Saturday, March 19, 2011

and back to the breast

I'm not really an attachment parent.  I've blogged about this a bit before.  I'm more like a whatever-works parent.  I co-slept a bit.  But I like a little separation too, so the co-sleeping didn't last too long.  I breastfed both my kids, because it was important to me.  Boy-o self-weaned at 15 months and I so wasn't ready for him to be done yet.  I craved that time that was just ours, the snuggles, the closeness with my toddler baby who was the kind of toddler who was wayyyyy to busy being busy to snuggle.  And just a few months back, when Girlio was 18 months, I wrote a blog talking about beginning to feel a lot of external pressure to stop breastfeeding her.  At the time, I argued that I would breastfeed until she and I were good and god-damned ready to stop. 

And - here we are, three months later.  I have a 21 month old who still wants to breastfeed as much as some newborns.  And I have begun in earnest to crave having my body back in my own possession.  That I love this connecting time of breastfeeding has begun to be outshone by that Jesus Christ - get off me feeling.  And I do still love connecting and having a breastfeed here and there.  But I'd like to not have to connect quite so often and quite so on command.  As in, I've begun to feel like a dairy cow.  So I've begun the process of trying to cut down the number of times a day Girlio breastfeeds, from anywhere upwards of 10 times, to,  let's say, 4 ish times a day.  My hope is that once we get this first cut-down under our belts, the eventual weaning will be simpler, gentler, easier on both of us.  This process is not without some guilt. (read: a lot of guilt).  No parenting decision is, really.  But this is especially so when the decision is made for the comfort of the parent, to the 'discomfort' of the child.  Selfish mama.  Bad, selfish mama. 

Lately, I've begun to be particularly irked by the pro-breastfeeding camp, whose literature cries: Breastfeed!  Breastfeed for longer!  Your babywill be smarter! Thinner!, More well adjusted!  And then the studies are parroted from here until next Tuesday by every pro-breastfeeding site across the globe. It's not that I don't understand the need to encourage breastfeeding. I do. I get it.  But what irks me about the breastfeed/extended breastfeed dogma is that the rhetoric is all about the children, and not always so much about the mothers whose bodies are doing the feeding. Believe it or not, I am not just a vessel for my child's growth and well-being. I'm an actual person.  A person with breasts, raising children.

The rhetoric around the decision to breastfeed or not breastfeed, and/or how long people should continue to breastfeed, I believe, is damaging.  When people who breastfeed feel it is their right to follow people who bottlefeed and question them about their choices, and conversely, when people feel it is their right to ask breastfeeding women to leave public spaces and/or question them about their choice to breastfeed or how long they choose to breastfeed, it is abundantly clear that we have a problem on both sides of the coin.  It's one damn judge-y coin, no matter how you flip it.  People who breastfeed feel judged.  People who do not breastfeed feel judged.  Everybody feels judged.   Likely because everybody is judged.  The mere sight or suggestion of a bottle/formula feeding should not be offensive.  The mere sight or suggestion of breastfeeding should not be offensive.  And yet....

That judge-y old coin makes us all more reactive than we probably need to be. 

Case in point.  Some friends and I and our respective progeny were hanging out at the Muttart Conservatory.  We run the gamut of breastfeeding choices:  one mama's babe is adopted and not breastfed, one mama is desparately trying to find ways to gently wean her not-quite two year old, and one mama is committed to extended breastfeeding, child-led weaning and still breastfeeding her three year old.  Three wonderful, beautiful, thriving, happy children.  Three different parents and perspectives.  And while my friend was breastfeeding her daughter, and I was simultaneously trying, with some difficulty to distract my babe who kept shouting at me (and the rest of the Conservatory): "milky! milky! milky!", some dude starts up a conversation about how he and his wife believe in child-led weaning and breastfed their kids for four years apiece. 

Now - for my friend breastfeeding on the bench, this was a lovely conversation to have, and rightly so.  There is lots of pressure to wean kids early, and sticking it out with your kids requires lots of patience and commitment.  I don't know how these kinds of comments make people who haven't (for whatever reason) breastfed their kids feel - I'll have to ask my friend how she felt about that.  But I can tell ya - it made this trying-to-wean-and-feeling-tired-and-guilty-about-it mama feel like wiping the floor with his ass.   I reacted.  Bigtime.  Like blood reaching boiling point, hair standing up on the back of my neck, reacted.

Because it felt like congratulating my breastfeeding friends' choice inevitably meant putting my choice down.   I also reacted because who the hell is this dude trying to kid?  He didn't freaking loan out his body for eight years to breastfeed anyone.  I was also wondering if maybe he wasn't just trying to make conversation so he could check out my friends' boobs.   Me- I'm not so trusting.  I managed a tense smile and barked out a "your wife is a better woman than me" and I moved on fast before I could muster anything else (And yes - I probably said it witheringly.  My filter ain't so great these days). 

Anyways - I reacted so strongly because, no matter what choice a mother makes, someone's always going to be there to tell you, or at least insinuate, that it isn't the right one. 

So - as with so many other things - we need to cut moms some f*cking slack.  Give the information in non-judgemental ways. (Note here that pronouncing from the rooftops that breastfed babies are less prone to obesity*, less likely to flunk out of school, go to jail, most likely to attend Yale, bladdy bladdy blah is not, in fact, non-judgemental.   Not to mention the rather obvious flaws in studies like these that look at one tiny factor in a childs' upbringing and pronounce it all-encompassing).  

And we also need to recognize that ultimately, what's best for mama is also best for baby.  There are so many many ways for parents to nurture, love and, yes - attach, to their children.  How kids get fed is such a small part of the equation. 

I believe in my feminist-mama-head that my toddler will be a happier toddler when her mama feels less like throwing her off every time she grabs for breasts, yelling "milky!  milky! milky!"  

But my feminist-mama-heart finds itself so easily subsumed by the guilt messaging about what makes a 'good parent'.

As always, this parenting business is a mine-field.   

* which, of course, pisses me off for reasons entirely unrelated to breastfeeding


  1. You're all prickly and defensive about mama issues, aren't you?

    So am I.

    And even though I know it's not rational, I continue to be that way, because every decision I've made for and about my children has been made from the most thoughtful and careful part of me, with their interests first.

    And it pisses me off when other people look at my decisions with anything other than awe at how wonderful I am as a parent.

    So cutting down on the nursing sessions isn't going to harm your baby. And will probably be good for you.

    And seriously... you're a good and thoughtful parent. Who gives a shit what someone else may think?

    Yeah, that's easy to say. Not so easy to be calm, though, I know.

  2. I read every post. But amazing as it may be, I don't always have a response. So I don't say anything.

    But you're in my reader.

  3. I don't get how its anyone elses business, but then again I was probably guilty of being judgemental before I bf my own for a fair period of time....then I got the comments.

    You do whats best for you and your child ..end of story really .

  4. "And we also need to recognize that ultimately, what's best for mama is also best for baby."

    Absolutely! I loved breastfeeding, but when I realized that it definitely wasn't working for me (because I had to completely switch my diet when I barely had time to eat, much less cook special meals for myself), I knew that I was doing the girls a disservice by continuing. Sobbing uncontrollably does not make for good parenting...

    You know what's right for you and Girlio.

  5. You are right, no matter what decision you make as a mother, someone thinks you are doing the wrong thing. When I was breastfeeding Robbie I had family, friends and strangers make comments about how long I was doing it and how strange it was somewhere around the 15 month mark. At the same time I met this cult like group of Mom's, who were like you have to until he is ready to stop. These Mom's were of course better than me, they cloth diapered, baby wore, made organic baby food, and were very crafty and creative. I was somewhere in the middle of all this. I co-slept and extended breastfed, but not so much homemade or crafty. I need some outlet for me and the things I cared about, that were not baby. One thing I know is no one supported my choices, no one was giving me a hand up, everyone was just telling me what to do.
    Around 25 months my breastfeeding was at an all time high all day and every freaking hour all night. I felt some of the ways you did. I carried a big load or resentment mixed with guilt. I didn't know what to do. Then my Dr. made my decision for me. My blood pressure was high, my head was buzzing and I was dizzy. Nothing wrong with me, just lack of sleep. Dr. told me I would not get better unless I night weaned. So, I spent 2 over nights at my Mom's. So, I wouldn't hear Robbie scream or cry. I nursed him to sleep and returned in the morning and nursed him. We totally got rid of night feeds this way, and he also cut him self back to one mid day feed within a week. We spent the next year in a breast feeding relationship that suited both of us. We nursed once a bedtime and once upon waking. It was special quiet time with us. We stopped at 37 months when my fertility Dr. told me he would not treat me unless Robbie was weaned.
    Sometimes, I think it is like a Mama Cult out there, with pressure to be the perfect Mommy, all at the expense of distracting strong women from the real world issues. Paranoid I know

  6. These days even mammas who adopt or use surrogacy are even judged for not breastfeeding. I recall being asked if I would breastfeed our daughter (who was carried by a surro) and when I said I would bottle feed, you'd think I'd said I was giving her whiskey. Why wouldn't I try and make my breasts work, go to a milk bank... etc., etc. and apparently bottle feeding was just a lazy choice.

    It's true that we would all be better off if we would lose the judge-y and let parents decide what is best for their families.. (assuming they aren't lacing bottles with whiskey ;o))

  7. FYI- breastfeeding rhetoric grates my mom-by adoption sensibilities. the reasons are 1. it assumes (as you have pointed out) that there is no other way to create strong attachments with your children, 2. it suggests (wrongly) that non-breastfed kids cannot achieve optimal physical health and 3. it highlights (rudely) the choices that many parents aren't privileged to be able to make for their families. This applies to surrogacy moms, adoption moms, mastecotmy moms, moms who tried but could not make breastfeeding work: lots of great moms.

    I also find the corollary, "FORMULA IS A CORPORATE CONSPIRACY THAT IS HARMFUL TO CHILDREN," a hard pill to swallow. For many of the same reasons.

    We all need to let ourselves off the hook a little.

  8. I just thought I'd weigh in with some unsolicited advice - the BEST kind! I weaned Gus using chocolate milk. It worked like a charm, and I just eventually cut it with more and more white milk. He was a very committed nurser, but this really worked and I didn't feel guilty about denying him because I knew he wasn't thirsty - he's just had a litre of chocolate milk!!! :)

  9. I feel like we are in similar situations. Jackson turned 2 today. He doesn't want to stop. He asks to "breastfeed" constantly. I am trying to limit it to sleep time only. I don't like going to restaurants and having to pull out my nursing blanket because really, he doesn't need to breastfeed like that anymore. I feel like he's old enough to save it for sleep time. I get the "get off of me" feeling...sometimes I feel like I get no time to myself. At the same time, it irks me when others make comments like "Good for you--he's old enough to wean." Like I'm being an idiot for nursing him at 2. I hate the judgement--it's just beyond ridiculous. I also like the parent and go with the flow and don't really label myself as Attachment Parenting or anything. You do what feels right for you and your child. Voila.

  10. "Believe it or not, I am not just a vessel for my child's growth and well-being. I'm an actual person. A person with breasts, raising children."

    Amen Sister!

  11. Just found your blog tonight, after clicking around on a mutual friend's facebook page. I just wanted to send you a big fat "Ditto" to pretty much everything you wrote!! Personally, I breastfed my son for 2.5 yrs (weaned when pregnant with my daughter to avoid the whole tandem thing, which just is not for me) and am still breastfeeding my 2.5 yr old daughter, but have recently started a slow and gradual (and not at all consistent b'c of all the mixed emotions) move towards weaning. With both of my kids, when they were somewhere between 18 and 22 months, they went through a phase when they wanted to nurse like newborns again, and it really got to me. At that point, I moved to a somewhat stricter, more scheduled breastfeeding relationship, rather than on demand. Though I do cave and nurse on demand at times. It works for me and for my kids (most of the time!) and it also has made our breastfeeding relationship a bit less public, which does help cut down on the comments-- which I do my best to ignore, but I've got to admit, they do irk me some days (especially those days when I've been woken up all night!)

    Anyway- that was a way too long and way too rambling comment to just say that I really enjoyed your post and look forward to reading more!