So, I’m sure you all have come across that Time magazine cover from a few weeks back featuring a mother standing up while breastfeeding her kid. If you have, then you know that KID is definitely the word for the person sucking on her breast and not, you know, BABY. If memory serves, her son was three or four at the time of the shot.
I know, I know. We shouldn’t write things about articles that we’ve never even read! And yes, that means that neither my ma nor I read that article. The last time I read something in Time magazine was in the seventh grade for an idiotic weekly component of my Social Studies class called “Current Events” that basically involved the teacher not having to generate a lesson plan once a week OR talk to us for the duration of the class period. We just sat there with our Time magazines (and Newsweeks and US News and World Reports…) and answered questions from a sheet. He was–and I quote my mother here–a complete chucklehead. (Janet here: And that was me being parentally correct in my characterization. The guy was a complete and total tool who should have been canned. I do not think Rachel learned a thing all year — and then he went on to teach at least one of our other children too. Grrr.) All hope for me finding any of those publications credible was squashed right then and there.
And the thing is, that even if I didn’t think that Time was a waste of paper and interwebs property, I still probably wouldn’t read the article. Because I don’t read articles on parenting. Period. It’s principled. I made a decision somewhere between my conviction to have a completely natural labor and my demand for an epidural (after 36 hours of labor, thankyouverymuch) that there simply cannot be any shoulds to parenting other than try not to let your kid die and try not to kill yourself. This is a by-any-means-necessary kind of endeavor, and I believe in my heart of hearts that what works for me can totally and legitimately not work for another mama. All we can do is share our journeys with each other and hope that some small kernel helps another parent in their hour (days? weeks? years?) of need. And so, the only stuff I read about parenting is the commiserating sort of stuff (I’m particularly fond of some of the things posted on Jezebel), the stuff that talks about the sudden appearance of wrinkles or that time some mother bit her kid back in public or how insanely hot it is when you find your partner folding laundry. The advice-y stuff? The this-is-the-right-way stuff? No thanks. I’m sure Max will tell me all I did wrong soon enough (Janet note: OF COURSE SHE WILL AND MULTIPLE TIMES OVER MANY YEARS!), and I’m certain there’s nothing I can do now to change that.
Which is all a really long way of getting back to the Time photo, and a really long way for me to introduce myself to you as a breastfeeder. Hi. My name is Rachel. I’ve been breastfeeding for 23 1/2 months and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I’m one of those hippies who’s gone down the self-weaning rabbit hole, periodically daring to daydream that my boobs will stop looking like tubes when the kid finally takes her last suck and mostly accepting that they most definitely will not. (Is this as good a time as any to say that I used to have really great tits? Because I did, dammit, and–as with so many things–failed to appreciate their luster while I had them. Now I have what pregnancy books so delicately refer to as mature breasts…every 27-year-old wants them, I swear.) I am not someone who loves breastfeeding. I do not stare misty-eyed into Maxine’s baby blues while she nurses. I am, though, someone for whom breastfeeding came easily and without discomfort (my nipples never cracked…how lucky is THAT?) (Janet: Very lucky indeed. Mine cracked with all three of you AND I got breast infections to boot three times). I made a commitment to breastfeeding before I’d even met Maxine and, when it took with relative ease, I committed to seeing it through for six months. And then a year. And then to two years.
Somewhere in there, it became clear to us that Maxine has issues with her immune system. We now know that her body has been struggling with MRSA for most of her life. Interestingly enough, the struggle began sometime around when she stopped being exclusively breastfed, or, when she stopped being constantly bolstered by my immune system. John struggles with MRSA, too, which leaves me the sole member of our household who just doesn’t seem to be susceptible–which leaves me thinking that my immune system does something pretty badass and wonderful when MRSA tries to sucker punch it, which leaves me thinking that Maxine can have access to my immunities for as long as she pleases.
There are other factors to this decision of mine, of course. Letting Max decide the pace of our physical separation on this level balances out–for me–the reservations/guilt/reluctance I’ve felt at various points when forcing our physical separation. It is a decision I have made that, in its own convoluted little way, helps me claim space for myself. She has access to my body and, in turn, I feel more confident in my own claim to my body. I feel like a both/and person instead of an either/or and, for me, that feels balanced. The way I see it, she will not nurse for the majority of her life, and I will not nurse her for the majority of mine. Though at times I feel like a machine, mostly I feel like this–these years–are flying by. I swear to god we just celebrated her first birthday; she turns two next week. That she nursed through the blink of an eye that has been the past year feels only like a gift when I consider it from that perspective.
I do not nurse out and about, though I always feel grateful when I see another woman whipping her tits out despite onlookers’ discomfort. We have booba (our word for it) at home and only at home (oh, except when we traveled east a few months ago and I totally found the most conservative pocket of men to settle down in to nurse my then-1 1/2 year old…hehehe), in the morning if I’m here when Max wakes, when we’re home together in the afternoon/early evening (she comes running to the door yelling “BOOBA!!! Let’s have some,”), and then before bed while we sing her a lullaby. My goal in drawing this boundary has been to help her develop tools other than nursing to comfort herself/establish home base/etc., while also maintaining a dynamic of access between the two of us. I am a complicated, fumbling person. My interpersonal relationship skills often leave a lot to be desired. I know that Maxie will struggle to find me someday, to get through to me. I am trying to build a foundation for her and for us and for myself that we can stand upon later, one in which she knows in her gut that I am here and I am here for her, and one in which I know that I have been able to grant her this connectivity.
Also? The World Health Organization recommends we nurse our babies until they’re at least two. I’m just saying…
Janet’s two cents: I’m not gonna lie. That Time cover made me want to scream. (And just to reiterate, Rachel and I decided we would not read the story as part of our plan here. If that bugs you, why are you still reading this?) First of all, it made me crazy because the mom can say all she wants (and she apparently has based on tweets etc) about how this was just to raise awareness about attachment parenting (Rachel here: I don’t even know what attachment parenting is and I think it sounds gross…am I attachment parenting? If I am, I’m renaming it.) and the wonders of breastfeeding but that cover was and will always be all about her. That kid will ALWAYS be the kid who posed on the cover of a national (and international thanks to the wonders of the web and social media) magazine with his mouth firmly affixed on his mother’s breast. She can try to convince herself otherwise but she’s just trying to make herself feel better (Rachel here: Ma, I promise right here where all the world can see that I will never–NEVER–subject Max to any PR stunt like this).
And that selfishness annoys me. A lot. IF the story had been about her beliefs and she wanted to be openly quoted about this, she could have made her point without bringing her kid — who may ask for some breast milk but most decidedly did not say “Mommy can I please be photographed in a magazine sucking on your boob?” — literally into the picture. After all, the only reason he’s still breastfeeding is because she has decided that’s how he’s going to continue to get this sustenance (Rachel here: Umm…I’m pretty sure she doesn’t like, force his head to her breast and plug his nose until he opens his mouth and sucks…). He had nothing to do with this choice and if it was taken away, he’d move on — pretty quickly is my guess based on how quickly kids move on in general and in particular their attention span at this age. So her choice on the photo raises my mama lion hackles big time.
But I know my reaction is based on other things, stuff I’m still processing even though the last time I breastfed a child was 20 years ago. I’ve always thought extended breastfeeding (and I consider this to be anything past a year so yes I know this now includes my daughter and granddaughter, both of whom I love more than life itself) “wrong.” Or maybe a better word is strange or unnatural. (As I said, still processing.) My rational side knows this is probably ridiculous, but as we all know we are not (thankfully) just rational beings. I enjoyed breastfeeding while doing it (infections aside) and enjoyed the bonding with my children. I also loved knowing I was giving them the best start possible with this food. Just as I ate right and took care of myself while pregnant, breastfeeding would help them kick off life outside the womb in the best way possible.
But I was also thrilled to stop, which occurred between 4-6 months depending on the child — clearly way before what self-weaning folks would say (yeah that’s Rachel too) is natural since I called the shots on stopping the supply. Why did I stop then? Certainly working and exhaustion (Rachel, with whom I stayed home 11 months before working part-time was breast fed the longest) played a role, but really I stopped because I didn’t want to be the only person doing this. I needed to get my self back in order to have more to give (Rachel note: Hey! We were sorting out the same thing–space for self–through breastfeeding, just in different ways. This is what I was talking about earlier when I was saying whatever works for the people involved is the way to go). Sounds like an oxymoron I know but I remember well how I felt at the time. I needed more space. (I picture my former therapist thoughtfully nodding her head right about now and saying something like, “That’s interesting, Janet. I wonder what else you’d like to say about that.”)
And there is clearly more to mine there in those thoughts — which I’m actually not going to do right here, right now. But I think I have at least “processed” this: My discomfort with the extended breastfeeding probably has more to do with my own feelings that maybe I screwed it up, just the first of many moments as a parent when I’ve thought Jeez maybe I didn’t do that fill-in-the-blank well. So I secretly urge others to stop sooner because, hey, if other people do it too, it must all be okay, right?
Or something like that…..
Complicated stuff obviously. What do you all think? Have you breastfed? Were you breastfed? Did you read the article? Really! Let’s talk!