Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son

But Do I Have To Like It?


Hey, internets. Boy, do I have lots to unload on you. But I am also on one of those visiting-family “vacations” where everything is mysteriously more work than it is at home. And Jackalope is teething her brains out. So just a quickie today.

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, apparently. My Facebook feed is all over boobs and babies. Which is lovely, I guess. I mean, yay for these folks. Yay for whatever makes it easier for people who are socially discouraged from breastfeeding to feel they have permission to give it a go. Class and race divisions being what they are, I am just guessing that most people on my feed probably feel more pressure to breastfeed than to use formula, but whatever, yay normalizing, yay boobs, etc.

Somehow, though, I never feel like these events are quite for me.

Some of that is certainly complacency, a complacency that I certainly hope will soon exist for everyone, not just highly educated, middle-class white ladies in gentrified urban areas. No one has ever particularly hassled me about nursing, in public or not. A few women of my mother’s generation expressed very mild surprise at how long I nursed the Bean, but nothing approaching disapproval. The sleeping car attendant on our train here about jumped out of his skin when he poked his head into our room and saw my exposed breast, but he probably thought he was intruding. I did have one creepy guy taking pictures (or possibly using binoculars?) in the early days with the Bean, which was gross as hell, but I was in fact quite covered in blankets at the time. (It was COLD, y’all.) Since I couldn’t pump for the Bean and haven’t yet dealt with returning to work post-Jackalope, I haven’t had to deal with space and time for pumping, either. Breastfeeding has not been easy for me, but the difficulties I’ve had with people (Dr. Russian and pals) have been about crap medical care, not disapproval per se.

Some of my ennui about the whole deal is lingering shame/guilt over my less than picture-perfect nursing relationship with the Bean, since the photographic cavalcade can feel rather like a public parade by members of the Pure And Correct Mothering Club, but the sense that I don’t deserve to say I really breastfed the Bean has faded a bit. I don’t always feel compelled to add the asterisk that our early relationship wasn’t technically exclusive because of that week of formula supplements. Sometimes, but not always. That I didn’t pump for him when I returned to work at six months ended up having the real silver lining of protecting me from way numbers and pseudo-industrial processes can feed an obsessive relationship with The Device, until the pumping itself, odious though it may be, becomes hard to let go of. (Not you, not you. If you pumped until 36 months and felt happy and free about it, cheers. I am not a laidback soul once numbers are involved. Possibly not ever, but at any rate, numbers and records make it worse, and I’d probably still be pumping for the Bean, if I’d really gotten started. It’s easier, in a sense, to wean from actual nursing, since there’s another person directly involved and potentially contributing to the decision.) Heck, the way he eats these days, formula is starting to look like one of the better foods he’s consumed. I feel sympathy for women who do feel excluded by that aspect of WBW, but I no longer feel quite so convinced that I am supposed to feel excluded, myself.

Anyway, my record is far more pure with Jackalope (though by any sane measure, the Bean did okay, too: all-but exclusively breastfed in the beginning, weaned by mutual assent at 21 months). No supplements needed for her, and the way she’s taking to food, we may just have her eat that and drink water during my absences at work. I’ve been able to pump occasionally without pain, so I could give that a go, but really, I don’t want to. She has had one bottle of formula so far, after she’d already begun trying foods. Or rather, she’s had half an ounce, which she threw an almighty fit about, and was then screaming with apparent constipation that night, all because I was having a nervous breakdown and Sugar took her out for an hour. Whole thing made me feel like Mother of The Year, but I digress.

The thing is, even though I am one of the “good” or maybe “lucky” ones according to the boob boosters, one who “succeeded,” I just…don’t like it all that much. I don’t hate it, the way I did when the Bean was tiny and the spasms were at their worst, but neither do I feel inclined to carry on about how beautiful and fulfilling and profound the whole deal is. It’s okay. It’s marginally easier than carrying around bottles and powders, though that doesn’t seem so daunting now that I carry food for my picky Bean everywhere I go. It’s nice that I can feed her without getting out of bed, but that convenience is tempered by the fact that I’m the only one who can feed her, lately every hour all night long. I can nurse her to sleep, but she’s less willing to fall asleep in a carrier on my chest, because I smell of milk. I’m all for sharing my antibodies, but I’m skeptical of many claims of breastmilk’s superiority — except that apparently it doesn’t constipate this particular, easily backed up baby. I suppose it may have slightly delayed the return of my period (though not by much), but I weigh as much as I did a couple of weeks after her birth. My blood sugar remains almost as prone to crashing as during pregnancy, maybe because I forget to account for all the calories I’m losing in the middle of the night.

In a sense, I suppose I am the picture of someone for whom breastfeeding has been successfully normalized. Advantages and disadvantages are pretty balanced for me, but I do it anyway. I am certainly subject to the pressures of my particular peer group, but I’m not consciously impressed by the scare tactics. I can keep nursing without vilifying formula companies, because their existence and marketing doesn’t feel threatening to me. (NB: I am speaking only for my own race/class/education/geographic position. I know the spiel, I promise.)

What I don’t feel especially moved to do is wax poetic about how beautiful it is, because I don’t find it especially more beautiful than other ways of relating to my children. I value feeling physically close to them, but I value it much more when I am sure it’s not just the affection I feel for my refrigerator. When the Bean comes to sit next to me on the porch swing here, when Jackalope, in a recent development, rests the SIDE of her head on my chest, that makes my heart swell. Jackalope latching right on in the delivery room was a great relief, because it suggested she might avoid the Bean’s early difficulties, but I also love watching her chow down on applesauce; she makes this kind of raptor shriek and launches herself bodily at the spoon. Likewise, it does my heart much good to see the Bean eat a pancake I have mangled cut into his requested shape. “I want one shaped like Mama holding Jackalope,” he says, and, calling upon the spirits of Mary Cassatt and Kara Walker and Julia Child, I feed him.


12 thoughts on “But Do I Have To Like It?

  1. I have a good friend who makes shaped food. I doubt this has ever occurred to her. I’ll have to pass it on.

  2. just a quicky, eh?

    i guess I’m sheltered here in Europe, and since I live under a rock ( a monumental downtown rock, one without FB) I didn’t know about WBW.
    Are you saying that when you/I breastfeed but give formula occasionally it doesn’t count as breastfeeding? In my book that is utter nonsense.
    Then again, i don’t read the books and make it up as I go.
    I have a vague notion that breastfeeding is ok till about two years, but like you say, there is a small person involved, and these small ones seem to have big opinions, already at 17 months.
    The other week I fed her in a busy train. I asked the people around me if they were ok with that, the lady said allright, the guy said to let him know if he needed to help….

    Enjoy your holiday!

    (mashed potato is great for shaping food. I made a car once, using four slices of sausage for wheels)

    • Oh, for a child who eats mashed potatoes! The bas reliefs I could attempt!

      Certainly there is a vocal “they” out there who despise formula so intensely that its use seems to negate any accompanying breastfeeding. I agree that it is nonsense, and I think most of my aforementioned fb cohort do, as well. But I am pathetically susceptible to ideals of ritual purity. It’s not rational.

      And this was quick, in the sense that it could be scribbled out on one go, no editing or musing about structure. I don’t do brief well.

      Meanwhile, I am very curious about this giraffe picture….

  3. Have you seen this?

    I don’t think most of them are worth the effort to actually make, but they’re fun to look at. 🙂

    About breastfeeding, at least in my sphere of being, I think it’s come full circle. I’ve heard women nervously explain that their doctor has told them they need to supplement with formula for XYZ reason, that of course they breastfeed too. I really think that how a parent feeds their kids (as long as it’s with food intended for babies and not whiskey and honey) shouldn’t be anyone’s business but the family’s and the kid’s doctor’s.

  4. I found this post so very interesting to read. I feel almost like I should apologize, since I started one of the boobie fests on FB. I can’t speak for others, but I know my desire to share came not from a desire to parade my pure and correct motherhood (we formula fed too, after all), but from a place of wanting to celebrate something my body can finally do right. TTC was a three year hell; I miscarried; when I finally got and stayed pregnant, I threw up anywhere from 3-20 times a day until the day I delivered; I failed a natural birth; and on and on. BF is finally something I *can* do and it makes me happy — and im happy to be able to share that with bloggers who supported me through the crappy times.

    Independent of all that though, it really has been one of the best experiences of my life (not a perfect experience – there were certainly many ups and downs), but a uniquely rewarding and special experience. I can see the end of my bf relationship with our boy in the near future, and it makes me so, so sad. I can’t relate at all to the last paragraph of your post – its interesting how completely different the same experience can be for different people. I appreciate that you posted your perspective, I do think we do a disservice to new mamas when we paint bf as completely easy and natural and rosy. I know intimately from my wife’s own struggles that it isn’t always the case. World Breastfeeding Week, whatever that is, should be about acknowledging and celebrating all of the varied experiences.

    And, the pancakes art is awesome. 🙂

    • Oh, dear! No, I don’t think you should apologize! I did not at all interpret your post as in any way bad, and I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear about that here. In fact, I rarely find any particular post on the topic troubling, so long as it isn’t one of those braggy “super-power ones.” It’s just that the whole thing puzzles me a bit. I have wondered before if I have an unusual hormonal response to the whole thing: I am not having so many actually dysphoric reactions to nursing this time, but I don’t get the rush of happy hormones that I remember from the first time baby Bean wrapped his fingers around mine or that I feel when he and Jackalope smile at each other. I do wonder whether my experience — of tolerating but not particularly loving breastfeeding — is an outlying one, or if people like me just mostly don’t talk about it. More fodder for that essay on unnatural womanhood I keep saying I’ll write….

      On Saturday, August 9, 2014, Bionic Mamas wrote:


  5. I also found this post super interesting to read. I think it’s intriguing that we’re at a place culturally where there are women who don’t care for breastfeeding overly much but keep it up because it’s the “right thing to do.” All the women I’ve known who didn’t enjoy breastfeeding quit quite early on, by three months or so. (Which made me apoplectic when I was struggling with Juju. I remember feeling like “Things were going well for you and you QUIT!?”) You are an enigma! In a good way.

    While I wouldn’t say that I have loved every moment of nursing my kids I would say, overall, that it has been one of the most special and amazing things I’ve been able to do with and for them, and that I know these are memories that I’ll hold onto when they’re long grown. Perhaps some of that perspective is due to the immense difficulty I had feeding Juju, but I have a hunch that I would feel nearly as strongly about nursing Jelly if Juju’s nursing story had gone as smoothly as his has. For me it’s a feeling of “these kids are mine and they need me” which sounds creepy and sort of possessive when I write it like that but I promise I only feel a little possessive of them.

    And I love your pancakes. You’ve got talent.

  6. I feel similarly about it. Pressure to bf, cheaper than formula, annoying to always be on call, nice but not nicer than any other bonding. I have been lucky that it is mostly easy for me, but I was not interested to go past a year with my daughter and I doubt I will now, either. I also always wonder if I’m missing some awesome orgasmic experience that seems to compel other women. And I hate the food aspect of the mommy wars– thank god for formula that is safe. WBW causes a similar reaction in me to the one I get when some newly (and easily) pregnant straight friend starts complaining about how annoyed she is and all I can think is that she has no idea at all how lucky she is to have missed the pain of not being able to procreate easily.

  7. I really relate to what AOOL said. I felt like a huge failure at almost all of the Having-The-Baby: the miscarriage, the many vials of $perm, the constant 30 weeks of puking, the misery of not going into labor, the c-section, and on-and-on…And it’s not like my flat nipple, that was painful and bloodied and had a hole or two at various points made me feel superior, or like I was terribly successful either! BUT! It was something I wanted to do, something that felt important to me to do, and we did it. I needed help from everyone: Boo, LCs, my mom, my sisters, but things like WBW made me feel like I was going to be able to accomplish this one tiny parenting milestone. Eventually, I just nursed him on one side and as he got older we lessened and lessened and had times and schedules (naps & bedtime, then just bedtime)– it wasn’t always the AP-fest that I know others choose. I think WBW should just be a celebration that we are all doing it. It’s not easy, it’s not fun much of the time, but it can be an incredibly formative experience, however you manage to do it. Blanket over your head or not.

  8. Wow, I really like this post.

    While you’ve technically done much “better” than I ever did with Rilo (50% breastmilk, 50% formula for 10 months, then formula after that), I appreciate your perspective about the Pure And Correct Mothering Club. It really can feel insidious within our mostly-white-mostly-upper-middle-class circle, and it bugs the shit out of me.

    I am far more proud of the fact that I can trick Rilo into sitting in my lap and read a book, even when he insists that he doesn’t want to read anything because it’s PLAY time. (My trick is to pick a book he really likes and start reading it out loud “to myself” in another section of the room. Works every danged time.) I am proud that I can comfort both of my children when they’re sick – I am the designated nurse in our family and like that role.

    I am impressed by your pancake shape… that’s awesome.

  9. Coming here way late to say I’ve been reading through your archives, and I am very impressed with your pancake art. I can’t blame the bean for wanting to see how far you can go with it!

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