Friday, November 19, 2010

Lactation and Luck

Dear Delilah,

Recently, the act of sharing nursing photos on social-networking sites like Facebook (I wonder if there will even BE a Facebook by the time you read this?) has received a lot of attention. Some mothers have had problems with their photos being censored due to "obscenity". Bloggers like me from all walks of life have been discussing this, and you and I were even featured in one on Tales of an Unlikely Mother! Those bloggers (especially that one!) have said everything I could say, and probably said it better.

All that to say that this letter isn't about that. It's not about our photos being censored, it's not about being harassed when we nurse in public, and it's not about a lack of support. Instead, I'm writing to make sure you know just how much support we have had in our nursing relationship.

Photo by Nicole Aarstad

Many women struggle through nursing their children in the face of partners, parents, friends, doctors, and even strangers who oppose them. They are told that they are selfish, or that the are somehow doing harm to their children. They are pressured to supplement with formula. They are urged to wean before they are ready.

You and I have faced no such challenges. When I was pregnant with you, your father never questioned that you would be breastfed. He whole-heartedly supported my desire to breastfeed. When I tentatively told him the things I was learning about allowing babies to self-wean in their own time, and that doing so sounded to me like the best thing to do, he didn't raise an eyebrow.

Despite your petite size, no one, medically trained or otherwise, has suggested that you needed anything other than my milk to thrive. I have nursed you in public, and if anyone has given us a dirty or questioning look, I haven't noticed it, probably because I was too busy noticing the people smiling at us instead.

I remember the only time I got nervous that someone was going to say something negative to us. We were at Daddy's friend's wedding, and it was a stifling hot day in July. The wedding was outdoors, but there was an air-conditioned building nearby. When you got fussy in the midst of the wedding ceremony, I excused myself to nurse you in the cool building. As we sat together on a bench while you quenched your thirst, I noticed a woman approaching us with a young girl. She was making her way toward us quickly, purposefully, and I braced myself for what I was anticipating to be the first negative reaction to my breastfeeding you.

It is because of all of the horror stories I have heard that I expected to be admonished by that woman, told that I should cover up, or go "do that" in the bathroom, or that I should have brought a bottle. She said none of those things. What she did was ask if I minded if her daughter watched me feed you (I didn't mind a bit), and went on to tell me how lucky I was to be breastfeeding you, how her daughter wasn't able to latch well, and how she exclusively pumped for 6 months to provide her daughter with the breast milk she so desperately wanted her to have. I will never forget that woman, and I made sure to tell her that her daughter was lucky too, to have a mother so dedicated to giving her breast milk that she took on the commitment and effort required to pump milk around the clock.

That was not the first time I've been told that I'm "lucky" in regards to breastfeeding. I'm told that I'm lucky that your daddy is so supportive, lucky that our doctor agrees with our choices, lucky that I've never been harassed for nursing in public.

Now, this is meant to be happy letter, but there's something in this that saddens me a little. The experience of a normal, healthy nursing relationship, free of the unnecessary obstacles that come with a lack of support, should not be based on luck. It should be normal. I guess we're fortunate that it's our normal, but it should not be so unusual that I'm told over and over again how lucky I am and how good I have it.

I will continue to nurse you until you're ready to stop. I'll continue to do my part in normalizing breastfeeding by doing it in public, by talking about it, and yes, by sharing photographs of it. I'll participate in nurse-ins, virtual or otherwise. I'll do as many of these things as I can even long after you've weaned. I don't do these things in order to receive the sort of "congratulations" our doctor gave me this morning, or to raise a fuss, or to scream "Look at me!". I do these things for nursing mothers everywhere, but most of all, I do them for you. I do them in hopes that one day, should you become a mother, and should you decide to breastfeed your children, you will not have to count on "luck" in order to enjoy a breastfeeding experience that is not merely tolerated, that is not just supported, but that is celebrated.



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  1. One of my favorite photos is of me nursing Bear at about 12 weeks old. It's plastered right on my bedroom wall, and I sometimes forget it's there (in a collage of nude pregnant photos, to boot).

    For various reasons a couple of different friends have been in my room and noticed them. They're both conservative and religious, and I braced myself for their reactions... but surprisingly, they both complimented the nursing photo and actually asked me if I get any negative reactions!

  2. i could have written this! (although not nearly as well as you have.) i feel so lucky to have enjoyed such positive nursing experiences with my boys. ive only ever had one or two negative comments directed at me ("ugh, its so wrong to breastfeed once they're old enough to smile at you" etc) and they were from people so ignorant that i figured their opinions on my nursing weren't worth listening to.

  3. We have also been very lucky with our nursing relationship. Daddy is very supportive, strangers don't bother us in public & other family members mostly politely keep to themselves. Even planning to go back to work in the new year seems to be trying to work with us to maintain our nursing schedule!


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