Focus on Fathers
My Husband, My Root System
Celestia Sudweeks Shumway
Layton UT USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 6, November-December 2007, pp. 272-273
In the process of having six babies (one at a time!) and nursing them over the years, I have found that it helps to have a model to help me see the big picture of mothering. The model I have chosen is not a person, but an object, a tree. This idea isn't so far-fetched when you consider that, just like a fruit-bearing tree, a breastfeeding mother provides food. Just as a tree offers shelter, a breastfeeding mother offers shelter or protection with the warmth of her body and the immune-fighting properties of her milk. What's even more fascinating is that a breastfeeding mom even has anatomical structures that look like trees -- the milk ducts of the breasts. If a mother chooses to do ecological breastfeeding (as outlined by Sheila Kippley in the book, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing), her body becomes a literal "tree of life" to her baby because it is the only source of nutrition and liquid that the baby has for at least the first six months of baby's life. This process takes the tree metaphor one more step by allowing the mother's body to go through seasons just as a tree does. Conception is spring, pregnancy is summer, childbirth is fall or harvest time, and lactational amenorrhea, the cessation of menses due to frequent nursing of an exclusively breastfed baby, is winter, when the uterus is at rest.
So how does the baby's father fit into this model of a mother being a tree of life to her baby? The father is the primary root system of the mothering tree of life. Just as a tree has to have roots in order to function, a mother has to have a root system. This root system can be a combination of the baby's father, extended family, an LLL Group, neighbors, church congregation members, friends, or other support people in the mother's community. For me, my primary root system has been my husband. Just as a root system provides nutrients from the soil to the tree, my husband, Dan, has provided me with the things I need so I can be a nurturing tree of life. He has given me the financial, physical, and emotional support I need to be the stay-at-home, breastfeeding mother that I knew I wanted to be before I even had our first baby.
Mary White, one of the Founders of LLLI, once responded to the question, "What is the father's role in the breastfeeding relationship?" at a session of a LLLI Conference. She said that the father's role is to do whatever is needed for breastfeeding to happen. It's as if my husband heard her say that and took it to heart for he has been that unconditional support to me. When I brought home The Baby Book by Dr. Sears, which I bought when I was pregnant with our first baby, I excitedly told my husband about the principles of attachment parenting. Dan embraced these ideas and has been my biggest champion of them. He has always been willing to lend a hand in the kitchen, fixing meals or doing dishes, so that I could nurse my baby on cue. He's been willing to let each of our children cosleep with us as babies, which has greatly facilitated nighttime nursing. When I was pregnant with our last baby and nursing my toddler, he did all the grocery shopping, which was a much-needed blessing for my tired body. He bought our first sling and has willingly been a babywearing father at home, at church, camping, shopping, or sightseeing. He has always been supportive of me nursing in public, from church to extended family gatherings to theme parks to football games to the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics. He has also always encouraged and supported me in my La Leche League involvement, which has greatly supported me in my mothering.
One day, Dan did something in particular that overwhelmingly showed the unconditional support he has for me, my dreams, and breastfeeding. Ever since I was a teen, I have been a fan of the game show, "Jeopardy!" One night, while I was away at an LLL meeting, he saw on TV that the show would be coming to Salt Lake City to search for contestants. So, as a family, we went to enjoy the fun and games. I took the written test, passed it, and was invited to come back the next day for a harder test to be a contestant. But I faced a huge obstacle. No babies or children were allowed in the testing room. I figured there wasn't a way for me to go since I had a two-month-old nursing baby girl, Calista, at the time and did not like to be separated from her. It's that tree thing again. I believe there's a time to be physically attached to your babies, like a tree is physically attached to its fruit, and then a season after the fruit is ripe when attachment isn't so literally physical. Dr. William Sears even says that one of the ancient meanings of the word "wean" means to ripen.
The morning of test day, Dan, an attorney in his own private practice, called me from work. He announced that he knew taking this test was a long-held dream of mine and that he was going to help me take it. He offered to drive me to Salt Lake with our two tandem nurslings and tend them while I took the test. So with some hand-expressed milk in tow, we drove to the hotel where the test was given. I had my cell phone so Dan could reach me if our daughter was hungry for me and not just my milk. Fortunately, our toddler and infant fell asleep in the car and slept most of the time I was gone. I was back in time to nurse our baby before she was fussy.
I didn't pass the advanced written test that day because of my lack of current pop culture knowledge. With a houseful of six children and homeschooling, I haven't had time for TV. So I wasn't put into the database of contestants asked to compete on the show. There went my hopes of being the Utahan who holds the record for the most "Jeopardy!" games won. But I got the best prize of all that day. This prize is the knowledge that I have a husband who is a root system to me. I was so amazed that he would take time out of his busy day to tend our babies to pursue a dream with me. He is one who nurtures my desires, those that involve being a breastfeeding mother, and dreams that are totally separate, like being a winner on a game show. That's the best prize of all, a prize no amount of money can buy. Thank you, Dan, for being the primary root system to my mothering tree of life.