Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Time Breastfeeding Article: Whose Body is It?

As a breastfeeding blogger, I have felt compelled to comment on the recent Time article about Attachment Parenting and breastfeeding toddlers, as well as the controversy surrounding it. It’s taken me awhile, though, because I’ve struggled to collect my thoughts on the matter. Personally, I found the images of women breastfeeding their three-year-olds to be both shocking and beautiful. I tend to like things that put me slightly off-balance. I am reminded that much of what we “should” and “shouldn’t” do is culturally constructed and shifting. I am reminded that if what a person does isn’t hurting anyone, then it’s really none of my business.

But, after reading the reactions to this article, evidently, most people do feel that extended breastfeeding is hurting people -- mother, child and society at large. I was stunned by the viciousness of the comments. People called these women perverse, unnatural and disgusting, among many other cruel judgments. The quality of the criticism smacked of that which is unjustly waged against the LGBT community all too often. I felt defensive. I wanted to get into the fray, defend these women. After all, I’ve done my research. Anthropologists put the age of weaning in societies throughout history and around the world at anywhere between age two and a half to seven. Who are these people to argue with this research? People’s comments were dismissive of this statistic too. Evidently, our society is better than the others. The story goes that we are a “civilized” country, while theirs are primitive. I realized that I really didn’t want to waste my time arguing about it (even though I kinda just did). I don’t want to fight about who’s right or wrong. No one is. The issue is about personal choice.

So I decided to get personal. What I’d really like to talk about is the relationship that Claire and I have to one another, and our relationship to breastfeeding. To put it simply, Claire loves to breastfeed. She comes to me around eight times a day (or more) with the words “mama, mama”. When Claire says “mama”, it means she wants to breastfeed. The milk and I are one and the same to her, inextricably bound. How could I possible take that away from her? Especially when she is an age at which she really wouldn’t understand why I was depriving her of me.

I have also noticed an interesting inverse relationship between breastfeeding and independence. Claire used to breastfeed every hour, even at night (much to my dismay). As she grows more independent, the number of times she breastfeeds decreases. As she grows up, she needs me less. There seems to be an uncanny correspondence between these two things with its own rhythm, which I don’t want to disturb. And I have good faith that Claire will let me know how much emotional attachment she needs from me and; therefore, how much breastfeeding she needs.

To sum it up, breastfeeding serves a purpose for Claire and me that’s greater than nutrition. Still, I don’t plan on breastfeeding until Claire is three or four, like the women in the article. I do support their choice though. For me, quite frankly, I find breastfeeding to be too challenging. My decision to stop has more to do with me than Claire. I carried her in my belly for nine months, and plan on breastfeeding until she is around two (the age recommended by the World Health Organization , by the way). I am ready to have my body back.

Plus, at two, I figure she will be old enough to understand why we are stopping. George’s friend Kristen has led the way for me on this decision. She shared with George that she and her daughter Nora had a conversation (at two) about how and why mama needed to stop. They cried together and that was the end of breastfeeding. I’m grateful that Kristen has blazed this trail for me. If she hadn’t, I might be feeling like a pervert or sicko right about now. Instead, I get to envision an experience similar to Nora and Kristen for Claire and me.

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