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Monday, November 22, 2010

Breastfeeding: A Family Affair

Just a quick disclaimer: as the title suggests, this post will deal with breastfeeding. If you are squeamish in regard to reading about my breasts and/or nipples, I suggest not reading any further. (And a small note of apology for making you read that much. Now quit thinking about my breasts.)

I am a strong proponent of breastfeeding. It's cheap, natural, convenient, and the healthiest option for both mom and baby. I'm all for women feeling comfortable enough to nurse in public. I think something is fundamentally wrong with a society that makes women feel like they're committing an act of vulgarity when nursing. I think women should have the right to nurse anywhere and everywhere they please, without getting a single dirty look.

That being said, nursing in public is not for me.

I'm not sure if it's just my inherent modest nature (I say as I type a public post revolving centrally around the topic of my own breasts), my reluctance to do anything "wrong" (because to me, "stranger" is an obvious authority figure who could "get me in trouble" (by glaring at me)), or my bizarre inability to use a nursing cover in a way that it sufficiently "covers" much of anything.

I nursed my son for over 16 months, which should have given rise to many occasions to nurse in public, but I always found ways to avoid it. I'd force-feed him immediately before we left the house, and plan on not being gone any longer than 1.5-3 hours, depending on his age. If I absolutely had to nurse him while we were out, I'd either retreat to the car (and drape multiple blankets over us) or hide out in a bathroom stall (consequently, I think it's rude when restaurants have lid-less toilets - it's very difficult to sit on an open toilet seat with your clothing still on (or at least partially still on - one boob making a casual appearance through some secretive flap of shirt), balance a 10 month old on your lap, and proceed to breastfeed until the crying stops).

But what I didn't realize (at least not on a conscious level), was that breastfeeding a newborn with a 2 year old around would make it about as public a display as possible. While a stranger at the mall is going to shoot you a dirty look or make one disparaging comment (hopefully at most), a 2 year old will scrutinize every tiny aspect of your actions. Since he's my son and he's still fairly young (25 months when Bean was born), I didn't think about the effect of breastfeeding on him. We can't go to the bathroom or shower without leaving the door open, both for his safety and so he can come and go as he pleases (you'd be surprised at what seems urgent to a 2 year old when you're soaking wet with tons of shampoo in your hair). He's not old enough yet for us to be concerned with modesty around him.

So his initial reaction to me nursing Bean was a bit surprising. Clearly, he has no memory of his own months of nursing. The first time he actually noticed what was happening with Bean and me, we were sitting next to him on the couch. She was not currently latched on, and he turned and saw all my exposed motherly glory. I watched as his face contorted from confusion to abject horror. "Oooooh noooOOOO!!" he yelled, pointing at my nipple, "Momma has a BOO-BOO!!" I looked down and realized it does rather look like a terrifying boo-boo, all red and swollen. I tried to explain that it wasn't a boo-boo, and Mommy was perfectly fine, but he just backed away from me on the couch with a face frozen in a confused/disgusted look of someone who just saw one of those freakish people with a terrible disfigurement that begs for awkward stares.

Over the course of the next few days, he seemed to recover from this initial shock. That is, until he caught me senselessly beating his baby sister on the back. He ran up to me, grabbed my hand to stop it, and yelled, "No hit! NO HIT, WAIWA!!" I realized then that burping a baby could easily be construed as child abuse, especially to someone who doesn't understand the concept of babies. After several minutes of trying to explain the intricacies of a newborn's delicate intestinal tract, I finally got him to understand that, if I don't "pat" her on the back, she won't burp, and her tummy will hurt. And she'll cry. He understood at that point that we need to anything we can to keep her from crying. For the next two weeks, every time he saw me burping her, he proceeded to go off on a rambling soliloquy about the necessity of burping and how he, like a big boy, can burp, but the baby is too little to burp (that's how he gauges everything now - "Ant can do it. Waiwa can't.").

Just when I thought we'd covered all aspects of nursing and Boy was now comfortable with the process, I realized he had yet to actually see her nursing. He came and sat next to me one day while she was eating, and instantly, the look of abject horror returned.

"OH NO!! WAIWA.... EAT... MOMMA!!!!!" I could see the tears welling up in his eyes. Not only did this tiny monster invade his house, steal all his one-on-one time with Mommy, and fill his house with ear-piercing screams, but now she was going to EAT his mom, too?! His line in the sand had been drawn - and crossed.

I tried to explain that she was just drinking. That mommy makes milk for her to drink, and that's how she drinks it. She wasn't eating me, and I was perfectly fine, but the baby needs to drink, and that's how we do it. Again, the look of uncertainty/disgust stayed frozen on his face, but he acted like he at least understood what I was saying, even though he was clearly still uncomfortable with the concept.

The other day, while we were sitting at the kitchen table, the baby was in one of her bouncy chairs and out of Boy's sight. He noticed that she wasn't there, looked around briefly, then grabbed the front of my shirt, pulled it down (exposing the boobs), and exclaimed, "Waiwa all gone!" Because she does spend the majority of her time with my boobs. It would make sense that I would take to simply stashing her in there, too.

Bean is now almost 5.5 weeks old. But Boy is evidently still unsure about this whole breastfeeding thing. More often than not, he comes over while I nurse and stares at my breasts with that look of disgusted horror. For minutes at a time. I have never felt more heavily scrutinized in my life. I'm starting to feel like nursing in public would be a more pleasant alternative to this hyper-critical judgment I'm subjected to in the comfort of my own home (and from someone who suckled at these same breasts himself for over a year). I doubt any stranger could say anything that would be as cruel as those freak-show-audience stares of my own flesh and blood.

Just when I thought he was beginning to understand the process and feel comfortable with it, this morning, while I was feeding him breakfast and nursing Bean, he grabbed his juice cup and matter-of-factly told me, "Ant drink fruit juice. Waiwa drink fruit juice."

Why do I get this nagging feeling I'm setting him up for disappointment during his teenage years?

1 comment:

  1. HAHAHAHA!!! I love boy. When Hillary was born, Mike & Mom brought Matt up to the hospital during one of the first times I was nursing her. She latched on just as Matt climbed up on the bed. He looked at me with this "ummm....are you sure you should be suffocating the baby?" look and then proceeded to get as close as humanly possible to get a better look at what was going on. Then in the calmest voice he said "What are you doing?" and I answered back "feeding Hillary", because I knew at 3 yrs of age explaining that whole milk process was going to be a bit harder then I wanted to deal with. He scrunched up his nose, looked at me again and said "What are you doing?" At which point, my mom goes into the LONGEST description of breast feeding I've ever heard in my life. And after she finished, Matt looked back at me with an even more confused face and silently pleaded for some explanation as to why his baby was being suffocated by a boob. I looked at his little face and said very simply, "Matt, little bitty babies eat boobs" And the confusion and despair instantly faded away and he was content with that answer. :D I love that kid.