I'm speaking from the position of a person with two kids. Not babies, kids. And trust me, that makes a difference.
While they still need us on a daily basis in many ways, our kids don't need us on a minute basis.
In general, that means things such as
- if a kid is thirsty, I can say, "Hey you know where the cups and water are..."
- if a kid is hungry, I can say, "Hey, grab a cheese stick or apple."
- if a kid wakes up before sunrise on a Saturday I can say, "Hey, go play in the playroom."
- if a kid is bored I can say, "Hey, go knock next door and see if your friend can play."
Recently, there has been some hoopla about a couple of articles that were semi to very critical about breastfeeding and its antifeminist yoke. I've read several bloggy responses, comments to those, and the original articles in question (Judith Warner's latest blog post at the New York Times talking about banning the breast pump and Hanna Rosin's Atlantic article about the case against breast feeding).
Do you want to know what I think? I think it's much ado.
When I first had my first baby, I joined a great mom's support group. People razz Massachusetts but seriously, it's a great state. It gets an awful lot right, including healthcare, which I still miss. Part of the service to new moms was a free, nurse-lead support group once a week. For the entire first year of your child's life.
I can't possibly express how very valuable that was, but I expect you can guess.
I promise it made all of our lives that much better. Every single place should offer that exact program.
But the very best thing about that group is the timeline the nurse drew.
One day all of us new moms were having a good, old-fashioned feel sorry for ourselves vent. We felt overwhelmed, we felt too taxed. We felt touched out, exhausted, done in. Our bodies felt off-kilter, our backs ached from carrying big diaper bags and babies. We felt drowned.
"Of course you feel that way," the kindly nurse said understandingly, "This is taxing, it's exhausting. You are done in. But let me show you this."
After agreeing that the average age of the group was about 32, she drew a line, marking off certain life highlights---first day of school (A), high school graduation (B), becoming a mother (I).
"Here's what you don't know yet," the nurse said, "But I do, because my kids are grown and I have grandchildren now." She added two lines like this:
and in between those two close together lines (I) that? That is how long your baby is a needy little baby.
J marks the spot when you----rather than your baby---are begging for your offspring's attention and affection. The rest? is the rest of your life (God willing).
Do you see much space between the two Is? That's right---not much; it's a blip.
Do you see how quickly J comes? That's right: fast.
It can feel like forever, at the time. You can think it's going to kill you, at the time. You can think you'll never be a real person with a real life again.
I lived through that baby period (I), twice. I know how it kicks your rear end. I know how it takes all of you, physically, mentally and emotionally, and then demands more. I know you cry Uncle (or just cry period) and wish for your own Mommy.
I also now know that nurse was right: it's a blip.
My kids have no round left on them; they are all length and angles. Cribs, sippy cups, toddler beds, four outfits a day, bottles, special baby food, and all the accouterments of infancy and early toddlerhood are finished and gone.
But guess what?
I'm still a mom.
I still have to work out how to work, live and play without shirking my parental duties, which, for the record, are in play for the remainder of our lives.
So while these moms sit and kvetch about the "unnatural antifeminist oppression" that breastfeeding is, I will pause and wonder just how oppressive they find the rest of parenting---and if that doesn't trouble them, then I will wonder just what it is about using one's body to nourish one's child that is so deeply, inherently submersive and subversive for them.
I'm going to guess it's a matter of perspective. Or possibly lack thereof.
The timeline is a tough concept when you are mired in the midst of the Is, but keeping it in mind can help, does help, as does a sort of Zen acceptance of, "This is now, and this too shall pass."
Breastfeeding is a matter of months, literally. I know very few people who go past 36 months, and let's be honest, we all count in months until after 3, don't we? So months. Breastfeeding is a matter of months.
If these women feel oppressed and tied-down and suppressed as strong women from the few months dedicated to breastfeeding---then how in the world will they ever reconcile the lifetime duty and obligation we take on for our children when we become mothers? The compromise, the sacrifice we are obligated to make at times, sometimes too frequently for our comfort?
And that's what it is really about, you know?
When we engage in a lifetime partnership with another person, to some degree, we begin living our lives for that person. When we become parents, to an even larger degree, we begin living for those people, these people, our children.
And, somehow, we must balance that with living for ourselves. It's a condition of humanity. It really, really is. Whether you ever become a parent (or not), unless you are an absolute hermit, in some way you must balance living for yourselves with living for and with others.
If you do become a parent, that doesn't end when we wean a nursing infant, whether it's done from the breast or from a bottle.
I breastfed, a number of my mom friends did too, and a number did not. It seemed split fairly down the middle, to the best of my recollection. I could not have cared less what the other mothers did; I was too busy trying to do my own thing. But, it seems that there were freedoms and limitations to both breastfeeding and formula feeding.
For example, you know how mindless you can be when you are sleep-deprived and a new mom. If I left the house with just me and my baby? We were fine for the short period of time we could be out, you know, diaper and nap time and good humor span considered (all of which factors are relevant regardless of feeding method). If my friends did the same, they had to go back home to get the bottle, formula and water.
If my friends wanted to get away by themselves for a while, it was no problem usually; they could leave the baby with a sitter and a bottle of formula. That is, if the baby would eat from another person other than mom. And guess what? Sometimes? A baby won't.
I could do the same, but only for as long as my pain point of engorgement could stand it. I left bottles behind, too. So usually my baby and whoever cared for her was fine; it was just me.
But I found, when out for Mom's night out with fellow moms---and I did go out; I appreciated, courtesy no doubt of our support class, a culture that encouraged us moms to nurture ourselves, too--- we all had a sort of "time limit" out and it seemed to be about the same length, regardless of whether we were engorged or just tired or simply ready to be home with our babies.
What I'm really saying, I guess, is that the obligation to the baby really wasn't due to or freed from based on whether we breastfed or bottle fed. I did not personally notice a big difference in lifestyle.
Maybe it's mental---and that's a fair qualifier for deciding between breast or formula, because an okay mom is a better mom.
Me? I consider myself a slacker sort of person, in a way. I like to achieve maximum efficacy with minimum effort. For me, that was breastfeeding. It spoke to all of my needs and wants. For other moms, it's better to formula feed.
It is what it is.
At McDonalds today, half a dozen four year olds ran like wolves. I couldn't say who got breast and who got Similac. I also couldn't say who co-slept, who did not, who was sleep trained, who was not, who had a pacifier, who did not, and so forth. The children appeared happy, healthy and nurtured and I doubt a single one of them had the exact same infancy as another.
At the elementary school today, fifty seven year olds ran like wolves. I can't tell you what sort of infancy any of them had, either.
I stood to the side with the teachers, also moms. Although I can't tell you what their early days with their babies was like, in terms of specifically what they chose to do or not do. However, I'm sure I could tell you in general what the experience was like: simultaneously empowering and take you down to your knees like. That seems to be universal.
But today, the kids ran madly and happily, and the women, all of us working, stood on the side and had intelligent cogent conversation about things.
Breastfeeding, bottle feeding, pacifiers, sleep training and all the weighty decisions of infancy are a phase for you and your baby.
Those will give way to other weighty matters, such as "my kid is six and not reading yet, is this an issue?" and "oh no Mean Girls!" and "Gifted and Talented: to test or not to test" and "ballet and soccer, just enough extracurricular activity or too much?" and "holy crap are we saving for college yet?" and so forth.
If you feel so oppressed by the charge of feeding your child that you make it a Big Fat Political Issue on Par with Lack of Fair Pay and Piss Poor Family Leave protection...let me assure you that the ONE THING that never changes is hungry offspring demanding food and weighty parenting challenges. The issues change and kids get more independent...but they will always demand nourishment in some way.
If nourishing a child is oppressive to the level of being felt as anti-feminist to you, then I don't know...maybe it's not for you.
And that's fine.
That's what feminism is: choice for us as women, freedom to choose.
Yeah, there is the common choice, the popular choice, the choice generally regarded as ideal and bucking that method is sometimes tough, but if you're happy with the choice you made you should sit within satisfaction in that, okay?
The rest of us are probably way too self-absorbed and mired in our own choices to be spending much time judging you and yours.
And if not? Oh well.
It truly, truly is like the the quote from Hamlet that I used in my last post says:
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."Oh yes, easier said than done, trust me, I know.
William Shakespeare, "Hamlet", Act 2 scene 2
But how much wiser we can be in our reconciliation if we know and accept that, I truly believe.