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?