as planned. When I wasn’t able to conceive and we chose to foster Cameron and Taylor, I missed the baby stage entirely. We got our two beautiful children, but we lacked that crucial bonding time in the beginning of their lives. I didn’t get to rock them to sleep, cuddle them in my arms, give them their first baths, or watch their first steps. No, when we adopted our older two, they were already little people. There was the occasional butt wiping and helping them undo the buttons on the tough shirts, but overall, they came pre-grown.

            And then, when my husband and I found out that the kids’ bio mom was pregnant with Isaac, we were hesitant to bring him into our home. After all, we had gone from no kids to two kids overnight, and the thought of adding a baby to the mix just a few months later, a baby that we knew was going to be born addicted to drugs, well…. That just sounded like lunacy.

            But we are just the right type of crazy and lunacy sounded like a fantastic way to round out our family. We brought Isaac home from the hospital and he was with us through all of his baby stages. We did get to give him his first bath, and we cuddled him in our arms, rocked him to sleep, and saw his first steps. But even though I was there for it all, Isaac was Pat’s baby. He was the mother and the father for that first year. He stayed home with Isaac because his job allowed him to. He did most of the feedings, most of the baths, most of the cuddles. By the time I got home, helped little ones with homework, cooked dinner, and cleaned up the house, I got to spend a couple of hours with Isaac, half of which he slept through. I felt like a well-liked babysitter, not like a full-fledged Mama.

            Perhaps losing Isaac made conceiving Wyatt all the more precious. This was the first time I would know what it was like to have a baby grow inside of me. To watch my belly change shape with each roll and kick. To feel my body physically respond to the life inside of me. This was my chance to truly bond with a child in a way that I hadn’t been able to before.

            But even though I was given such an amazing blessing, a difficult pregnancy often hampered those “good feelings” I was hoping for. I held on to the day of delivery, knowing that his arrival was going to be the best moment of my life – the moment I would be able to push him into this world and hold him close to my chest for those first few precious minutes of his life. I could hardly wait.

            But due to complications during his birth, I wasn’t able to have those precious moments either. In fact, I was so ill that I barely recall the first several hours of his life. I couldn’t lift my arms to hold him. I couldn’t take in his sweetness.  However, I was completely aware that these special moments to bond were quickly slipping through my fingers.

            I felt cheated. This was finally my chance to bond with a child, and all I had to show for it was a whole lot of sickness and very few “good feelings”. But nursing… nursing was going to be my way to connect with my new son. This would be the way I would finally get to connect with him!

            Except guess what? Breastfeeding completely sucks! For 6 weeks, all I did was cry. All HE did was cry. We cried and I was in pain and I was constantly worried about my milk supply and my pump and my nipples and my engorgement. I couldn’t leave the house. I couldn’t feel happy. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. No one had prepared me for it to suck so badly.

            Then, after a good 2 months of our nursing schedule and all of its horribleness, something amazing happened. Nursing stopped being wretched. I stopped feeling constant pain. My nipples stopped feeling like they were being ripped from my body by a tiny beaver. I stopped shooting milk across the room because of engorgement. All of a sudden, what had been so hard for so long began to feel easy. Natural. Connected.

            Pretty soon I found myself enjoying that alone time with my baby and not dreading it. Those moments were ours and no one else’s. So many people were all about public nursing and fighting tooth and nail for that “right”. But to be honest, I wanted our moments to be private. I loved to stare into his eyes and rub his tiny fingers as he fed. To caress his cheek and hear him giggle, producing little milk bubbles in the corners of his mouth as he did. I loved to watch him fall asleep against my chest and to able to be the one who could comfort him better than anyone else. I liked being his one and only, if even just for a time.

            It was my plan to get him to 1-year-old. When he turned one, I knew that he could drink whole milk and that he would have several teeth… he was going to be turning into a toddler and it was my choice to pull the boob-plug on him at that time.

            And then his first birthday came and went. Little man hated cow’s milk with a passion, even with breast milk, almond milk, or chocolate milk mixed in. The doctor said to give it time, but that I could always keep nursing in the meantime. I jumped at the opportunity in a way that I never thought I would. When I was younger, before having these little people in my life, remember those preconceived notions I said that I had? Yeah, I thought people that nursed past one year were kind of…. Icky.

            Now, after knowing how sweet those times of being near my little one is… knowing that in a few short months he would no longer be a baby… knowing that he won’t need me in the same way anymore… friends, I struggled. It was not icky. It was not inappropriate. What it was, I quickly found, was grief.

            Pat and I have decided that we aren’t going to try for more children. We have two older kids, a toddler on the weekends, and a full-time baby. Quite frankly, we don’t have the car space! Whereas a lot of mamas can stop nursing at a year and feel like they’re regaining their booby freedom, I feel that I’m saying goodbye to the one pleasant bonding experience I’ve been able to have with just the one child I was able to have it with. Other mothers will start planning for their next child, and I’m saying goodbye to babies forever. I’m saying goodbye to an entire stage in my life. The stage that I wanted for so long is over in an instant.

            Point your fingers, tell me I’m being crazy, look at me with judgment if you must. But I’m guessing that I’m not the only mama out there that has grieved the ending of their baby era. I’m aware that I could keep nursing if I wanted to, but I do feel that it’s time. It’s time for him and it’s time for me. “You’ll know when it’s right,” is the phrase I’ve heard over and over. And it’s true. It’s our time. I can actually hear my milk drying up like wind blowing through a hollow tree stump as I type this!

          I know that I’ll always be his Mama. And I know that my kids will always need me and love me. So, with a fond farewell and tears in my eyes, I say a sorrowful goodbye to breastfeeding. Four sets of little hands will grasp mine as we walk together into our next stage of life. So much thanks for this time. So much love for them all. So much still left to come.

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