Mama, Embrace Your Uniqueness
The first time I was actually made aware that there was a PROPER way to mother was when I took a breastfeeding class in Palo Alto, where I was living at the time.
I had not even had the baby yet. I was only seven months pregnant. But coming to pregnancy quite late in life – my daughter was a glorious surprise born when I was one month shy of 47 – I was concerned about the whole breastfeeding business. I have small boobs and until I was in my third trimester the whole thought that these small boobs could produce milk to feed a human being was a fully alien concept.
I left this class in tears – already, before I had even given birth, before I had even tried to lactate – I was given the understanding that my breast milk was the only thing that would sustain my daughter – that I would HAVE to find a way to feed her with these boobs on my chest or she would wither and, and —– beyond that thought of her withering was just pure fear and guilt. I called my sister in tears.
She said. “Oh yes. The sanctimommies. Prepare yourself. This is just the beginning.”
After the initial shock I was so mad that I was made to be fearful as a mother in that breastfeeding workshop – and I got even more angry moving forward after reading the book Lactivism by Courtney Jung.
Jung is a political professor at the University of Toronto who did breastfeed her own children but is concerned about the political implications of breastfeeding policy, most especially for low income mothers. I read this book surreptitiously in the first week after my daughter’s birth as I struggled to breastfeed. Essentially the argument is that while big corporations were uniformly evil in their push to convince mother’s in developing countries to feed their babies formula when they did not have access to clean water (many babies died— tragic and damning results) and there may be some health advantages to breastfeeding, but what about the public policy that penalizes low income mothers who cannot or will not breastfeed?
I ended up deciding that there was enough evidence in a very compelling New Yorker article, Breastfeeding the Microbiome, that breast milk did help set up a healthy gut for life. But trying to get her to latch was excruciating and distressingly unsuccessful. So, with the amazing blessing of a very enlightened lactation consultant I went a third route, and exclusively pumped. I was fortunate to be able to pump up to 32 oz of milk a day – enough to feed her almost exclusively on breastmilk with some formula supplementation.
This third route worked for everyone. My partner who is a physician and feels VERY strongly that breastfeeding is mandatory (even though he himself lacks the breasts to do so), me, who got to stop suffering in pain even if I was practically tied to a hospital grade pump, and my daughter who needed a happy, well-adjusted mommy to show her the way to be her happy and well-adjusted self.
This early experience of motherhood set me up to understand that as a mother you have to do what is right for you and for your family and completely put a barrier between yourself and societal and family expectations if you want to flourish in the role.
Ultimately only YOU are you… and what works for you might not work for someone else and that is OK.
Since those first months there have been a million other decisions to be made. Daycare or nanny share or nanny? Which nanny? Which daycare? Co-sleeping or crib? Walker or no? Which shoes? Why? Am I seriously going to let her father take her mountain biking in that Thule seat?
How do I balance career demands and aspirations with the time I spend with her? And how do I make sure she is safe but welcomes risk?
Ultimately, I have to use my instincts, evidence and then follow what I believe is the best course of action in all these situations.
And if that means that I don’t mind if when she plays, she paints and when she paints, she gets paint ALL OVER everything because, hey, I am studying Art Education and this is research, then voilà, that’s our life.
Every mama out there reading this post is at the center of her own unique universe, and each mama deserves to be respected for the decisions she makes regarding life and family and love. To embrace your own uniqueness is also to refrain from judgement, and by ceasing to judge others we can all come together as a child-supportive society.