Two main things have made me realize that our culture's attitude towards breastfeeding is not what it should be. Sure people know it's good, but subtle attitudes do nothing to support that.
Due to various components surrounding Edmund's birth, we had multiple hurdles to overcome to reach successful nursing. Edmund had a poor latch; he sucked wrong; he clamped down sometimes; my flow was so heavy that he would get overwhelmed easily. I was cracked and bleeding for weeks. I had yeast at one point. I'm pretty sure I had mastitis at one point. Prior to this I had never questioned God in the sense of, "why are you doing this to me?" Even when we were in the hospital and the doctors told us Edmund probably only had 2 hours to live, I didn't question. I hope that doesn't sound trite. I just know and easily accept that those things are out of my control, and I can accept whatever God chooses to do. But during the 6 weeks of hard, hard, painful nursing, I questioned. I cried. I screamed, "Why won't You make it better!?" I just screamed and cried some more. It was harder than childbirth, but it was also the most faith building experience of my life. To be pushed to that point of asking why (not with the right attitude) and to have to pull myself back from that and adjust my thinking was a growing experience of learning to persevere when I could have just given up and learning to trust God through this incredible pain.
I tried to share this when people asked me how things were going. To me, it was so profound and much harder than the month hospital stay, but most people just brushed it off saying, "oh, well if you can't breast feed, that's OK." I knew it was okay if I couldn't, but that wasn't the issue. I wasn't asking for an alternative. I could. I wanted too. It was just hard going for awhile. Fortunately, I had incredible support. I had a husband who stuck by me, even though it would have been easy for him to suggest the formula route as it was excruciating for him to see me in that much pain and not be able to help. I had midwives and a chiropractor who would come to offer suggestions or just lay a hand on my arm or back and say, "I know. I know. You're doing so great. You can do it." They didn't tell me I had to or that I was a bad mom if I didn't. They simply knew I could and gave the support I needed to keep trying. I did reach a point about 4 weeks in where we'd taken a turn for the worse again. I had an appointment to see a speech therapist and I knew if she couldn't help me, I was done. Fortunately she did help us, and at 4 1/2 months we continue to breastfeed successfully.
I wouldn't trade these nursing moments for anything. I'd go through 6 weeks of pain all over again if it meant I could keep nursing him. Part of it is selfish. When I thought of giving up, I thought of the options. I didn't want to spend money on formula; I didn't want to pump and bottle feed because it took to much time; I didn't want to have to wash bottles everyday; and I didn't want something else to prep and take with us places. But there's more to it than convenience. It's not a spiritual thing; it not just about breast milk being better food. There is a sweetness and a peace in being able to provide something for your child that no one else can. Something that comforts them instantly no matter what the ailment. There's an amazement that God has created our bodies to do this thing! Breast milk changes as your child grows, adjusting to their needs. I stand in awe of our Creator and wonder why it's so easy for us to bypass his design when technology has given us an alternative. What are we missing that we don't even know about?
Please, please understand that I'm not making judgements on those who have chosen not to breastfeed. I'm saying that it's an experience I can't imagine ANY breastfeeding mom say they'd just give it up or not do it if they had a redo. My sadness or thoughts or concerns are about a culture that too often undermines breastfeeding in ways too many to mention here. Most women don't have the support I did. I am grateful and I only wish more women had more information and more support in their hour of need.
I was at a birthday party for one of our midwives. I wish everyone had the experience of awesome midwives. It's a very different experience to be surrounded by them and several of the families they serve. Every time I go to a get together, there are lots of nursing mommas. It's just a natural part of this subculture if you will. I, being one of those mommas started nursing Edmund while I was there. A few things happened while I nursed using a receiving blanket to cover us. That was the norm I'd experienced. Besides, both our midwives have teenage boys, so I just figured....
a) Brandi (one of our midwives) said something like, "The blanket is for Edmund, not us right."
b) One of the little girls there came to see us. She leaned right over Edmund, saw that we were nursing, and kissed him on the head. It was so sweet.
c) Jared, one of the midwife's sons came over and was telling me all about the kittens they'd found under the porch. He stood right next to me telling me all about it. I was a little uncomfortable with him practically standing over me while I was nursing. But then I realized - I'm uncomfortable. He's not. Nursing is such a normal thing to him that he barely even noticed I'm doing it.
Kids are like that. It's parents that get weired out about their kids seeing someone nurse. Most kids come to look because they're curious what you're doing (because they don't live in a culture where it's normal to know that already). Once they see, they don't even notice anymore. If they're shooed away, they're left constantly wondering what it is and trying to get a peek.
These things have caused me to ponder. Why don't I feel free to nurse wherever I am? Why do I sometimes feel it's a little taboo? That I need to go into a separate room? I do nurse in public. I try to pick a place that's not the center of attention. We use a blanket or I wear clothes that allow us to nurse very discreetly. But I think mostly I feel free to do this because I've had the good fortune to be involved in a subculture where nursing is as natural and normal and drinking a glass of water.
What would it be like if all of our culture was that way? If breastfeeding was just what we did, so natural we didn't even think about other options except in rare, rare instances. So natural that we didn't ask expecting moms if they were going to breastfeed. If children grew up mimicking us by "breastfeeding" their dolls instead of giving them bottles. If women's bodies were just as much a symbol of life and nurturing as they are a sex symbol. I wonder...