Friday, March 13, 2009

Breastfeeding: Pro and Con

OK, I have to post these links. First an article that made me feel rather like a fool for believing all the hype and going ahead with breastfeeding even though, at first at least, it was incredibly difficult, stressful, tiring, and time-consuming (these days it's rare, something I anticipate, always floods me with joy and peace, and makes me feel super-close to my daughter). Had I read this article 9 months ago, I would have given up probably in about week 3 or 4. Stuck where I'm at, having played the fool for 9 mos now, I was at least glad to be in the meager 17% of people who bfeed exclusively for 6 mos (until I realized I hadn't: Maggie wanted solids at 5 mos, so oops - but she still mostly breastfed - we didn't do more than 1 "meal" - more like a few teaspoons - per day until after 6 mos. Still my tiny rush of pride faded, as I realized I was just another of the dupes).

The Case Against Breastfeeding

Then my friend JTB alerted me to The Case Against The Case Against Breastfeeding, at the "mother of all parenting blogs," Strollerderby (love that name). There, Madeline Holler eloquently expressed many of my feelings about the former article, including the main points which are: the workplace system in this country can't handle motherhood, and those who cannot breastfeed shouldn't be judged or made to feel "less than" (in my more soapbox moments, however, I do feel that those who just "don't like it" maybe should try a little harder, like I did...but I realize that's bitchy of me. Wanting others to suffer like you did is one of the worst things women do to each other - especially in the workplace and academia - so I really have no place adding to that misery. Still it's sure tempting).

For more on fixing the first situation, see this older article in the Atlantic: The Parent Trap.

As for those who can't breastfeed and really want to, my heart goes out to them. For those who don't want to, I've said enough above. But I don't find it helpful to present a case that makes those of us who managed - who did grit our teeth through the pain and endured the endless nights and finally, finally found that perfect latch that made it actually pleasureable (which lasted about 10 minutes until teeth set in and everything changed...including the wonderful new world of biting!) - I don't find it helpful or feminist (in the sense of promoting what's best for women - which includes our baby daughters, I add) to make those women feel like tools because we haven't figured out that we could really be liberated by science if we'd just get over ourselves.

Bleh. The line that keeps sticking with me is when she says that breastfeeding is only free if you consider a woman's time to be worth nothing.

Good point. Except: what in the world could I be doing with my time that is more important or fulfilling than feeding another human being?! Than providing her everything she needs - not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually! The whole problem is thinking of bfeeding as a waste of time, as something you have to get through to get on to whatever in your life is more important than this little leech that just wants to suck your life juice out. can think of it like this: there's a helpless human being that knows nothing in the universe except the sound of your voice and heartbeat, who trusts you with her very life, with everything she is, to provide her warmth and love and fill her tummy, all while giving her the only thing she needs besides nourishment: your attention, your self. Yes, sometimes it's all of yourself. Yes, sometimes you lose yourself in it. Yes, you don't have your own thoughts or worries for a while.

Wait, isn't that a good thing?

I have gotten to the point with breastfeeding that not only do I derive great pleasure from the act, both chemically and just from the closeness it provides, but I welcome the respite from the busyness, and I am glad to have something to offer that almost always serves as a comfort and a sanctuary of peace for us both, and you know what? It is good for this mommy. It's not taking anything away - it's adding to my life. It's so much better for me than if I were trying to mix bottles and convince J to offer half of them. How much nicer to just lay down next to my darling one and pull her close to me? It's so relaxing, and there's no wondering if she's had enough, and no forcing more on her, and no waste at all. And when I can remember to calm down about it and just be there with her, I derive so much satisfaction and fulfillment from the act. I feel complete as a woman.

Maybe that's horribly un-feminist to say; then again, what is more womanly than using what God gave me? I not only helped to create life; I help to sustain it. In this way, I emulate my Mother in Heaven. What's more awe-inspiring than that? Why in the world do we think that is somehow less than going to an office all day?? If it is what I want to do, what I feel called to do, then I'm not selling myself short at all.

Lately Maggie has been rather fascinated with my nipples; she stops feeding and then kind of plays with them and looks at them with I swear is love in her eyes. She clearly knows where her food comes from and she's grateful. She kind of has this amazed look - like she's starting to understand the difference between what I feed her on a spoon and what comes straight from momma. I love that she's getting that.

This morning when I'd had enough of her play I said, "OK, nursing goes bye bye" and I closed up shop. And she actually waved bye bye to my boob! Then she said, for the first time ever, "bye bye." And I stopped and I looked at her and said, "What?!" and she repeated, "bye bye."

It was so adorable (I love her little voice - can't wait for her to talk more!). My child actually bid adieu to the breast. It's basically a friend to her; it's definitely her security as well as her food source. It's so much more than a bottle could be. So while not diminishing those who cannot, let me just add that for those of us who breastfeed, there IS a lot to be said for it. I, for one, am in no hurry to give it up (may feel differently with future kids, of course), and I no longer EVER do it out of some sense of guilt or dispensing medicine. Maybe at first, but those days are long gone. And in the future, I will know that this feeling is coming, even if it's not there at the beginning, so I really can't see myself not pushing through to get to the wonderful stage.

OK, that's more than I meant to write, but this really got me going! Time to get my little helper and be off to church.


C said...

I love what you had to say about this, Stasi! Beautifully put. I think that breastfeeding has been such a gift for Brooklyn and me, even if evidence were to show that it's not necessary to make her as healthy as I hope. Like you said, it's a respite from all the busyness of the day...for both of us! And as a stay-at-home mom, I need that respite too:)
~ Cara

C said...

Okay, one more thought:) At first I read the part about breastfeeding being "free" and "Isn't a woman's time worth something?" and thought "yes, it is!" and it absolutely is. However, if you don't breastfeed, it's not as though you don't have to take any time to feed your baby:) In fact, I think bottles take more time...not only do you still have to sit and feed your baby (unless you prop up a bottle, therefore missing out on the bonding, respite, and sanctuary...) you have to mix them, warm them up, wash them, sterilize them, etc.
And I've always enjoyed the fact that I don't have to take anything with me when we go somewhere -- no planning ahead to be sure I have enough bottles. If I decide to stay out longer than I originally thought, no problem -- I have my boobs with me all the time!:)
P.S. Yay, Maggie, for saying "bye bye"!!!

JTB said...

I think I will end up blogging about this as well but I'm really glad you responded first; I'll be sure to link you.

I will certainly have to mention the number of times I multitasked, with Clare on the Boppy and Tillich propped up on the bookstand in front of us...and what a difference it would make to switch from Tillich to Ruether in my breastfeeding/precept-planning sessions.

My first thought on the Rosin article is simply...if her complaint is that people are too militant, then her article too seems to take sides rather than seek some mediation or reconciliation. I think she's right about the lines being drawn--you see it re natural childbirth discourse too--but I don't think the answer is to make a case against breastfeeding or natural childbirth just because some of the assumptions are faulty or some of the advocates are too zealous...that just feeds the war between women that shouldn't be happening.