“A Word of Caution to the Women Judging My Wife for Not Breastfeeding Our Son” originally appeared on The Fatherly Forum, and was reprinted with permission.
It wasn’t the first thing we noticed, but then again, we had just put our bags down.
“Anth,” my wife said. “Look at this.”
Dana was standing by the fridge at our friends’ house, about to reach in for a congratulatory adult beverage but stopping to contemplate a printout of a listicle hanging by a magnet. I walked over to her.
“This is so frustrating,” she said.
Of the “Top Something-Or-Other Reasons To Breastfeed Your Child,” almost all of them were patently offensive. However, the most egregious had to be Reason No. 3: “Breastfeeding satisfies baby’s emotional needs. There is no more comforting feeling for an infant of any age than being held close and cuddled while breastfeeding.”
At the time, Dana and I were thick into the adoption process that would eventually bring us our one and only son. The mother of the house, Paula, who is also Dana’s best friend and who was the vice president of our adoption agency, had appeared next to us in the kitchen, putzing around.
“Paula!” Dana gushed, the syllables loaded with sarcasm. “This is such a great list! You should make sure all your adoptive mothers get one!”
Paula chuckled. I chuckled. Dana was smiling but only in a better-not-turn-your-back-on-me kind of way.
For years, my wife has been dealing with being told by the world, repeatedly and in so many words, that she is not a real mom because she did not breastfeed our child. So to the world, I’d like to extend a heartfelt: “Screw you.” Not only is my wife the wisest, most loving caretaker I’ve ever been around, but she’s also the light of our son’s life, a distinction she earned by fighting alongside me through the behavioral problems that he had developed in infancy and that still haunt him today, though in much less potent forms.
Before Apollo was able to walk and while suffering from a partially collapsed lung due to illness and from several hernias, he was delivered to an orphanage. When Dana and I first met him, almost a year later, he was not in much better health. At all. My wife and I had to learn to channel into positive behaviors the behaviors that he instinctively had developed while surviving in his third-world orphanage and, later, in his crowded foster home. We’re still learning, and with the help of several play therapists, the three of us are now on the cusp of normalcy. But the elevated heart rate that kids like him have will last his entire life, meaning that he will always be just that much closer to having his fight-or-flight response triggered than the average child/person.
In the words of groundbreaking child development expert Karyn Purvis: Abuse says, “I don’t like you.” Neglect says, “You don’t exist.” And while we’re pretty sure Apollo wasn’t abused — though his medical records are spotty at best — we believe that he may have been neglected. Was he breastfed? Probably. At least for a little bit. Was he held and soothed when one or more of his hernias erupted? Or when he couldn’t stop coughing? Possibly, but definitely not every time.
There is a difference between nursing and comforting. In his “Monkey Love” experiments in the 1950s, psychologist Harry Harlow proved that attachment between parents and their children is not based only on thirst (or hunger). In his initial experiment, he offered baby monkeys a choice between 2 “monkey machines” or surrogate mothers, both capable of dispensing milk. One machine was made out of bare wire mesh, the other covered with plush terry cloth. Even when the milk was isolated on the wire “mother,” the baby monkeys spent most of their time clinging to the terry cloth surrogates, proving that parental love is more about emotion than physiology.
Somewhere in that listicle on Paula’s fridge was one good “reason”: “Breastfeeding provides warmth and closeness. The physical contact helps create a special bond between you and your baby.”
In the words of legendary rappers Tag Team: “Whoomp, there it is.”
The milk is not as important as the time together and the touch.
In 2010, noted child psychologist Gisele Bündchen said a “worldwide” law should be passed to force all mothers to breastfeed their children for the first six months of life. Her (buried) point appears to have been that formula is garbage, but critics rightfully jumped down her throat for daring to cast judgment from the cozy confines of millionaire-dom. Most moms have neither the time nor the money, or, in many cases, the ability or inclination, to nurse.
What the professional bikini/lingerie wearer should have said, and what we should all remember, is that babies should be held and soothed routinely by their mothers. And their fathers.
Milk in hand (or breast) or not.
More from Fatherly:
- We didn’t speak any “baby talk” with our daughter and here’s how she benefitted
- This is how I explain my son’s severe autism to my young grandchildren
- How I used my twins to A/B test everything from bedtimes to gripe water