Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Don't Muddy Your Milk: Shame, Valour, and Breastfeeding

I was driving to my parent's summer cabin with my newborn baby boy (breastfed) and my preschooler (also still breastfeeding) when I had this conversation:

"You know how you like to have boobies, Sweetheart?
"Well, Mommy is happy to give you booby milk but here's an idea I have. Let's make up a special word for it that nobody but us knows. A special, secret word, like . . . "yum yum!" So if you want booby milk, you ask Mommy for "yum yum." And if Mommy says, "Yes, yum yum!" then we'll go someplace quiet together where it will be just you and Mommy. And if Mommy says, "No, not now," you'll just have to wait a little bit. But you'll be able to have yum yum later. Good idea?"
"Good. But let's not have yum yums in front of Grandpa and Grandma, okay? Let's just make it a super special secret thing that just you and me know about."
"And Daddy."
"Yes, and Daddy knows about it."
"Yum yums in the car!"
"No. Not in the car. Yum yums later."
"Okay, Mommy."

How very reasonable. What a civilized agreement. What a super-clever Mommy, I, to think up such reasonable, civilized things and to communicate them so rationally to my very rational two year old daughter.

When we arrived at Grandma and Grandpa's my newborn was hungry. I nursed him right away in the nearest armchair, the cozy one in front of the big picture window with the view of slender, silver-barked aspens trembling in the wind off the lake. Grandma remarked how much our baby had grown in the past weeks and on his sweetness. Then another conversation with my daughter began while the baby drank and my parents looked on in horror:

"Yum yums now."
"No, Sweetie. Yum yums soon. But not now. Yum yums later."
"Yum yums, NOW, Mommy."
"No, Sweetie. Not now. Later."
"Mommy! [Eyes narrowed, hands on hips, feet planted squarely on the ground.] You give me boobies RIGHT NOW. Or ELSE, Mommy!"
"I said no. Later."
"Mommy, you put that baby down and give me boobies NOW."
Then her little foot stamped three times on the carpet and she started to kick-drag it behind her like an enraged buffalo threatening to charge. Summoning the super-shrieky-shrill power particular to two-year old girls, she blared:


I shook my head no.

"I will not," I said sadly.

Then there wasn't much I could do as she hollered and flailed and screamed and shouted and bounced, quite literally, off the walls in rage and frustration.

It was an intense moment in breastfeeding.

I was mortified. And I was heartbroken. What was I thinking asking a two-year old to keep a secret? How did I dream that she wouldn't see right through me and know that I was ashamed to be nursing her (at two and a half) but I wasn't ashamed to be nursing our new baby.

It's hard bringing a baby into a home with siblings. It's painful to know you are wreaking havoc in the life you devote so much energy into making pleasant, familiar, healthy, and safe for your firstborn. It's heart-wrenching to see your beloved daughter in such pain because you selfishly decided that she wasn't enough, even though she's already filled up you heart a thousand times over with more love than you could ever have believed possible.

Betsy 2
Now that girl and her brother play like puppies and they love each other madly. In retrospect it's so easy to comprehend what a gift a sibling is. But, in that post-natal haze of tender hormones and raw newiness, one wonders, "Have I ruined everything?"

Here's the thing:

I was ashamed. I didn't know a single other person who had tandem nursed or nursed through a pregnancy. And while it all came very natural and easy physically -- I simply faced none of the common roadblocks that many women do -- I felt kind of like a freak.

Kids have a preternatural ability to sense these sorts of things.

That was almost two years ago and my daughter is weaned now. But I still remember that awful tantrum and my sense that I'd betrayed her. Not because I didn't comply with her tyrannical demands -- I shudder to think of what kind of example I'd set if I responded to, "YOU LIFT UP YOUR SHIRT RIGHT NOW OR ELSE!". But I do feel I betrayed her by sullying our nursing relationship. I did that when by giving a damn what a third party (Grandma and Grandpa) thought. I complicated our nursing relationship by including people in it who didn't belong.

A nursing relationship should be between a mother and her child. Period.

I have been nursing for four-and-a-half years now. I have three children. My four year old is weaned and the youngest (my baby is eight months-old and our boy just turned two) are happily nursing. Tandem nursing has worked out great for us. It really did ease those tough transitions of bringing more babies into our family by telling my older babies, in the most literal possible way, there is enough for both of you.

My best advice, as an old nursing pro who has run the gamut, is make your nursing relationship about you and your child. Nobody else's feelings, opinions, hang-ups, etc. are really that relevant.

I know, it’s not so simple. We are products of our culture, we are cultured people, and we cannot and should not live in isolation from our culture. And if someone you really care about and respect – your husband or your mother, say, are pressuring you to feel ashamed of your nursing relationship, that puts you in an awful spot. But that's my best advice -- what it all boils down to: make your nursing relationship between you and your baby.

It turns out Grandma and Grandpa didn't point a finger at me and call me a freak for tandem nursing. Nobody has. Not to my face, anyway. In fact, in my almost five years of nursing I haven't really gotten any flak. I've nursed lots of places (restaurants, airplanes, parks, parties, grocery stores, Unesco World Heritage Sites, wherever) and I think I've received more, "Oh, wow, have you been nursing this whole time? I didn't even notice!" comments than anything else. It's not that I have any special techniques for nursing discreetly -- I just do what I've got to do.

If I need to nurse right here, right now, I'll do it. If I need to go someplace quiet, I'll find someplace quiet. I do what feels right for me and the baby. Or the toddler. Or the preschooler.

I wasn't always so bold. I started out as doubtful, sore, weepy, and self-conscious as any new breastfeeding mom. I had to learn not to be ashamed of breastfeeding. And then, as my nursling became a toddler and then a big sister, there it was -- the shame had crept back.

If I could go back in time and tell that Mommy driving to her parent's cabin with her newborn and her nursing toddler what I know now it would be this:

1) Don't ask a child to keep a secret. It's stresses them out. Bad, bad idea.

2) Don't be ashamed. Shame is not helpful. It is not necessary. Breastfeeding is a wholesome thing. Shame just muddies the milk. Don't muddy your baby's or your toddler's or your preschooler's milk with shame.

3) When she is ready to wean, it will be easy. Don't worry. She will wean one day and you will know the time is right.

4) You are your biggest breastfeeding critic. No one else really cares that much. So stop criticizing yourself. You are awesome. You are doing a great job.

5) When it comes to breastfeeding, discretion is not the better part of valour. Valour is the better part of valour. Breastfeed, always, with valour.



We are honored to post this guest post today by Betsy. Betsy lives way up in the snow where she does it polar bear style. For way too much info, visit her blog, Honest2Betsy.


Wonderful! Thank you for sharing. <3

I found this post via Nursing Freedom on Facebook ~ I can't even begin to express how much this spoke to me! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I have a 2 1/2 year old who is still nursing, and he's still my only child, so I haven't yet faced the prospect of tandem nursing. But I have had quite a bit of flack from family members and a few "friends" about the fact that he's still nursing...which has left me feeling uncertain and unsteady. This post -- your words -- have helped me regain the confidence that I'm doing what's right for my son and I, and it's nobody else's business but ours. Thank you so very much!

That was really great! I really enjoyed reading it, thanks for sharing!

Yay! Happy World Breastfeeding Week everybody!

Awesome story! Thanks for the reminder, I needed it!

Wow! What a great way of looking at it!
I will keep on BF proudly, and without shame! (My LO is now 19 months old)

Betsy, you are awesome! This post is awesome! Thank you for so eloquently reminding all of us that breastfeeding is just between the two of us--mom and baby.

What a wonderful article. I completely agree. I hope your story inspires lots of moms to relax and leave judgment out of their nursing relationship!

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