38 months, 1,156 days, and incalculable hours. That's how long I breastfed my two children. The days were long and often difficult, but one does not nurse for more than three years if they don't like it. Despite some annoyances, when it comes down to it I loved breastfeeding my kids. I loved the bond we formed, how much they loved it, and the way it made me feel, including the ways breastfeeding made me feel more brave in my everyday life.
Any time I talk about breastfeeding (and it's a lot, you guys) I always want to be careful. Needless to say this is a touchy subject for a lot of people. Indeed, many of the battles in the so-called "Mommy Wars" have been waged over the subject of "breast versus bottle." I dislike the way breastfeeding has been fetishized by some people, and to the point they proclaim it as a necessary expression of "true" womanhood and shun women who forgo it for whatever reason.
That said, I don't pretend that breastfeeding mothers are some tyrannical overlords who seek to keep formula-feeding moms down. For one, most people are very chill to let everyone do whatever they want. (Seriously, guys: by and large we really, really don't care.) For another thing, breastfeeding mothers represent a minority of even infant moms. Those who wish to breastfeed their children have a lot to overcome, including physical difficulties, lack of resources in learning how best to nurse, limited maternity leave to get the hang of things, restrictive access to pumping facilities once many return to work, and aggressive formula marketing (just to name a few).
I also have no desire to minimize how great I think breastfeeding is, either. Instead, my desire is to promote and normalize breastfeeding, or how much I personally gained from the experience including, yes, an extra dose of course courage.
I Legit Felt Like A Superhero
Growing a human is enough to make a lady feel like a damn goddess (you know, once you get past the nausea and constant exhaustion). However, when I was able to continue to sustain another human life exclusively from my body was, when I thought about it, surreal. Like, that's totally an ability that wouldn't be out of place among the X-Men, right?
When you have a super power, you become braver, because you never know when you will be called upon to save the world from evil. (I don't exactly know how that power would help anything, but breast milk seems to help a lot of things you wouldn't expect, so you never know.)
I Was Forced To Assert Myself
When the kid had to eat, they had to eat. If my child wasn't with me and I had to pump, I had to pump. I couldn't be timid or demure about this. If I was in the middle of a conversation and my baby got fussy, I would have to tell the other person, "Hey, I need to nurse now, OK?" If I was at work, I would have to communicate my pumping schedule with my team to avoid scheduling conflicts (and ensuring that whatever we were doing gave me time to relieve my poor, engorged breasts).
Women are often taught (subliminally and overtly) to subvert their wants and needs for the comfort of those around her. This is basically impossible for a nursing mother, especially if she wants to be able to nurse (and pump) successfully. Once you assert your basic needs, you're more comfortable doing it more often.
I Was Inspired By My Breastfeeding Child
My children were voracious nursers. If they got hungry and were anywhere near a boob, they would grunt and wiggle and rub their face against a breast like a pig looking for truffles. The didn't care whether this behavior was appropriate or convenient. They were like tiny little honey badgers: they took what they wanted, propriety be damned. Honestly it was very enlightening. I mean, why shouldn't we boldly go after what we want with no apologies? Thanks for the inspiration, little babies!
I Wanted To Speak Up For Other Nursing Parents One On One
I've been told that when you're a smoker, you build a kind of community with other smokers because you have to take time out of your regularly scheduled activities to go tend to a biological need (in the case of smoking, a physical addiction to nicotine). Breastfeeding is like that, too. If you're a breastfeeding parent, you have an automatic kinship with other breastfeeding parents simply because it takes up so much of your time (plus you both having babies, so there's a lot to bond over there, too).
This kinship inspired me to stand up for other nursing parents, because while I had tremendous amounts of encouragement and support in establishing and sustaining a breastfeeding relationship, I know not everyone was so lucky. Insofar as I could, I wanted to help other people have the same feeling of, "Hey, friend, I've got your back!" This has inspired me to contradict people who make negative comments, back up other nursing parents when they are being confronted, and be actively vocal about my feelings to establish myself as a supportive person to come to if anyone needs help.
It Made Me Want To Ensure Legal Protections And Support For All Nursing Parents
When I consider or talk to government representatives, I always check their platforms and records. (I mean, duh, right? That's just what you do.) Since becoming a mother, that has included researching anything they have said and done (or haven't) to establish and ensure protections for breastfeeding parents and making calls and writing emails to clarify their positions. (As someone with mild phone call anxiety, this is no small feat.)
Unfortunately, it took my personal experience in this arena to realize just how important legal protections and supports are in helping parents reach their breastfeeding goals. Considering the World Health Organization (WHO), Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and other leading health organizations all recommend nursing for at least a year (or longer!) this is also a public health issue.
I Received Encouragement From Others That Empowered And Emboldened Me
I am one of the lucky ones whose breastfeeding ambitions were met with encouragement and support (practical and emotional) from family, friends, employers, and even strangers who noticed me nursing my baby and said, "Hey! Good for you, mom!" It's hard not to be a little bit braver and more confident as you go out into the world with that kind of good karma coming at you.
I Realized I Would Have To Be A Little Brave If I Was Going To Normalize Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding will never be seen as normal if it is continually cloistered away outside of public view. This means that nursing where people can see you helps to contribute to an environment that was open to, accepting of, and ultimately laissez-faire about breastfeeding. Of course, blazing that trail can lead to some uncomfortable interactions with an unfamiliar public.
Still, I decided that showing that breastfeeding was nothing to be ashamed of was way more important than my silly worry that someone was going to give me stink-eye because they saw a little bit of my areola.
It Made Me Realize My Body Was Never Meant To Be A Decorative Object
Certainly that's not to say that a woman's body is meant for breastfeeding (or anything else for that matter) but it took breastfeeding for me, personally, to reflect upon what a fearfully and wonderfully made apparatus my ol' meat bag was. Seeing firsthand how breastfeeding worked enabled me to think about how my liver functioned, and my lungs, and my heart, and how all of these systems functioned in concert to power my brain to allow me to reflect on it all in the first place.
So when I think of all the amazing things my body does just by existing, let alone the things I am able to do with said body, how can I ever bemoan the way it looks? That's so ridiculously petty and unimpressive when you consider everything it is capable of.
I'd had body positive leanings for the better part of my life and had been developing my ideas of body image for a long time. Still, breastfeeding gave me a welcome epiphany, which, in turn, made me "brave" enough to reject beauty standards in a way that I really hadn't felt entitled to do before.
I Put My Nipples In My Baby's Teething Mouth, So Everything Else Was Easy
Because damn, girl. Damn. You're intrepid AF.