Breastfeeding: At The Crossroads

Simon nursing

Simon takes a nip

 

I haven’t said much about breastfeeding in these pages, though I am pretty sure I have dropped little hints that I am still nursing Simon who is 14.2 months old.  When I write those facts, I feel a mixture of feelings: I feel pride because breastfeeding is really fucking hard and I have exceeded my goal of 11 months and still going.  I also feel shock, because breastfeeding is really fucking hard and I have exceeded my goal of 11 months and still going. I also feel some sadness that I had to stop nursing Sadie at 10.5 months because I was pregnant with Simon and the milk dried up. (I like to keep things fair and I can’t think of how to square this situation.)

And I am so disturbed by how fucked up our society is about breastfeeding that I have hesitated to put my .02 cents in.  It’s both sides of this polarizing issue that make me feel isolated.

On one hand there is the imperative that women must breastfeed– get that Medela pump and rip off your shirt shamelessly in public and give it all you have.  Literally.  There’s the quiet conversations among friends talking about how so-and-so “gave up” after “only” 6 months of breastfeeding– those are supposed to be “innocent” conversations, but they carry the judgment and stigma that will follow a woman who doesn’t embrace and sacrifice all for breastfeeding.  I am not even talking about the breastfeeding bullies who encourage mothers to stop taking vital mental health medication in order to safely breastfeed.  That’s just sick and wrong.  I am referring to the more sublte messages that breast is best and you must do EVERYTHING to keep it up, regardless of the toll it takes on mother, or marriage or family in general.

And, what women do to each other around breastfeeding is absolutely nothing compared to what we do to ourselves.  If every woman who disparaged herself for (1) quitting too early or (2) having such a hard time or (3) not loving it as much as she thought she would or (3) resenting the part where the baby starts to bite the nipple or the nipple gets a bloody blister– logged on to her computer to send Outlaw Mama some fan mail, the Internet would blow up.  (Wanna try it anyway?)

Obviously, I believe in breastfeeding since I have spent now 24 months of my life engaged in it.  I happen to think it’s as personal of a choice as how one decides to have sex.  I would no more tell a woman to stop with all the missionary positions and rock the Kama Sutra top ten list than I would tell someone to breastfeed (or not breastfeed or stop breastfeeding).  I am not saying it should be done in private (like I happen to think intercourse should be in private, because I am super old-fashioned, Catholic-raised and live in the Midwest), but I am saying that those decisions are private and sacred.

Breastfeeding worked for me because of the following reasons:

  • I pretty much forced it and had enough masoschism to propel me through rough patches
  • My husband was totally supportive of the enterprise
  • My kids were both born full-term and liked to suck
  • I take an anti-depressant that was compatible with nursing
  • I figured I could take the money we save on formula and use it for a treat for myself (while on a trip by myself that included ample spa time and obscene amounts of sleeping)
  • I promised myself when this is all over I would get an unlimited amount of “pretty” bras (that will undo some of that Nature is now doing in re: gravity)

Anyway, I never had to face weaning issues with Sadie because the milk was gone, I was pregnant, and that was that.  Now, with Simon, I say that I am committed to following his lead on weaning, but the second I think he’s a little too UNinterested in nursing, I take over.  What does that look like? It looks like me shoving his face into my boob and shooing everyone out of the room so that Simon will resume his interest in nursing.

It sounds so healthy and enriching, doesn’t it?  I am sure that won’t disrupt the natural development of his psyche.

Here’s the issue: If it turns out that Simon is done and ready to move on to the next phase of our relationship, I feel like I would be losing my trump card.  (Oh, to speak of breastfeeding as a trump card– can you feel the motherly hostage-taking love?) The deeper issue is that Simon has turned out to be quite a daddy’s boy.  As in, if Jeff enters the room, Simon dives for Jeff, even if he’s still got my nipple in his mouth. Simon adores and prefers Jeff in almost every instance.  I am so happy they have that connection– really, I am– but I thought that little boys were supposed to adore their mothers. I am slowly letting go of the fantasy that my little baby boy would see all of the world’s goodness shining in my eyes and that everyone else (including Jeff) would be peripheral players– only tagged in if I was unavailable.

I know, I know, I am the first mom who has had to grieve the fantasy of mothering and get with the reality.  My therapist is on to me; he thinks I am “using” the breastfeeding to keep up an illusion that Simon is attached to me. (Should I fire him? Answer in the comments.) On his theory, Simon loves me madly and irrationally– as all babies love their moms– but I have set up some kind of dynamic IN MY HEAD (where all the juicy stuff lives) where I have tied it all in with breastfeeding.  So, the longer I stay “in control” of the process, I am blocking other paths that Simon and I could take to love, because I have fixated on breastfeeding.

The bottom line: I think it’s time for me to stop using breastfeeding as a trump card.  I asked myself if I thought I was better than other mothers who nursed for less time or didn’t nurse at all.  The honest answer is that I do not think I am better.  However, in the areas where I am insecure about my mothering, I console myself about those by reassuring myself that I am a good mother because, LOOK– I BREASTFED FOR OVER A YEAR.  That’s my proof.  So, if all of you– I mean you and YOU and YOU– see how much Simon loves Jeff or see that I lose my patience (daily) or sometimes check my phone when I am feeding Simon, I can always swat back with, BUT I AM STILL NURSING….thus, I am entitled to check the Groupon for the day or see what others say about my Facebook status.

I am not proud of using breastfeeding as a tool to gain Simon’s favor and attention. Everyday I renew my commitment to let him lead the way and to LET GO of the idea that who Simon loves most or best is any of my business (or anything I could control).

I was curious if anyone has a complicated relationship to nursing or the feelings that come up when your baby/child is so ardently in love with your spouse/partner/mailman?

 

 

 

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13 thoughts on “Breastfeeding: At The Crossroads

  1. A bit heavy here, but I admit I loved breastfeeding. I made a goal of doing it for a year with the twins (I did feel the pressure to meet the goal because they were so premature), but Jeffrey made it clear that he didn’t have time for me and I finally stopped at 9 months. I gave it my all but going into a quiet, dark room to breastfeed while I had 2 year old twins running around the house wasn’t working for either of us. I think there is a grieving period losing that “baby” stage associated with this (your therapist is a man, right–can he really understand this)? Geez, keep it going until you both know you are ready. If we are still contemplating this during the next presidential election, then I’ll certainly suggest you stop. A bit off subject, but my favorite breast fact…I had preemies, very much snack size–we used Kangaroo Care (bare chest to bare chest with the baby) while in the hospital to help regulate all of the vital stats for those first few months. One of the first things to happen is that maintenance of the baby’s body temp begins to depend on the mom. Mother’s breasts will naturally warm their infants to the optimal temperature where babies sleep best, have the best oxygen saturation levels, the least caloric expenditure, etc. Maternal breast temperature can rise rapidly, then fall off as baby is warmed. As the baby starts to cool, the breasts heat up again—as much as 2 degrees C in two minutes! Tell me that isn’t an amazing grace?

    • Heather, I love that breast fact. I wish I would have known you when you had the twins. It’s clear it was an incredible journey. I think one of my future fan letters will be to my breasts for all the great work / love.

  2. Do you read Hormonal Imbalances? Diana bravely admits there that she does not like breastfeeding. Doesn’t enjoy it. She had to fight, and I mean travel to another state to seek a specialist, to keep breastfeeding her “underweight” (not really) daughter without supplementing with formula. I respect that.

    By the way, my “bully” turned out to not have the worst BS to spout. One of the commentors on my post was told by two women at a *party* that she should have had a lumpectomy, not a mastectomy, to preserve her breastfeeding abilities! “Treat your cancer less aggressively, because a child you may or may not have in the future needs those boobs!” That one totally takes the cake. Women are not breeding machines!

    As for your therapist, he does not need to be a woman to understand parent/child dynamics. Substitute breastfeeding with junk food, and you’ve got me and my dad when I was 10. Fortunately, you seem pretty self-aware (unlike my dad), not to mention competitive, so I am betting that you will take this thing you seem to think is, in fact, true, and try your damndest to prove that breastfeeding will define your relationship with your son. Work through the “I’m scared he doesn’t like me” feelings, and the rest will follow. Totally easy, right? Piece of cake.

  3. I have come to your page to comment three different times today but every time I read it I get a different feeling.

    The one thing that is consistent every time — fire that a-hole therapist. Aren’t they supposed to tell you what you need to hear in a way that you want to hear it???

    Back to breastfeeding. I had very similar experiences. Weaning my first wasn’t an issue. But I struggle with weaning my daughter now. And I am not “using” it to keep attachment (she’s an unabashed mamas girl). It’s just hard. Especially with the second (last?). You’re struggling through the transition, but you are aware of where it’s going. Don’t be so damn hard on yourself! (am I talking to you or to me?)

    • Yes, in part because Simon may be the last. It’s weird that both my kids are on a huge daddy kick. Sadie was big time into me forever, but I was also working full time. I was thinking maybe access may have something to do w it: Jeff is around a ton but he does have an outside job and he travels. I am the old steady– that’s never exciting is it? Is the preference for the less available parent genetic?

      And don’t I wish my therapist would say what I wanted to hear…. Not how he rolls.

  4. Ok, let me break it down.

    I nursed both boys from day one, through the cracked nipples, toe-curling pain and all. With Ian, I went 13 months. With Luke, 15 mos. While my husband was also extremely supportive – even getting up with me in the middle of the night and helping me latch each kid on in the early days – he will tell you flat out that if I could, I would nurse both boys until they were graduated from college or got married.

    And he is right.

    Can’t help it. Loved my “cuddle and drink” time with both. While it was a complete beating at times, I mourned it when i finally let it go. (Went through 3 breast pumps, BTW.) Both boys gave me an “open” window when they each were ready. I too was at the point of almost forcing their mouths on my nip with a “you-like-this-remember?” attitude. They would look at me like, “ok, fine,” suck for like 30 seconds and then try to squirm out of my arms. So with my husbands gentle prodding and a lot of tears, Rick took over the nighttime routine for a while to help the transition, which I now know was all for me.

    The feeling was worse with Luke because I knew he would be my last time. Rick and I have decided to close the factory at two kids, so the reality that I would never nurse another child again hit me pretty hard.

    I’m happy to say that we have all moved on. Although the weaning process was hard for me, it wasn’t for either of my boys, and I’m very thankful for that. I weaned them on their terms when they were ready, even though I was still clammering to hold on. In the end, they didn’t miss a beat. They were ready to move forward and they did without looking back. Kinda like one day when they both grow up and move away. I’ve told Rick to plan a trip to Paris when that happens because I will be a blubbering mess.

    Now that obviously was my story – a story that doesn’t necessarily fit every other mom out there. And that’s OK. I’m all for breast feeding because is somehow worked for me, but I’m more so for keeping the mother healthy. There is too many episodes of postpartum depression, which I believe is in part due to all the pressures on new moms in this country to be perfect and carry on without skipping a beat. (Like getting back to work after 6-12 weeks, etc., etc. In my opinion, France and Canada have the right idea – six months minimum for maternity leave.) If a new mom is holding on for dear life just to get herself through the day and breastfeeding is contributing to her suffering, then by all means she should drop it and switch the baby to formula – without an ounce of guilt. Sadly, though, most of the time in our society, most new moms are alone in the this area. I got lucky. After each of our sons were born, my husband watched me like a hawk to make sure my hormonal “drop” after childbirth wasn’t so traumatic that I couldn’t pick myself up. Some women can’t and that’s not their fault. I could go on and on, so I’ll save it for another post.

    Thank you, Christie, for the beautiful reminder of those sweet and tender early years of motherhood.

    • Yes, oh hell yes to Paris when my kids leave home. 3 breast pumps???? Yikes.

      And I agree that breastfeeding was my cup of tea but had my hormonal swings been worse or if my depression had deepened I hope I could have made good decisions.

      It’s funny– I never thought I would be still holding on when my kid may be, just may be, letting go. I am grateful for each chance I get and hope to stay open for whatever comes next.

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