My sister gave birth to her daughter when she was fifteen years old. Her mother had breastfed, and encouraged her to also breastfeed. My fifteen year old sister was the first woman whom I ever saw breastfeed. I was fifteen as well (we became siblings through the marriage of our parents) and I remember thinking that nursing a baby was perfection.
I finally understood that breasts weren’t something only to be tolerated (wearing bras was something I had reluctantly been forced to do by my female body), or something to be ogled at by our male counterparts, they had a higher purpose. I did not find it gross, or rude, or inconvenient. I found it beautiful, and it was my first step to my accepting and loving the full capacity of my body as a woman.
When I gave birth to my first daughter it was by cesarean section, and it was not a welcomed procedure for me. I had planned a natural childbirth but was told my baby was too big to deliver vaginally. At the time, I didn’t know the ACOG guidelines for induction or cesarean for suspected macrosomia, and I thought my only safe choice was to accept surgery. My daughter and I experienced no labor, and she was born at 38 weeks exactly.
My baby was too sleepy from anesthesia to nurse properly, and was having difficulty passing her meconium. When the breast pump I asked for was not brought to my room, I went and demanded it from the only nurse I could find at the nurses’ station. I figured out how to use it with the help of my husband, and I was able to extract a minuscule amount of milk. I did not take the Percocet I was prescribed for my pain because I knew my milk to be the perfect food for my baby, and I saw how she was affected by the medicines of my surgery. I wanted it to be untainted when she was able to nurse.
I kept at it. We went home after a five day stay in the hospital. My baby woke up. I nursed her every time she’d made a grunt. I nursed her in front of my brother, my father-in-law, and my nephew. I nursed her in front of my own dad. None of them blinked an eye. None of them were used to seeing a woman nurse.
When it came time for us to venture out into the public, I didn’t think twice about nursing her wherever we needed to. I didn’t try to cover up with blankets or shawls. I knew I was being discreet with just my nursing tops and t-shirts. I was just happy that I was able to breastfeed her. I was overjoyed, and no one could squash that joy in me.
My first born nursed through my second pregnancy and weaned on her own at two and a half. My second daughter was a newborn. At the beginning of June of this year, my younger daughter weaned, and ended almost five years of breastfeeding my children. Never once have I been met with disapproval for my nursing in public. I know I have been fortunate. I have seen nothing but good come from my experience with breastfeeding.
My daughters aren’t sickly. They have never had an ear infection. They are not overweight. They rarely need antibiotics. It saved us a tremendous amount of time and money. But, most of all, at a time when I could have went to a mistrust of my female body, breastfeeding kept me connected and amazed by what I was capable of all on my own. It kept me feeling positive about what I was able to offer my daughters.
There are situations out of our control, and I know that I am so privileged to have even been able to breastfeed at all, but all mothers have something to offer their babies no matter the situation. It might be your warm arms, it might be the breast, it might be your wish for a safe birth, it might be lullabies at night, or sharing spirituality with them, and it is your womanhood that has given you that opportunity.
If we are unashamed of our female body, we can approach the discomfort of others without fear. Hopefully, a time will come when our right to nurse in public will not be an issue. Women will support women. Men will support the women in their lives. Until then, we will nurse as often as our babies need. We will do so in a way that makes us most comfortable, and we will do so with the confidence that what we are doing is right for our children.
We are honored to host a guest post today from Kelli. Kelli is a mother of two little girls, a homesteader, homeschooler, writer, childbirth educator, and doula in Appalachia. She blogs at A Mountain Mama and Birth True Blog.
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