I have mixed feelings about whether we should categorize motherhood as a job. I mean, it's definitely work. The tasks are endless until the kids start doing things for themselves (and, even then, I find myself redoing them because how well can a 7-year-old kid put away his laundry?). And there’s the mental effort of staying calm in the storm of a power struggle with a 10-year-old whose latest hobby is door-slamming to mark the conclusion of her coveted screen time. But I was never able to call breastfeeding “work,” even though it took up much of my time, and attention, as a new mom. If I started calling it “work,” does that mean I’m defining “work” as anything I do that is in service of someone or something other than myself? That sounds like the basic definition of humanity to me.
I think the main reason I didn’t consider breastfeeding akin to having a job is that, even during the times I struggled with undersupply with my first baby, and oversupply with my second, the pros outweighed the cons. And the act was almost immeasurable. At my job, I have metrics of success. I know when things are going well, when they’re not, and I work among colleagues with a shared goal of doing quality work on time without sacrificing the quality of our lives. The efforts of motherhood don’t follow the same guidelines, and success is unique to each mom. I don’t feel like a failure for not serving organic food to my kids most of the time. Breastfeeding was something I really wanted to do and make work, so the fact that I was able to do that with both my kids bolstered my self-esteem and helped me identify what success looked like in our family.
As a working mom, it’s maybe easier for me to define “work” as I try to keep it at the office. I don’t want to make raising a family feel like a job (that I’m not getting paid for). I fear that would only make me resent my kids. As much effort as I put into bringing up my kids, they give me back in showing me the world through their curious eyes. Although I have to remind myself of this when I feel like I’m being beaten down by the travails of parenthood, raising kids is an adventure that I chose to be on.
So that, and the reasons below, are why I never call breastfeeding “work.”
I can’t consider snuggling with my child, as she settles in peacefully against me to eat, work. I breastfed both my children for two years, each, and I will never regret that. As a working parent, I wanted to make the most of my time with them, and breastfeeding allowed me to do that.
As a breastfeeding mom with a Type A personality, it took me a while to get used to the fact that I didn’t have to multitask when I was sitting down to nurse. It was perfectly OK to just sit there, supervise my child’s feeding session, and do nothing else. In fact, breastfeeding was the best excuse to do nothing when I could afford to. That didn’t always work when I was home alone with my toddler and hungry newborn, though.
As a new mom, it was often overwhelming to manage all the parts of my life, my baby’s life, and my marriage. I felt like I was firing on all cylinders at all times. Since my husband and I both worked, our days off were spent taking care of domestic tasks, like laundry, cooking, and straightening up the apartment. But several times a day (and night), when I’d stop everything to nurse the baby, it would replenish me. I needed to just stop doing and thinking in those moments, especially if I was going to have the energy to keep parenting the way I wanted to.
I never wanted to stop working once I had kids, because I am driven by the desire to channel my creativity into my job. That’s something not afforded to me by parenthood. But once I had a baby, I realized I had to redefine myself. I wasn’t just an executive producer working in TV. Instead, I was also a caregiver, playing a crucial role in the development of a new human being. As much as that scared me, it thrilled me more. Being a mom has allowed me to tap into skills and strengths I didn’t know I had, in ways that my career never demanded. It was fulfilling in a way that work could never be.
While I love having a career, I don’t love work. I mean… who loves work? I love having worked, especially when I can look back on what I’ve accomplished, but in the moment, unless the work I’m doing is purely creative, I don’t love it.
While I never loved breastfeeding at all times, I loved the peaceful moments it provided me with my baby. Now, when my kids are whining or refusing to brush their teeth or sneaking in screen time when they’re not supposed to, I at least have the memories of sweeter times with them that helps to slightly dial back my anger at them.
I wanted to breastfeed and I did, without issue (save for six weeks of oversupply with my second child, but we made it through). So many women would like to breastfeed and are unable to do so, either because of physical obstacles, constraints due to their home or work life, or not receiving the support they need. Acknowledging that it was a privilege to be in a position to breastfeed, and fulfill that parenting goal, means that I never was going to frame the act as drudgery. I got to do a thing I wanted to do, and bond with my baby in the process. That is a gift.
Sure, I’ve been tempted to put my head on my desk more than a few times at various jobs I’ve had, but I could never in good conscious fall asleep at work. That is why breastfeeding can’t be considered “work” to for me.
I don’t have a choice about working. I have to be steadily employed if my husband and I want to be able to raise a family comfortably in New York City. But I always had a choice whether or not to breastfeed my kids. Although pumping at the office did not make life easy, I chose to do so. I can’t define breastfeeding as work if I have am free to opt out at any time. Earning money is a necessity. Breastfeeding, in hindsight, was a luxury.
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