Karianna is the mother of two girls – a 10 month old who is currently breastfeeding and a three year old who recently weaned. Karianna blogs about her life, motherhood, breastfeeding, feminism, faith and other passionate topics at Caffeinated Catholic Mama.
“How did you get so involved with breastfeeding?” This simple question can tell you so much or so little about a person. After all, not every mother who breastfeeds makes it her passion, to the point of wanting to inform and teach others, sometimes without solicitation. A friend asked me this question a few weeks ago, and I still don’t really know the answer. I am a sometimes-work-at-home mother of two daughters: a three year old and an almost 1 year old, a La Leche Leader, a blogger, and active in my Parish and I know why I do all of those things, but I can’t tell you why I am so involved with breastfeeding.
Thinking back to when I was first expecting in 2007, I can honestly say that breastfeeding was an ultimate goal for me. I’ve always been very environmentally conscious and Earth Mama-like (OK, so my husband would go as far as calling me a liberal hippie) and breastfeeding always struck me as being so natural and normal. I do remember my mother breastfeeding my youngest brother (he was born in 1985) but when I asked her about her breastfeeding history with us, I was pretty surprised.
My mother raised the three of us alone, after two divorces in the 80s, and she was a Sergeant in the Wisconsin National Guard until 1997. She was very fortunate in that when we were babies, she was able to work and have a breastfeeding relationship with us, but that relationship was shorter than I thought. Each of the three of us was breastfed for less than a year. My stepmother formula fed each of her children (born: 1989, 1992 and 1995) and from what I know, did not consider breastfeeding at all. Aside from that short memory from the mid-80s, I can say that modeling did not create in me the internal drive to breastfeed, but I was hell-bent on making breastfeeding work. Throughout my pregnancy, I diligently read the books, magazines, attended classes and meetings, all trying to familiarize myself with this unknown, untapped, skill that I knew was lying dormant deep inside. As anyone can tell you, however, there is a huge difference between theory and practice, and this holds true with breastfeeding.
Brigid was born just after 10pm on a Wednesday night. Despite my best intentions, I did not adequately prepare myself for the non-medicated birth that I was seeking and instead opted for the epidural. Brigid latched on right away and started nursing but I was in such pain! I remember being told “breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt,” and I practically begged my husband to go and find a lactation consultant. Because of the hour, the LC was not there and wouldn’t be there until 9am the next morning. By the time I was seen, my nipples were sore and cracked and I was in tears, along with my baby girl. The LC took one look at me and told me to relax; she then turned her attention to the infant in my arms and looked at our latch. I’ll never forget the words she said to me, as I have repeated them to nursing mothers since: “Remember, it’s called breastfeeding… not nipple feeding.” That simple lesson changed my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter for the better. I don’t know what would have happened had the LC not been there. I can say that we most likely wouldn’t have a breastfeeding relationship. Brigid went on to breastfeed until she was 30 months old, and she happily nursed through my pregnancy with her sister and tandem nursed my daughters for the first three months of my younger daughter’s life.
There is something to be said about the second time around. With my pregnancy with Lucia, I split my time between caring for Brigid and learning about the Bradley Method of birthing as I wanted to avoid the epidural (again we are going back to my Earth Mama philosophy; I wanted to experience birth the way women had experienced birth for millennia, but since my husband is not comfortable with homebirth, that was a no-go.) Labor and delivery with Lucia was faster and more intense than with Brigid and the pain of labor really was minimal. Keeping in mind that it was breastfeeding and not nipple feeding, Lucia and I avoided the problems that can come from a bad latch. Brigid was over the moon with her new sister and the fact that Mama’s milk was back (and let me tell you, a nursing toddler can be handy when your milk comes in and you are FULL!)
As fulfilling as my breastfeeding relationship with Brigid was, I can honestly say that weaning Brigid (when Lucia was three months) was bittersweet. It was a mental challenge to go from nursing a newborn to nursing a toddler and I found that I was still experiencing some feelings of nursing aversion when Brigid would nurse. Couple that with the postpartum depression, it was not making for a happy mama. Brigid, on the other hand, was perfectly content either way. I remember pulling her onto my lap and asking her if she was OK with Mama’s milk being only for baby Lucia. She looked at me, put her hands on either side of my face and said, “OK mama. Can I have some yogurt?” and that was that. I was only nursing one. Lucia is now 10 months (at the time of this writing) and she is still nursing strong. It’s kind of funny to think that I have been lactating for 3 years. Three years of making milk for my babies; now that’s a superpower.
Two weeks ago, my family had the first family reunion in many, many years and I was able to see the impact that breastfeeding had on my girls. At one point, Brigid dragged a chair over to where all of the matriarchs were sitting, sat down with her stuffed kitty, lifted her shirt and “nursed” her kitty. The old women looked at her and asked what she was doing and she replied matter of factly, “I am nursing kitty-boy.” I don’t know what my aunts were thinking, but I’ll tell you, I was so proud of my little girl.
I’ve heard many theories as to why black women don’t breastfeed. Theories including that it evokes memory of the “mammy” figure during slavery; that if you breastfeed/ practice natural parenting you are “acting white” or on the flip side, that you are acting like an African tribeswoman; that breasts (and in some cases breast milk) are primarily for the pleasure of the male partner; that formula is better because it’s “scientifically-based, etc, etc. Before I stayed home with my girls, I was a science teacher and I answer the question of “Why do you breastfeed?” by saying we are supposed to. Humans are mammals and one of the distinguishing characteristics of being a mammal is nourishing our young with milk… milk we make. Let me tell you, there is something down right magical about having your baby latched on to your breast and she looks up at you as you gaze lovingly at her, and she smiles. She smiles that same smile that babies have smiled at their mothers since the beginning of time.