Saturday, May 19, 2012

Extended Breastfeeding Rant

I wrote this rant for my personal blog, but thought I would share it here too.  It seems appropriate for a blog about health, because I feel that breastfeeding is one of the most important decisions you can make for your baby's physical and emotional health.

I finally got around to reading the TIME attachment parenting (AP) article today.  I knew better, but did it anyways.  I've been hearing nothing but negativity about the cover and parenting philosophy for over a week now, so I should have known that the article would portray these mothers negatively.

At first glance I disliked the picture.  Not because I thought it was "pornographic" or "disgusting", as I've heard it described to me, but I thought it was the wrong choice for an article about this type of parenting philosophy (one that is about nurture and comfort).  I've met some very militant AP moms that have made me roll my eyes HARD before and I feel like this picture (camo and all) just catered to that stereotype.  If the author's intention was to help people understand these types of choices, this wasn't the picture to do it.  But of course, I know now that it wasn't the author's intention to portray these mothers positively.

After a week of hearing negativity, I now love the picture.  It's sort of how I feel about extended breastfeeding in general after hearing comments from the peanut gallery - the more you try to make me feel like a pervert for feeding my child naturally, the more I want to whip my boob out in public just to upset you.  In this respect, the picture is perfect.  The mom is beautiful and fierce, and you know what?  She doesn't give a darn what you think about it.  Take that, America!

I nursed David until 18 months and would have gone longer if my milk hadn't dried up with the pregnancy.  Grace is still nursing at 14.5 months and my plan is to let her self wean.  If she wants to nurse until she's four and I still have milk then, she can have it.  That's why God gave me boobs and there is nothing wrong with using them in a way that gives my child comfort.  I could rattle off a bunch of Scripture to support this notion right now, but I'll spare you.  Just remember that Hannah nursed Samuel well into toddlerhood (most people think around age four).  I have a feeling Jesus was nursing as a toddler too.  Hmmmmmmm.

This all got me thinking about why America is so messed up.  People blame our Puritanical background for our messed up relationship with breasts.  I don't think that's all of it.  I bet the Puritans were nursing their toddlers.  In fact, you find a lot of orthodox religious communities (not just Christians) that support nursing.  Of course you find some that don't, but that's the case in any culture.  I mean, Muslim women who aren't even allowed to expose their face are allowed to nurse their children in public.  A culture that goes to the extreme to deny female sexuality recognizes that the act of nursing is non-sexual, yet a culture like ours that goes to every extreme to expose female sexuality can't tell the difference.  My head wants to explode.

No, America's twisted ideas about nursing have nothing to do with religion.  I believe it has everything to do with the way we view children.  We live in a culture that expects children to grow up WAY too soon.  We're pressured into teaching our kids to read before they can walk well.  Just browse the local Babies-R-Us and look at the amount of junk being marketed to us as necessary for proper brain development.  Everything is about education and preparing them to learn the facts necessary to become smart, successful adults.  Doctors even suggest to mothers that they put their child in daycare so that they learn how to stand on their own and become properly socialized as preschoolers (because obviously a mother can't teach their child that on her own).  True story - I know someone whose doctor said that.

Childhood in its natural sense is gone.

Sure, our culture supports providing our children with all of the toys, tools, and time necessary to have a great childhood, but none of that really has anything to do with being a kid.  The expectation is that our kids should act like mini-adults and be socialized into adult society as early as possible.  You need to learn to stand in line at age two, Jimmy, or else you'll never learn to do it on your own naturally.  Sit in that chair for five hours a day learning, Sally, or you won't be prepared for gainful employment one day.  Naps are for the weak, Buddy, it's time to start being a big boy.  And get rid of that blankie that gives you comfort or the kids will make fun of you at recess.  No more hugging or kissing Mommy on the lips, even if you want to, because that would be pervy.  It's time to start acting like adults, children.

When you have a culture that expects children to stand on their own at a young age, of course it seems disgusting and pornographic for them to be suckling their mother's breast at age three.  Three-year-olds aren't babies, after all.  They aren't SUPPOSED to be at home with their mothers learning about life through natural nurturing and family experiences.  They are SUPPOSED to be with their peers, learning structured play and socialization.  And since they are mini-adults, they obviously know that boobs are for sex and not food.  It's going to scar them for life if they nurse that long.

The most ironic thing about all of this (it would be really funny if it weren't so sad) is that our culture wants our children to grow up so fast in almost every way imaginable, except for when it comes to responsibility.  We've created this new stage of life called "adolescence" that never existed prior to the mid-20th century and that basically gives our "young adults" all of the freedom of adulthood without any of the responsibility.  Let's face it, our children in America are still children well into their twenties in many cases.  They're just trained to think that they aren't.

All of this is so opposite of the way life used to be or the way it naturally evolves in most of other cultures around the world (or even the way our bodies are naturally designed).  In most cultures children are viewed as children much longer.  A three year old nursing is no big deal because a three year old is still a child.  And then around puberty, when the body is mature, the child is expected to "put away childish things" and become an adult.  You see these rites of passage into man or womanhood around age 13-14 in most cultures around the world.  You're no longer a child, so you start acting like it.

In these cultures that grant adulthood during puberty, it seems like they actually hand over much earlier the one key to adulthood that we withhold.  Their kids have the responsibility of an adult BEFORE puberty, often having to care for smaller siblings, help work to support the family, or cook meals.  It's the complete opposite of what we do.

So I guess my point to all of this is that I feel we're approaching this wrong.  The reason why people think breastfeeding a toddler is gross isn't just because of our relationship with breasts as purely sex objects.  I think it has just as much to do with the idea that the natural evolution of childhood isn't being allowed to play out.  We're disrupting the flow.  Lactivists' efforts to change the way we view breasts are going to be in vain so long as we keep the same approach to childhood.

I co-sleep with my babies.  Actually, I bed-share.  Grace still wakes up next to me every morning.  I like to "wear" my babies in carriers and wraps.  I'll even throw my three or four year old in the Ergo when they are sick and want some snuggles.  I breastfeed my toddlers.  If they needed/wanted to and knew how to do it, I would breastfeed my older boys too.  I make a lot of choices that these AP moms make (selective vaccination, avoiding crying it out, nursing on demand, using the nipple as a pacifier, delaying solid foods, etc.).  I don't do them because some study shows me that it will help my child's brain development and make them smarter,  and I don't do it because some psychologist tells me it will keep them from being an axe murderer when they are older.  I do it because it feels right to me.  It's what my mothering instincts tell me to do.

I'll do what works for me and you do what works for you.

And as you can see, most other cultures aren't sexualizing the act.  So you tell me - who's the REAL pervert?