Now that I have your attention, you might want to read this… (I’ll wait, if you want.)
…in which a white, upper middle class, urban mom of three–and journalist!–takes on The Popular Establishment, which purports to tell you that nursing is actually better than formula feeding. Ok, maybe a it’s a tiny bit better, but when it comes to your other kids or your marriage or your career or your time or how to SAVE all of those things, screw the boob, it’s too much of a drain.
You might have thought, now that my children are close to five (and, mirable dictu, no longer nursing) and a month shy of three (and losing a nursing an average of once a day due to hitting me or throwing outrageously obnoxious temper tantrums) that I would be done blogging about breastfeeding.
Let me just say that my reaction to this article was on the visceral side. Like fist-shaking, adrenaline-pumping het up and pissy. Reading it again, I am more sympathetic to the position that women–of course, women who have access to prenatal care and the popular baby magazines–have been perhaps unduly…guilted? Is that even true? I don’t know.
I only have my own experience. I wanted to nurse. My biggest influence was my mom, who nursed me even when it was extremely unpopular in the prevailing culture to do so. (One of my upstairs neighbors, a pediatrician who is exactly my age, tells me that she’s found among her patients that the support/non-support of the baby’s grandmother(s) is the biggest factor for breastfeeding success or not.) I surrounded myself with people who supported what I wanted. I was pissed when my OB handed me a can of formula at my 36-week appointment. I was prepared for EFFORT.
And the truth was, after some vague discomfort and adjustment in the settling-in period, it was effortless. The nursing, anyway.
The adjustments to my body, my sexuality, my priorities, my time, my marriage, my self-perception, my mothering? Those took time. I am still a work in progress, let’s say. Some time late in 2004 I believe I promised Taxman a night alone. Any year now, I’m going to make good on that. I PROMISE. But at the same time I haven’t heard him complaining. Not about nursing. That I yell too much and that I am too disorganized? Yes, indeed; I agree. That I have failed him and our marriage by committing myself to breastfeeding our babies? No. For not just weeks or months but YEARS? Also no.
I long ago gave up the idea of breastfeeding at all costs for everyone. I’ve been at the mothering gig long enough to know moms who have been hospitalized and on medications that are not ok for nursing, to know moms who truly did not have enough milk (a rare condition), to know moms whose babies have exquisitely sensitive stomachs, to know moms whose jobs did not allow them to pump, to know moms of micropreemies. These babies had formula of various kinds and thrived.
But I know moms who nursed–and nursed and pumped–through far harder times than I’ve experienced. Though residency, through twins, through babies with food allergies (therefore restricting their own diet). The ones that truly move me are the women that show up from time to time at my La Leche meeting: usually women of color who don’t have the support of their mom (like I did) or older sisters (like my mom did), who don’t have any kind of a nursing mentor, who have overcome preemies and NICU time or terrible thrush or impossible work situations and succeed. And successfully nursing, laying that foundation between mom and baby is something that shouldn’t just be tossed onto the garbage heap because the medical benefits aren’t as good as “they” say. The they, of course, who mostly assume that you’ll be weaning your baby, the one you worked so hard to nurse at the beginning, to cow’s milk at age one so you can get your “life” back.
What really outraged me about this article, though, other than the fact that the author basically said I was setting feminism back by 50 years with my wee breasts (and trust me, after four years and ten months straight of nursing they are pretty wee) and that she compared watching a friend pumping to a Nazi experiment (NOT COOL HANNA ROSIN, the Jewish Israeli) and (if you watch the podcast) painting every person who has ever been associated with La Leche League with the same brush (um, no, the only thing we have in common is that we are women), was that she didn’t seem to GET IT. Which is so shocking to me, because, by her own account, she has three children. And by “IT,” I mean the following things:
1. Babies change everything.
2. This includes, in no particular order: your life, your marriage, your relationship to your job/career, your social life, your environmental footprint, your identity, your priorities. Did I mention EVERYTHING? Don’t try to bullshit your way back to the person you were before. That life is over.
1a. and 2a. EACH baby you add to your family will do this. Whether you think 1 to 2 kids is the hardest or 2 to 3 or 11 to 12 or what have you, EACH baby is a new set of demands and a new personality.
3. Nursing is more than just a food delivery system, although this was alluded to in the last paragraph.
4. Babies take an inordinate amount of time. There is nothing more counter-productive than trying to calculate how much. People would never have babies if they knew how much time was going to be involved in raising them. If you do sit there calculating of course you are going to stew over how little mothers are “worth.”
5. Not everyone is dying to share the “chore” of breastfeeding. This is something I never wished Taxman could share. I mean, it is extraordinary, but I didn’t feel like it was a burden. There is enough else involved in childcare/feeding/raising (see #4) that I don’t feel like this ONE item, as time consuming as it can be, is going to make it or break it. Maybe I’m not remembering correctly? I do believe, though, that if you ask me ten times what child-related chore I always wanted help with but never got? Ten times you’ll get an answer of “nail clipping.”
6. Something I’m sure that The Atlantic or The New Yorker or The New York Times would never dare to publish is my perspective on this, which is that the whole thing, from conception though breastfeeding, smacks of the miraculous. I spent a couple years tooling around in the Badlands of Infertility, so just the fact that we made a baby! Two times! is pretty incredible. But then gestating said little zygote to an actual, real-live, breathing baby (again, something that not everyone gets to do) and then being able to provide 100% of this tiny, helpless human being’s nutritional needs with my own body? IT DOES NOT GET MORE AWESOME THAN THAT, PEOPLE. IT IS MAKING ME WANT TO HAVE ANOTHER BABY RIGHT THIS SECOND TO BE THAT CLOSE TO YAD HASHEM AGAIN, SO I AM GOING TO STOP THINKING ABOUT IT. RIGHT NOW.
So I guess that’s really the crux of my issue; I am trying to fight science with emotion, reason with religion.
I wish that this article had addressed what I would call a Very Useful Topic,*namely how to hook American women up with some decent maternity leave. Addressing the lack of parity between mothering (parenting) in all its facets and working in the so-called real world. I would have had a rough go pumping in my work environment. I never had to face it because I turned tail and ran away from a low-paying, family-unfriendly industry. I’m not sorry, but I absolutely acknowledge it is a privilege that many either don’t have or don’t want.
“We’re never going to be Norway,” intoned one of the participants in Hanna Rosin’s podcast, as if Norway and its 99% breastfeeding rates and universal health care and outrageously generous parental leave policies will be the United States’ very undoing, one step away from anarchy or, worse, socialism. But how about Canada? Can we at least try to be Canada? Better health coverage, better parental leave, better for breastfeeding?
Yeah, I did it. I drank the Kool-Aid. I nursed my babies. They are healthier than some, they are smarter than some, they are more bonded than some. (Breastfeeding? Genetics? Rose-colored glasses?) But looking back with a lot of hindsight, I did it for me as much as I did it for them. I was never sorry; I never will be. Ms. Rosin can go peddle her quasi-feminist ranting somewhere else. My breasts are fulfilling their destiny.
* Sorry, I just had to read Thomas the Tank Engine. I’m better now.
P.S. The only pressure I ever got from the medical establishment was to stop nursing so much (Miss M, age 10 months) and to nightwean her (age 20 months, when I was 2 months shy of delivering AM).