Breastfeeding: A Personal or Political Choice?

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OK, so,
the mere title of this post sounds absurd, right?  Of course breastfeeding is a personal
decision, but you sure wouldn’t think so when you Google the term
“breastfeeding.”  Just scan the results
page and not only will you be inundated with soft-focus images of hot moms
looking lovingly down whilst effortlessly nursing their perfect babes, you’ll also
learn that the breast is best, breastfeeding is a womanly art, and that the
boob is better not only for your babe but, incidentally, for your own heart as
well. 

Breastfeeding Mother Breastfeeding MotherBreastfeeding Mother Breastfeeding on the News - Literally Breastfeeding Mother

 

You
will not, however, see search results that include terms such as bosom burnout,
sleepless nights, and difficulty returning to work or spousal resentment.  All that is couched in the “support” sections
(if it’s even addressed, that is) of the fervent pro-breastfeeding propaganda
that dominates what seems to me like a pretty politicized “discussion” of
breastfeeding. 

Add to
the debate a recent article (among the 15 or 20 published each year) in the
April 2009 issue of the Atlantic by
Hanna Rosin, “The Case Against Breastfeeding,” which argues breastfeeding has had a large part in marginalizing women and
their careers and has dubious benefits anyway. 
Oh, and the April 22, 2009 New
York Times
article by Roni Caryn Rabin “Breast-Feeding Benefits Mothers,” and you start to get an idea of how very preoccupied our society is with
boobs—beyond Baywatch, that is. 

I guess
I shouldn’t be surprised given that everything about women is politicized, from
our wombs to our boobs to the length of our hair and skirts; we are sacred
vessels, after all (though not sacred enough to pay equally).  But even so, I find myself, to say the least,
much abashed.  And, while not wishing to
make a case against breastfeeding—for
I’ve certainly done a lot of it and have more to look forward to—like Hanna
Rosin, I am fed up with what some have dubbed the “Breastfeeding
Establishment,” or the “Breastfeeding Conspiracy.” 

The
“Breast is Best” push has crossed the line from support to pressure and it now
so permeates the breastfeeding dialogue that, upon implantation of your darling
embryo, you will immediately find yourself being pressed by your OBGYN, your
pediatrician, the media, your mother-in-law and the lady behind you in the
checkout line to breastfeed.  Worse, once
your kid can finally sit up and you’re going out of your mind looking for
things to do, you might join a play group, where you’ll be hard-put to ignore
the palpable silence, raised eyebrows and disapproving glances that ensue when
someone announces they’ve weaned their child before one year, or THE HORRORS,
fed their child the poison otherwise known as formula from the get-go. 

Case in
point, now expecting my second babe, and totally exhausted by the double whammy
of simultaneous early pregnancy and breastfeeding, I set out to wean my dear
boy from his mommy milk supply around 13 months.  Having never taken a bottle, he fought the replacement
of his first two feedings and his weight had a scary drop, so it was somewhat
traumatic for us both, but in the end, mostly for me. 

When I decided
to wean, naturally, I sought out advice and information on how to do
it—previous attempts to introduce the bottle had resulted in red-faced roaring,
fist waving and ear-piercing wailing that usually dissolved into pathetic gasps
and sobs.  All I found in the cannon of
breastfeeding literature was either completely trite and over-simplified
advice: “First drop the least important feeding, wait three to four days, then
drop another,” the end.  As if it’s that
simple, particularly if you’ve followed all the commonly accepted breastfeeding
advice heretofore, including feeding on demand, letting the baby “set his own
schedule,” waiting until 6 weeks to introduce a bottle, etc.  Or I found weaning “advice” with an obvious
agenda to guilt me into breastfeeding EVEN LONGER.  Check out the Amazon.com reviews of the
virtually useless (unless you want to breastfeed ‘till your kid is 5 years old)
The Nursing Mothers Guide to Weaning to get an idea of what kind of “support” you’ll be getting should you choose to
purchase that book.

So,
saddled with the information (and guilt) that my son probably just wasn’t ready
to wean, I also developed a guilt complex for having put my boy, and myself, in
a situation whereby he was only comfortable and happy receiving milky
sustenance from me personally in the first place.  His staunch refusal to ever take a bottle,
for which, of course, there is no really good advice, translated into a number
of negative outcomes for my husband and me: no shared responsibility for night
wakings; no non-family member babysitters (would you trust a stranger with a
wailing baby who can only be soothed with a boob?); no date nights, etc. to
name just a few.  I say guilt for the
position I put my boy in, but there was also resentment for the position I had
put myself and my husband in, which resulted in more guilt—for the
resentment.    

With no
thanks to breastfeeding advocates, we finally just fought through weaning,
like, tooth-and-nail-style.  Ultimately I
just decided this was game day and I was going to win.  It took about eight weeks, but finally my boy
got used to a sippy cup and being cuddled while watching Sesame Street, but I
continued to grapple with feelings of straightforward mommy-guilt and also with
feelings of guilt for not feeling very guilty. 
I was ready to quit.  I’d been ready to quit.  In fact, for the last three months of
breastfeeding, I had sometimes been so annoyed with it that I found myself
cringing or pulling away from my dear son on occasion, which I also, of course,
felt really guilty about. 

Where
did all this guilt come from?  Prior to the
birth of my boy wonder, I resided, like many of my generation, on Planet
Me.  Guilt wasn’t even a functioning word
in my vocabulary, so truly this is an anomaly in my life.  But as we know, parenthood is wrapped up with
all kinds of idealized conceptions of what a mom should be, and I believe breastfeeding
advocates are preying on those sentiments. 
The second I held my child in my arms, or maybe sooner, maybe when I saw
his tiny heart beating on ultrasound for the first time, my lifelong quest for
self-gratification pretty much took back seat to the miracle that is him.  It was a monumental shift in my thinking, in
my whole reality, that really didn’t need any help from an organized breastfeeding
“establishment” geared towards pushing and guilting me into doing the best for
my offspring. 

Don’t
get me wrong, I do believe there’s an important place for breastfeeding
support and advocacy—breastfeeding certainly isn’t as easy, or as accepted, as
you might think.  But I wish advocacy
were less adamant and the support were more realistic, more practical, more
mother-centric and less (sacrilege, I know!) baby-centric. 

I’m not
arguing that breastfeeding is just another anti-feminist shackle to slap us
chicks with, but enough is enough.  If
the expectations the establishment has set up are making me, previously one of
the world’s most self-centered people and someone who breastfed for 13+ months
feel guilty, what are we doing to moms who just can’t or don’t want to
breastfeed?  It’s either time for a new
discourse on breastfeeding or an end to the discussion altogether.  We get it. 
The information is out there, we understand the breast is best (though
in truth that’s really up for debate).  How
about the breastfeeding establishment works harder on turning the screws on
employers, compelling them to provide more than a public bathroom stall as a
pumping room, say, and let us intelligent, competent, sacred vessels take our
boobs from here on out.  And moms, let’s
go easy on each other.  Being a mother is
probably the best job you’ll ever have, but it’s tough enough on the ego and breastfeeding
is a personal, not a political, choice.