Shamed into not Breastfeeding
A few years ago, I was at a family member’s house with my oldest son, who was one at the time. Being a boob-loving toddler, he began pulling at my shirt suggesting that he wanted to nurse. I felt a little awkward because there was extended family around and I hadn’t totally made my peace with nursing in front of others at the time. Turns out I had nothing to worry about because just before I started to give in and give up the milk an older member of the family shouted “No, WE’RE not doing THAT!” I was hurt, offended, and shocked enough to decline breastfeeding him at that moment.
My nursing relationship involved only two people; me and the child to whom I gave birth. The family member was right. WE weren’t going to do it. No one else’s help was needed. No sideline opinions mattered. I hadn’t found the voice in me that would speak up about these things but I knew it was right for us to continue nursing.
Back then, with my older son, I would excuse myself and go to the car (or the bathroom…gasp!) to nurse him. I’d make him wait for milk due to my own insecurities about the perceptions and potential uncomfortable conversations with others. Maybe they’d give me dirty looks for breastfeeding an older baby. They’d stare because as a plus-sized woman it is a lot harder to do any discrete nursing. Particularly as a person of color, in a culture where breastfeeding is looked down upon instead of championed and celebrated. I knew that if I made it obvious that I was nursing a rain of unfiltered judgment would shower down upon me.
I continued to nurse my toddler but I was careful to avoid talking about it or breastfeeding around anyone except my husband and my crunchy friends. It was inconvenient at best, and foolish above all.
When You Know Better, You Do Better
Now, I have a newer version of a one-year-old son and he adores nursing. He says milk, he signs milk, the other day he latched on and I didn’t even know he’d pull my shirt up. He’s a Mama Milk Master. Here we are 3 years after the first time I was blatantly scolded for the innocent act trying to feed my oldest child and I find myself still tempted to hide the truth.
While on the phone, I not so cleverly avoid answering when someone wants to know why he’s whining. In person or on Skype, I pretend I don’t know why he’s tugging at my shirt. Instead of rising to the occasion and taking on the adversarial opinion, I hide our truth. It’s shameful, really.
I am embarrassed that I’ve been embarrassed.
Mothers have always been given advice or criticism by family members who think they know best. In this world, exists enough old wives’ tales and cringe-worthy home remedies to fill a book, or five. However now, in the age of non-stop news, social media, and perfect mommy blogs, we are absolutely inundated with all of the ways we are doing it wrong.
As new moms, we work to wade through the misinformation and scrutiny. We can only hope to close our days with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, knowing that even if we aren’t doing it all right, we’re doing alright.
No More Hiding
For me, part of hiding the fact that I nurse my babies past infancy is the sheer annoyance of having to have uncomfortable and stressful conversations about what I’m doing with my body and my child. In a way, I see it as my right to keep this private matter, private. Even a few years ago, I recognized that no one else is involved in our nursing relationship and therefore no one else has a say in how it plays out. However, by keeping this seemingly radical act private I am doing myself and the movement to normalize black and extended breastfeeding an immense disservice. I am becoming part of the problem.
With this knowledge, I have decided to come out of the full-term breastfeeding closet.
I will loudly and proudly say that I have breastfed two toddlers. I have endured nursing through teething, biting, hospitalizations, and general exhaustion. I breastfeed my toddler because it’s immune boosting. I’m paranoid, I worry constantly about health risks and even colds. I breastfeed my toddler because it’s the most efficient method of comfort in my repertoire. I breastfeed my toddler because nutritionally there’s still a benefit, even if he gets lots of nutrients from food. I breastfeed my toddler because giving him my milk comes naturally to me and him, it’s not far-fetched or uncomfortable. I breastfeed my toddler because it’s free. Sometimes, I breastfeed my toddler because weaning a hangry one-year-old seems like a battle I’m not quite armed to fight.
Most importantly, I’m still breastfeeding because it’s what works for us. Even when I’m exhausted and feeling overwhelmed by all the requirements of adulthood. Even when I come to the staggering realization that I have already nursed babies for 3 years 7 months 2 weeks and 1 day and think “Woah that’s nuts!” I know that I’m doing what works for us. I know that I will continue to do it as long as it makes sense for the people in my household.
It doesn’t matter if my family members or friends want to question me. I won’t flinch when they forget they have no say in the matter and yell at my son and I to stop such behavior. I don’t care if they believe breastfeeding should end when baby is two months, or gets teeth, or eats solids, or turns one. It’s completely irrelevant that you saw a random lady in the woods on YouTube nursing her 10-year-old.
I am proud to be a nursing mother. Providing nourishment and comfort the best way I know how for as long as I believe it’s worthwhile to do so. I’m pleased to have the freedom to speak my truth.
I haven’t chosen to formula feed but I don’t knock formula-feeders. I believe in each mom’s ability to make the choices that make her and her family feel good and whole. I hope that people who haven’t chosen breastfeeding will recognize my ability to make the best choice for my kids.
Because, I breastfeed my toddler…and I’m not hiding it anymore.
Please welcome Lauren Dillard to TCM! You can find her work on The Establishment, Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, elephant journal, and her site. Reach out to Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.