Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Reclaiming my breasts

I've only just regained sovereignty over my breasts. These days, they are mine alone and lead happily chaste lives, gently rounding out my shirts.

I breastfed the wee man until just before Christmas last year. No other aspect of my parenting has been so conflicted for me.

Breastfeeding has been: a source of great pride and sense of achievement, a physical expression of love; a miracle of nature that endlessly fascinated me; and an incredible frustration, with a fair dose of physical pain and discomfort, plus a trigger for relationship conflict thrown in for good measure.

Every choice I made in relation to feeding the wee man was instinctive. I read lots of books when I was pregnant (as I do) and spoke to various friends and family. I knew that breast-feeding made sense to me, in the way that groggily trying to measure out formula in the heart of the night did not. I knew that my ability to breastfeed was in no way certain. Lots of women had shared their stories of breast-feeding failure, with all the good intentions in the world.

Maybe it was then that my subconscious whispered to me, “Not me. I'm doing it – and I don't care who tells me otherwise.” Because somehow, through poor attachment and bleeding nipples and mastitis and 2 hour feedings repeated every 2 hours and jealous insecure husband and early teething and regular biting and being woken nightly every 1 ½ hours (at the worst), somehow, I clung to the idea that I was doing the right thing, and it all made sense.

After the haze and pain of the first six weeks of the wee man's life had passed, we settled into some sort of routine. Or rather, we settled into the certainty of a regular change in his routine based on his changing feeding needs. By the three month mark, I had cracked it – I realised that to survive with some semblance of sanity, I had to lose any inflexibility I had, any preconceptions I had, and just roll with whatever happened. My breasts were clearly not my own – they had a crucial role in my little man's life, and they and my body also told me in no uncertain terms that the Big Feller should re-consider any thoughts of claiming them.

Which was a bit of a problem – for him. (Personally, and generalising, I find men's fixations with particular parts of women's anatomy faintly amusing and a little pathetic. I mean, we rarely talk about another woman as being “a bit of a shoulders girl” or “an arse woman”, do we?) The Big Feller had long been under the (mistaken) impression that my breasts were “his”. After the early fascination and pride at the incredible creation of nature which was our son, he began to exhibit all the classic signs of jealousy I had read about in countless books and website forums. And you know what? I was too tired to give a damn. I was not tap-dancing around his bruised ego. I was barely maintaining my grip on my own fragile sense of self.

In some vague fashion, I had the general idea that the wee man and I would have this breastfeeding relationship for a year or two, until his interest in solid foods superseded his interest in my booby milk. His early indifference to food should have given me a clue to the future – I used to joke half-heartedly that food was only a hobby for him, when 12 months went by with only a token effort at gnawing on interesting food stuffs. (After all, he certainly had the teeth for the whole business – first ones through at 3 months, and the full set of gnashers in place by 14 months. Ask my nipples – they are intimately acquainted.)

Yet the wee man had different ideas, and our breastfeeding relationship continued right up until this Christmas, when he was over 3 ½ years old. At about 2 ½ years, I began to have the first nigglings of discontent. Apart from the mystical image of a complete night's sleep, I was coming to realise how limiting was his dependence on the nightly booby fix to get to sleep; having him rip up my top in the shopping centre or in the midst of a conversation with friends was occasionally challenging. I began to realise too that I would like to reclaim the rights to my own body, which had become the prize in what amounted to a tug-of-love, with no-one else acknowledging my prior claim.

And yet – I was determined to continue until the wee man was ready. Without making a conscious choice, or even being aware that there was a name for it, I had found myself practising a style of parenting called Attachment Parenting, driven by choices which seemed instinctive to me. Co-sleeping seemed a natural evolution of the breastfeeding relationship, and allowed me many precious extra hours sleep; feeding on demand made sense with the incredible diversity of needs of my growing baby. Comforting and carrying close instead of allowing him to cry-it-out spoke to my own heart. Continuing the breastfeeding until he had no more need of it was simply an extension of these practices.

So it was with considerable relief that, after reducing our frequency of feeds down to bedtime and waking after he started preschool last year, we finally said goodbye to “teta” at my mum's on Christmas Eve – spontaneously. And just like that, Dad could finally put him to bed, and I could do other things with the evenings and the mornings. And within the same transition, he was ready to move into his own bed. No tears, no fears, no regression.

Have I given you the impression I didn't like breastfeeding? On the contrary, I loved it. So many incredible moments of contemplative joy, gazing at the face of my precious little man; so many shared glances, private moments, milk-filled smiles; opportunities to relax and enjoy the sight, the smell, the weight of him; to rest together instead of feeling compelled by every little thing that needed doing. The victorious thrill that my body, my breasts, were able to do it, to sustain and nourish my boy, to nurture and inoculate him against the big bad world. “My best science experiment ever”, I used to croon, as I watched him suck greedily, mother's milk performing the amazing alchemy which makes it whatever your child needs in the moment: food, drink, potent anti-bacterial, immune-booster, soporific, euphoric.

Am I glad to have my breasts back? Yes – though they will never be the same shape and texture they once were, they have done great things. I am happy to have regained the rights to my own body, and a measure of personal privacy that has been missing for some time.

Would I make the same choices, if I could do it all again? Absolutely.

(This post is my contribution to Sarcastic Mom's (Breast)feeding Carnival today. The girl is a powerhouse of blogging initiative and mutual support, with a wicked tongue and a heart as big as her rack *chuckle*, starting personal online campaigns to promote green living practices and positive choices for parents. Click on over and read all about it.)


baby~amore' said...

excellent post - I agree 100%. Sam is like your wee man food is just an occasional thing.

I was nodding the whole way through.
I am glad it all came together for you despite the struggles.
Breastfeeding is an amazing experience.

Thanks for sharing I feel a lot of these things too. Thanks letting me know about the carnival.
My Little Drummer boys

mountainmama said...

My pleasure! Thanks for reading - glad it struck a chord, I had a feeling I wasn't the only one ;)

Anonymous said...

"So many incredible moments of contemplative joy, gazing at the face of my precious little man; so many shared glances, private moments, milk-filled smiles; opportunities to relax and enjoy the sight, the smell, the weight of him; to rest together instead of feeling compelled by every little thing that needed doing."

That part was so beautifully put and justiies almost every reason I love nursing. The whole post was amazingly written, but that part was my favorite!

TX Poppet said...

Great post, and can I tell you how much I love that picture? Wonderful. My post is here.

Amanda said...

I'm already at the stage of wondering when my son will lose interest....but he's not showing any signs. And like you, I don't want to push him into it. I'm really hoping that he will come to a decision himself (maybe with small nudges from me) that he doesn't need his 'mum mum' anymore.

Marie said...

When I found out I was pregnant with #2, I originally planned to tandem nurse. But then I realized that I would really like to have my body back for at least a few months, so I weaned my son at 20 months, when I was four months pregnant. My daughter didn't wean until 26 months, and people gave me a hard time for nursing so late. I can't imagine the grief you probably got!

Sarcastic Mom (aka Lotus) said...

Beautiful, wonderful post! This is the breastfeeding relationship at it's best, and I adore your story. The last bit made my eyes water. Lovely. :-)

Kate said...

wow... 3 1/2 years... i can't imagine... both of mine had zero interest by a year... which worked for me... but kudos to you for giving him all the time and adjustment he needed... rock on...

Kat said...

Beautiful post. Thanks!

Rebecca said...

Yay! Awesome!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post! I'm so glad you were able to have such an empowering and loving experience with your Wee Man.

And congrats on reclaiming your bits. :)

This blog carnival was a wonderful idea.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

Great post. I was not an extended bf-er, but good on you for doing what was right for you and yours and not letting other people's issues get to you.

JCK said...

This is a beautifully written post. Just exquisite. Your writing has really blossomed through your tough times. Keep at it!

mountainmama said...

My boobies and I thank you for all your lovely compliments, and for sharing your experiences with me, too. My motto for all parents is "Whatever works for you..."

Cathy said...

Great story - thanks for sharing!

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