I never hold my children as they are. When I wrap my arms around them, they are, in my mind and in my arms, the little babies I gave birth to. They are the still the little bodies I held when they cried and nursed to sleep. When I look into my 15 year old’s eyes I still see the innocent little soul she was the first time I looked. But they are not those little babies. They are children. They have grown and changed more than I ever expected. Without any effort on my part. I couldn’t stop them but I didn’t want to try either.
I nurtured them inside my body for nine months (ok, technically 10 months and my first two were actually 10 and a half months) and then I nursed them for the first year of their lives. With my first, it was beyond difficult. And painful. Yes, it hurt. Just one of the many, many pains that became bearable as motherhood progressed. I wanted to quit, but I just couldn’t. There was such an intense feeling of pride within me that I had produced a human being and now I had the natural ability to continue to sustain this life. All on my own!!! My body was incredible!!
I was so excited to be a mom. I read every book in our library about child birth, breastfeeding and child rearing. I watched every single tv show, I talked to every mom I knew and many I didn’t. No one was safe from me. If they had a baby, I was asking questions. I was accosting parents in stores, in restaurants, in public restrooms. I wanted to get all the information I could, lots of different opinions and points of view and then I could make up my mind what was going to be best for me and my family.
Nursing was my choice. In 1994, in a pretty conservative town, and being young, I was not well supported by my local society. Thank God for the nursing nazis. I remember a couple of nurses who supported me in all of my decisions. They were there after I had her, when we couldn’t quite get the hang of it and when I didn’t want her taken to the nursery. Everyone thought I was insane for wanting to keep her in the room with me. A couple of nurses thought she HAD to have a bottle of water and that I couldn’t possibly know what I was talking about because I was young. One even came in and told me I would get over this nursing thing in short order when I realized that it was going to tie me down. Tie me down? It was like she was speaking a foreign language. How could this baby, this sweet innocent tiny (well, 9 pounds…not that tiny) baby be looked upon already as a burden? I didn’t understand.
I still don’t. Babies don’t manipulate. They don’t lie around in their crib thinking of ways to piss off their mothers like crying every 20 minute or pooping out of their diaper. They cry because it is the only way they can communicate. If they could calmly lean over to their baby monitor and say “excuse me mother would you mind feeding me now as I am a bit hungry. Thanks ever so much” don’t you think they would? What a pain it would be to not have words to express ourselves AND to have to rely completely and totally on bigger humans to supply your every need. That would be terrifying!
The LaLeche League was my religion. I read the book and called the hotline. I educated myself on all of the specifics. How it works, why it works and why it is the best thing for baby and mother. I became a nursing nazi. I had total support from my family. Well, my mother was not on board at first. She just didn’t believe anyone, anywhere on earth could possibly exclusively nurse. She firmly believed that at some point formula was necessary. I firmly disagreed with her. She was actually the one who bought me the LaLeche League book. She became my biggest supporter. So much so that she became a nursing nazi herself and would promote nursing to her friend’s kids who were having babies. She used me as an example of how easy and right it was. She became a convert!!
Everyone I knew at the time was a nursing mother. I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t. In my world at that time, it was just the way it was. And then I made a friend who didn’t nurse. To be honest, it confused me. I hadn’t known anyone who didn’t at least attempt to nurse and then make some excuse and switch to bottle feeding. But this friend had never tried and didn’t desire to nurse her children. I was dumbfounded. She was totally confident in her choice to bottle feed and AND she didn’t feel the least bit threatened by my choice to breast feed! Like I said, my friends who had given up were always defending their choice. Not this friend. She knew herself and she had no guilt. Incredible!
She wasn’t the last of my friends to chose not to nurse. And it was mind expanding to have women in my life who make their own decisions. As good as I felt about my decisions when it came to child birth and child rearing, these women felt jut as good about theirs. I had to open my narrow mind to include the probability that some women may have a different view, a different idea of what it means to parent. And they are incredible moms. And they have incredible kids. Their boobs didn’t fall off and their kids didn’t get leukemia.
I am happy and confident in my choice of feeding my babies. I am content with their babyhood. I am no longer a nursing nazi (but I can still quote facts and figures). I have respect for moms who chose not to nurse. It is a personal decision. It is, because we live in a land and in a time where it can be a personal decision. I am completely for any and all women’s rights. And breast or bottle is a womans choice as clearly as any that we, as women, face. What was right for me and my babies may not be right for another. Situations vary and I can no longer be so arrogant as to think I know what is best for another when it comes to their child.
How I fed my babies wasn’t what changed my life. My babies are what changed my life. I have three happy, healthy, smart kids who would be totally grossed out to hear this story. But someday they will appreciate this. Nursing isn’t easy in the beginning, but neither is motherhood. Breastfeeding doesn’t make a mother. For that matter, birth doesn’t make a mother. Love, time, commitment, trust, attention….so many ingredients to making a mother. Whatever our choices, respect.