For as hyper-sexualized as modern American society is, we’re weirdly Puritanical about the use of breasts as tools for feeding. They’re fine for use in advertising, for daytime and primetime TV, and especially for movies. In those scenarios, the more, the better. (Literally and metaphorically.) But attach a baby to one and people get grossed and/or freaked out.
I get it. Breasts are apparently supposed to be entertainment for you. If I’m not using mine in this approved manner, you don’t want to see or hear about it. Don’t ask, don’t tell. OK, fine. I expected that.
What I didn’t expect was borderline hostility about nursing as we near my baby’s birthday. Not necessarily directed at me, but at the act itself.
I had another meeting yesterday with the guy from early intervention to write up a family service plan. We’d had a pleasant visit last month and this was likewise pleasant. He was impressed by the report from the evaluator who’d revealed my son had no developmental delay. But there were a couple of things that have bothered me since that meeting.
I mentioned that I didn’t know exactly what stage food he was eating, since I made it myself and didn’t get it from a jar with labels on it. He said, “Oh, so you probably do only organic, huh?” I said, “Well, sometimes I’m able to do so but for the most part I just go with what I can easily find. I like to go to the farmers market but sometimes I don’t have time for that, so I just make it out of whatever Kroger has in stock.” He said, “Oh, I see. Most people I meet who make their own are all into making sure everything organic.” I didn’t appreciate him immediately trying to categorize me into any particular ‘type’ just based on that information, but moving on. That alone wouldn’t have bothered me.
Shortly thereafter, while I was walking him through our daily routine, I said that as soon as my son wakes up, I nurse him. He said, “Oh, you’re still breastfeeding? How long did your doctor tell you to do that?”
I paused briefly. Several thoughts flashed through my head: Did he think that’s why mothers nurse? Because the pediatrician told them to? Did he think women who were unable to breastfeed were therefore non-compliant? Is he aware of how long the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it? Does it have any bearing whatsoever on this service plan? But I just answered the question he’d asked: she didn’t prescribe a timeframe. My original goal had been to get through the first year, which she thought was great. And I left it at that.
He then proceeded to tell me a story about a child who had recently aged out of the program, which meant that the boy was close to turning 3 when this happened. He said he was writing up the paperwork to transfer the services from their program to the school system and had come to their house. He said the boy was still nursing but that it was a “problem” because “he was almost addicted to it.” He said the boy walked over to the mother during their session, requested to nurse, and she complied. “I realize I was in their home, but she just did it right there, right in front of me. I just tried to avert my eyes, to concentrate on my paperwork. She said, ‘I’m not making you uncomfortable, am I?’ but I just kept writing.” He continued: “I’m sure you’re not going to do that, but I just wanted to mention that it can become a problem. We wrote that up as a goal and she was able to wean him and everything was fine. I just wanted to mention it. I’m sure you’re not going to do that.”
So what he’d just told me was that he’d pressured this woman into weaning her child by putting it down as a “goal” on her service plan that was about to get sent to her school district. Who decided nursing him was a “problem?” Who thought the child was “addicted?” Was it, by any chance, the childless man who didn’t know even basic facts about the benefits of nursing, and decided to use the early intervention program as a means to get this woman to toe the line? If she had thought it was a problem, I bet she would’ve put a stop to it already.
Lactating women have enough roadblocks during the first year. I’d heard women say that but I never truly understood until now. And if that first year is daunting, women who chose to continue nursing past the child’s first birthday are really under fire. I’m not talking about that stupid magazine cover–I’m talking about as they go about their everyday lives. People are so quick to take one fact (“Oh, you’re still nursing?”) and extrapolate that into an entire lifestyle (“You must homeschool.” “You only eat organic and free-range food.” “You crazy neo-hippies.”) or, worse, condemn her for it (“You’re going to completely screw that kid up.”)
In real life, I only know a handful of women who breastfed for a year. I know even fewer who continued after that. But one of them happens to be a very prominent blogger in Knoxville–I bet you know whom. She nursed her oldest daughter and surviving son longer than most people are evidently comfortable with. They’re both teenagers and are–surprise!–not completely screwed up. They’re happy, healthy, and “normal.” She decided to write about breastfeeding quite a bit and I’m glad she did. It’s for the same reason I’m writing this post: the more women own up to this role in their children’s lives, the more women listen to their own intuition about what’s best for their children rather than what society imagines is appropriate, maybe the more understanding society will become about it. Maybe. Like anything else, making progress in our society takes time. There are a LOT of preconceived notions to put to rest and clearly that isn’t happening quickly.
My son is ten months old and I nurse him. Even though he eats solid food three times a day. Even though he gets a bottle of formula once a day while I’m at work. Even though he sometimes bites.
His first birthday is seven weeks from today. (YIKES!) And you know what–I probably won’t stop nursing him seven weeks from today. The antibodies he receives from breast milk don’t suddenly expire after 12 months. The boost that his immune system gets doesn’t have an “off” switch. And there really is no quicker method for soothing a screaming baby than a few minutes’ worth of nursing.
My breasts won’t be making a return to the entertainment industry anytime soon. Sorry; I’m not sorry.