by Jennifer Moore
One of my favorite television shows is The Office. Fictional boss, Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell), invokes the embarrassment of viewers due to his antics in his personal and professional lives. The writers know that this emotion makes for good comedy, but on a deeper level, they most likely also know that this starts some sort of self-reflection as to why what Michael does makes us feel so ashamed.
In the modern world of parenting, we seemingly have our own television show with social media platforms opening up parts of our lives that were kept hidden in the previous generations. When I pooped on the toilet for the first time, my mother didn’t post on twitter (#mybabygirlisgrowingup) to reach out to her second cousin’s neighbor’s current girlfriend at the touch of a button and let them all know. She certainly didn’t have our intimate moments paraded around over a computer screen and judged by people clear on the other side of the world who were able to interject with their own opinions and experiences. On the flip side, her world of parenting was limited to just those in her immediate circles; her pediatrician, family and friends, books and possibly radio programs. A positive part of parenting in the year 2016 is that with a few taps on our smart phone we can research just about any topic, watching how others raise their own children. As many of us know too well, that is also a negative. I can type “When should my child stop breastfeeding?” and get a myriad of articles by scientific, personal, and yes even satirical sources that speak their own version of the truth (fact, opinion or a combination of the two).
I began breastfeeding my oldest son, Sebastian, at his birth in July of 2002. My goal was to
try to breastfeed to 6 months and then taper off and possibly wean onto formula or cow’s milk once he began eating solids. After all, once he started crawling and eating other food why should I continue? My experiences up until that point had led me to believe that a baby shouldn’t need to breastfeed after 6 months to a year. The early weeks turned into months, and before I knew it my son was 9 months old, beginning to walk, and still being nourished at my breast. One spring day at a local playground, Sebastian tripped and fell, eliciting tears. I scooped him up in my arms and began to nurse him since I had learned that this not only fed his belly, but also was a comfort to him when in distress. A woman who had her grandchild, a little boy of 4 who earlier was playing with my son, looked flabbergasted and said to me “You need to stop that soon or else he will never give it up”. Her kindness towards me as a first time mom switched off and she turned away, taking the child in her care with her. I was embarrassed. Her words and inflection led me to believe that not only was I doing something wrong, but I should certainly not be doing it out in public for everyone to see.
Over the year I gave birth to several more children and thankfully found a small yet accepting group of women when it came to the topic of full term breastfeeding through my local Le Leche League. I would comment to my husband after the monthly meetings, “It’s the only place I feel normal”. Here, I could lift up my shirt to nurse the child who moments before was arguing with a friend over toy trains, or I could cuddle a soon to be new big brother or sister against my pregnant belly. I could also latch on two children at once who both needed my nurturing in this way at the same time, with no fear of judgment. Later on, I was also lucky enough to have a handful of friends in whose presence I felt no shame parenting this way in their homes, since they did similar things in regards to breastfeeding. Over time, I grew a thicker skin when out in public when it came to the needs of my children, because my nursing relationship was more important to me than the random strangers and their stares and comments.
Several weeks ago, my 5 children and I (ranging from ages 3-14) were at a local public pool. Being the youngest in a large family, 3-year-old Wolfgang has the perks of several older siblings who open his world to fun “big kid” things. This also means that he has learned in his short time on earth to nap wherever we are if he is tired enough. Nursing him to sleep in the afternoon while on the go is something I do frequently, at museums, playgrounds and in this instance, at the pool. We had just settled down on our blanket, and as his eyes fluttered closed, I saw my friend Amy walk over with her 1 ½ year old daughter, Matilda, and she sat down right next to us. “Those women over there are freaking out and calling you disgusting”, she said, as Tilly latched on and she joined me in peaceful solidarity. We watched as this group of women, all in the company of small children, gawked at the four of us and then appeared to take pictures or videos with their cell phones! I don’t know what came of their recordings. Maybe texts were sent expressing their concern and disgust over children they had seen just minutes before talking and using toys to splash in the pool. Maybe our images were plastered on public or private corners of the world wide web. Whatever their reason for using the words they did and for taking out phones to record something that is very normal for me, their personal opinion was that Amy and I were making quite the show of nurturing our children.
Parenting is so individual. It’s something we as mothers make our own each and every day. We base it on what we value and feel is important for the short and long term goals of ourselves and our families. Like every other aspect of our lives, we are affected everyday by our interactions with others who have made similar or different choices. These meetings may cause us to feel confidence, doubt, or even judgment. Back to The Office, Michael Scott once proudly created a Christmas card by taking one of his then-girlfriend’s old vacation pictures and photoshopping himself in place of her ex-husband. Bad idea, Michael! The audience felt ashamed and embarrassed for him because this awkward choice created a very uncomfortable moment. I wonder if this is how those women at the pool felt.
Whatever their reasons or their thoughts about us, I can say that it doesn’t matter to me. Breastfeeding my children is an integral part of how I’ve parented for 14 years, and as their mother I can choose where and when, just as anybody else can choose to nurse (or not) in public, private, covered, or in a bathing suit at the pool. There should be nothing embarrassing about it, and those watching should be happy to see a mother and child bonding, much like I smile when I see a parent kiss a crying preschooler to “make it all better”, or feed a snack to a hungry toddler who runs over from the slide asking for something to eat. We are all doing a great job, and for those of us who are choosing to breastfeed past a year or two (my older children were all closer to or over 4 years when they stopped), we need to do it with confidence and surround ourselves with friends who either trust our judgement even if they walked down a different path, or, join us in our journey. To quote a line from the The Office, “I can’t control what you do, I can only control what I do”.
What I do is what works for my children and for me. What I do is making the choice of breastfeeding at 4 hours old and at 4 years old, in the comfort of my own house or sitting on a bench at the playground, and giving another parent a “thumbs up” when I see them doing the same.
Jenn Moore lives on the West Shore with her husband, 5 kids and temperamental cat. She enjoys books, wine, live music, lifting weights, and going to the toilet alone.