From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2008, pp. 14-17
At four months pregnant, I was standing in line at the local home improvement store waiting for an overburdened employee to shake the paint cans for the baby's room. A mother stepped into line next to me; I noticed she wore her baby in a smart-looking front pack carrier. Focused on all things "baby," I inquired as to the age of her little girl. The conversation turned to my pregnancy and she asked, "Are you planning to breastfeed?"
Her question struck me as odd, perhaps because I had never considered otherwise. My sister and I had each nursed happily until the age of three and it seemed like the normal, natural choice. My milk would never need mixing or heating, my breasts would never need sterilizing. Why would I want to complicate the already intricate adjustment period of welcoming a newborn?
Assuming she didn't care to hear my interior monologue, I simply answered yes. But her response shook me. "Find a good support group," she said, "because it hurts every time. They'll all tell you that it doesn't, but don't believe them. You need a group of moms toughing it out just like you."
Up until this moment my images of nursing had been filled with rosy cheeks, tender touches, and gentle sounds. Fear had suddenly shouldered those pictures out of the way. Who were "they?" Why would they lie? Was breastfeeding really a tortuous experience hidden by a code of silence, feasible only through the shared suffering of Amazonian warriors?
"Eek," I thought. "Maybe I should start rubbing my nipples with steel wool."
A year and half later, my husband and I were at his holiday party. I was enjoying myself, but my heart was with my little girl -- a fact my filling breasts would not soon let me forget. At the end of the evening a colleague stopped to say hello. As parents are wont to do, we chatted about our children. I mentioned that our little one had yet to really enjoy solids. "She still prefers to nurse," I said, proud of our strong breastfeeding relationship.
"Don't worry," she said. "Your daughter won't be a year old for another few weeks, right? You've still got time."
Time for what? I thought. Wrapping her gifts? Decorating the tree? She's over a year old anyway...what is she talking about?
Then realization dawned: time for weaning. I stiffened and felt my husband squeeze my hand. Bared teeth masqueraded themselves as a smile. "Actually, she'll be 13 months in two weeks."
"Oh." An indecipherable glance at her husband. "Well, we started giving cows' milk at one. In fact, on the night of my daughter's first birthday I told her, 'Enjoy it now, kid, 'cause it's the last time you're gonna get it from me.' You'll see. Just take a firm stand and she'll be done within a week."
So that is what I have done -- I have taken a firm stand. Not with my daughter, mind you, as she is so strong willed I doubt she would let me wean her if I desired it. Rather, my firm stand is with a society whose position on breastfeeding leans toward discouragement. We don't live in a breastfeeding culture where mothers learn from other mothers. We don't frequently see babies drawing both physical and emotional nourishment at their mothers' breasts. Seldom do we witness older children happily latched on in restaurants or libraries, at the train station or doctors' offices. A friend of mine who still enjoys a nursing relationship with her toddler confided that she now keeps their bond a private matter. It's not worth it, she feels, to expose herself or her daughter to the disparaging remarks of others. How unfortunate that a mother must be made to feel this way simply because she has chosen to provide her daughter with the most beautiful gift a woman can give. Breastfeeding should be the ultimate in ease and expediency, not a protracted ordeal in which a mother must find "appropriate shelter" in a fitting room or bathroom.
But there is something about the magic of breastfeeding that causes me to forget such frustrations. The nursing moments I share with my daughter are special, even in the wee hours of the morning when I would much rather be asleep. I treasure her soft voice asking for "mimi," then the contagious giggles as I unhook the clasp of my nursing bra. I love the pudgy fingers resting on (and admittedly sometimes up) my nose. I lose myself in sparkling blue eyes drifting off to sleep. These quiet moments remind me of who I am, why I exist. I am a mother. I am creator, comforter, sustainer, and I am honored to share the beauty of breastfeeding.