Inspired by the “Listen to Your Mother” performances, my neighbor challenged a group of friends to present readings about motherhood last month. This was what I wrote and read for the group.
My two year old calls it “milking the baby”. And, she might actually be on to something. After all, you have to call it *something* when you’re about to start doing it next to a stranger on an airplane. I’ve tried not mentioning it, and the man next to me just stared with a baffled look on his face that said, “what is going ON under that blanket?” I’ll admit, on that particular occasion, my baby and I weren’t all that discreet. We were in a window seat and her little feet kept popping out of the blanket trying to get leverage on the armrest. Her primary goal, as near as I can tell, was to propel her head into the wall of the airplane. But, every time I’d grab a foot and put it under the blanket, a fist would come bursting out the top of the blanket and chubby fingers would search my face for a way into my mouth, revealing a secondary objective: fishhooking Mama. The man at my left had a ringside seat to the strangest wrestling match of his life.
I have flown a lot with my babies and the very best approach I’ve found is to make small talk with the stranger sitting next to me as the plane fills, then excuse myself from the conversation, explaining that I need to breastfeed my baby. That way I’m subtly inviting my seatmate to give me a little privacy, and simultaneously dispelling any doubt about what is about to happen under that blanket. But I’m faced with the dilemma of what term to use when it comes to announcing my intention to breastfeed.
After all, calling it breastfeeding involves using the word “breast”. I’m continually surprised by the number of people who become instantly awkward when you drop the b-bomb in conversation. On the other hand, calling it “nursing” is too obtuse for many and if they don’t know what you’re referring to, then you’re back to the whole stare-at-the-blanket scenario. Saying simply, “I need to feed my baby” brings a jar of prunes, a handful of cheerios, or at best, a bottle, to mind for most people. None of which really invite privacy. So, while “Pardon me, I need to milk my baby” may be unconventional, at least it’s unambiguous.
I have logged well over a thousand hours breastfeeding my three children. I’ve fed them in airplanes, airports, hospital rooms, hotel rooms, bathrooms, parks, the secure area of a state capitol building, cars but not while driving, five countries, on couches, in movie theaters, in subway stations, in church, at restaurants, during business meetings, in a tent, and once, in a cave.
I’m a mother so, many of those hours are spent multi-tasking. I read entire novels, take phone calls, eat ice cream, moderate sibling squabbles, catch up on email, and save dinner from burning… all with one hand tied behind my… baby’s bottom.
Other hours are spent in the middle of the night. With my first baby, I would count down the minutes until my head could connect with my pillow again. Now with my third, I secretly love our pre-dawn rendezvous. When I hear the familiar sounds of stirring from the next room, I steal out of bed, scoop my sweet boy up and bring him to my favorite chair. This one has flair for drama and he arches his back and protests the few seconds it takes me to get situated. At last he’s swallowing and he sighs with satisfaction At night, there’s no toddler trying to join him on my lap. No bickering or books to distract me. It’s just my baby nestling closer to me in his sweet feetie pajamas, gripping my finger in his hand and gently swinging his feet in contentment.
Some hours spent breastfeeding are hours spent in agony. Plugged ducts, mastitis, migraines. I’ve endured these many times over as I’ve nursed my babies. Engorgement. After-labor contractions. Teething babies. The potential for pain is high.
A hungry baby has a way of changing plans. I’ve missed the ends of movies, the middles of conversations, and the beginnings of appointments because my baby needed to eat. right. then.
For the three and a half years of my life I’ve spent nursing, I’ve very rarely been away from my babies for more than a few hours at a time. They need me and I need them. Breastfeeding fosters an emotional connection, yes, but a wise Creator put a timer in my chest. It starts ticking as soon as my baby finishes a meal. Usually it starts beeping just about the time my baby starts looking for his next meal, but if both of us are distracted for too long…the alarm bells start to sound, and the sprinkler system turns on.
I wasn’t a natural mother. I never volunteered to hold a baby in my life before my own was placed in my arms. My husband on the other hand, is fantastic with children and has been since I met him. My mother-in-law raised seven children and had welcomed more than 20 grandchildren at the time my first baby was born. In my insecurity, I might have been tempted to defer baby care to one of my live-in experts in those first few weeks of my life as a mother. But breastfeeding draws the lines pretty clearly. My baby needed me and she needed me around the clock. She needed me to sacrifice sleep for her. She needed me to grow in patience as she nursed and nursed and we figured out the all-important latch. She needed me right into being a mother. Breastfeeding forcibly pulled me into my role as a nurturer and I will always be glad I had the privilege of milking my babies.
Caitlyn and I
Sweet baby Mackenzie
The Dan Man