7.28.2006

Part Three: Where My Bitterness Begins Leaking Out

Continued from here

Thanks for all the supportive comments on the last two posts… you guys really give proof to the theory that one CAN create a supportive community on-line of people who’ve never met face-to-face.

Disclaimer: for the rest of this series, as I grow increasingly bitter in my writing, I just want all my breast-feeding friends to know that of course I don't think this about YOU. (That sounds sarcastic, but it really isn't, you should know by now that usually when I sound the most sarcastic I am actually the most sincere) You are my friends because you are not judgemental and holier-than-thou (unlike me). And I respect your decision and struggles even as I explain where I'm coming from and what I'm feeling and thinking.

Now back to the bitterness...

***

Contrary to all the wailing by breastfeeding women about how they were never exposed to breastfeeding as natural and the norm and never saw a woman nursing her child because those few who did were relegated to some dirty bathroom stall the next town over, I grew up surrounded by breasts offering milk to hungry babies. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in Utah, or if it has something to do with my family, but ALL the adult women around me breastfed. All of them. I was breastfed. My brothers were breastfed. The generation before us was breastfed. All 7,642 of my cousins were breastfed. And since I was the kind of child who preferred to stay inside and listen to adult conversation rather than play in the mud with the “common folk” (as I liked to call my cousins and siblings) I was present for countless nursing sessions. And yes, though the women in my family did prefer to use a baby blanket for modesty, they also weren’t unduly concerned if that blanket slipped and a gigantic, purple nipple dripping bluish-whitish fluid was exposed to my tender eyes.

So, though I didn’t grow up with the kind of women who went around willy-nilly squirting people with their milk and/or offering it up as a panacea for every childhood ailment, I DID grow up thinking that the best way – the ONLY way to feed a child was to breast feed. In fact, it was almost as big a family scandal when Smokin’ Bunny-cake’s birth mother decided not to breastfeed as her unexpected pregnancy had been 9 months prior. And, of course, in retrospect, everyone KNEW she would abandon S B-c as soon as she denied her her nectarly birthright. It was a sign of her lack of motherly feelings for her child.

So, I always assumed that I would breastfeed any child I had. Kinda like I always assumed that I’d grow up, marry a man, and be happy holding his semen inside me for the rest of my life. Well, maybe not exactly that. But there were a lot of assumptions and not-looking-too-closely-at-what-breastfeeding-really-entails going on. And when I thought of it my thoughts ranged from considering it the ultimate bonding experience and the ONLY way of showing love to my child to deciding that when the time came I would just close my eyes and think of England.

Just so you know where I’m coming from with this. I never considered it an option NOT to breastfeed. In fact, when we decided that Kristin would carry our first child, I announced to everyone who would listen that I was going to induce lactation so that I could feed my child, too, and thus be a real mother. Only I didn’t know how to do it. And the LLL here is, well, let’s just say that they really aren’t here. There are numbers in the book but no one’s home. Ever. So I figured that I’d wait until the kid was born, pump like crazy while Kristin beatifically fed said child, and then at the magic 6 week moment reenact a renaissance painting.

That’s not what happened.

When you’re a nursing mother and you’re having supply problems and you talk about how you’re tired of stressing, tired of pumping, tired of feeling shitty about not having enough milk, tired of the whole damn rigmarole, people don’t tell you, “well, you did your best, no one can fault you, no need to continue to feel guilty(it’s the comments that particularly interested me in the first two links – especially Emily’s comments, more on her later – and please see the last paragraph of that third link, I’ll also be talking about that post in a later installment of this series), you can stop this and just enjoy your child at any time, you’ve done enough…” No. They don’t. They offer suggestions, reasons, Things to Try. And in all that is the implicit (or explicit, in some cases) suggestion that if you’re willing to “give up” when there are still so many options available – so many Lactation Consultants to pay, so many new drugs to take, so many exotic beetles to grind up into so many nipple-pastes, then you’re less of a mother than every other woman who ever breastfed. You obviously don’t love your child enough. Or maybe your partner isn’t supportive enough. Because, you know, one of the biggest factors of success for a breastfeeding woman is the support of her partner.

We did everything we could do. No, I should say that Kristin did everything she could do and I did everything I could do to support her in her desire to breastfeed. The first three months of Julia’s life were spent trying to increase Kristin’s milk supply. And I wasn’t able to pump to induce lactation because Kristin needed the pump. That’s ok. We had a supplementer, so I strapped it on. And this is what I didn’t say at the time…

I. Hated. Every. Minute. Of. It.

Not because it was painful. After all, besides being exposed to breastfeeding my whole life, I’d been right there with Kristin during all her lactation consultant sessions. I knew what a good latch was and how to get one. No. I hated it because the sensation of suckling made my skin crawl. Because there was a thread of pleasure to it. And I’m not talking about a euphoric feeling of fuzzy mama bonding. But a purely physical pleasure. I tried to use my old defense of shutting off the sensations from my body. No go. This was completely unexpected. No one had told me that breastfeeding could elicit these sensations. Nothing I’d read or heard had prepared me for such a situation. After all, breastfeeding is completely asexual, right? Breasts are only sexual objects because of socialization, correct? It must be the return of my inherent evilness prompting these feelings. Each time I nursed Julia my discomfort and mental agitation grew. When someone suggested that perhaps suckling Julia with my non-lactating, non-pregnancy changed breasts (even with the supplementer) might be contributing to the problems with breastfeeding, I gladly gave it up.

I tried not to think about why I hated it. I was focused on being a good partner in supporting my breastfeeding wife. And my breastfeeding wife was getting tired of working so hard. And then the fateful email arrived and when I read it I had to fight to keep from retching on the keyboard. And everything shifted again.

To be continued…

Posted by Trista @ 10:04 AM

Read or Post a Comment

What you right about the sensation of breast feeding...that's a fear of mine. What if I find breastfeeding to be sexual?! Does that make me a sleezeball, closeted child-molester? It really is a big, freaking issue for me & I guess I won't know how I'll feel until the time comes. Good to know that I'm not the only one out there grappling with stuff like this.

Posted by Blogger Brooke @ 12:04 PM #
 

I think you've hit on something really interesting here that's not discussed. It seems strange that a woman is supposed to move from breasts being a means of sexual pleasure to being completely asexual. The breast obsession site you linked to seems to ignore that most women (and men, for that matter) find their own breasts/nipples a source of sexual pleasure. Sure, America is too focused on sexualized breasts -- but breastfeeding is not their only function.

When's Part 4 coming? I'm looking forward to seeing more on this . . . .

Posted by Blogger Lauri @ 1:51 PM #
 

.....

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2:01 PM #
 

Oh horror! Just checking back to read comments & I realized that in my original one, I typed "right" instead of "write." Oy. I guess that's how riled up I was ;)

Posted by Blogger Brooke @ 2:04 PM #
 

I think a person who willingly chooses not to breastfeed is selfish, yes. Absolutely. Black and white. I see Jess plug Zachary's mouth with a rubber nipple full of generic powdered corn syrup and ground up centrum and i want to beat her. And then I see Charlie root on his mother's breast and be so completely happy when she indulges him. And I lay in bed with him attached to my breast getting no milk but getting unbelievable comfort from it. Not only is it good for a baby's body, it's good for his very soul.

If someone has a kid, and just up and decided that she's not going to breastfeed because she didn't like it, or it was inconvenient, or what have you yes, it WOULD change how I feel about her a bit. I wouldn't stop liking her or loving her, and I wouldn't think she hates her child, but I would see it as selfish. Now if she told me she was having orgssms every time you fed her child, okay... I would think a bit differently then. Because I get creeped out enough when I am lotioning charlie's legs or wiping his bum and he sprouts a woody. I would not want to be gaining sexual pleasure from feeding my child because in this country we are told NOT to get pleasure from it. But in other parts of the world it's perfectly accepted for a mother to have sexual sensations when feeding her child. Breasts ARE sexual. It's not that this country has oversexualized them, it's that we've backpedaled so far and forced people to see them ONLY as baby food. Why can't they be both? I mean, babies come out of vaginas, but no one would dare say you should not experience sexual pleasure with you vagina anymore, right? Sex feels good for a reason, because we're supposed to want to do it, to populate the earth. Breastfeeding feels good for a reason, because we're supposed to feed our children.

So while I can understand while someone might not want to be sexually stimulated while nursing, it's not because being stimulated is wrong, it's because society has TOLD her it was wrong.

For the record, I have no feeling on the left side of my chest, including my left breast and nipple. That's where Charlie normally is. So I don't get any sexual pleasure from that. But if he really want to be on the right side, where nerve regeneration and several surgeries have left some fucked up sensation reception, it hurts like a mother fucker and makes me want to scream and cry and beg for death. But if that's the only way he's going to calm down, I let him. And after a minute, right when I get to the point I am about to black out from the pain, it starts to let up and I can start breathing again. So there is NOTHING sexual happening with my boobs. But if there was, I wouldn't be ashamed of it.

Posted by Blogger Estelle @ 2:24 PM #
 

And see I totally came from the family that viewed breast feeding as beneath them. Nobody in my family breastfed or was breastfed. So while I would like to try it- I know I would get zilch support from someone like my Mom. I'm so effing shy around women breast feeding too.

(by the by- this is some primo writing.)

Posted by Blogger Calliope @ 4:38 PM #
 

I'm finding the timing of this all very intersting. My partner and I do foster care and once when we had a newborn infant I frequently bottle fed him close to my breast to give him what I could of the experience for bonding etc. It took me several occasions before I could admit that I too found it arousing. Sitting in that chair with him next to me I tried to imagine even bottle feeding him with my shirt off, him next to my skin and it made me so uncomfortable I forced myself to stop thinking about it. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to do the supplementor thing either.

Along with every one I else I admire your bravery for these posts and find strength in it myself.

Thank you.

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 8:17 PM #
 

I do hope that since one of my posts is quoted that another post telling women how to wean comfortably and safely is also read.

Breastfeeding is *supposed* to be pleasurable! Whoever told you otherwise was incorrect. In order to continue the race, nursing *had* to be wonderful, even orgasmic for some women.

It is true that our own culture has freaked us out about incest and child abuse. It is not abuse to nurse a 4-year old. It is not abuse to co-sleep with your toddler. It is not abuse to let a child see you naked. Limitations are absolutely important... and ones that fit your own family's values and wishes. Shoot, I haven't ever seen my parents naked and haven't seen my kids naked since they were toddlers with diapers! But, just because *my* family doesn't do it doesn't mean others who *are* naked families are sick or wrong.

I admire your attempting to co-nurse your baby. My partner and I co-nursed for 2.5 years (our babies were 2 months apart, so we both were lactating). It was FABULOUS having 4 lactating boobs in the house! I tell moms who are nursing, they should all find another nursing mom to hang out with for relief and respite.

I would never presume to judge you or your partner. You live in your lives, I do not. Especially since you tried so hard to nurse, for goodness sake, how could any breastfeeding advocate fault you?!?

Anyway, I just know you wanted to use my post as fodder for anger and I am hoping that my spirit (and my dyke-dom!) help to temper that anger towards me and my words. Plenty, PLENTY of words are loving towards those that make different choices from my own.

Tolerance isn't just for sexual orientation. It's for life.

Posted by Blogger Navelgazing Midwife @ 11:53 PM #
 

I agree with Navelgazing Midwife in that it would be extremely unfair to fault you or call you selfish when you made such an effort. In my humble opinion, if you are totally miserable the entire time you're trying to do something for your kid, your kid is going to pick up on that vibe, and I applaud you for making an attempt, but I also applaud you for stepping away when it wasn't working. I think you did what was best for you AND Julia. I am 100% in your corner on this issue.

Posted by Blogger hd @ 5:30 PM #
 

Wow- what an awesome post (and series). I'm with you there, both on the reasons and acceptability for breastfeeding and not-breastfeeding, as well as the popular condemnation of what breastfeeding actually feels like. I remember being a teenager and reading information from La Leche League, and wondering about whether women get sexual types of sensations from breastfeeding and getting really freaked out about that. I think I share some of the history you've shared about your own life, and I agree- this can be a very difficult subject in that respect. Thank you so much for sharing this! It's much appreciated, from my corner.
-Kate-

Posted by Blogger starevelina @ 11:30 PM #
 

I'm posting annon as this is embarassing.

My partner is VERY turned on by my breast feeding or pumping. I think it has something to do with the whole woman is fertile phermone things. Wow, if my partner is around, they will want attention as well. My partner has always been a breast person, and wow has the breast feeding increased this. Yes this makes me uncomfortable, and causes problems, as breast feeding is a turn off for me. Something to do with the whole my body and breasts are now baby zone. However the breast feeding has made me much more sensitive there, which again causes mental conflicts... breast feeding or breast pleasure?

I find breast feeding very relaxing, kind of like a hit of pot. I've never felt orgasmic. That would be very weird for me. I don't know how I would feel about that.

Thanks for having this discussion.

Back to posting with my name.

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 10:59 AM #
 

I have no sensation in my breasts. I think you could stick a pin in one side and out the other and I wouldn't blink. I did have sensation when I was pg and I got to see for a while what people were talking about when they say they find breasts sexual. That sensation is gone now. I have no idea if The Kid is latched or not with out looking. I'm pretty sure I breastfeed out of guilt. I get nothing out of it except for a few minutes of peace and quiet. She doesn't like it all that much because my supply is so low. The whole time she nurses I have to squeeze my breasts with as much force as I have in my hands for her to get enough flow that she doesn't let go and scream. My degree is in public health. Public health people are supposed to breastfeed and I guess that's why we are doing it. I would be fine if I HAD the milk to give her, but the fact that every last drop is so hard to come by and STILL not enough to fill her belly really sucks.

Posted by Blogger hope @ 12:33 PM #
 
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