This weekend was just what I needed. Long sleeps and long jaunts out into the quiet. Winter keeps calling us out to the woods. Oh, my. I love this place. (We'll know more soon about the offer we put in. I'll be sure to keep you posted.)
Unrelated, but quite central to my week and weekend is the circle of mothers I talked about in my last post. I've been reflecting a great deal on the tearful comments you all have left there. Such powerful words.
I've received a lot of thanks for organizing the "boob brigade" (as one of my more crass friends put it) of nursing mothers to pump and nurse this sweet baby. And I feel that gratitude is a bit misplaced. In truth I don't feel like I did that much that is of significance. I didn't have any milk to give and really that's the gift. But it has turned out to be something huge beyond description for the mother, the father, the grandmothers, and surely that sweet yummy baby. Because nothing compares to breastmilk, even if it can't be your own. I too am filled with gratitude – for all the mamas who have rallied to help, for grandmothers who don't bat an eye and someone else nursing their grandchild, and for community.
But all of this has turned into a bigger reflection in my own heart. It has me thinking honestly about the judgements that I carry despite my good intentions. Because this baby might not be able to nurse again. She might be bottle fed (because of the medications her mother requires) for the rest of her babyhood. And that has me thinking about the feelings that I must acknowledge that bubble up when I see a baby with a bottle. Not this baby, mind you, because I know her story. But what if I didn't?
I called my friend's home the other day and the big sibling answered the phone. When I asked to talk to their grandma I was told "She's nursing the baby." "I wish!" the grandma told me later. But to the sibling that bottle of breastmilk was nursing. It was nourishment, food, goodness, and love. There was no judgement in that child's heart for the symbolism carried by that bottle.
The raw honesty is that I'd like to believe that I am beyond judging. That I accept and allow others to live a different experience than I. And for the most part I do. But when I see someone mixing up formula for a fussing baby I cringe a little inside, despite myself. I assume things I should not assume. I am admitting this not because I think it is right, but becasue it is there and I need to pull it out into the light to acknowledge, understand and transform it. Because a baby with a bottle is not a natural, comfortable image for me. I struggle with it like others might struggle with the image of a baby latching on to her mother's breast, but for very different reasons. And that's my issue to sort through.
Does it come down to me subconsciously judging a mother for choosing not to nurse? Somewhat I suppose. I think know that I'm guilty of making assumptions at times. (And I'm working on that with all of my heart.) But I think what truly troubles me – what is at the core of my discomfort – is the lack of support that we provide new and expectant mothers and the breastfeeding sabotage that many experience on behalf of formula industry. Yes, for some bottle feeding is a safe and healthy way to keep a baby fed that otherwise could not be. But more often I fear it boils down to lack of support for mothers.
I did not grow up watching mothers breastfeed. My mom didn't know any other nursing mums in her own community. Yet she exclusively breastfed my sister and I, me until I was a walking-and-talking toddler. That was downright radical in the suburbs in 1973. (She also cloth diapered and fed us tofu. She was free-thinking. She was unafraid.)
Despite growning up without the normalcy of nursing, for me nursing my babies was a given. I nursed Sage for 3 1/2 years, he weaned when I was pregnant with Lupine, and I nursed her for 3 1/2 years. In those seven years I never once noticed a sideways stare for nourishing my child.
And today I can honestly say that every mother I know is or was a breastfeeding mother. But in many communities nursing is not normal. And that is a tragedy for both mother and child.
I do not know the details of anyone else's life. And it is surely not my place to judge the path that another family is on. I don't know why a mother weaned her baby or never nursed to begin with. Lack of community support, lack of partner support, medical challenges, postpartum depression, adoption, economic struggles, lack of employer support, or countless other issues may be at play. Frankly their reason is not my business at all. However the creation of communities that truly support mothers and babies is everyone's business.
The best that I can offer is the belief that we are learning and growing as individuals and as a community. I hold hope that we will empower the next generation of mothers and they will embrace the power they possess to nourish their baby – I think of that t-shirt that reads, "I make milk. What's your superpower?" – and also embrace the different ways that we each nurture and love our children.
And that as I move beyond my own quiet judgements, our societies are moving too – to a world where nursing is normal in every community, and where a bottle just means that there was a bump in the road through babyhood and a different way to lovingly deliver the nourishment that a baby needs has been employed. That's the vision that I'm holding in my heart.