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Tuesday, May 15, 2007Last week I found myself in a debate with a fellow Lactivist about what exactly it is that we should be fighting for. The conversation was about pump at work bills and whether or not companies should be required to give PAID breaks to pumping moms. I argue that they should have to give breaks, but that they shouldn't have to give paid breaks. (I'll save my reasoning for another post.)
That led us into a conversation about just how far the lactivist battle should go in terms of securing "rights" for breastfeeding moms.
I've long felt convicted that the lactivist battle is one of "equal rights" not one of "special rights."
For example, long-time readers might recall my writing about the Kelly Fuks YMCA incident back in early 2006. In that case, a mom was told that she could not nurse her baby in the pool area. The reason given? Because they had a strict "no food or drink" policy. At the time, I explained my stance that if bottle feeding isn't allowed, then I don't care if breastfeeding isn't allowed.
Again, equal rights, not SPECIAL rights.
The argument that the other woman came back at me with was that we had to make breastfeeding "as easy as bottle feeding" for women to want to do it.
I argued that it would/could never be as "easy" in terms of "freedom" and that breastfeeding moms had to recognize that there were going to be things about breastfeeding that are simply harder than bottle feeding.
In fact, I stated that while we could make breastfeeding "easier" we were never, EVER going to make it "easy" and that moms simply had to accept that breastfeeding, like anything else, has its downsides.
Eek. That opened up a bit of a debate.
So with that little bit of background, you'll have to understand what my brain has been pondering the last few days. I've sat down to write this post a couple of times, but the thoughts just weren't...developed enough yet.
One of the themes that I hear again and again from the lactivist community and from breastfeeding professionals is how much "easier" breastfeeding is than bottle feeding. In fact, some go so far as to say that if it's difficult, you must be doing something wrong.
That bothers me.
Don't get me wrong, there are so many things about breastfeeding that are easier than bottle feeding. On a day to day basis, I'd obviously prefer to simply lift my shirt than to have to go and get a bottle ready. The portability, the ready availability, and of course the wonderful physical closeness is something to be cherished.
But there are some days...days where breastfeeding is...well, when it is a crushing load that can be shouldered by no one but me.
...and that's difficult. Mentally and physically.
Now I know that good moms are supposed to love their children all the time. To revel in the closeness of nursing a child and to get their relaxation through the occasional bubble bath while dad plays with the kids, but I think we do an enormous disservice to breastfeeding moms to not acknowledge how hard it can be.
How hard it is to be on call 24/7 with zero breaks.
When I pumped for Elnora, I sometimes felt like a slave to the pump. It went with me everywhere and I was always keeping an eye on the clock to know when my next pumping session was. That was rough. Pumping when I had the flu, pumping when I was traveling, pumping when I wanted to throw the pump out the window.
But ultimately, when I needed a break...when I needed that moment of sanity that can only come from sitting by yourself in a location free of small children...I could get it. I might have the whir of the pump playing as my background music, but solitude was within reach.
Now however, I find myself with a child that will not take a bottle. That does not sleep through the night. That still nurses roughly every three hours day and night.
In seven months I have had two four hour breaks from my child. Once was late at night after he'd gone to bed when he was ten weeks old. I went out with some friends with cell phone in tow ready to head home the moment it buzzed. The second time was just last week while giving a presentation at Ohio State while my mother-in-law watched the kids.
Both times I spent the entire time worrying that I'd have to make a frantic dash home at any second. I knew that if he got hungry, if he got upset, there was no one that could take care of him but me.
Apart from that, I've been gone for around 2 hours less than 10 times.
Now I love Emmitt. I love Elnora. I adore my children and I know how very blessed I am to be able to work from my home so that I get to spend time with them.
But there are days where I feel trapped. Not because I'm a mom, but because I'm a breastfeeding mom.
Yep, I said it.
As wonderful, as important, as gratifying as breastfeeding is, it's far from easy. Not for the mom that lacks the option of ever leaving a bottle of expressed milk for her child. Not for the mom that hasn't slept more than 4.5 hours straight in over a year.
There are no breaks.
I had the flu last month. The type of flu where you have to sit on the toilet while puking because the force of the puke sends some other ... stuff ... flying out as well. I was at my moms. When Emmitt was hungry, she would come and lay him in my arms. When he was finished, she'd take him and settle him back to sleep. Nursing him was literally all I could do and sometimes she'd have to "catch" him as I jumped up to race to the bathroom.
There are no breaks.
I know that this time period will be brief when compared to my entire life. I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I know that some day, maybe soon, Emmitt will get the hang of a sippy cup and I'll be able to take a much needed afternoon of rest.
But right now, I can't see the light.
And I wonder, are we fooling ourselves, are we harming our cause, are we setting moms up for failure when we try to convince them that breastfeeding is "easy?"
There are days where I look at Emmitt as he nurses and I want to cry with joy because of how beautiful, how precious the moment is. There are other days where I look at him and I want to run away from this never ending cycle.
That doesn't make me a bad mom. And if you're reading this, and you can relate, it doesn't make you a bad mom either. It makes you a real person.
When we become mothers, we do so knowing that we have to give up a little piece of ourselves. We do it because we know that the piece we've given up will be filled to the point of overflowing by the presence of that little person. We do it because we know that most of the things worth doing in life...are difficult.
I call it the "dark side of breastfeeding" because no one seems to want to talk about it. At least not anyone that breastfeeds.
There's this underlying fear that if you talk about it you'll either show yourself to be a bad mother or you'll convince some other woman that she shouldn't breastfeed her child.
I'm a darn fine mother. I have my faults, but I have few regrets. As for other women and the impact this line of thinking could have on them? They deserve to know both the good and the bad. They deserve the right to make informed choices. They deserve the right to know that breastfeeding may mean, quite literally, being "joined at the nip."
Being a mom is hard. Every choice we make has pros and cons and if you're out there, looking at some other mom and thinking how easy she has it then I suggest you realize that some other mom is looking at YOU thinking the same thing.
There's a dark side to everything. Talking about it? Well that's what brings it into the light.