Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Triumphant Tuesday - How Female Solidarity Affects Breastfeeding

Fathers like to think they wield great influence over the success of their partners’ breastfeeding efforts – and they do. But even daddy can’t hold a candle to the almighty impact of a mother’s female peers. Be they friends, family or medical professionals, women have an ability to engage with one another on an intuitive level that is unique to their gender. The female brain is empathy-inclined and wired to thrive on expressive interaction. Indeed, the intimacy found amongst females often baffles their male contemporaries.

In ignorant or insincere hands however, feminine kinship can lead to unfortunate outcomes. The following story illustrates a potent and timely fact: just as female solidarity can facilitate breastfeeding, it can equally impede it.

“I grew up not really thinking a whole lot about parenting; As a child I played with baby dolls of course, but I never really considered parenting styles or options of parenting. Without even realizing it, somehow the feminist culture of our time had crept into my life and my mother's life and like most around me by the time I reached high school graduation I had no interest in marriage or babies. I planned to go to the local university for a few years and then move to Shreveport and work in broadcast journalism. So imagine my surprise when two years later, at nineteen, I ended up married and going to a small college no longer studying journalism, but instead counselling. Mostly because I cared about women and wanted to do something to help other women.

The influence of friends

That's where I met Kati, she gave me a book "Feminine Appeal" by Carolyn Mahaney. She said that if I didn't absolutely love the book, that she would take me out for ice cream.  I began the book sceptical, and then got annoyed - it goes against everything we are taught today, and ended it a complete convert, so I didn't get any ice cream lol. The book really rocked my world view and made me begin considering homemaking as a profession. I began rejecting my former ideals of self worth. I concluded my degree at the college, I'm not a quitter after all, and went to work for the college to pay the bills. During this time a different friend, Hannah began teaching me about parenting. She had had her first daughter a year prior, while in school, not being able to afford babysitting her daughter came to school with her, where-she-breastfed-her in public.

Hannah is the woman that influenced me the most the year leading up to my - wait for it - home birth! That's right I had jumped off the deep end. She told me that breast feeding was the hardest and best thing she had ever done. I knew I would breast feed too. I saw myself transforming from someone who had once been appalled by breast feeding in public to someone who really hates the whole concept of a nursing cover. I assumed that when my baby was born she would do the breast crawl and then we would all go away, breast feeding into the sunset.

A disappointing reality

Needless to say, when that didn't happen I was pretty surprised. When I put my daughter to the breast for the first time she didn't seem that interested. When she eventually did seem hungry she would get so frustrated at the breast that she would reject it and just cry. So I expressed as much as I could and put it in her mouth.

My mother had only breastfed myself and brothers a short time and then switched to formula. Thought pregnancy she shared many things with me that really could have sabotaged all my plans. She had a belief that since she had three cesareans that I would not be able to deliver naturally, she believed babies would starve if exclusively breastfed, and many other odd things that I can only attribute to lack of information. When the midwife told me to make my daughter eat every two to three hours my mother kept telling me that I shouldn't wake a sleeping baby.

Since my daughter didn't seem interested I would let her go sometimes 5 hours without eating. When I did try to feed her it was hard, toe curling pain, I dreaded each feeding. I can safely say that the first 2 weeks of breastfeeding was way harder than pushing out a baby!  We were having trouble latching, and she would scream and I was in pain from engorgement, I felt like I had the flu, I was tired and I cried. 

Anger towards my baby

One night I was having a particular amount of trouble and I just found myself getting so mad. I was so angry at my baby for crying and not eating right. It was scary, so I called my mom and she came and took Abbie and rocked her for about 2 hours so that I could sleep. When I woke up I had a clearer head, but it really scared me that I was capable of feeling that angry towards my baby. I was able to realize how people get themselves in those bad situations where they end up hurting their child. Prior to that night I always assumed that people who do that are bad people, now I think that maybe they are just people without help, who need sleep, and I am afraid that it could easily have been me. I was lucky to have my mom and my husband to help me, I was not left alone for 5 days, - yet not everyone has that.

To her credit and despite her ignorance, my mom did want to help me achieve my breast feeding goals and didn't want to see me in pain, so one night she stayed up with me looking up videos on how to breastfeed and then went to the store and bought me a nipple shield.

We had learned that I had flat nipples which explained my baby’s frustration at the breast. Finally with the breast shield she was eating and I wasn't in toe curling pain. Nonetheless, it still hurt, and I had bruises from poor latch. I was applying lanolin like crazy, but didn't seem to find it very helpful. I had friends come and help me, and it seemed like each one brought me one more piece to the breast feeding puzzle and things began to get easier.

Weight loss and hospital admission

Unfortunately however, I was still not feeding my daughter often enough so she was losing weight and what I thought was a nice olive skin tone was actually jaundice. My midwife was concerned and sent us to the hospital. We were only three points from being hospitalized. She chastised me for not following her instructions on feeding more often. I was terrified. Here I was, being told by the most non-interventionalist medical person I knew that I needed to go to the hospital, right then, do not pass go, do not collect $200, pack your bag, and plan to stay overnight. Prior to that point I had been fairly nonchalant, Abbie was eating and I was feeding on demand. I could kick myself for not listening to my midwife better, but it is hard when it is your own mother telling you to let her sleep, and that everything is okay.  I don't lay all the blame on mom though, I am a parent now, I should have studied more, and listened to my gut more, doing what I knew was right instead of allowing others to influence me. It is my responsibility to care for my child, no one else's.

Friendly advice

The next day my slightly bossy and most experienced friend showed up with a meal. She saw the nipple shield and asked "why are you using that??!" She insisted that I get rid of the shield warning that it could hurt supply, cause infections, and just be bad all around. Then she sat and helped me figure out how to establish a good latch and how to hold my gigantic H cup breasts, she insisted on my using a breast feeding pillow and gave me a new mother's salve that was so much more healing than anything else. Finally it seemed like all the pieces had come together.

Not so friendly advice

Not all friends were this helpful however. One friend, who was sabotaged by her own doctors, kept asking me how I knew my daughter was getting enough. It was so annoying! I know she meant well, however her own experience has impeded her ability to support mine. Her doctors had told her that she didn't have any milk and convinced her to formula feed - two days after birth. This friend has tried to force me to pump so that I can make sure I am producing enough. She also tried to persuade me to use a nursing nursing apron... I finally did because I felt like to continue ignoring her would be rude, and decided that it was an acceptable compromise.

Other behaviour I found aggravating from this particular friend, and which made me question her motives, was her actions at a baby shower. I’m not sure she realized how offensive it was at the time. Basically, the mom-to-be really really wanted to breastfeed, so what did my friend do? She gave her formula and bottles and a note saying that when she gives up on the breastfeeding idea, she could help her with the formula....

Becoming a SAHM

But onwards and upwards! A twist in my own breastfeeding journey occured when I got to quit my job and be a full time mom, which was a very exciting evolution for me as a mother. I got flack about it, and ‘advice’ about how it is impossible to live on one income. Yes, things are tight, and my husband isn't making a whole lot of money, but I have come to believe that it is more about priorities than anything. My husband and I decided to make parenting our children well a priority over cars, homes, vacations or gadgets.

With my newfound freedom I began nursing outside and nursing often. I was not going to let hypocritical and wrong dogmas about supposed modesty keep me from nursing publicly. Unsurprisingly my daughter started putting on weight! One day about 3 weeks in my daughter stopped mid feeding, she looked up at me and smiled and then I realized - I was no longer breast feeding because I knew it was best or because it was duty, I was breastfeeding because I liked it.

I love breastfeeding. I love the bond I have with my daughter and I feel awesome. Not only did I birth my baby with no drugs in my bath tub! But I also feed her on my own, with my body! My body is amazing!

Male prudeness

I am still working on breastfeeding in public, but I try to make judgement calls about when and where I do it. Down by the liberal arts school, I can nurse without a cover and no one will bat an eye. I have done so in that district many times. But when I am out with my husband, I usually use a cover because he is uncomfortable and asked me to use one.  He is still is on the fence about the whole modesty thing, and “causing your brother to stumble”, etc, etc.

In front of my middle brother I use a cover because he said before Abbie was born that the idea makes him uncomfortable, he is 19, but my 13 year old brother doesn't seem to think a thing about it. He thought we were cuddling one day, and then he said "oh that's what you are doing" lol.

As much as possible when I am around women only I nurse without a cover because I want to get the message out there that breastfeeding is normal, natural and should be done. I want others to know who they can come to with questions about breastfeeding when it is their turn, if I hideaway and they never see it, how will they know?

I know that there are a small percentage of women who legitimately cannot breastfeed, and I encourage them to look into their options. I have donated milk to a friend who was having supply issues, and honestly, I wouldn't mind being a wet nurse in whatever capacity needed to help keep another from having to use commercial formula.

Of course, I still battle with negative influences: the church who thinks I should not nurse in public, the friend that kept asking me if my daughter is getting enough, the friend who believes teeth are the marker for weaning, and the family who talk about how extended breastfeeding is weird and offensive, not yet knowing that I have no plans of stopping before 2 years. Let's just say my daughter is calling the shots on this one.”

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