A letter to breast feeders and lactivists (and really everybody):
Before I had children of my own I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. I knew that this was the most important decision that I would make for them in their early years. I knew that breast was best. But my inexperience led me to come to some other conclusions as well.
I didn’t grow up seeing breastfeeding. As much as I babysat and even having a younger brother born when I was 16, I just didn’t see breastfeeding. It wasn’t until I was 25 and took a job as a nanny for a woman with newborn twins that I first saw a mother feed her baby (babies) at her breast. I was in awe. It was a beautiful sight; baby cradled perfectly in his mother’s arms, suckling his little heart out. I watched as mom lost herself in loving gazes and baby peered back with wide eyes, his mouth full of breast and perfectly satisfied. They were the only two people in the world when they were nursing; unless she was tandem nursing both twins, then the whole scene would unfold around the three of them. It was magical.
When my older sister had her first baby a few months later I got to see this enchanted moment again with a new cast. I wanted that for my babies and for myself. But that was as much as I knew about it then.
I distinctly remember having a conversation with friends about my [not so enlightened] thoughts on breastfeeding when I was pregnant with my first child. I talked about how I just wanted to make it to a year and then cut him off because “breastfeeding beyond a year was just weird.” And I was not going to be one of those extended breastfeeding yahoos who finds it cute when a silly little toddler comes walking up and asks, with real words, for some “milkies” or some other cutsie word for breastfeeding. That totally gave me the willies. I’m sure I had this very conversation more than once and I shudder to think of who may have heard me say these things.
Then I had my first baby. Oh, I was in mommy heaven! He was perfect, plump, beautiful; just this gorgeous little person that I would throw myself in front of a bus for [if that was something I could do to prove my love for him]. This was my chance to have those magical moments of breastfeeding bonding all for myself.
Not without our own struggles we got to that place. We lived in the magical mommy and baby bubble of breastfeeding bliss, and something happened in there that I can’t quite explain. Somewhere between the sloppy milk drooling smiles and the burps of total contentment my baby turned into a walking and talking toddler with his very own cutsie word for my milk. He called it “bop.” Somewhere in that bubble my perception changed from what I expected to what I lived. In that bubble I became enlightened by my own experience and suddenly I understood that which I could not see before.
Breastfeeding a toddler is no stranger than breastfeeding a newborn baby. Nothing changes at a year or when a child learns to walk and talk, either in mom’s milk or in a child’s need for it, that should cause a mother to wean her child or to feel like a yahoo for continuing to breastfeed. The only thing that changes is society’s perception of the breastfeeding relationship. Somewhere around a year inexperienced people think that breastfeeding is no longer an important and nutritious way to feed and nurture a child.
As experienced breast feeders and lactivists we have an obligation and a golden opportunity to help educate and enlighten the public, our friends and family, and even professionals. As breast feeding is coming back into the mainstream we have a chance to show that we are compassionate and that we understand that not everyone sees things the way we do. How can they? They’ve never seen breastfeeding from our unique vantage point.
Brandy Van Vossen studied Environmental Biology at Saint Xavier University. She is currently a stay at home mom to her two beautiful, breastfed children (2.5 years and 6 months) on Chicago’s south side.