Breastfeeding is tough. Even if you’re lucky and don’t buy into the many, many Booby Traps in your way, from formula advertising to misleading doctor advice, you still face another challenge, possibly the toughest one: Your fellow breastfeeding mothers.
If you’re familiar with us here at Daily Momtra at all, you know breastfeeding is a big passion of ours. We talk about it a lot. A LOT a lot. Despite my knowledge of breastfeeding and confidence that my body works despite my underdeveloped breast tissue, there have been days when I’m worried I stopped making milk, so in the shower or when my daughter is done nursing I hand express a little and feel relieved at seeing a drop or two. And I’ve breastfed for over five years now — 61 months. I’m so damn proud of myself for never having given my second child a drop of formula, and the two bottles of pumped milk I tried she thought was torture — and that was okay with me.
What wasn’t okay, though, was when I, or other moms, would try to talk about struggles, difficulties, pain, irritation, feeling tied down, and being shut down quickly. Joni Rae of Tales of a Kitchen Witch recently wrote a post about feeling “Touched Out.” You know, when you’ve had kids on you ALL DAY, needing things from you, being in your personal space, and you just want to say, “Do. Not. TOUCH ME.” And nurslings? Yeah, you can really want them to stay the hell off you too. Yet, Joni had some comments from people who felt like this was an inappropriate post, or that a ‘good mom’ just shouldn’t feel that way.
What the heck, ladies? My first nursed until 28 months and at that point was only nursing to sleep and I am fairly certain I wasn’t even really lactating anymore, so I took one day and held him while he screamed when we laid down for a nap and I wouldn’t nurse him, then again that night, and from then on, cuddling was all he needed. But the next time he got sick, I felt so helpless. With my second child, I promised myself I’d make it to at least three, and let her self-wean. Here she is a few months from three and I’m night-weaning, but she’s still going strong. But lord help me if there aren’t days I just tell her NO because the thought of it just bothers me. And if it’s not her on my lap, it’s my son talking in my ear, or my cat sitting on me. Like right now. My hand is being headbutted because it’s being used to type instead of petting my sweet kitty cat. It’s not that I don’t like nursing, or want to, because obviously I do. It’s that sometimes, I just want people to stay the hell out of my personal bubble, kids included!
But this brings me to my real point here… by treating peoples’ struggles, their feelings, like something bad or wrong, we’re just making it harder for women to feel normal. For example, saying “If it hurts means you’re doing it wrong” just flat out isn’t true. Sometimes breastfeeding can hurt when you do everything PERFECT. When I’d fly from Georgia to dry Colorado with my son, my nipples would always crack and bleed because the combo of his nursing and the lack of humidity totally did me in. Or sometimes they have a new tooth coming in and their latch gets weird for a couple days because they’re having to figure it out again with the lump in their mouth. We can’t tell moms it shouldn’t hurt, or that it’s her fault if it does, because that’s not always true!
As Kate from Modern Alternative Mama said in her post “I’m Tired of Lactivists“:
How will they know what is normal pain and what isn’t? And can you imagine a mother being told “No, of course it doesn’t hurt!” then starting to breastfeed and finding out it does? What will she say? Will she quit because she wasn’t prepared for that? Will she seek help, only to be told, “Then you’re doing it wrong?” How does that help her?
If we’ve got a new mom who is experiencing a lot of pain and we tell her it’s just that she’s screwing something up, that’s hideously discouraging. Of course she should have a lactation consultant help her make sure there ISN’T a real problem like tongue tie or a poor latch, but we also should make sure she knows that sometimes it does just hurt but it WILL get better and it WILL go away. That’s so much better for HER, isn’t it? Knowing that it’s temporary versus thinking she’s doing something wrong?
And this goes for many aspects of parenting, not just breastfeeding. Gina of The Feminist Breeder once, probably a year or two ago, referred to her kids as assholes. Said they were being assholes that day. Cue outage!
“How could you say that about your kids?!”
“What kind of mother talks about her children that way?”
Well, uh, plenty do, actually. Let’s face it… especially when your kids are older than their toddler years, there are days where you love them, but really can’t stand them. And yeah, some days they act like complete assholes and it’s all you can do to just get them to bed without losing it.
By being afraid to talk HONESTLY about the downsides of breastfeeding, and the downsides and struggles of parenting as a whole, is damaging to other women. It’s damaging to fellow moms. It means when a mom feels like her kid is being an asshole, she feels ALONE. She feels like she can’t say anything about it or she’ll get called names or her love for her children will be questioned. She’ll wonder if something is wrong with her, if she’s doing things wrong, if her kids are “bad kids” and it makes her feel unsupported.
Instead, we need to admit that sometimes parenting — and breastfeeding — can SUCK. Because only when we’re totally honest about the good times AND the bad can we really, truly support other women, by letting them know that some days your children are so angelic they take your breath away and you feel like the most blessed woman in the world, and other days, the idea of them sitting on your lap to nurse just makes your skin crawl and you want to jump in your car and drive far, far away.
Only then can we really, really help support other moms, truly, by letting them know they’re not alone, everyone struggles, and that THAT is what normal parenting is.