I had this dream the other night, I woke up in a cold sweat when it was over. I guess that makes it a nightmare, really.
I had been selected to go on a mission to space (something I never would have applied for, by the way) and it was a really huge honor. I was going to be away for 6 days. Everyone was really excited, but as I was suiting up in my astronaut gear an hour before the launch I realized that being away from my baby that long meant I would be finished breastfeeding because in this dream the assumption was that during this time my supply would dry up. I started panicking, I hadn’t prepared, hadn’t pumped bottles for her while I was away, hadn’t packed a pump for the space mission to maintain my milk supply. I was about to blast off to space and I was freaking out because I had to stop breastfeeding. I told the launch team I needed to see a doctor, because I thought maybe they could give me some kind of medicine to maintain my supply while I was orbiting the Earth. They brought in Dr. Oz, naturally, and he said ‘I guess what I don’t get is, why do you need to keep breastfeeding? She is almost a year old anyway.’ I was flustered and not able to tell him to just f&^k off and mind his own business, so instead I just started crying and saying ‘I didn’t know the last time I fed her would be the last time, I didn’t stroke her hair or kiss her cheek or look at her smiling up at me.’ And he just shrugged. And I cried harder. A$$hole.
I woke up really upset, and a little confused. What did this dream mean? Obviously any mother who has an enjoyable breastfeeding experience will feel some sadness when it ends, and I suspect that mothers who have an unenjoyable breastfeeding experience have similar feelings. But my experience is ongoing, my baby is still breastfed, we are both still enjoying the arrangement. Why this anxiety provoking nightmare?
At some point, in our society, the one-year-mark became some kind of informal end-point for breastfeeding. As we get closer to that point, I’ve found more and more people ask me when I plan to stop (no such plan exists) or are simply surprised when they realize we haven’t stopped already.
People say ‘But she has teeth!’ or ‘Soon she’ll be talking!’ or ‘You must be getting tired of it!’ or ‘But once she’s walking you’ll stop right?’
My replies: So what?; I hope so!; I’m not; I don’t see how the two are related?
My feelings about breastfeeding in general are pretty mild. I think it’s wonderful, natural, healthy, intimate and should be supported by our society MUCH more than it is currently. That being said, I know that despite heroic, incredible amounts of effort, it doesn’t work for some people. Furthermore, I know some women would rather not even try breastfeeding as a means of feeding their infant, and that’s not an issue for me. How wonderful that we can live in a time/place where women who want to breastfeed can seek (and hopefully find) support and women who don’t want to have a nutritional, accessible alternative to breast milk.
My feelings about my own breastfeeding experience are much more emotional. I have always enjoyed it as a way of bonding with my daughter. I love knowing that I control what goes into my body and therefore control what enters her body through my milk. I love the convenience of always having milk on hand if she needs it. I love the comfort we both get from the experience. I love the way she looks at me when she nurses, how we are connected in a way that no one else can be, the commitment I’ve made to her by choosing this path. To me, nothing is more normal or natural for us.
But if I’m honest, as much as I’d love to say ‘Puritanical values be damned!’ and nurse openly in mixed company, talk about my love breastfeeding in front of anyone, and feel totally confident about our current path towards ‘extended breastfeeding’, I just can’t shake some of my own insecurity.
Sometimes, when questioned about our intentions to continue breastfeeding, I’m tempted to cite recommendations from the World Health Organization or use some of UNICEF’s information on the average age of weaning in other countries to justify my choice scientifically and culturally. And while that information is important and useful, it really isn’t relevant here. Why do I have to explain myself?
I have chosen to breastfeed, enjoy breastfeeding and will continue to breastfeed until it becomes undesirable for either myself or my baby. If we are both happy, it’s working. If one of us isn’t, it isn’t. Why does it have to be more complicated than that?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is because our society makes it more complicated. Breastfeeding (probably because it’s an issue involving primarily women and the patriarchy rules us still) is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of issue.
If you don’t, you’re some kind of terrible, selfish, baby-torturer who dares to feed their offspring modified cow’s milk (or, the horrors! possibly a soy based product!) from a rubber nipple. If you do, good for you BUT you best not DARE breastfeed in front of the eyes of someone easily offended by a breast functioning as it is meant to and don’t even CONSIDER doing it past the day marked on the calendar that people decided will make them uncomfortable, you perv!
So either you’re a child abuser right away because you formula fed, or you are a child abuser later if you breastfeed longer than ‘normal.’ Lucky are the few who find themselves in that perfect middle ground of doing the right thing for the right number of months.
I remember reading a few years ago about Salma Hayek being quoted (and then the quote being picked up by every gossip blog and news source you can imagine) as saying she was ‘addicted’ to breastfeeding because she was enjoying it so much and her daughter was so healthy. Her crime? The aforementioned daughter was 13 months old. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Say it ain’t so!
At the time I knew painfully little about what a 13 month old needs or even looks like compared to a 3 month old and I knew NOTHING about breastfeeding beyond what I’d read on a poster on the wall of my doctor’s office, but I still found the reaction to this revelation by Salma revolting in every way. Blogger Lauredhel compiled much of the negative reaction here and the general consensus that a) Salma is a sick pervert and b) her boobs are sex objects meant for the public to enjoy is really shocking (honestly, take 2 minutes and read this).
While there are some supportive comments, much of focuses on how Salma’s actions are ‘child sex abuse’ or at least ‘obscene’, leading me to believe those commenters have no idea of what abuse actually is and have never looked at their own body nude under full light. Similarly disappointing are the commentors like this gem from HuffPo who said ‘Man, what can I say? Can I have a snack?’ or ‘Honestly…What kid could give those up?’…men are so hilarious with their naive delusions that women’s bodies and breasts in particular are somehow all about them.
Three years later I can totally relate to Salma’s feelings about breastfeeding and feel even more offended by so much of the public reaction, probably because I have an 11 month old who I still breastfeed and don’t feel I should have to explain it to anyone. Or hide it from anyone. Or be sorry for enjoying it so much.
Mothers are constantly making choices, never sure what’s right, seemingly always feeling guilty about something, battling our own insecurities and wondering what is in the best interest of the child. So when I’ve made a choice that I feel totally confident in, that I truly believe is the right thing for us, that is still working so well, why should I feel anything but totally victorious? Why should anyone feel anything but happy for me, or at least totally and completely ambivalent?