You know, I didn’t start out a “lactivist”. I didn’t even know there was a word for it until my first baby was almost 9 months old. I just fed him… you know, the way we were designed to. I didn’t realize that feeding a baby or even a toddler breast milk made me some kind of activist for human rights and personal freedoms. It wasn’t some desire for a cause, I just sort of assumed that’s what you did. I mean, doesn’t everyone nurse their babies? We are mammals, right? I mean, last time I checked, that’s just how it’s done. It’s as inevitable as getting your period, something your body just does whether you want to or not and you respond accordingly by feeding the baby you just gave birth to. Right? At least for a little while? I mean, unless there was some sort of medical issue preventing you from being able to produce milk, I couldn’t and didn’t even consider there were reasons for an alternative feeding method.
I realized that wasn’t actually the case shortly before I gave birth and thought it was strange, but I didn’t expect that to touch my life, personally. Even stranger, I found there were whole groups of people who thought there was something wrong with it, especially when a mom had to do it in front of others. I think it confused me more than anything, because breastfeeding is such a natural thing, an expected thing, the idea that anyone would think it was bad or rude or whatever, just seemed completely out of touch with humanity. I really just thought moms should be allowed to feed their babies without feeling ashamed. I noticed that those who chose not to do it were people with strange, psychological hang-up’s or were really concerned about social status or what others thought of them. They were concerned about being judged for DOING it, so they chose not to. That seemed wrong to me and stated to get me angry on their behalf, in an instinctual, mother bear sort of way. I started talking about it, even occasionally nursing without a cover, encouraging others to demand better for their babies by standing up to the inner demons, as well as the ones that came in the form of friends and family and POOF! … I’m an activist. Or wait, a LACtivist. LOL… Who knew?
The funny thing about all this, was I sat in public places completely oblivious to the fact that people around me were probably uncomfortable for nearly a year before I knew what an issue this actually was for people. I chalk it up to the new baby afterglow oblivion… I didn’t even look at other people when I nursed my baby. I almost feel a little bad about that, but not really because seriously, people… it’s just a boob. If a 400 pound man is allowed to go topless on the beach with his 64″ triple F cup mams, I should be allowed to feed my baby discretely in public, never showing more than you would see from a swimsuit without getting a finger-shaking, nose in the air condemnation from the manner born. Please don’t misunderstand me here… I think he has a right to do that- but no more a right than I have to feed my baby when and where he needs it.
I guess you could say I’ve learned a great deal being one of the “salt of the earth” moms (as my mother calls it) who believes breast milk actually from the breast is better than a bottle and better than formula. One thing I have learned first hand is, once a mother researches what her options TRULY are and why breastfeeding struggles occur, there are usually resolutions that do NOT involve leaving breastfeeding behind. Unfortunately, the way our current system works, unless she really seeks answers beyond the doctor’s easy recommendation, “oh just supplement with formula and pump as much as you can”, a new mom might not know that and feel pressured to make sure her baby gets the nutrients he needs. Worried for the baby, she caves and rushes to the store for a can of formula because she has been convinced that her body isn’t working well enough and that her baby will suffer. The saddest thing I have ever seen is a mother who is perfectly capable of breastfeeding who has been convinced that she cannot do it. She becomes so disillusioned and ashamed that she won’t even try and to save her self confidence, she shuns the whole notion altogether and resigns herself to be one of those “women who just can’t” breastfeed. A little time goes by, and her guilt turns into a militant defiance against it and she will become vocal about how it’s not important and her babies turned out just fine. Sure, not everyone gets from point A to point B the same, but I’ve seen this happen personally with friends, so I think it’s safe to say it does happen this way.
The more situations I encounter like that, and the more information I learn that could have prevented it for these moms, the angrier I get for them and for their babies.
The biggest issue I think needs to get out in the open, is I think we can all agree “breast is best” it’s a fact. I mean, we can, right? Oh, c’mon, moms… We all know, whether we CHOSE to do it or not, that breast feeding is the absolute best option for a baby AND for us as moms, medically, psychologically and developmentally, yes? Even the formula commercials, your kid’s doctor and the World Health Organization will tell you so, so it’s not like I’m making this up or it’s just some fanatic opinion. Take away the guilt, the blame, the “I don’t wanna feel bad/judged/shamed about my choices” gray area crap and the bottom line is black and white. I think it’s important for everyone to be on the same page with this because getting past the “feeling” issues associated with the decision are what often create the most animosity toward breast feeders in our culture.
So, really. Let’s try to get over it, for the sake of everyone involved. Bottle feeders- Own your choices. If you’re not going to do it, be confident about that and stand behind your choice, but know that it’s YOUR choice- not something that anyone should recommend to another person. Stop allowing your ego to lead your reactions and feeling attacked every single time someone talks about the benefits of breastfeeding. No one is trying to personally make you feel bad. If you chose not to, rock on- that’s your right. Just please don’t argue about how it’s not a big deal and it doesn’t matter either way, because that isn’t true. Own up to the reason you made the decision, recognize that you chose to do something you know was not in the best interest of your child and move on. Don’t try to convince people of anything else.
Now, that being said… On the other side- Lactation experts and passionate breast feeders like myself need to realize that we are not the only people on the planet and just because we understand that biology, instinct and thousands of years of evolution back up our process, this does not mean we have a right to throw that in anyone’s face to tell them they are wrong for doing things a different way. Don’t be a psycho and think because the facts are on your side you have ANY right whatsoever to bash a mom who chose not to do it. “But it’s the natural way!” you cry… well, yeah, but seriously- NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. And…. If we wanted to be super crazy about being “all natural” well, then y’all better stop coloring your hair, getting your nails done, you better only wear unbleached, natural cotton, don’t use perfume, lotion or shampoo with chemicals, no hair spray or anything that can seep into your skin and in your milk, never drink a cup of coffee again unless it’s non-GMO/organic and filtered with spring water, oh and you best not put sunblock on your kids, don’t even think about cooking with PAM again, and… oh, did you get the epidural? Do you drive a car? Do you travel unnecessary distances for fun with your baby in the car? Do you ever take your kids on airplanes? Do you let them use markers that aren’t non-toxic or drink Kool-Aid or play with your car keys? How many hours a day does your kid watch TV? Do I need to keep going? Alright then. NO right to judge, mama… we’ve all got our personal conveniences we chose to indulge in even if we knew there were risks.
What it boils down to, is this: Stop being jerks to one another and own your choices, whatever they happen to be, educate the reality and move forward without being snippy little Stepford twits about it. Sure, it’s best. We know that. But that doesn’t mean everyone has to do it, and it doesn’t make anyone a bad person or a bad mom and it doesn’t mean she loves her babies any less or more than any other mom for her choices. Everyone walks a different path and it’s not our place to judge. Period.
So, moving on now…
I didn’t start out with opinions of what is better and I honestly didn’t have a clue what I was going to do. The nurse asked me “will you be breast or bottle feeding” and my answer was “both… I think? I’m going to nurse, but eventually I’ll probably use a bottle at some point, right?” She laughed and said, “yeah, most people do both but some are strictly one or the other.” That struck me because I didn’t realize that and it was then when I did my first Google search on breastfeeding norms. Liam was about 15 hours old and I was in the hospital with my iPhone and my lap top and I stayed up all night that first night, reading about breastfeeding and the how-to’s, whys and why not’s and I was really surprised to find so much out there in the interwebs about controversy.
I just did what I knew was right for me- I breastfed my baby. My decision had absolutely nothing to do with anyone else or any causes, I wasn’t trying to prove something or make a statement. As time went on, I did begin to form opinions about the how’s and why’s, but I never considered my opinions to be “activist” opinions. I believed that as a mother, I should be properly educated. I, me, for myself and my own family. Again, it wasn’t for someone else or based on anyone else’s opinion, just mine and what I thought was most right for myself and my baby.
I learned VERY quickly that I should have been more informed before he was born, so I developed a passionate opinion about prenatal education for moms. Mothers should be informed BEFORE they had babies so that once they did have them, they already had clear ideas of what their options really were. This was because of my personal experiences and my desire to always know the truth- not just follow along with the standard process because everyone else did.
I felt like mothers should understand that their doctor was not God. That does not mean they aren’t amazing, brilliant people, it’s just that not EVERYthing they say in those first few days in the hospital is 100% truth for ALL mothers. Many doctors and nurses who attend to newborn babies and new moms simply don’t have extensive education in the area of breastfeeding and I believe it’s super important for moms to know there isn’t only one, right way. I began to feel passionate about encouraging new moms to also take any opportunity they may have to seek out and listen to a lactation coach if they need help and to find their local resources such as the LLL and Breastfeeding USA women in their community and use the internet to seek answers for breast feeding struggles before giving up and if anyone, even a lactation coach, told them to supplement or just give up, to find a new one who would help them push past the issue they were having and find a way to keep that baby on the breast.
I thought it was really shady business for the doctors and nurses in the baby ward to pop pacifiers in these newborn’s mouths and THEN ask in a very “leading the question” kind of way; “it’s okay to give him a little formula in the nursery so you can get some rest, right?” Making new mothers who are all hung over from birth, hopped up on hormonal release and pain killers almost feel stupid or make it difficult for them to confidently say, “um… no… it’s NOT alright, I’ll be breastfeeding him and he can stay here, thanks.” No one wants to be “difficult” in the hospital, so new moms, already anxious, just go along with the strong personality nurses unless they know better, have the knowledge to be confident and say, with no disrespect, “no thank you, I’ll be exclusively breastfeeding and he can stay with me, we want to do lots of skin-on-skin time”.
I also thought it was pretty horrible that gift baskets for baby to take home from the hospital usually included formula and even after this practice was literally deemed illegal, nurses STILL did it! While I was successfully nursing my baby on our final day in the hospital, they still offered to send me home with three, free cans of Infamil. I told her, “well, I think we’re doing alright, hopefully I won’t need that” and her reply was, (I will never forget this…) “Oh sure you’re doing great! But if something happens and he has trouble, you can just give him a few CC’s of formula to help and since I can give it to you free, you might as well take advantage so you have it on hand if you need it.” She was setting me up for failure before I even left the hospital… planting a seed of doubt that … even though it was going well now, it might not go well tomorrow, or the next day, and I should be prepared to give up.
Once my son was a little older and I began to really learn more about the fundamentals and science of breastfeeding, I realized how many inconsistencies there were between the mountains of knowledge I was learning and what the doctors were saying in our exams. I started encouraging moms to not feel like they had to accept that, I told my friends who also had small children about what I’d learned and I encouraged them not to buy into the marketing. I explained what I’d learned, about what was REALLY in those products compared to what was in their own milk and why, if they had the ability… they should never, ever want to go to that option instead. I printed out signs to put on hospital room doors for moms to make it easier to express their wishes to the hospital staff. These signs told nurses a mother’s intentions to breastfeed, co-sleep, do skin-on-skin and never leave their side, for any reason- ever. These signs made the conversation easier for timid moms so they could feel more confident in standing their ground. Everything is easier in writing, right?
All the while, I didn’t realize my growing frustration and desire to be vocal about it, to champion for the moms who wanted to do it and help them feel proud had a name… I just called it being a decent person trying to help those around me to make solid, educated decisions. I called it being cautious.
Before I had babies, I never really thought about any of this, either way. People feeding their babies was just not on my radar. I thought breastfeeding was awesome, but I was a progressive, married, career woman before I was a mom and I just really didn’t care too much about any of that. I believed work provided my identity for me, that my relationship with my team was paramount to my own personal needs, how I was seen by my peers was most important and my life with my husband should be fun and exciting. When I became pregnant, I was sure I could continue that life. I was determined to make sure that having babies didn’t change me and had visions of carting them along with me to ComicCon, the beach, continuing to have our zombie parties to watch Walking Dead and most of all, not to allow my children to change my life, my goals or my ambitions. Even after I had my first, I tried to be more maiden than mother for a great, long while. I continued having parties, friends over, and I tried to continue life as I had always known it and that worked for a while, but pretty soon, none of those things held any magic for me anymore if I didn’t have my children with me. I was turning into something else, someone else… someone who demanded my bond with my child and could suddenly not relate to any of my friends who had children and tried to keep them compartmentalized in a specific part of their lives.
The second my first was born, he was my life. His life, his wellness and his happiness became my cause. Everything else just sort of fell into place after that, behind that reality was the foundation.
Maybe if I’d had a perfect birth I’d have reacted differently. Maybe if I hadn’t had postpartum depression & anxiety, things wouldn’t have been such a psycho about making sure every choice I made was in his best interests. Maybe if I’d had an easy time nursing right away, I’d have taken it for granted and not pushed so hard to make it happen, I mean, they always say- struggle strengthens our determination, right? Maybe if he hadn’t been underweight or struggled so much in those first few days, I’d not have turned down the path I did, but for whatever reason, I became instantly passionate about putting his needs first. His needs WERE my needs. If his needs were not being met to the fullest, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough because I knew I could have been doing more.
He had several issues with nursing in the beginning. He was almost four weeks early and very small. He was weak and he lost 11% of his body weight after he was born via C-Section due to being breach and my water breaking early. Because of his weight loss and weakness, I was encouraged to feed him at the breast every two hours and when that didn’t work, was told to just leave him on the breast as much as possible to help build my supply, as well as give him as much opportunity as possible to eat all he could. We did have to supplement a bit, a total of 4 times in the hospital, but only via syringe so he wouldn’t get nipple confusion and only until my milk came in strong enough to pump- which was about 48 hours. Once we were home, I had engorgement issues because I was overproducing and his tiny, weak jaws couldn’t suck nearly enough to drain me. I ended up with hindmilk/foremilk supply issues that were misdiagnosed as “colic” and “GURD” and he constantly fell asleep at the breast because he was to weak to suck. I used a nipple shield to help him make it easier and that worked- soon, he was nursing like a champ using the shield until he was strong enough to nurse on his own.
Once I felt confident with his weight and his ability to nurse on his own without a shield, I began to go out with him, but it wasn’t often and only in places I trusted myself to be able to control the situation completely. When he was hungry, I tucked him neatly under a cover or I carried a bottle of expressed milk in case it was too much trouble to sit down with him when we were out at places like Disneyland, but quickly learned that bottle feeding is absolutely NOT more convenient than nursing! In fact, I’d take a 10 minute stop off at the mother’s station above trying to deal with bottles and ice bags and extra backpacks full of milk and equipment, including a pump… ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.
Somewhere along the way, I think around the three month mark… I stopped taking expressed milk with me when we went out. I had noticed that it typically just went to waste because I was always able to find a place and a way to sit down with him and nurse and he really didn’t respond as well to the bottle anyway, so he wouldn’t eat enough and he would be fussy and upset. Eventually, it came down to the thought; why use the bottle if I could just do it myself and save the fuss, cleaning and extra junk to try and pile into the bag, AND he responds better anyway? So we ditched the bottles and I stopped trying to go places without him. Eventually, he refused all the bottles anyway, so anytime I went somewhere, it was either both of us, or none. That was the moment life really, officially changed. We were then exclusive breast feeders, no bottles, no pumps, no stress about stored milk and life became a little easier. I’d made the decision that if I couldn’t go somewhere with my baby, I was not going to go. He refused the bottle, so if there was no me, there was no food and my window of opportunity to leave the house without him was about a two hour window, usually to get my hair done, or my nails done and I was totally okay with that.
Back to the Lactivist issue… by this point, I was confident with nursing using a cover in public and it was very early spring, so the weather was cool, he didn’t mind the cover and no one ever batted an eye at it no matter where we were. I really had no idea that there was a whole underlying issue going on and that I was being carefully watched by friends and family to ensure I was feeding my baby within the confines of polite society.
A little story for you to explain what I mean by that;
I remember going to coffee with a friend, my first outing in public with the baby by myself and it came time for him to eat. I put on my cover and fed him. With a sigh of relief, my friend says “oh thank GOD you’re not one of those jerks who need to make a statement”. I literally had no idea what he meant, so I gave him a confused look… he continued… “you know, those women who nurse without a cover.” My reply was, “oh really? That’s an issue? Why do you care either way?” I was genuinely surprised because he’s a pretty liberal guy, did the ren-faire, was into comic book cosplay and to my knowledge, never had an issue with “bodies”. How little I knew… I told him, “I am pretty sure the baby hates it, but I don’t want to offend anyone and it’s not like it’s a big deal to use it…” He said, “well thank you. I appreciate not having to see your boobs excreting fluid with my morning coffee.” I laughed and reminded him that we worked Renaissance faire together… and he’s already seen just as much of them in a 16th century costume as he would while I fed my baby. His response clearly quantified the deeply disturbing social issue we have in our culture.
“Not the same thing,” he said, with a curt tone of absolutism. “seeing them because you’re a hot chick who has nice breasts wearing a corset is not the same thing as seeing them while they’re excreting fluid being sucked up by an infant. That shit needs to be done in private”.
I was… surprised to say the least, but still very new to the whole baby scene, so I just sort of shrugged and moved on. I wasn’t offended, but I guess I probably aught to have been. The fact was, it was possible that people looked at me with disdain, but I didn’t even notice. I was so lost in the glorious haze of early motherhood that I didn’t even see other people. When I fed him in public, I focused on him. Not on the world around me. I didn’t see how people were probably judging me and my “vulgar” act of feeding an infant and I was still completely naive to the whole breast feeding culture and the struggles most moms have. I always nursed with a cover. It wasn’t because I was being modest for the sake of others, it was because I figured that’s just how it was done and it was a cute cover my sister bought me for the baby shower. End of story.
As Liam grew and I became pregnant again, I continued nursing because it brought us both comfort, closeness and it brought him continued immunity and nutrients. I’d done all the research and I knew it was not unhealthy for me, the new baby growing inside me, and it was really good for Liam to understand that even through my changes, that the constant of breastfeeding would be there for him to rely on. I was grateful for it when he got the stomach flu and couldn’t eat anything, but would continue to nurse. I was grateful for it when the baby was born and he had severe attachment issues, that he could still feel safe and secure nursing, alongside his new sister. Eventually that became a comfort, because he didn’t have to feel left out.
THAT was when I began to notice other’s looks and they came on a consistent basis. Their furrowed brows and looks of confusion, revulsion and disbelief that said; “he’s too old and you’re pregnant… what are you thinking”. I could see the shocked look on stranger’s faces when beneath the cover emerged a toddler, not a baby. People worried for me, saying things like, “but the baby growing inside you needs those nutrients!” Like I was denying one because I was indulging the other.
–As an asside, at what point does “breastfeeding” turn into “indulging”?? I was always curious about that…–
For these fine folks who saw no issue with telling me that I’m hurting my unborn child by satisfying a selfish toddler… I’d have to go back, explain the science behind why that wasn’t true and work hard to dispel the rumors and wives tales associated with all that nonsense, practically on a weekly basis. But it didn’t offend me, it made me giggle. Silly people. At first. But after almost a year of it, I started to get irritated, especially when it was the same people coming back to question me over and over again with comments like, “okay now, tell me again how this isn’t dangerous for the baby?”
Even my own parents who were supportive of my nursing decisions, seemed to become uncomfortable with the idea when they saw the toddler climbing up to get milk from one side while the newborn was on the other. My mom and other family members saying things like, “are you sure this is a good idea?”, “is it safe?”, ‘aren’t you going to lose too much calcium and hurt yourself doing that?” “what about the new baby… Liam will suck it all up and there won’t be any left for her… she needs nutrients, too”. Once I explained to my mother why it was okay, she seemed okay with it, but she couldn’t hide the involuntary looks of “this is just so weird” anytime I did it.
There was also the more passive-aggressive, casual question; “so…. when is Liam going to stop nursing?” or, “Is he still doing… that?”
Oh, and when tandem nursing, there was (and is still) the nervous laugh and look somewhere between concern and humor, like watching something fairly uncomfortable but not being willing to say anything. Usually that look is coupled with an offhanded comment that is “joking” but not really. Tandem nursing is not that hard to manage, really. It was more difficult trying to understand where this idea was coming from… the idea that feeding two at once was somehow impossible, silly or too hard. ( mean come on, people… there are TWO OF THEM! It’s not rocket science…) It seemed everyone around me thought it was “funny” but would say things like “wow, that looks miserable/uncomfortable/awkward”. They were, and are still, literally confused why I didn’t just stop doing it to save time and be less miserable.
But here’s the thing- it isn’t miserable. It isn’t awkward and it isn’t uncomfortable. The only miserable part is when people underestimate me, make me feel like I should question what I know, that what I know is wrong and that what I am doing for my babies is somehow wrong, inappropriate or ridiculous. It’s miserable to feel that I have to prove I know what I’m doing by showing medical journals and countless studies, both medical and psychological, to get people I love and trust to believe me when I say this is the best thing I could be doing for them. THAT is the miserable part. A major contributor to my passion on the subject is a direct result of these perspectives because it constantly seems that everyone, unless they are actively doing it or did it themselves, seems to think I just shouldn’t bother. Like the whole affair is really just optional and too much trouble, like I’m missing out on life and people actually feel bad for me or they roll their eyes with judgement thinking that I’m doing it to prove something.
THAT attitude, given to people who are maybe a little less… “passionate” than I am, would eventually just cause them to cave completely and give it up. People don’t realize the power they have by supporting or NOT supporting others and in this area and it really, truly is SO important!
I had someone who was a close friend actually tell me she felt bad for me because I wasn’t able to get out and do the things I enjoy anymore. I asked her what those things were. She said, “you need a girls day every now and then” she brought up how I missed movie premiers, I missed events I used to love attending, I never went to parties anymore and asked me when I was going to cut Liam off from nursing. I told her yeah, I do miss those things but I’m happy now with where I am at. I will get back to those things eventually when they don’t need me there. I will get back to those activities when I am sure they are ready, not when I feel like it. And I’m not cutting him off, I told her. I will allow him to have it until HE is ready. She sighed, shrugged and said, “whatever”. She said she didn’t understand because lots of other moms are already back to their lives by now and it seems to her that I am just holding onto something that has already passed and I’m not allowing growth to happen. I was for the first time in ANY of this… completely speechless. I mean, what do you say to that? To someone who has no children, who is telling you that when you do everything you know is best, it just seems like you’re indulging in some sort of fantasy world and holding your children back from growth?? How are you supposed to combat that attitude?? Well, I told her she was wrong and if she really wanted to actually know why she could ask and I’d send her all the information to back up my processes because there are literally millions of people who do what I do. She back-peddled a little and tried to make it not sound so bad, but obviously the damage was done. We just dropped the conversation.
It was then that I realized I was a minority. I guess I hadn’t really understood that before, but once I began to nurse a newborn and a toddler together, everyone (okay, maybe not EVERYone, but many…) who had previously been supportive, suddenly turned their cheers of “you go, mom” into concerned looks, hushed glances and worst of all, the silence. You know the kind, the – “too quiet because they’re not saying what they are actually thinking” silence. What they’re thinking is, “I would never do that”, “I’d have put a stop to that months ago”, “What is she trying to PROVE?”. Which is especially fun when it’s coming from someone who doesn’t have kids, but even worse when it comes from someone who does. I mean, they should know, right? Oh wait… no, they don’t… because they were fed all the crap about how it’s not THAT important and it’s okay to use formula if you don’t feel that “into breastfeeding”. Our culture has made it acceptable for a mom to treat their child’s nutrition as “optional” so they can go back to work, hire a stranger to watch their kids and do whatever makes them feel happiest. These parents really do believe that their’s the better way and I’m just doing it all wrong. They believe I’m going to create insane little people with no understanding of structure or discipline. They believe that compassion and empathy gives way to entitled and spoiled children and doing what is best for the child instead of what I feel like or what society would rather I do, is somehow wrong, indulgent, selfish, even. Once I started and then continued to tandem nurse, I realized many people suddenly saw me differently, not as a nurturing mother, but as an overly indulgent one- raising what would surely become a brood of spoiled brats. I even had a few comments about nursing being inappropriate after a certain age or in public. Of course, this further infuriated me, not even for myself, because I don’t cave easily, but for everyone else that person might talk to and encourage to stop their breastfeeding journey because of their arrogance and ignorance.
All of this only solidified my opinion that I was doing the right thing and I had a responsibility to help other mothers be empowered to do it, too.
Just YESTERDAY- that same good friend as before finally ventured into this conversation again to press her point once more. She said, (as politely and tactfully as she could) “I mean, it just seems like you’re holding onto this for some weird reason when you don’t need to and it’s taking you away from your life”. I was, you can imagine, pretty shocked. I told her, calmly, that this WAS my life and I will do it until they are ready to stop or my milk dries out. She said, “I just know there are a lot of things you want to do that you don’t get to and it’s sad.” I told her, sure- there are a lot of things I’d love to do and I don’t get to do right now. You’re absolutely right. But it’s not about me, is it? Parenting is about them and what THEY need. I don’t need a “girl’s day” if it’s going to take away from the kids. She gave me this patronizing look and just said, “well, I just don’t want to see you sad when you miss out on stuff you want to do.” I told her, she wasn’t wrong, there are plenty of things I miss doing and I do get a little sad when I miss out on things but just because I want to do something and it makes me sad that I can’t, does not mean that I am willing to stop doing what I’m CURRENTLY doing for the benefit of my kids just so I can do something completely unnecessary and fun. I can wait. Soon enough they won’t be nursing and then I’ll have lots of time. She still seemed confused. She doesn’t have children herself, but she wants them and I constantly worry about our friendship because of it… I wonder if our friendship will survive our differences of opinion on these topics… At this point, I really don’t know.
I do my best to ignore these negative opinions. I remember that my paramount concern is the comfort, well being and happiness of my babies. Both of them. Which means I don’t stop giving milk to one just because there’s two of them now and I don’t just stop nursing because I miss going to parties at Comic-Con.
All of this further solidified my opinion and cleared my path toward a perspective known as “Lactivism”, but when people who had previously been supportive suddenly seemed uncomfortable, opinionated and concerned that I was just… “doing too much”… THAT was the kicker that threw me over the edge. When I realized they believed this because of their own ignorance about breastfeeding and completely ignored how vitally important it is, instead holding onto social norms that deny us the right to be the others we were designed to be, it made me angry. Angry and really, really sad for all those moms and babies out there who would fall victim to these ignorant thoughts all because they didn’t have anyone to look to for support. THAT was the point where I went from nursing mom to Lactivist. That was the point where I felt it was my responsibility to help other mothers to arm themselves with facts BEFORE they end up in these situations that might cause them to stop nursing before their babies are ready.
I became angry at the ignorance and how those who seem to not have any real information are the ones with the loudest, most condescending voices of opposition toward the subject. The ones with the least information are the ones who speak the loudest against it and try to deny the rights of mothers across the country to satisfy what they believe without any verifiable proof or real information.
Being told I was “doing too much” was infuriating. Most of you who read my blogs already know how much I loath being underestimated and this area is no exception. Doing too much by being the best mom I can be? Really? I’m sorry, but that’s just seriously insulting. I don’t care how much “love and concern” you lace it with, a statement like that… it’s degrading. Period. If people want to help me with simple tasks, like carry the baby in her carrier for me when I have a handful of stuff, or take the toddler for a walk because the baby won’t stop crying and needs quiet, that’s one thing. But seriously, people… Do not assume you can tell me what is too much or what I’m capable of and don’t you DARE tell me that what I am doing is too hard. If you think I’m too weak to handle a little challenge, let’s sit down and have a chat about the first 18 years of my life. Maybe my life is too hard for YOU. Good thing you’re not the one living it then, huh?
By the time my daughter was born, I had read about 20 books, countless pages online written by lactation coaches, nurses, ER doctors, medical journals, mother’s accounts, blogs, I had joined somewhere around 8 different mom pages both through parenting sites and on Facebook and actively participated in conversations on those pages that were focused on breastfeeding and helping moms who had struggles. I learned so much from these resources, every time I questioned the validity of what I found, I’d find 10 more things to read and learn about. I learned the most however, from personal experience from women online, in Facebook groups. These amazing, crusading women all across the world, fighting for the rights of all mothers to be strong and convicted in their choices both in public and at home. I began to identify with them, their cause… and see the real struggle that we all shared- the struggle every mother shares even if they don’t realize it. There was and is a severe lack of respect for the act of motherhood in Western culture. From how you get pregnant, to the way your raise your baby and every moment in between is constantly under scrutiny. Everyone in the world thinks they can do a better job and for some reason, all those people seem to have no issue vocalizing their opinion. That is why people like me need to be strong enough to stand up to that opinion and vocalize our own even louder.
A lactivist is someone who is an activist for the rights of lactating mothers, both legal ans social. Someone who believes in and fights for the right of every mother to feed and raise her baby with breast milk for as long as possible, without fear of scorn or shame. Someone who will compassionately educate her to stand up for herself and her rights against anyone who would try to tear her down. Someone who will speak for mamas who are too shy or too hurt by loved ones who bully them into bottle feeding with ideas like, “well Nana gets a turn, too!” or, “breasts are for sex, not babies” and, “daddy should be allowed to feed the baby, you’re just being selfish by nursing all the time!” and any one of the other million, selfish things a mom can be told to encourage her to fight her instinct for the sake of someone else’s opinion and ego.
For me, the argument is not about whether a mother covers or not, whether she has to supplement or not, whether she has to be a working mom or not. It’s about teaching her to fend for herself when the wolves come to snip away at her confidence and make her doubt her choices to be the best mother possible. It’s about giving her the education to demand better for herself and her baby. It’s about empowering her to know that she doesn’t have to chose between being a hard core woman and a mom. It’s about helping her to realize deep down in her soul that SHE IS THE MOM and she holds the power and no one else’s opinion is as valuable as her own when it comes to her baby and her breastfeeding relationship. It’s about showing her she has the strength to do more than the bare minimum for her baby, championing her through challenging times and being willing to stand beside her to support her, so she can feed her baby in any setting with confidence because she knows to the core that what she is doing is the right thing.
Yes, I can be a little crazy about it, because the hard truth of my real opinion is, I do not think breastfeeding should be a personal choice. I don’t think my emotional state or personal desire to do it or not should trump my baby’s best chance at health. If I’m tired, bored, feeling like I need to be alone, I’ll take some time and then come back to it. I won’t force my child into an alternative method of nutrition unless I have no other option- and “no other option” does NOT include “mommy’s really grumpy today and needs to not be touched”. I won’t give into the pressure, the guilt, the looks and the feelings of others to sacrifice what I know is best for my children and I refuse to justify denying breast milk for my child for the sake of my own desires.
I love all my mamas, whether they breast or bottle feed, whether they formula feed or donor feed or goat’s milk feed or whatever they choose to do. I will help them to my best ability to find the answers they need to have a healthy relationship with their babies no matter what. I will respect their choices and their needs, and they all know that I will always, ALWAYS encourage them to nurse their babies for as long as possible, with the promise that I will do all I can to help them be confident in that decision so they can stand up to their loved ones if and when they are bullied and shamed for doing it. Being a lactivist means honoring all mothers, helping them to maintain a healthy relationship both physical and emotional with her baby and doing all I can to propel her through any emotional hang ups that might cause her to stop nursing too soon.
So, there it is. I’m an opinionated, passionate and insanely vocal supporter of breast milk and self-weaning, education and support. It’s become a goal to help teach people to stop buying the lies, to stop teaching the lies to their own children and friends and ask them to be supportive and kind to mothers who are strong and confident enough to feed their babies in public. I defiantly, brazenly feed BOTH my babies wherever I feel like it, whenever THEY feel like it. Yep, I cover in mixed company AND in public a good deal of the time. But at least I still do it, even when it’s a pain, even if it means I get left out of “adult time” for a few years or don’t get invited to parties.
I believe that the needs of someone who cannot respond or speak for themselves is more important than the opinions of a grown adult who should know better. I will continue to nurse my babies until they are ready to be done, not when it’s time for me to get my life back. I have my life- my life is being a mom. I work in the rest AROUND that fact. I believe this is the best way for baby and for mom both in my personal case and so that is what I stick to.
You’re welcome to disagree, to believe I’m giving up too much and you can even think I’m totally insane, but I’ve come to terms with my role and I’m pretty happy about it.
I am a lactivist for the sake of my children and any child who’s mama I am able to help. I am finally in a place where I can confidently say that my children will always be more important than someone else’s opinion and I am committed to this perspective, not just for my family, but for everyone.
Be well, mamas.
Oh, and in case you were wondering…