Just in case there was any question, let me state emphatically that I am a breastfeeding supporter, a hard-core breastfeeding advocate, a lactivist (but not a “breastfeeding nazi“, please and thank you):
I’m down with child-led weaning. I call nursing for 2+ years “full-term”, and anything less than that “abbreviated” or “short” or “premature weaning”, and I can’t think of anything I would call “extended breastfeeding”, except maybe being latched on for 8 hours non-stop.
I think feminists must support breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in public (and pumping, and pumping at work and in public), else they fail at one of the fundamental precepts of feminism.
I believe women have the moral right and must have the legal right to expose however much of their breast they and their child deem necessary, for however long they deem necessary, incidental to the act of breastfeeding, and that a woman has the moral right and must have the legal right to breastfeed or pump anywhere she otherwise has the right to be.
I’ve nursed my kid in the dark, at the park, in a plane, on a train, in a car, and over a jar (we did EC), and yes, I pull it down and whip it out and no you don’t have a right not to see it, though you’re more than welcome to avert your gaze.
I’ve never kept track of how many times the Boychick nursed throughout the day or over the course of a night, because he nursed when he was hungry, or thirsty, or tired, or hurt, or bored, or just because, and all of those are perfectly legitimate reasons to breastfeed in my mind.
When asked when I was going to wean, I say that WHO recommends a minimum of 2 years, but I was pretty sure he’d be done before college. I trust Dettwyler’s research showing the natural age of human weaning to be between 2.5-7 years. I told my mom to be prepared for her grandson nursing well into kindergarten, if that’s what he wants, and that I would fight to keep nursing for 2 years, with a minimum goal of 2.5
Yes, I am one of those women.
I tell you this, present to you my lactivist credentials so to speak, because when I say that I hate nursing, I want you to have some idea of what it means. So that when I say I hate nursing, and my 28 month old seems to be coming to an end of breastfeeding, you’ll maybe get it when I say it makes me cry.
I never know how to describe my problematic feelings about breastfeeding. It isn’t the idea of it, obviously. It isn’t a matter of getting “touched out”: I’m a hugely touchy-feely person, and had no problems having the Boychick on or next to my person most of the day (and on his dad’s body the rest of the time). It isn’t a matter of dysphoric milk ejection reflex, it’s not a history of abuse, and it isn’t a chronically painful latch. It’s definitely not a matter of being uncomfortable in my own skin, or disliking the animal nature of it. And it’s obviously nothing so bad that I was unable to continue, or chose to stop, but it’s probably contributing to this (to us) relatively early weaning.
No, it’s that for all the lactivist protestations to the contrary, breastfeeding is sexual, at least for me. Whether through biology or socialization (and I’m inclined, as I often am, to say “both”), feeling the child suckling on my breast — and I should clarify here, it’s primarily dry nursing, or comfort nursing, or the lag between the start of nursing and milk ejection, when there’s little or no milk being transferred — often feels sexual to me. And I really don’t like it.
I usually use words like “uncomfortable” (because it is), or say it drives me crazy (because it does). I usually don’t say I dislike it because it makes my cunt swell and start to throb, because there are all kinds of social stigmas associated with that, above and beyond the usual ignorant bitching about breastfeeding in the first place. Plus, there are people who like that feeling, and not in a pervy “I’m gonna nurse my kids to get my kicks” kind of way (I have met thousands of full-term nursing women, and never, ever have I met one who thought of nursing like that), but just in a happy “hey, this makes my body feel good” kind of way. And I think that’s great, and totally normal and healthy. Actually, I’m envious as hell of those women: I’d do anything to have that kind of feeling about the feelings nursing causes.
But no, breastfeeding feels sexual, and it feels uncomfortable, and it makes me want to take a cheese grater to my nipples, or cut off my breasts, or crawl out of my skin, or get up and run away and claw my eyes out. And I have resorted to pain as a coping mechanism: biting my hand or pulling my hair or digging nails into my flesh, anything, anything to distract me long enough for him to finish, to calm down, to fall asleep, to get a letdown going, whatever he needs. But I can’t always manage it, and it’s leading to a downward spiral, where I have less milk, so I can’t nurse him as much, so I have less milk, so… And on and on, until he’s falling asleep to The Man reading to him and snuggling him in bed, and I’m out in the livingroom crying because I can’t be the woman I want to be, can’t do the thing I want to do.
I hate breastfeeding, and I hate that I hate it. I hate that, as much as I love the idea of comfort nursing, it is anything but comfortable for me. I hate that the way I want to mother, with breastfeeding a wholly holy joy and there for him whenever he needs or wants it, is not possible for me. I hate that there have been nights both he and I have cried to sleep because I just. couldn’t. do it anymore. I hate that it’s causing our nursing relationship to come to an end so soon. And I hate, I hate, that talking about it like this will make some people think “then what the hell are you still doing it for?”
I’m “still” doing it because I love it. I love snuggling him close to me while his eyes stutter close and roll back in bliss. I love playing stinky feet and having him try not to laugh so he doesn’t delatch. I love the twenty extra minutes I can buy myself in the morning for lounging under the covers and scrolling through Google Reader. I love how he asks to nurse after he gets really hurt because “it makes me better”. I love knowing he’s getting immunological and nutritional substances he wouldn’t get anywhere else. I love everything about breastfeeding — except, more and more though still not always, the actual physical act.
Our nursing relationship is going to come to an end someday, likely sooner rather than later. This is normal, and natural, and has to happen sometime. And almost everyone I know speaks about weaning with ambivalence, so my experience is hardly unique in that respect. But this — being a lactivist who often hates the experience of breastfeeding, mourning an early weaning at 28 months — isn’t something I see talked about much, if ever.
There are so many forces telling me not to publish this post: there’s the patriarchy saying that nursing a 2yo is disgusting, that having genital sensations during breastfeeding is perverted, that nursing should be perfect and lovely and angelic, not messy and complicated and human. There’s lactivism saying I’m just giving fuel to anti-breastfeeders, I shouldn’t talk about the bad times, the hard times, that I’m going to scare people off. There’s feminism saying I should make it all about the kyriarchy (when the truth is I’m too tired and too hurting to think that big right now), and that this is all so much middle class privileged white woman mommy blogging whining, and I should be using my platform to spotlight those with real problems. The lactivism and feminism sides even have good points.
But ultimately, I’m sharing this because I can’t be the only one. I’m not so special or so unique that no one else feels this way. I’m sharing this because women’s stories are important: not just our beautiful stories, not just our predictable stories, not just our uncomplicated damn-the-patriarchy moralistic stories, but all of them, messy and complicated and contradictory and nuanced and ugly and difficult and mundane and human and boring and silly. And it is through sharing our stories and connecting with others leading complicated-human-nuanced lives that we become strong.
And I need strength right now. I needed strength when the Boychick was a mewling newborn, who only knew that suckling was comfort and love and safety and peace, and didn’t know it was discomfort and ugly and painful and hard for me, and I need strength now that he is recognizing I sometimes grimace and pull away and push him away when he seeks the comfort he knows at my breast, and is preempting that pain for both of us by turning elsewhere for his needs.
We’re not meant to do this alone. I don’t regret a moment I’ve spent nursing my child, not even the moments I was crying and hurting myself to cope. But I regret doing it in isolation, with no one to tell me I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t abnormal, and I wasn’t wrong for doing it anyway.
Share your stories. Even your ugly stories, even your hard ones. Someone out there is going through it too, and they need to hear from you. I surely did.