Breakfast in Central Park, May 1998
Yesterday I was reading something that reminded me how much I loved breastfeeding. I’ve been meaning to write about it for years, and I keep forgetting. It’s one of the best things–if not the best thing–I’ve ever done. Talk about having a purpose! My very body was keeping this brand-new little human alive and thriving.
And I had so much milk! If I lived in the Middle Ages I could have been a wet nurse and easily provided for a small orphanage.
I breastfed B for a year and R for 15 months. She completely skipped the bottle and went straight from my breast to a sippy cup. For a while I thought I might want another baby, because I didn’t want to say goodbye to breastfeeding forever, but then B became potty-trained and I started to see the benefits of progress.
I know it’s not for everyone. This is not a post about the importance of breastfeeding–I’m not out to make any young mother feel guilty or inadequate for not breastfeeding. I just really loved it. I still remember the feeling of my milk dropping in the movie theater whenever I saw so much as a kitten on the screen. Like my heart was literally overflowing with motherly love.
A while ago I even dreamed that I was breastfeeding a baby in need. Turned out there was absolutely no reason why a 56-year-old woman who stopped breastfeeding at forty couldn’t still do it. Wouldn’t that be something?
There was only one thing that could spoil my enjoyment of nursing my babies: the fact that it seems to be controversial here. Breastfeeding was common in the Netherlands. When one of my friends had a baby and we were all visiting, she popped out her breast when the baby got hungry and nursed him, never having to leave the conversation. T told me that his friends might feel uncomfortable if I did that. I debated whether or not I gave a damn, but not for long. Mostly, I didn’t want to embarrass my husband. So when B got hungry, I retired to the bedroom.
Later I got bolder, if only because the alternative was staying at home all the time. In restaurants I was able to be discreet enough just wearing nursing bras and nursing t-shirts, but even then, I’d often get disapproving looks. By the time B was four or five months old, he got easily distracted and every time someone walked by, he’d let go with a wet plop to see where this interesting person was going. Meanwhile I had to quickly stem the flow and try to get him to focus on his lunch again. Some women breastfed with a special nursing blanket draped over themselves and the baby, but this was the Rio Grande Valley. No way I was going to cover part of myself and my baby with a blanket when it was 110 degrees outside. If folks didn’t like it, they could look the other way.
It always took me aback how many people had an opinion about what I should be feeding my baby. One woman in a restaurant told me I should give R some french fries and when we were at some kind of event we ran into an acquaintance of T’s, who, when he heard that we had a baby, asked if I was breastfeeding. I said I was–B was two months old–and the guy said that was great, that it was fine to breastfeed for the first three months, but you also had those mothers who still breastfed their children when they could already walk, and that was just ridiculous. I had never met this guy. T hadn’t seen him in years, he was really just someone he knew by name from high school or something. And here he was giving me his permission to breastfeed for one more month. Anything more and I’d be a freak.
Those kinds of run-ins still bother me. I wish I could have been more assertive. Especially to that guy. I should have ripped him a second … Okay, breathe, it was a long time ago. It’s okay, you live in a more open-minded place now.
So here’s to all the breastfeeding mothers out there. Good for you! If you are lucky enough to live in a town where closed-minded folks are a rarity, that’s great. If not, stand up for yourself. If you’re a young European immigrant: it’s not you. Don’t worry about your husband and his friends. Let them get with the program. Don’t be cowed by those prudes who think they have the right to tell everyone what to do, how to behave, what not to do. This is your child. If you love breastfeeding, don’t let anyone spoil that for you.
Enjoy every second of it!