Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Declaring a Mommy Truce

I read this post (by way of Danielle Bean) at Arwen/Elizabeth, a beauty of a blog I just discovered and it inspired me to write this:

I'm a card-carrying member of the Freak Mom Club. See, I nursed Madeline until she was 22 months and would have kept on nursing had I not been able to get pregnant. The other night my baby asked to nurse during story time. Not that 11-month-old baby, but my 3-year-old. And you know what? Even though she was officially weaned at 22 months, I let her nurse. She needed to feel like a baby, so I let her and my husband looked on lovingly, which I suppose gets him Freak Dad Club membership.

Before becoming a mom, my breast were never something I gave much thought. They were good at holding up the countless strapless bridesmaid dresses I had to wear, but other than that, they were just two lumps of fat that called my chest home. Then Madeline arrived. Minutes after she was born, she latched on and started sucking with gusto. I was in awe of my body and the amazing fact that it could provide my baby with all the nourishment she needed.

Both my girls have been nursing naturals. They've followed their growth curves perfectly and other than making a little too much milk, I've had no problems. I'm a mom who loves nursing.

Much to the dismay of others (excluding my supportive family and most of my friends), my kids remain nursing champs a little longer than what's considered average in this country. I remember when Madeline learned the sign for milk at around a year and would walk around squeezing an imaginary udder with her chubby hands. I never felt like a cow, but I remember that's about when others started looking at me like I’m a freaky dairy queen who relinquished her udders to a tiny tyrant far too easily.

Of course, before Madeline turned 1, I was praised for being a nursing mother. Increased awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby seemed to override any naysayers. But something happened when Madeline’s first birthday rolled around. While I once felt like a good mom offering my infant my breast, I suddenly felt ostentatious and a little freaky if I dared to – always discretely, I might add – lift my shirt for her hungry lips. Boob-ophobes crawled out of the cracks. Even a few of my friends started making comments. “So when are you planning to wean her?” I was asked more than once. When I told my questioners, I wanted to nurse for at least another year, I was sure a third eye must have popped out of my forehead by the looks I got.

Honestly, I expected some rude comments, especially from ignorant strangers. For ages, people have loved to give moms unwarranted and unsolicited advice and it’s no secret that breasts are highly sexualized in the United States. We forget that our breasts were meant to feed babies, not to be pushed up in miracle bras for men (and women) to gawk at. What I wasn’t prepared for was the source of some of the most hurtful comments – other moms. I’d wrongly assumed that my strongest allies would be other mothers.

Once I was at a get-together for moms in my church when I started to surreptitiously nurse Madeline. A mother told me, “You know, there’s no nutritional value in breastmilk for babies older than a year.” She was very polite, but I was embarrassed and being a new mom, I was afraid to confront this veteran mother of grown children so I kept my mouth shut and just nodded. Another friend went on and on about how she knows a mom who nurses her toddler for comfort. “The nipple is not a pacifier,” she said. Again, I kept quiet.

The worst was yet to come. After discovering I still breastfed, one mom looked at me in surprise. Apparently, I didn’t “look” like a mom who would breastfeed after a year. I asked her what she meant and she stumbled on her words, but what I gathered is that since I don’t have long armpit hair and don’t exist off tofu I don’t fit the long-term breastfeeding mom archetype in her mind. I smiled politely and thought about what I'd like to say to her and anyone who had questioned my decision to embrace extended breastfeeding: "There’s no such thing as ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to motherhood. My daughter and I love nursing. It works for us and I don’t care if that makes us weird.”

The irony is, I don't believe any of these moms are mean-spirited people. They probably didn’t realize how much their subtle comments hurt me. I also know that I have more than once stepped on my own mommy soapbox and volunteered my parenting dogma.

The truth is, while most women don’t reduce themselves to openly criticizing other mothers, there is often unspoken tension between moms of different parenting styles. It’s not just among breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding moms. The battle lines are drawn between spankers and non-spankers, homeschooling moms and school moms, I-let-my-kids-watch-Sesame Street-moms and no-TV-in-the-house-ever moms…the list goes on.

This leads me to ask: Why is it that moms find themselves being so judgmental about others’ choices? To answer this question, I had to examine why I sometimes marble my mommy philosophy into conversation with other mothers. I’m not trying to make other moms feel bad. On the contrary, I’m trying to make myself feel good (or at least a little better) about the choices I make for my children.

Ultimately, motherhood is a job we all feel really passionate about and emotions run high when we talk about why we do the things we do. We’re all trying so hard to do our best that we may sometimes lose sight of the fact that what’s best for us may not be what’s best for someone else. But what we fail to see is that all those derisive zingers and even those more subtle, little comments can obviously be upsetting to the wounded party.

Deciding when to wean is only one of the many decisions I’ll have to make as a parent. I’ve made up my mind to embrace being a so-called freak who nurses beyond a year and even two years, to trust myself and to not let others discount my decision. I’ve also decided to declare a truce in the mommy wars and do everything I can to support my fellow moms and the decisions they make. As moms, we can’t succumb to whatever those outside pressures are, even though they can be very, very strong. Besides, we’ll never make everyone happy. There's an expert out there for every issue of parenting telling you what you should and shouldn't do, and I guarantee it's different from what your mom or mom-in-law or best friend thinks. We’ve just got to go with our guts. We have to do what instinctively feels right for us, our family and our child. And sometimes we have to ask for help from the wisest mom of all time - our Blessed Mother.

When it comes right down to it, whether we breastfeed our children until their 3 months or 3 years, we’re mothers first, and we all have children that we love and we're trying to raise them the best we can.

1 comment:

*Jess* said...

That was so beautifully written! I have to admit that I get on my soap box a lot... usually when I'm judging other mothers for making different parenting decisions. Its hard not to when you believe so whole-heartedly that you are doing the best for your own child.

I'm in the freak club right along with you and I love it!