This is a bag of breast milk. This is not a bag of my breast milk. My body chose to never produce this much milk. I never responded to pumping. Breastfeeding totally kicked my ass.
It’s world breastfeeding week and I have a few things to say.
First of all, breastfeeding is not weird or gross. We are animals, we are mammals, we are primates. We are supposed to lactate. Our babies are supposed to hang off of our breasts while receiving nourishment. Please don’t ever be the person who thinks it’s weird that a woman is feeding her baby (or toddler or preschooler) in public. That milk is that baby’s birthright and that mother is navigating the most simultaneously joyous and difficult phase of her life. Respect her human right to feed her baby and address your own discomfort because it’s probably rooted in patriarchy and misogyny.
Second of all, I don’t feel guilty or ashamed that I couldn’t feed my baby my own breastmilk. But I had a lot of other emotions…I spent months being sad and angry that my body failed me and I didn’t know why. I spent months feeling sorry for my sweet baby who just couldn’t figure out how to latch on and extract milk. I wished I never had to feed her formula. The reality is, breast really is best. Formula company’s marketing strategies have been exploitative. Formula is expensive. Formula is not made of the highest quality ingredients. Formula is not convenient. But here’s the reality M and I have had to face as parents: Gabriela would have died without formula. I was unable to feed her. In the absence of formula, she literally had no chance. That’s scary. So our decision to use formula was not taken lightly. I’ve learned to recognize that the decision behind using formula is personal and complex. I put no judgement out about this. Breastfeeding is hard even when you are producing enough milk. Breastfeeding requires encouragement and support. It requires patience and perseverance. Formula feeding is hard too, it can be a choice wrought with guilt and shame and it simply shouldn’t be. If you learn nothing else from this post, please take away that feeding a baby is a big deal and flippant comments about it or judgements about it are completely misplaced and do a disservice.
Thirdly, breastfeeding is women’s work. And as we do with so much of women’s work, we invest very few resources into supporting it. We devalue it, criticize it and then wonder why women aren’t doing “better”. When a woman has just given birth, likely laboured for hours and endured physical trauma to her body, we expect breastfeeding to go well. And then when it doesn’t, we expect that sleep deprived mother, who has just been thrust into this brand new reality, to figure it out on her own. Yes there are services out there for women, but the public resources that exist to support breastfeeding do not reach the number of women they should and definitely do not provide the intensive support that is required. What we’ve lost as a society, is our village of support; being surrounded by other women who have been through this before. Having other women with babies who can nurse when we can’t. And I say this as someone who tries to recognize her own privilege. I am humbled, because if breastfeeding kicked my ass, I can only imagine what it has done to women who have less than I do, to women who have been given even less of a voice than I get as a white cis-female, heterosexual, Canadian woman. To those women, I see you and I endeavour to give space for your voice.
Breastfeeding is biological, personal, cultural, political. It has been both celebrated and shamed. It has been monetized and exploited.
Breastfeeding comes in many forms: a baby at the mother’s breast, the baby at another woman’s breast, donated milk, tube feeding at the breast, pumped milk given in a bottle, g tube feeding and the list goes on and on. None of it’s forms are any less valuable than the other.
Thankfully, I have a village that I drew a ton of support from. To my village of women who so generously and selflessly donated milk to Gabriela. You are all queens. The level of gratitude I feel for you fills my heart. Thank you.
To the lactation consultants who helped me so much. Your work is not invisible. Your expertise is invaluable. Thank you for your kindness and understanding. I long for the day that your work is valued enough to be covered publicly.
And to M, thank you for not being “that guy” who thinks breastfeeding is weird, who projects male wisdom onto women. Women rock, of that I am certain, but men like you? They rock too.