Sitting On The Breastfeeding Fence

While I was busy yesterday urging others to fight hate and injustice, two of my best blogosphere friends Gina (thefeministbreeder.com) and Mandy (harpershappenings.com) were making waves on the subject of breastfeeding.

It seems I’ve always been in this in-between classification of “mom”. On the one hand, I can come off pretty crunchy. I cloth diaper, have been known to wear my baby, made all his baby food and breastfed for 13 months. On the other hand, I Ferberized, can’t stand co-sleeping (for us, not judging others who can make it work), and lost all desire to practice extended breastfeeding by the time Kendall turned a year old because I just wanted/needed my body back.

And really, when it comes to breastfeeding I always seem to find myself in a weird spot, too. I believe in the good that comes from breastfeeding, and I believe this country short changes women by not supporting them enough (lack of maternity leave, formula samples showing up in your mailbox multiple times a month, a culture that looks upon breastfeeding as “gross” and something to hide). I believe we should be able to freely nurse in public without or with a cover (and I don’t think a woman who *chooses* to wear a cover should have to worry about what sort of political message she’s sending by CHOOSING to cover up for her own comfort) and not be met with the glares of strangers or security guards at Target telling us we have to leave. I wish every mom would really give breastfeeding some serious thought before deciding if it will work for her or not, and that she could have the education, resources and support going into it to help her be successful. That she would know that it is NOT EASY. Not for many, at least… certainly not at first. You are not failing if it’s hard or if it hurts.

And because of how I feel about breastfeeding, I did want to shout “Right on!” when I read parts of Gina’s post yesterday “When It Comes to Breastfeeding, We Can’t Handle The Truth”. She hit on so many of the things I feel strongly about, including this:

Is it easy to make this milk?  No, not always — but neither was bringing that baby into the world and your body did a fine job of that.  Think about that.  Think hard. Your body created an entire human being inside from nothing more than the joining of two single cells.  Your body is a miracle worker. So what leads you to believe that, after creating a whole person with organs and tissue and a beating heart, that your body would call it quits when it came time to feeding this thing?

I was really open about how hard and painful breastfeeding was for me in the beginning. Make no mistake, it was not fun. I cried and I cussed and I threw tubes of lanolin across the room nearly every time Kendall latched for the first 8 weeks. In an attempt to give my nipples and myself a break, I tried to pump. It was utterly (haha) depressing how little milk my enormously engorged boobs were able to produce after 30 minutes of pumping. And when the two back to back mastitis infections that followed seemed to come each time after I pumped, I ditched the damn thing for a while and figured the temporary pain of breastfeeding was better than a constant fight with mastitis.

But here’s the thing I always remind myself – Even though it was NOT easy for me, I had such a tremendous support system surrounding me. My #1 champion was my husband, and my mom was a close second. I recall calling Scott at work one sleep deprived night, screaming at him, bawling my eyes out (I just came down with my 2nd round of mastitis), telling him, “I’m done! I quit!” and eyeing the sample cans of formula that I’d received in the mail. He listened to me cry, to my frustrations, he soothed me and calmed me and validated me. And then he encouraged me. He praised me for all my hard work so far, and he talked me down from a cliff of desperation. I was SO LUCKY to have that support from him.

My inability to pump continued, and after I got a 3rd, yes THIRD, round of mastitis after pumping, and after fighting to the point of frustrated tears to get Kendall to take a bottle, which he absolutely refused, I realized that I would just have to exclusively nurse him from the breast. I would have to be there for every single feeding. There was no way around it. Honestly? I didn’t mind because after 8 weeks that’s when breastfeeding became wonderful for us… for me. That’s when I was SO GLAD I stuck it out. That’s also when I thanked my lucky stars I was able to stay home with him for the next year. I’ve always said that I if  had to go back to work after having Kendall, I’m really, really not so sure breastfeeding would have worked out for us for very long.

And I know it’s not all about luck, because as I’ve already stated, I had to work HARD for it. But, I didn’t go through every challenge a breastfeeding mom has ever faced. My son latched (even if like a wolverine) and he ate and ate and ate, and he gained weight. Boy, did he gain weight! And I never felt like I was failing at feeding him.

So, while part of me was really cheering Gina on for many of the points she was making, another part of me was thinking about my friend Mandy and her blog post “Let’s Just Feed Them, Shall We?”

I read Mandy’s story of how she really struggled with breastfeeding, how she really, really TRIED. And my heart broke for her when I read this:

MONTHS spent riddled with guilt every time i fed her a bottle. every time i saw another mother breastfeeding. i would hide the formula under things in my cart. feel awful when the checker would scan it. tell myself i was costing our family money because of my inability to make milk.

I champion for breastfeeding rights when I can. I’m proud of breastfeeding Kendall for 13 months, and I really feel like so many women in this country aren’t receiving the right amount of information and support when it comes to breastfeeding. But, at the same time, I know there ARE women who can’t make it work no matter how hard they try, for many valid reasons, and I really can’t fault them for choosing their own sanity over a long, hard battle that they still may not end up winning. I also respect that there are women who ARE educated on the benefits of breastfeeding and they still make the choice to formula feed, again, for many valid reasons.

I find it so hard to walk the line sometimes between supporting breastfeeding and possibly making formula feeding moms feel guilty. Catherine at Her Bad Mother wrote a great post called “Shame And The Mom: A Boob Story” in which she said something that resonates with me still:

But we should be careful, should we not, that when we fight the shaming of nursing mothers, we don’t, in the process, shame mothers who don’t nurse? How do we do that? How do we make this, always, about choice, without giving up ground in promoting the nursing choice…

I’ve been trying to answer that question for myself ever since.

I know that a large part of the breastfeeding issue is the lack of education to allow moms to make an informed choice about breastfeeding, but there are moms who are informed and who have tried and choose to not do it… for many valid reasons.

And while I’m frustrated with the companies getting in the way of the breastfeeding mom, the cultural beliefs that stifle the breastfeeding mom, and many other barricades that make it harder than it should be on the breastfeeding mom, I’m certainly not meaning to guilt the formula feeding mom.

Please know, I’m not at all trying to pit these two inspirational bloggers against each other by writing this, because I think they both come at this issue from different sides, with different reasons, and I think they do a DAMN good job at it. I think they make a difference and lend valuable voices to a discussion that is important. I am proud to call them friends and celebrate their points of view and personal experiences, and I hope they both still love and respect me for the fence-sitter I am.

Kendall is 23 months old.

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