Breastfeeding is not for the feint of heart. It's sleepless nights when you feel like you're the loneliest person on the planet. It's cracked nipples and leaking and two different-sized boobs and crying (both you and the baby). And it's basically tough no matter who you are, a regular Girl Friday like myself or a billionaire philanthropist like Melinda Gates. In a recent essay about breastfeeding, Melinda Gates got deeply honest about her own personal experience breastfeeding her children, proving she is probably the spirit animal we need for World Breastfeeding Week.
We all know breastfeeding is awesome for little babies, protecting them from serious infections, both now and in the future. We know that breastfeeding can lead to a higher IQ, lessen the risk of diabetes, Crohn's Disease, and childhood cancers. It's environmentally-friendly, helps new mothers get healthy... it's basically the most amazing thing ever. But that doesn't mean it doesn't seriously suck sometimes. So sayeth Melinda Gates, or as she put it in her essay for Refinery 29:
It's Natural, But It Sure Ain't Easy.
Out of the mouths of billionaires.
In a recent Instagram post, Gates wrote that she chose to breastfeed her own three children (daughters Jennifer and Phoebe, as well as son Rory) and conceded:
I was pretty lucky when it came to breastfeeding. I was physically able to, and I had a lot of support. But even so, I was caught off-guard by how difficult it was.
Gates admitted that she had some pretty idyllic (and, as it turns out, utterly incorrect) pictures in her mind before she began nursing her oldest daughter.
I’d more or less imagined that breastfeeding would look like one of those Mary Cassatt paintings I’ve always loved — the ones that show a happily feeding child and a lovingly mesmerized mother, all of it tender, peaceful, and rendered in soft pastels. The reality, of course, was a lot messier.
Most parents would be able to relate to Gates' admission that children come with "a tremendous amount of pressure," and that it is often difficult to find help of any kind. Particularly considering many mothers have to head back to work before they've fully established a breastfeeding routine that feels right for them. And of course, with work comes a whole lot of inconvenient juggling.
Working moms who want to continue breastfeeding will have to lug a cumbersome pump to and from work every day, hoping their coworkers will be understanding and respectful when they have to carve out time from their workdays to find a private place to pump.
It would be remiss of me if I didn't point out that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation offer a full year of paid parental leave. As Chief Human Resources Officer Steven Rice noted:
Ultimately, our parental leave program is focused on healthier babies, parents who are able to thrive professionally, and strong and resilient families.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also dedicated $41 million to Alive and Thrive, an organization dedicated to ensuring children around the globe receive proper nutrition in their first 1,000 days. Perhaps the most pivotal time in a human's lifespan.
Not only does Melinda Gates hope to "make it easier for parents everywhere to nourish their babies," she also wants to stop the mom-shaming when it comes to how each mother nourishes her baby:
Motherhood is a tough balancing act, and every mom deserves the chance to do what’s right for her and her family. If that means breastfeeding, great. If that means formula feeding, that’s totally fine, too. I just want to make sure that every mom truly does have both options.
Because breastfeeding is still an option, y'all. Melinda Gates gets it. She gets that motherhood is hard, and that it only gets easier when we give the advice a rest and start listening to each other.