Tuesday, September 06, 2011

On nursing and putting away the rose-colored glasses

Friend: When did you wean your son?
Me: Last week.
Friend: What?! He's almost 16 months old!
Me: It was so convenient it was hard to let it go.
Friend: Convenient? It seems inconvenient to breastfeed.
Me: No, its simple, no bottles to wash, no formula to buy.
Friend: So you enjoyed the experience
Me: I loved it. It wasn't a problem.

I walked away from the conversation feeling uneasy. While I'm looking forward to drinking ten cups of coffee back-to-back with wild abandon [if I wanted to] and sharing the nighttime routine with K, nursing was a special bond and its end is bittersweet. Nursing was also much simpler than preparing bottles at 6:00am so why does it feel weird to say nursing was simple, and convenient?

Oh yeah, because it wasn't.

Those first few months of motherhood nursing was so difficult bottles of formula waltzed through my fractured dreams like the hippos of Mickey Mouse's Fantasia. The daily samples of formula piling up in the pantry didn't help my resolve either. It's only thanks to a good lactation consultant, a supportive non-judgmental husband and family that I made it through. Over time it got easier, convenient, wonderful- but not for a while.

There are many heated debates on the topic of nursing. Those that judge who don't.  Those that judge who do. Though we are in a very pro-breastfeeding era there are those who argue that to nurse your child past one year of age is not just unnecessary, you're a bad mother for doing so, with the author of the book I linked to actually stating that perhaps a mother who nurses past 12 months just doesn't want to make an extra effort to figure out how else to bond with her child. Yes, really. Waleed's own doctor said its up to you but followed up with words that indicated she too thought the idea preposterous scoffing at self-weaning by saying a kid will never self-wean; at some point a parent must parent.

Maybe this is why I reacted so cheerfully to my friend's astonishment that I still nursed my son. If I smiled and said it was easy, I would not be judged. But it wasn't easy at first and those early months I thought myself a lochness monster for finding what I was told was the natural order of things, more difficult than running ten miles on stilts. My astonished friend is not yet a mother and I'd hate for her to look back at our conversation one day and think Aisha said it was easy and worry-free but this is hard. What's wrong with me? 

As woman we should support each other, hold one another up, but instead so often, we judge and bring each other down be it over nursing, the choice to work or stay home, sleep routines, etc. My instincts are to smile and say all is well, because its a knee-jerk reaction akin to responding great! when asked how its going, even if its really going the complete opposite. But I can't do that. I can't remove my honest experience with a knee-jerk feel-good response. To do so would be to potentially hurt another person struggling through what I did and to make them feel alone when they are not.

Nursing was great. Nursing was hard as hell. I wrote this post so I won't forget.

10 comments:

Ruby said...

Hi I'm a new reader and I love the way you write! I felt compelled to comment having read this post. I have an 8 month son and also feel that mothers, instead of standing strong together, quite often cause many problems. The act of motherhood alongside juggling work, being a good wife, daughter, aunt etc is a tough job and one that has highs and lows. Therefore I find it astounding that some people judge so easily. I also think that motherhood is a guilt ridden minefield at times and we are vulnerable to people's opinions depending on the time of the month in my case. All we can do is love our children and bring them up to be decent adults who don't judge other but try to understand situations. I think it is fab that you breastfed so long and personally I would have loved to for that long but couldn't. Anyway, sorry for the incoherent rambling (teething baby = no sleep!).

Love you blog again!

kmina said...

Oh, dear! So true. Instead of allowing for a thousand and one ways of doing things, we almost always claim that OUR way is THE way to do it. I use 'we' generally. :-)
I was talking to another mother of a one year old and of course, complain-o-palooza started. I mentioned our sleep issues, but not emphasizing the true depth, just you know, casually. She started berating me for 'not nursing' my child, because this is best, she breastfed for six months and bladiblah. I was speechless for a minute there. And then, thankfully (otherwise I would have hated myself for not saying it), I stopped her ranting and told her "If you had bothered asking me, I would have told you that I am STILL nursing, have been for 13 months, thankyouverymuch and shutyouryap". Then turned away and left.

Don't blame yourself for not being completely acurate in your account of your breastfeeding experience. When time comes, and she asks questions, you can give your friend further details. Until then, just let her not worry about this one too. Ignorance is often bliss. And no one knows how things turn out lke until they actually do.

Sprogblogger said...

I'm sorry (and happy for you having nursed him so long and (mostly), so happily!) that it's time to wean W. I miss Henry's breastfeeding days, although he's still on a bottle & likely to remain so for a while yet. There's a special closeness with breastfeeding, although that certainly doesn't mean that mothers who don't breastfeed aren't bonding with their kids, or that mothers who breastfeed longer than others are lazy and can't bond any other way (and just 'Wow.' to THAT statement, eh?)

And yeah, it's hard to decide sometimes, how to respond to any given comment--total honesty is sometimes more than people need to hear, but you also don't want to be painting an unrealistic picture for others. Still, I think you handled it well. I think the convenience IS an important aspect of the joy of nursing, and, as KMina says, let the full disclosure of the hard parts of breastfeeding wait til your friend is in a position to need more information.

Hope you're well and adjusting happily to a fully caffeinated life again!

Anonymous said...

Well said.

katery said...

ah yes, i remember when nursing was difficult for you. you are not alone in feeling that the end is bittersweet, but louise was bottle fed, so i've never experienced it myself. i can't believe someone would suggest that there is no benefit to nursing past 12 months, the longer the better i thought, and most importantly, whatever is right for you and your family.

Aisha said...

Ruby, welcome to the blog and thanks so so much for your sweet words- I don't get paid to do this so when someone stops by and says hi, it really does mean a lot! I'm glad you could relate to this- like you said, we should do a lot more listening and understnading and a lot less judging. Thanks for your take!

Kmina, your advice is sound. Thank you. I am also apalled that someone went off on you in that way [w/out even knowing all the facts- but even if you bottle-fed, the nerve to be so know it all!!!!] maddening! Good for you for holding your own!

Susan- that book is a very well-read popular book and so it makes me sick that mothers out there might take those words to heart- its awful- truly! For me, weaning as gradually I did helped me both physically and emotionally and W is totally okay with being weaned too- I know its different for different people but for us this worked.

Thanks Anon :)

Kate, oh yes- not fun at all. I appreciate your support on all of this by the way :) Whatever works for a person is the right decision. I never understood why people choose to judge and in turn, switch off their compassion.

umaira said...

So true! I am nursing my three month old right now and I cannot agree more. Breastfeeding is so hard! In some ways I found it harder than giving birth. The labor+birth was over in 1 day but breastfeeding remains difficult for a looong time.

The lactation consultant was too expensive for me, however, six things saved my sanity: this pillow: http://www.mybrestfriend.com/ , this website: http://kellymom.com/, breastfeeding youtube videos, me reading and remembering somewhere that you have to sandwich your areola to put in the tiny baby's mouth, a borrowed double pump in the initial days so that the engorgement can go away and the baby can suck, and prayer.

I am so happy for you that you were able to feed your son for a long time. Congratulations! In my opinions for successfully breastfeeding for 12 months or more the mother deserves some kind of accolades. So I am going to say it again: Congratulations!! :)

Aisha said...

Umaira, kudos for you to sticking with it- for me it started getting easier right around the three month mark- and once he began solids part-time itw as cake- I hope it gets easier for you. As for lactation consultants. I was blessed that I had a co-worker of my husband's who used to be a LC and so she gave me great help without charge, but I did also, befor emeeting April, contact the La Leche League for support- its hit or miss who you get when you ask for a volunteer to call you back, but if you do need advice in the future do try them!!! Good luck in the journey!

Anonymous said...

Salaam! I've been reading your blog for quite some time now and I honestly believe yours is one of the rare few worth reading out there. I thought you might find it interesting to know that the Qur'an actually goes so far as to specify exactly how long it should be done. Its not considered compulsory, but I think we'd all be at a little more ease if we let God lay down the standard for how long is too long instead of the constantly changing attitudes of society.

“The mothers shall give suck to their children for two whole years, (that is) for those (parents) who desire to complete the term of suckling, but the father of the child shall bear the cost of the mother’s food and clothing on a reasonable basis” [Qur'an,2:233].

Anonymous said...

*Edit for above comment:

Actually, according to my research breastfeeding is considered a right of the child and so it is compulsory for the parents to provide for it. If the mother doesn't wish to do it herself the couple can hire another woman to do it. But to carry on to the end of the 2 year term is the decision of the parents. Just thought I should clear that up.

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