In Which I Admit I Am Not Keen On BreastfeedingMonica Bielanko
I don’t really want to breastfeed. Mostly, I feel pressured into it by society and its idea of what a loving, caring mother should be willing to do for her baby. I resent the implication that I am somehow less maternal, not as good a mother as the woman who relishes breastfeeding. And while it’s lovely that she publicly waxes poetic about breastfeeding, I would do well to keep my negative thoughts about the whole matter to myself.
Many women really enjoy this chance to bond with their babies, and I think that’s fantastic. I breastfed my daughter for a month after her birth and although it was convenient at times, it was mostly an extremely difficult situation to deal with both physically and emotionally — and probably not in the way you’d assume.
I had no trouble producing milk or getting Violet to latch on properly. In fact, I’d say I very nearly had too much milk. The freezer was overflowing with those clear, plastic bags of yellowish milk. Looked like a cake decorator had taken over the place and was preparing to whip up a very large wedding cake with the help of about ninety bags of vanilla frosting. There was no shortage of milk, y’all. I was a milking machine.
Let me explain, if I can. I have never really tried to articulate the complexity of my emotions surrounding the issue of breastfeeding.
It’s not the entire reason I’m not keen on breastfeeding, but a large part of it is because I was raised as a Mormon and, because of that, developed really complex feelings about my body. You could even say I learned to be ashamed of my sexuality. I know, I know…considering the amount of kids Mormons are currently populating the world with, you’d think I’d dive head first into the milky pool of breastfeeding.
Not so. I developed early and often wore a regular bra, a sports bra and two t-shirts to hide my burgeoning bosom. I was constantly reminded by well-meaning relatives and religious leaders not to let the boys touch my private parts. Masturbation was wrong, wrong, wrong. I even had to discuss in detail with my bishop (Mormon version of a priest) about letting a junior high boyfriend touch my body “inappropriately.” I was told to repent immediately and never let it happen again. I wanted to get married in the temple, didn’t I? Hanky-panky with the opposite sex was no way to accomplish the ultimate goal of every virtuous, young Mormon gal.
You can imagine the absolute shame and abject failure at life I felt when, at seventeen, I discovered I was pregnant with my sixteen-year-old boyfriend’s baby. I doubled down on my sin and went ahead and had an abortion, the news of which was spread all around school after a well-meaning Mormon friend told her parents, who then called our parents. The result was a humiliating, shameful nightmare played out in front of my very Mormon high school. You can read all about that drama here.
As you can imagine, the experience scarred me. I was led to believe I was shameful and unclean. In college, when I actually began having responsible, grown-up sex with my boyfriend, I still felt weird. Sex is bad. Sex before marriage? You’re going to hell, little missy. What I’m saying here is I’ve always associated nudity and sexuality with shame.
In my early-ish twenties, when I finally realized that I didn’t have to believe in what I’d been taught since birth, I had an awakening of sorts. Still, sex has never been guilt-free. I think a lot of these complex feelings have leaked over into how I feel about breastfeeding. Intellectually I understand how beneficial it is for the baby, but the concept still makes me feel supremely awkward. I don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in front of anyone besides my husband. I just don’t. Women breastfeeding in public make me feel uncomfortable. Which doesn’t mean I think there is anything wrong with it! My reaction is ingrained within me. Someone whips out a boob in public and someone else sucks on it and I feel weird and awkward. I can’t help it.
I realize that’s a crass way to describe breastfeeding. I understand this isn’t the ideal reaction. I know breastfeeding is natural and wonderful and the magic that we can keep our babies alive and thriving solely through the unbelievably amazing processes of our bodies is awesome. Still. I can’t control my knee-jerk reaction. I can disguise my discomfort, I can smile at the breastfeeding mothers, and I do, but I can’t control how I feel on the inside: uncomfortable and awkward.
I was resentful of feeling peer-pressured into breastfeeding the first time. Yet I was also appreciative when one friend, who is a nurse, urged me to give it a try. I was uncomfortable about the whole scenario, but I needed the push into trying. And yet I was still resentful. Not so much because of her push but resentful of the millions of women who seem to judge others on their very personal decisions regarding breastfeeding. Message board bullies, nosy family members, bossy nurses, those who grimly purse their lips and don’t even attempt to hide their judgment when you explain that you aren’t going to breastfeed. ‘You should at least try, for your baby’s sake,’ they lecture, already setting you up for massive amounts of overwhelming guilt. Women, especially those who’ve had children, should know better! The period after a child is born is an especially emotionally precarious time.
Also? Whether or not I can or can’t or want or don’t want to breastfeed and the reasons why… NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, and your commentary/opinion/facts about breastfeeding are all unwelcome.
And Gisele Bundchen, who famously declared to Bazaar UK that “Some people here think they don’t have to breastfeed, and I think, Are you going to give chemical food to your child, when they are so little?’ There should be a worldwide law, in my opinion, that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months.”
Oh Gisele, you superior human being, you. If only we could all aspire to the lofty motherhood heights to which you have apparently risen.
The decision about whether to breastfeed is an extremely personal one. It’s not for your nurse to decide, not your best friend, not your mother-in-law, not the internet and most certainly not Gisele Bundchen. There should be no judgments, no grimly pursed lips, no unwanted explanations about how beneficial breastfeeding is for the baby.
The period after a baby is born is fraught with landmines of What To Do and What Not To Do. It is not the time to pull the rug out from underneath the very tired feet of a new mother, to make her feel inadequate or less maternal for her decisions.
That said, I’m going to take it day-by-day this time. None of this “I will breastfeed for one month/six months/one year” business. No self-imposed goals, no guilt-traps, none of it. As even the Executive Director of the breastfeeding advocacy group La Leche League International once said, “One mother doesn’t have to be wrong so that another mother can be right.”