This isn’t exactly a confession about my non-organic parenting. But in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I felt like I really needed to get this off my, er, chest.
I used to think breastfeeding was gross.
It’s not that I didn’t plan on doing it–someday, when I had kids. I just didn’t want to talk about it. Or think about it. Or recognize that it existed, really. I didn’t mind people doing it; I could look the other way. Mostly I just minded them talking about it. I mean…yuck.
I will never forget the first time I saw a breastfeeding pump in the workplace. I was completely grossed out. Again, it’s not that I didn’t think that mom should be pumping–I just didn’t want to know about it.
And then there was that church I went to for a while, where all the women my age were moms. Ugh. They talked constantly about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. I literally ran the other way. Ran. Whenever I saw them coming. And then I’d go in search of some of the few single guys in the church, in hopes they’d be talking about something more interesting, like, I don’t know, quadratic equations. I actually quit going to that church because I couldn’t stand the “women’s group,” which essentially consisted of women talking about baby stuff and breastfeeding all the time while the two of us who didn’t have kids sat there feeling awkward and trying to change the subject.
Now. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a single, childless girl being bored by conversations of childbirth and breastfeeding. Why wouldn’t I find that boring? I couldn’t relate. The reason I feel guilty about this now is this: I swore–promised myself and all my friends–that I would never be like those women. When I had kids, I would stay interesting. I would remain capable of talking about something else–anything else–besides my kids and all the weird bodily functions that go along with them.
Ok, so I haven’t completely failed in that promise. I am capable–occasionally–of talking about things like books and music and the great new restaurant I discovered last Friday. And what I learned about parenting from that book and how much my kid loves that music and how baby-friendly that restaurant is. Oops, sorry. See what I mean?
But it’s worse than that. It’s not just that I’m so obsessed with baby stuff that I have a hard time talking about anything else. The worst of it is that I don’t just talk about these things now because I can’t help it. That would almost be understandable. The worst of it is that I shove it in people’s faces–I really do, I’ll admit it–and I do it on purpose. I don’t mean to be rude about it. It’s more like I had a conversion experience, and now I’m an evangelist.
Here’s the thing. After all those years of avoiding conversations about breastfeeding like they were contagious, I suddenly discovered when I got pregnant that I knew nothing about breastfeeding. I didn’t even know what a latch was. I had no idea there was any skill involved, or that people had challenges with it, or that anybody wanted to breastfeed and didn’t succeed. When I discovered this, it kind of freaked me out. And what I wanted more than anything was to watch somebody do it so I could see how it was done. I wanted to practice vicariously.
It was then that I realized I had never seen a woman breastfeeding. Not once. Sure, I’d seen women pull out a breastfeeding cover or blanket and toss it over their baby’s head. And of course I knew what they were doing under there. But I had never actually seen a woman latching a baby on, never seen the angle she holds the baby at for breastfeeding, never seen anything that would help me learn how to do it.
I begged my breastfeeding friends to let me watch their technique. A few did, although most were too shy. Thank goodness for YouTube, which became my best resource.
When my daughter was born, much to my relief, breastfeeding her turned out to not be hard at all. She latched perfectly from her first day and didn’t unlatch for about six months straight. And despite how frequently she nursed (which really was all the time, I swear!), I tried at first to be modest about it. I even registered for a breastfeeding cover (which I never got). I wore layers and used slings so I could breastfeed as discreetly as possible. Most of the time, I breastfed in public and nobody knew what I was doing.
After a while I got less discreet. Two layers were too hot in the Georgia summer. Covering up was too much darn work when I was nursing constantly. The longer I breastfed, the less I thought of my breasts as sexual and the more I thought of them as, well, feeding devices.
And then at some point I realized that by not being discreet about breastfeeding, I could actually make breastfeeding easier for future moms. The younger women and girls I know don’t have to be like me, gleaning YouTube for lessons on breastfeeding. They don’t have to suddenly realize when they’re pregnant that they’ve never seen the technique for latching a baby onto a breast. They can have a memory of what it looks like, a reference point for learning this skill, because they’ve seen me do it.
And that was when I quit trying to be discreet. I started being overt about breastfeeding–on purpose. Now I’m one of those awful women who whips it out in its glorious entirety, anytime my kid needs it. True, my three year old–thank goodness–rarely needs it in public anymore. But I’ve got a newborn on the way, and once this baby arrives, well, somehow I don’t think that giving birth and breastfeeding a newborn again is going to magically bring my modesty back.
I know a lot of people think breastfeeding is great as long as it’s covered up. I know how you feel, I really do. I used to feel the same way. And I’m sorry I couldn’t keep my promise to myself and stay normal after I had kids.
Then again, maybe I’m not that sorry. I’ve found a new normal, and deep down I’m kind of proud of it. I really don’t mean to gross you out. Hey, you can look the other way, right?