In honor of National Breastfeeding Week, I wanted to talk about my two very different experiences with breastfeeding my children.
We don’t have a great relationship in this country with A) Our bodies as women, or B) our identities as caregivers. What I mean by that is that we are constantly beset with imagery sexualizing our breasts, telling us to “bounce back” after birth, warning us against displaying our parts in a way that is deemed inappropriate.
How many times have you seen a headline like this? “Woman sues airline for kicking her off while breastfeeding her child.” Or, “Nurse-in scheduled at local cafe after woman asked to leave while breastfeeding.”
It’s an ongoing battle to be seen as both life-givers and sexual beings. When my son was born 4.5 years ago, I wanted my breastfeeding experience to be profound, and private. Like so many other moms, I realized how impossible it was – when he was cluster feeding, he was nursing at least once an hour! I embraced wraps and covers, and eventually, I didn’t bother with them in safe spaces like bathroom-adjacent nursing rooms and in the comfort of my car.
That’s another huge issue – how rare it was to FIND a safe nursing space. If you are reading this and you own a restaurant, or a shop in a mall, or whatever, do us all a favor and put a sitting chair and a changing table in your bathroom – at the very least. Make your space inviting to breastfeeding mothers. Please!
Jordan was a happy breastfeeder who latched within the hour of his birth. I was lucky, with both kids, to have a delivery room policy allowing one hour on my chest before they were whisked off for weighing and testing. My time off of work, however, was limited to 10 weeks – which is actually a huge amount of time for U.S. standards. Within weeks, I had to train him to take a bottle. Below, we’re trying out the Kinde system for the first time.
I was in deep mourning over my maternity leave coming to an end, despite the ability to have my husband with my son while I was away. Again – very few women in this country are that lucky. We were working split shifts at the time, and I was early-morning and he was afternoon-evening.
I am so grateful that he was OK with a bottle. In the meantime, I was pumping 3x per shift in a closet. A fellow mom created a tea mug covered with his photos for me to have while I pumped, and it’s still one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. Within days, however, I was worried about supply as I watched the amount of milk fall regularly. I went from about 15 ounces a session to 12, then 10, then 8, and so on.
My little Buddha baby persevered, but by about 3 months, we were supplementing with formula.
I don’t have to tell you this – but despite my gratitude for the the availability of a substitute, I felt like a complete failure. That stress affected my milk output further. I was taking fenugreek, making lactation cookies, doing everything I could. But nothing could combat the lack of sleep and the stress over having to work and be away from my little man.
By 3.5 months, our pediatrician allowed us to start feeding him some pureed fruits and veggies. By 7 months, my nursing journey with him was over. I was – honestly – devastated. Despite my personal issues, he thrived and has always (thank goodness) been a happy, healthy little man.
My daughter and my son are 2.5 years apart. When she was born, I was working from home and we had relocated to be closer to family. She was able to nurse on demand, a true revelation in my world. Although the initial weeks with her were still painful as my body got used to the habit of nursing once again, they were lightyears away from the experience with my son.
California’s maternity policy, the best out of all 50 states, gave me 13 weeks at home with her – and then when I began working 40 hours a week again, I was still inside the house. Although we tried halfheartedly, she never took a bottle. Ever! Amazingly, she didn’t have to. I kept her close, with family members helping us out.
My daughter nursed until 17 months – 10 months longer than my son. Do I think this will someday affect them cognitively or physically? No. I also think I am tightly bonded to both of them.
Sharing my journey, however, reminds me of something very clearly. We do not afford women in this country with enough time to recover from our birth experiences. We do not place any importance on their relationships with their infants. The Family and Medical Leave Act, the pinnacle of our resources as mothers, does not even require that we get paid while we are Out of Office. What does it all add up to? Zero guarantee of leave. ZERO.
While I was planning to bring my son into the world, one of my employees had to come back to work one week after having her second child. One. Week. As a manager within a corporation, my hands were tied to help her. She was hourly, and she needed the hours. All I could do was continually adjust her schedule and be understanding when her children were sick. To this day, I am consumed with the guilt of that experience.
My babies were lucky enough to have me around for most of the time, if not all. They were lucky enough to be cared for my family when I wasn’t around. I didn’t lose a job or take a pay cut in caring for them. In all of these ways, I am different from the VAST majority of American mothers. This includes women who are fostering, women who are adopting. Women of color, women in underserved communities. I’ve said it, but I’ll repeat it again – I was the exception.
I want to hear your breastfeeding story. What were your challenges and your blessings? What would you have done differently? It brings me joy to share a little piece of my heart with you.