This weekend we had a visit from my father-in-law and stepmother-in-law. They are nice folks, born and bred in the South, who have claimed responsibility for NewDotBaby’s “Bubbafication.” As my father-in-law loves to proclaim, NewDotDad and I are both geniuses*, so it’s his mission in life to expose NDB to “real people stuff.” Prominently featured on his wish list of education topics are boating, hunting, fishing, and speaking in a slow drawl. (I’m all for the drawl. And the boating, provided proper safety gear is involved at all times and alcohol is involved at no time. I’m not thrilled with the hunting/guns aspect but I hope I can offer to endorse fishing as a compromise. Luckily I have several years until it reaches a real head.)
While they were here, our upcoming house hunting trip in the NewCity for NDD’s residency position came up in the conversation. We’re planning to drive up for a weekend in December to start getting a feel for the different neighborhoods and start working in person with the realtor who was recommended to us. FatherInLaw said “NDB, you can come stay with us while Momma and Daddy go look at houses in NewCity!” This was obviously a statement pointed at us, not the 9-month-old chowing down on Cheerios, so I said, “Well, I’m sure he’d like that, but you don’t have nursies at your house, so he’ll have to come with Momma.” (NOT that I usually refer to myself as Momma in that particular twang, but, when in Rome, right?) At that point, StepInLaw chimed in, “Are you still planning to go past a year?” (I dropped that little tidbit on our last visit to their house. I figured I would slowly get them used to the idea.)
“Oh, you know, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about it, and I’m leaning toward child-led weaning. And it sounds like most babies who are allowed to wean themselves go for at least 18 months to 2 years. Then, some go longer, or some wean sooner, especially if the mom gets pregnant. So I don’t know exactly when he’ll stop. But he really loves his nursies, so I don’t think he’ll give it up any time soon!”
I delivered that in as matter-of-fact, cheerful a tone as I could possibly give. I really want to portray Normalcy and Contentment when I talk about breastfeeding with them. That’s not to say that I would lie, if we were having difficulties, but the fact is that our nursing relationship is in a really nice phase right now.
NDB is very eager and happy to nurse at our “usual” times, which are upon waking in the morning, after his morning and afternoon naps, before bed, and around midnight. He ‘asks’ to nurse a few other times during the day – almost every day in the late afternoon, and if he is teething or sick throughout the day, and if he falls or bumps his head and needs some soothing. I already spoke about overnights, and last night was a LONG night with several wakings and nursings, but for the most part he only eats once or twice overnight.
At my La Leche League meeting a few months ago, our leader opened with the question, “Who was the first person you saw breastfeeding?” As I thought back, I realized that I had never seen any woman breastfeeding in person until I myself breastfed the NewDotBaby. I was aware that two of my aunts had nursed my younger cousins, but they always just Disappeared into the Back Bedroom a few times a day at our family gatherings, and reemerged with a Happier or Sleeping Baby. The air of mystery lent a sense of separateness – as though whatever was happening back there was distinctly different from the family goings-on up in the front of the house. It seemed to be something important, but by never talking about it, it joined the ranks of menstruation, ovarian cancer, and sex: it was Not To Be Discussed. It was one of those “female conditions.” (Yes, in that house we often heard about how Mrs. So-and-so was going in for surgery for “a female problem.”) On NewDotDad’s side of the family, no one breastfed. There is an air of disdain about my choice, as though it’s slightly distasteful and odd, but they have come to expect weird choices from me. I’m the first in our generation of the family to have a baby, so I’m the first one to breastfeed.
I feel a great deal of responsibility not to be a Closeted Breastfeeder. My aunts did a great thing for their children by breastfeeding, but they didn’t pass a legacy down to them – and to me – of pride and joy in the choice. So I’m proud to nurse in public, though with our current routine the opportunity doesn’t come up as much as it did in the early days. I don’t cover up with a blanket when I nurse in a family member’s house, though I do position my clothes to be discreet. I talk openly about normal breastfeeding behavior, like reminding a friend that her 4-week-old’s sudden round-the-clock nursing is probably a textbook sign of a growth spurt, and that it will help build her milk supply, and be over in a few days. I’m a card-carrying La Leche Leaguer, and I invited a friend who is considering weaning at the 12-month mark (because “that’s what you do”) to come with me to our next meeting to hear the advise and perspective of other nursing moms who have gone down the weaning road or who have continued to nurse a young toddler.
I think –I hope – it’s working. The same StepInLaw, who wondered if I’d go past a year, has asked me to talk to her daughter, who is 12 weeks pregnant. She wants her daughter to breastfeed, and she told me that talking to me makes her think her daughter will want to do it. My younger brother, who is basically your average twenty-something single guy, told me the other day that he has learned a lot by watching the way we are parenting NDB, and he hopes he’ll find a wife who will be committed to breastfeeding their future children.
If you’re a nursing mom, you can make a positive difference in the world that goes beyond your own little one. We know all the benefits for mom and baby, but if you make a few conscious moves to come out of the closet, who knows what benefits our society as a whole will reap?
*This is a slight exaggeration. My IQ is in the above-average range, but I’m pretty sure it’s below the cutoff for genius. NewDotDad has never had his tested, as far as he knows, but he’s doing all right as a surgeon so he must be a pretty smart guy. :0) Anyway, I just wanted to clarify, we aren’t exactly heading off to a Mensa Party Cruise or anything….