We’ve all been reading a lot about parenting this week, right? I’ve decided to chime in. There seems to be a dichotomy between what’s presented in the media and what flesh and bone, heart and soul women are communicating to each other. In the media, we look like we’re tearing each other down (are you parenting in this particular way because if you’re not than you suck) while I believe women tend to support each other in their parenting differences. If we’re being forced to take sides on the issue then here’s mine – love your child, however you want to in whatever way works for your family with whatever choices are available to you.
With this great parenting debate comes the issue of breastfeeding. Because of my experience, I come down firmly on the side of the vast grey area where most of life is lived. When the shouting stops, perhaps people will notice the shadow of my NICU self crying in the corner with my hands over my ears.
You see, sometimes neither breastfeeding nor bottle feeding are actually choices.
Wait, let me back up. I nursed my firstborn and I loved it. I didn’t even wear a hooter hider, not because I was trying to make a political statement but because it never occurred to me and no one ever asked me to. In the late days of my pregnancy with my second son, I remember looking forward to breastfeeding him. I remember believing that all the pain of pregnancy would be worth it, to be able to hold my baby and nourish him in so many ways.
Then I had Aidan, my baby with complications, my son who needed to stay in the NICU for three long months. I longed to breastfeed him, I tried to breastfeed him. He was too sick. There was my baby being poked and prodded and hooked up to machines and I was helpless. There were times I couldn’t even hold him. I would have given anything to cuddle him and feed him a bottle of whatever. Like a “good mother” I decided to pump my milk so at least I could give him nutrition when he was ready. I can’t remember how long that lasted, but it wasn’t long. I was raising a toddler; I was commuting to a hospital; I was trying desperately to keep my head above water and that damn machine kept reminding me of what I couldn’t have.
No one needed to ask me if I was “mom enough” because my shame had already answered.
So my NICU self was full of guilt and grief. Yes, I wanted to breastfeed my son for wonderfully selfish reasons. But seeing him in the NICU, I also wanted to be part of his healing, to boost his immune system, to nourish him. I was mostly encouraged and supported in my feeding choices at this time. Only one person actively shamed me – a lactation consultant. I had several other wonderful lactation consultants but because of my fragile state and the amount of compassion I needed, I remember that one voice the most. I dreaded the question, “Are you breastfeeding?” because I was exhausted and scared and could only feel failure. My shame was sometimes laced with anger, as in, “I’m too busy keeping my baby’s oxygen machine plugged in and watching for his lips to turn blue to believe that breastfeeding is an important issue here.”
And this is the grey place. If no one was guilting me then why did I feel so much guilt? How do you grieve with a mother who has lost so much even though her child is still alive? How do you celebrate the small things (he can breath on his own) while mourning other things (but he’ll never breastfeed)?
The answer is, I really have no idea, but we have to do it together.