From all the recent media hoo-ha over extended breastfeeding and breastfeeding in public, it seems there are a lot of other people out there who feel the same discomfort!! Why is breastfeeding such a controversial issue in our culture? Is it because we've sexualized everything about the human body to the point that we cannot separate the image of a woman breastfeeding her child from pornography? Maybe it's because as adults living in this disconnected modern society we're so starved for nurturing and closeness that we simply can't bear to see it on display? Sadly, I think it's a bit of both.
Unfortunately we've created a world where artificial is promoted over natural, controlled promoted over spontaneous, convenience is grossly over-valued, and instant gratification reins supreme. As women we've been exposed to generations of media meant to sell us on the idea that our natural state just isn't good enough, rather than selling us on ways to enjoy our beauty as it is, so that we in turn seek out ways to rectify our newly perceived imperfections. And here we are now, good consumers of ideas that keep us separate from ourselves and our infant.
I think for me feeling uncomfortable with my own body played a big part in my fears around breastfeeding. Somewhere along the way I'd lost the confidence and trust in my body to be able to do something as natural as feed a child. More likely I may never have found it in the first place. Also because my own mother had difficulty breastfeeding and suffered emotional trauma around this, I carried the fear imprinted in my mind that the same would happen for me.
And then Bean was born. In that moment everything changed. I had a home water birth that brought out the warrior in my heart (Jake loves imitating the growl that came from me during birth) and Bean was having her very first feed within 20 minutes of coming into the world. Suddenly all my fears and questions dissolved into nothingness. I can't really explain what happened, but after giving birth to this new beautiful life, breastfeeding felt like the most natural thing in the world. We've been incredibly lucky that it all came very easily for us, with minimal issues and lots of support from our midwife. When I hear about the difficulties that other women have gone through to breastfeed i'm humbled and extremely grateful to have had such an easy time as we did.
Now 18 months months on, it still hasn't lost the magic. Boobie time is pretty much any time for Bean and I, home, park, supermarket, back of the car, wherever. It mostly doesn't bother me, because I still genuinely love feeding Bean. She feeds for hunger and also for comfort, and she still feeds to go to sleep most nights, and I'm OK with that. I don't believe that at this tender age she needs to learn to 'self soothe' in the way that many in modern culture define it. I believe that by giving her a secure emotional foundation she will gain stable independence in her own good time, and I have seen this in plenty of other cultures that don't feel such a strong need to have control over who a person becomes. (Let's just say modern notions of optimising the person weren't what kept the human species alive this long.) Even when she wants to feed in the middle of Safeway because she's tired and hungry it's OK, we just walk and feed - although I'll admit she's getting pretty freaking' heavy for this now!
I'm aware that my feeding Bean in public draws some negative onlookers from time to time, and occasionally I feel self conscious about that, but mostly people seem to just look the other way. I feel it's vitally important that I (and all the other breastfeeding mums out there) not give in to any societal pressure to cover up or confine ourselves to the toilets or dressing rooms! As one brilliant lactivist sign I recently read put it: "I breastfeed in public. But feel free to eat YOUR meal in the bathroom". The only way to normalise something is to keep doing it, and the more people do it the more quickly accepted it will become. And it's not just about feeling OK to breastfeed, but also about feeling OK to nurture. Publicly. Openly. And for us to bring back into our modern cultures constant reminders of the how precious nurturing is. Which is what breastfeeding can be - a constant reminder that without the deepest gentleness and need for love in ourselves there is much, much less to live for.
There are, of course, some days when feeding a toddler doesn't feel so great, like when we're in the midst of a cranky teething spurt and she's on and off the nipple what feels like ALL DAY LONG. Sometimes I don't feel like being her human pacifier, particularly when she bites! Then there are other times I feel so privileged to able to offer her that comfort and soothe her pain. It's not all sunshine and rainbows, but for the most part it's still a joy and a pleasure for us both, and this is why we're still doing it. Because apart from all the well documented benefits of extended breastfeeding (see links below), my main reason for continuing is the joy and intimacy that it brings to our relationship. Bean takes my hand and leads me to our family bed (her preferred place for boobie snuggles), we lie down and she burrows into my chest. I hold her close, breathing in the delicious milky scent of her head, softly kissing and caressing her hair whilst she feeds. These are some of my favorite moments of our days together, so I savor the sensations and wrap them up safe in my memory, because I know they won't continue forever.
I don't have a fixed time frame of how long I intend to breastfeed Bean, when she was born I thought I wouldn't go longer than a year, and now I think somewhere after 2 years will be my limit. Despite the fact that I still love feeding Bean, there have been other challenges in the choice to continue long term. Because I have a chronic pain condition that came back gradually after Bean was born, I've had to deal with the reality of only being able to use minimal pain medication. It's something that has made me seriously consider weaning several times in the last year, and my decision not to is a daily choice that I make both for Bean and for myself. For Bean I choose not to wean yet because I believe it's in her best interest both physically and emotionally. And for myself I know that any drug I could take wouldn't actually be a solution to my problem.
So for now, I'll cherish boobie time as often as possible for as long as it continues. And when it's over, yes, I'll probably be sad. But I will end this chapter secure in the knowledge that Bean and I will never cease to share the intimate bond and loving relationship that grew and was nurtured at my breast.
Useful Links on Extended Breastfeeding (EBF):