I remember leaving the lactation consultant’s office with my mom right behind me. She was kind enough to drive me to my appointment since I was still within the two week window post c-section where I couldn’t drive myself. My husband decided to keep the older three kids with him so I could just focus in during this appointment and hopefully figure out what was wrong with our current feeding arrangement for our baby. It was a very enlightening, but also long and frustrating appointment full of possible tricks and techniques to help figure out what was wrong and what might make it right. While we were leaving my mom leaned over to me and said, “In my day we just smooshed our boobs in their mouths.” Words to live by.
Breastfeeding used to seem like a simpler thing. Mothers taught it to their daughters for generations and generations. It was “natural” and the obvious choice for the vast majority of mothers throughout the course of time. With the advent of formula there has become a lack of that generational knowledge and a woman may not have a mother, aunt, or sisters to teach her what was once such common knowledge. So we’ve created breastfeeding classes, written books, developed support groups, written and read blog posts, all in an effort to help us learn how to do what is at its root just “smooshing our boobs in their mouths”. I’m guessing there are many women like my mom who see it as one more example of how we hipsters like to complicate things or how we think we’re the first generation to ever do anything this way (gardening! composting! cloth diapers! we’re SO earthy!).
I’ve got a lot of respect for my mom in this regard. She chose to buck the trend and breastfed all five of her kids back when the universally accepted idea was that breastmilk was inferior to the magical formula she could have been giving us. She didn’t care. She also did it without the generational knowledge that was available to me because of her hard-earned experience. You see, my grandmother was unable to breastfeed. If the story can be believed, her doctor explained it to her this way, “Some women are milk cows and some women are beef cows. You’re a beef cow.” As cattle farmers, maybe this was a comfort to her, but it’s hard to imagine any woman would love to hear themselves described as a “beef cow”. She managed to raise five healthy farm kids on whatever solution she could figure out without access to formula or a ready supply of breast milk, but I’m sure it wasn’t easy.
Somehow I take great comfort both from the story of my mother who breastfed when it wasn’t popular and without the help of her mother, and the story of my grandma who bottle-fed when she had no other options. Both of these stories remind me that becoming a mom means laying down our plans and our bodies and the way we imagined our lives might go. We may have imagined our babies nursing sweetly at our breasts and instead we ended up with too little supply or babies who couldn’t quite figure the whole thing out. We may have envisioned strolling to the park while our baby fed himself a bottle, but instead we have a child who will only nurse and only in the right quiet environment. Breastfeeding is a microcosm of every other parenting decision- it stretches us to consider not just what we think is best for us, but what is right for our child.
In a perfect world breastfeeding would be natural. We wouldn’t need support groups and lactation consultants to explain it all for us. But what is “natural” anyway? My child was naturally born with some feeding obstacles to overcome and in some ways we fought against his nature to do what was supposed to be the most natural thing. Was it worth it in the end? I’d like to say it was, but some days I’m not sure. If you looked at his growth curve you’d see a little guy who was surprisingly small (considering his genetics and high birthweight) until solids were added to his diet. He’s finally now at a height and weight that keep his pediatrician more happy now that he’s weaned all together. She says I’m a trooper for keeping at it for the full year, but we’ve both openly wondered about why it didn’t seem to be a great fit for my son. I think it’s all a bit more complicated than I imagined when I pictured our sweet hours in the rocking chair together.
As difficult as the experience was for me, I’m thankful it wasn’t easy. I have a lot of compassion for women who are struggling to figure out if it’s worth the fight. I understand that it isn’t always as simple as smooshing your boob in their mouth. I know from my bottle-feeding experiences that it is perfectly possible to raise healthy and well-bonded kids with the help of a can of Enfamil and a couple Evenflo bottles. I know the major decisions in parenting often require asking for help, doing the research, and deciding what makes the most sense for your family even if it bucks the trends. I’m grateful for my own granola mama and my “beef cow” grandma for blazing the trails I can follow towards wherever God is calling me.