I am a 44 year old wife and mother of five children and grandmother of two grandchildren. My daughters are 22, 20, 19, and 2 years old. My son is 16 years old and my grandchildren are 2 years old and 6 months old, respectively. I teach a Virtual Online English as a Second Language class through our local college (I work from home) and have recently ventured into the crazy world of blogging. I breastfed all of my children for different lengths of time. With my first daughter, I can’t remember why I decided that I wanted to breastfeed. See, in my family, I have this knack for doing the very thing that no one else has done like when I was in the fourth grade, instead of playing the piano like my father wanted me to, I chose to play the violin. When my children became school-age, instead of sending them to public school, I chose to homeschool. So, in keeping with my oh-so-defiant personality, I probably chose to breastfeed because it wasn’t expected. However it came about, once I decided to do it there was no turning back. But I didn’t have the support that I thought I would have from my family. My mother didn’t like the fact that she couldn’t help feed her granddaughter and many people were uncomfortable with me nursing around them, always wanting to send me to the back of the house away from everyone or to the bathroom. After the second, third, and fourth child, my family got the message that nursing was just a part of who I was as a mother and nothing was going to discourage me against it, no matter how uncomfortable it made them feel.
When my oldest daughter became pregnant, it took quite some convincing to get her to try to nurse. I don’t think it was because she didn’t want to but because she tends to be more concerned about other people’s opinion and the thought of having to nurse around people who sometimes criticized it was a little scary. Then, I found out that I was pregnant, too! Can you imagine the hormones going around in our family? It wasn’t a pretty sight, to say the least. But, I had to set aside the first few months of my pregnancy to focus on supporting her through the end of her pregnancy. So, after she gave birth to my grandson, I arranged for her to meet with a lactation specialist to help answer any questions she had and to help her to get comfortable nursing. I know, many may ask, “Why consult a specialist when you had nursed four children of your own?” But, we all know that sometimes the information is received much better coming from a stranger than coming from Mom. Besides, it was more important for me to get her the support she needed than to prove that “Momma knew best”. She did great breastfeeding and became a pro at pumping milk, something I was never successful at doing when they were younger. She decided that she would nurse for a year but I did my best to convince her to nurse longer so that she wouldn’t be tempted to introduce cow’s milk to my grandson…at least not until after two years old, if ever. I’m happy to report that, two years later, she still nurses my grandson!
After I had my baby, it was interesting to have both of us nursing our babies at the same time. The men in our family had to get used to it very quickly, and they did. Then, one day, my daughter wanted to go out with her friends and asked her sisters and I to watch my grandson. When it became time for bed, he became irritable and kept crying. I had already gotten my daughter to go to sleep so I did what came natural to me…I nursed my grandson and he went right to sleep. When I told my daughter what I had done, I was expecting a “Thanks, mom. I appreciate that.” But, NO! That is NOT what I got from her at all. She began to say how weird that was and that she didn’t want me to nurse her son and that it was nasty. I replied, “Are you serious right now? So, you would be more comfortable with me giving him milk from another ANIMAL but not milk from your mother…a HUMAN!” To make a long discussion short (because we still debate about it to this day) she could not get over the fact that her son was nursing from his grandmother. Not because she was concerned about the safety or quality of my milk. Nor was she concerned about him getting confused. She was more concerned at how it looked to other people and the fact that he was a boy. Despite her being a breastfeeding mother, herself, she still viewed a woman’s breast as a sexual object and not what God intended them to be. But like I told her, if I watch him and you’re gone too long and he gets hungry, I’m not feeding him something that I wouldn’t feed my own children so if you don’t want me to nurse him…don’t be gone long.
When my other daughter had her baby, she didn’t think twice about whether she would nurse or not. But as we all know, things never go as we plan them. My granddaughter was born a month premature so when my daughter tried to nurse her in the hospital, she wouldn’t latch on very well and her weight was declining. So, I didn’t even think twice…I would nurse the baby so that her weight would be good enough for us to take her home. I had no doubt that my daughter would be able to feed her baby, but I just did what it took to get the baby home because I knew my daughter would not be able to handle leaving the baby in the hospital. But as confident as I was at making the choice to nurse my granddaughter, I hid that fact from the doctors and nurses. I am not sure why. I think it was twofold. I didn’t want to receive any negative judgment and I didn’t want any pressure placed on my daughter about having to get the baby to latch on. All I was thinking is that once we got home, we could focus on getting the baby to nurse from my daughter. And just as I thought, she started nursing from her with no problems. But that was the least of my daughter’s problems. Her maternity leave from cosmetology school was almost over and my granddaughter would not drink from a bottle. My daughter had to continue school and my granddaughter had to eat. So, for me, there was no other choice but to nurse my granddaughter so that my daughter could finish her education. I don’t think of it as anything special, heroic or even out of the norm. And I don’t do it for any recognition from others or from my daughter. I do it because it was needed…plain and simple. I am not going to pretend that it is always easy nursing two babies at the same time but the demand is no different than what mothers of multiples experience. There are times when I want to just give up nursing because I want my body back. But after I get done throwing myself the best pity-party in the world, I remind myself that 2 or 3 years out of my life is not going to kill me. I will have 40 years or so (God willing) to have my body back but for now, my focus is on the children. By the way, my first daughter, who protested against me nursing her son, has been “caught” nursing her niece while her sister is at school. She did it in the back of the house, not because she was embarrassed. She went in the back so she wouldn’t have to let me feel like I was right. But that’s ok, it’s not important that I be right. I’m just glad that she was willing to overcome her initial feelings to help.
I realize that by sharing my story, that I open myself and my family up for some criticism from those who feel that it’s not natural to nurse children that are not your own. Many of my friends and family members don’t even know that I nurse my grandchildren. But I wanted to share our story in the hopes that it would show the many sides of what breastfeeding looks like. I know that every woman who gives birth will not choose to breastfeed and I know that every woman that chooses to breastfeed will not be comfortable in nursing a baby that is not her own. But we, as a society, should support this natural process instead of making comments and judgments out of a lack of knowledge or familiarity. Let your lack of understanding be an opportunity to have a conversation with a nursing mother/grandmother about why they choose to breastfeed. Support the women around you that breastfeed their babies by not giving nasty looks when you see them nursing in public, judging them for nursing another woman’s baby or by not asking them to feed their baby in a nasty restroom. You don’t have to ask her would she like to go in the back to feed her baby or make rude comments because you are uncomfortable with possibly seeing her breast. Instead of doing all of those things, how about just asking her… if she would like a glass of water. I know, after nursing all of the children, I could use one!