I exclusively breastfed both of my children. It was a commitment I made, and I’m proud of myself for doing it. But if anyone asks, I downplay it. I joke that it’s cheaper than formula, or that I’m just too tired or lazy to make a bottle in the middle of the night. But the truth is, breastfeeding is one of those issues that sparks mommy wars, and as a pacifist, I don’t want any mama to think I’m judging her for her choices.
Because this week is World Breastfeeding Week, I’m owning my choice and sharing it with the blogosphere as such. Breastfeeding for any length of time takes tremendous support — from doctors, nurses, and hospital staff, to employers, family, and friends. Without the support I received, I certainly couldn’t have nursed my daughters for so long.
I recognize that I’ve been lucky.
I was able to take extended maternity leave with both of my daughters, and I had six months to establish breastfeeding with both. When I did return to work, I had access to a daycare that was two blocks from my office. The first baby wouldn’t take a bottle, so I would walk over and nurse during the day. I did the same with my second daughter. My job was flexible enough that I could take two 15-minute breaks during the day to breastfeed. And it helped enormously that I didn’t travel for work during the first year of life for both girls. I finally did have to go away when my youngest was almost 13 months. She was still nursing, and I was also pumping milk to donate. There were three stand-out moments during that trip that made me realize how lucky I’d been:
1. Inside the hearing room
The judge called for a break in the hearing in which I was testifying. I approached her (yes! a woman!) to ask when she thought we’d be breaking for lunch. I shared that I was a nursing mother and needed to determine the best time to pump. She adjourned at the time she promised. I had to excuse myself from my team of lawyers (three men! no!) for 10 minutes, not giving a reason. I stood topless in the building’s bathroom while I pumped so as not to accidentally get breastmilk on my suit. Other women came in and out. Did they know that strange sound was a breast pump?
2. In the airport bathroom
I stood topless (again) in a bathroom stall in the Austin airport, book in hand, reading while my breast pump whirred away. When I was finished and fully dressed, I frowned as I poured six ounces of breast milk down the bathroom sink. That was a total of 30 ounces down the drain for my 36-hour trip. There was a woman washing her hands at the sink next to me. What was she thinking, watching me do this?
3. In my house, at 3 a.m.
I was the last person to board my flight from Austin. There was no room in the overhead bin, and I had to check my suitcase and breast pump. My connecting flight was delayed two hours. While I made it back to Boston at 2 a.m., my suitcase did not. It was late, I was tired, and I cried in front of the woman (!) at the baggage counter, telling her that my pump was in that suitcase. She was sympathetic, but I still had to go home suitcase-less. It was 3 a.m. when I got home, and my boobs were bursting. I debated attempting a “dream feed” but, suspecting it wouldn’t go well, I busted out the hand pump instead. Twenty minutes later, both my hands were curled into permanent claws, but I had four ounces of milk that could go in the freezer instead of down the drain. Success!
That 36 hours tested my commitment to nursing, and it was pretty mild as far as breastfeeding challenges go. Without my support system, it’s easy to see how I might have given up long ago. The benefits of breastfeeding are known to many, but society still needs to make strides in the ways we support nursing mamas. Attitudes and policies need to change. It’s happening, but slowly. Until then, women need to advocate for themselves. Breastfeeding is a commitment, and we need to ask for the support we need to keep it going for any length of time.
It’s about so much more than just boobs.