Alyssa Milano made the news this week when she went on the Wendy Williams show and the topic of breastfeeding in public came up. Alyssa did every nursing mama proud when she stood up for herself, her nursing child, and every mother who has ever breastfed a hungry child no matter where they are.
Not in the car.
Not in the bathroom.
Not in a dressing room.
Ms.Williams admitted that she felt breasts were sexual, not for feeding children.
Apparently she missed that section of biology class. And has never had a newborn babe laid on her bare chest and felt that overwhelming surge of oxytocin and love all mixed together into a big ball of postpartum mush.
I have had the wonderful fortune of breastfeeding three children well into toddlerhood. And I was never given a sideways glance or heard a negative word. I have nursed at Disney World, major airports, shopping malls, and major department and grocery stores. And restaurants? I don't think I ever WENT to a restaurant without a kid wanting to nurse.
Now that my children are older, they understand the importance of breastmilk and I have no doubt that they will be supporters of breastfeeding as they enter their adult lives. My teenage sons know that while breasts may be beautiful, their main intent is to nurture and nourish children.
In a world full of disrespect for women, the last people we should be having this struggle with is OTHER WOMEN. I am so disappointed in celebrities who sexualize the body of a woman to the point that it makes feeding one's child seem outrageous. Print ads show models revealing more flesh than a breastfeeding mother. Walk into Hooters and you'll see more than I ever revealed in a combined 9 years of nursing. One look at a Kardashian's Twitter or Instagram account will show you more flesh than a whole staged nurse-in (though to their credit, both Kourtney and Kim are strong breastfeeding advocates).
It's celebrities like Mayim Bialik, who defend not only nursing in public, but child-led weaning, and Alyssa Milano, P!nk, Alannis Morissette and many more who are champions for mothers and nursing children alike.
I always tell people that when I delivered my first child, I never looked at him and said, "I'm going to nurse you until you're three." It was a one day at a time thing that turned into months and then years. Like any relationship, it just.....evolves.
So a big standing ovation for ALL the celebrities who normalize what is a purely biological norm. The more our children see us --everyday moms as well as big screen actors and singers -- nursing our children with love and care--- the more normal and natural breastfeeding will be to our next generation.
And that equals a healthier, stronger, smarter world.
Who would argue against that?
It seems as if every year about this time, my mind begins to wander to Mary, the mother of Jesus, quite often. I don't know if it's the mother in me, or perhaps the birth story junkie, or the nurse in me....regardless, I think of this young woman with wonder and awe.
The Bible tells us little about this young woman, but scholars and texts from the time period tells us that Mary was young -- perhaps as young as 13 or so. Her fiance' Joseph was older -- possibly much older. We know that Mary was a virgin.
And we know that Mary said yes.
She said yes to the God she worshipped. Her fears and doubts and anxieties were overshadowed by her faith and her belief that she was a servant of her Lord and she said a resounding "yes" when asked if she would carry the Christ child.
We don't know how much she knew of what would happen to her boy one day. We don't know if she understood or comprehended the task set before her. But we know that her soul glorified the Lord and she was filled with thankfulness and humility.
From the beginning of time, women have given birth. In Biblical times, women were attended by midwives and female relatives. They were pampered and cared for and birth was a time to learn from other women how to become a mother. All children were nursed at their mothers breasts until the normal age of weaning (3-5 years), and if the mother was unable to nurse, another woman, usually a relative or a hired woman, breastfed her child for her. (Consider the story of Moses and the Pharaoh's daughter, who hired a Hebrew woman (Moses' own mother) to nurse him until he had weaned).
I wonder when Mary's contractions started. Was it during the journey to Bethlehem? Can you even imagine contracting while riding a donkey?
When did her water break?
How long was her labor?
How long did she push?
Did Jesus nurse right away, or did it take some time?
Did she have any trouble nursing him?
How long exactly did she breastfeed? Did she have to nudge him to wean?
Women love to tell their stories, and it's vital to our health and psychology to do so. It's like de-briefing after an important job or mission. We need to talk it out with a group of people who know what we're talking about. In the talking, we learn things about ourselves as well as the work.
The outcome isn't what we talk about....it's the journey.
This holiday season, as we hear songs about the Christ Child, stop and think about Mary, his Mother. You don't have to be Catholic to appreciate what Mary's cousin Elisabeth says to her when she sees her pregnant with the Lord, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."
We share a kinship with all the generations of women who have gone before us. Take time to give a knowing nod and smile to other mothers this season. No matter how different the mom in line at Wal Mart seems to you, she has felt the pains of a babe kicking her bladder, the inability to breathe from a wee one hiding in her ribs, the sleepless nights, the worry....the unending love.
Let's make a pact to love one another in the New Year. To give education to one another in a spirit of love instead of one-upmanship. To make it a priority that EVERY woman in EVERY city get the compassionate, loving care from other women. That EVERY woman receive not just adequate, but excellent, prenatal education, breastfeeding education, and support every step of the way.
Let's make it a point to say "yes" when God nudges US.
To visit a new mom and offer to do her dishes.
To offer to babysit a pregnant mom's other children.
To pay for a frazzled mom's coffee when her toddler is in one of those moods that we all recognize.
Just say yes.
Like Mary did.
I talk to new mothers nearly every day. I get the privilege to help them as they begin this new journey called "Motherhood".
I hear them laugh and cry and I sit wherever I can find a spot -- oftentimes on the floor, sometimes, like today, sitting on top of a pile of dirty clothes.
When the tears start, I know how to respond. I know this because I was once the one with the laundry on the floor.
I had postpartum anxiety and depression after each of my three beautiful children. Actually, with my first child, it began when I was about 34 weeks pregnant. I remember feeling a little edgy before I went to bed, and then I woke up with a start, heart racing and short of breath. I felt that "fight or flight" response as adrenaline and cortisol coursed through my bloodstream, sending me into a complete panic.
My husband was alarmed and couldn't understand what I was feeling. I just knew I needed to get AWAY -- from what, I couldn't tell you. To where? I was clueless.
My healthcare provider was kind and told me about his wife and her experiences with depression and anxiety in the peri-partal period. He gave me the number of a wonderful counselor, Kathleen, who listened to me and assured me I would be a good mother and...well, she just listened. She gave me practical tips to utilize when the anxiety began to creep in. She told me to stay away from caffeine (the only thing I didn't like about her), and she was there,week after week, until well after my baby had come and I didn't feel I needed to talk quite so much.
I received a visit from an acquaintance who offered to sit with the baby while I took a shower. Of course I poo-poo'd her idea....I was capable of showering, for goodness' sake.
And then she began to open up with me. She just started talking....she told me about her depression and anxiety after her baby was born and how much a shower made her feel better. I took her up on the offer and stood under the running water, tears streaming down my face as I thought about my child and that I was supposed to be happy and why-am-I-crying-when-this-is-all-I've-ever-wanted?
Another neighbor dragged me to a La Leche League meeting. I had nothing in common with this library-conference-room full of crunchy-granola women who probably didn't shave their armpits and likely breastfed their kids until they were 15. And I bet they ate organic and made their own baby food.
But it was there, in that room, that I learned to become a mother. I learned to depend on my own instincts, to become better informed about anything and everything related to me and my baby, and to use cloth diapers and wear my baby in a sling. I learned that there was nothing special about mainstream. And I learned that I was not alone in the tearfulness, feelings of panic, in the depression that sat on top of me like a cloud.
I never knew that so many women struggled. I was frustrated, thinking that if I had known to expect it, I could have handled it better.
Come to find out, more moms have issues than we know about. No one wants to talk about anything negative when it comes to newborns -- they don't talk about how often newborns nurse, or how little sleep you actually get, or the tears and the anxious thoughts that clog your brain.
Our failure to discuss the hard things makes us our own worst enemies. We struggle with sleep deprivation and postpartum mood disorders but we don't say anything in an effort to be considered normal and on top of it. Why? Why must we be so concerned with appearances when we could potentially make each other's lives easier and more joyful?
We as women need to be like the Nadine's and the Ashley's in my story.
Be loving and helpful and kind.
And talk. Talk about your experiences and your struggles and your solutions.
It is through loving one another that we can all be healed.
It's Thanksgiving...the one day set aside for giving thanks for all our blessings.
One of our greatest gifts is family. When we become mothers, we realize that our lives will never be the same - I remember thinking that I'd never felt so vulnerable as I did now that I had become a mom. In all my roles - daughter, sister, wife, friend - I'd never felt so afraid. I knew that this child had the potential to break my heart like nothing or no one ever could before.
As I sit here, 3 children later, I can report that motherhood is NOT for the faint of heart. I've cried tears of joy when good things come, but I've also cried when my children were upset, sick, or got their feelings hurt. We've dealt with ER visits, hospitalizations, surgeries, moves, school changes, bullies, & mean girls. We've buried 2 beloved family pets. But through it all, I've had the honor and privilege of being their mama. I've been their role model and teacher. I've been their guide, their sounding board, and the first place they go when they need something.
I have so much to be thankful for.
And so do you.
If you're reading this, chances are you are a mother, too. You may not have the biggest house or the newest car. You may barely scrape by each month. You may think at times you don't have much to be grateful for.
But look at your child. Look at the way he or she looks at you. With complete trust and unconditional love. Our children look at us as the answer to all their problems. I think that's why attachment parenting resonates so much with me. I fell into it accidentally -- I actually had never heard the term, but just mothered my first child the way that felt right to me.
I was told repeatedly that he would never sleep in his own bed, that he'd never quit breastfeeding, that I was raising a mama's boy. But everything I did felt right. Actually, I was a little embarrassed because I thought I was just being lazy. Breastfeeding solved any and every problem. We had no bedtime or sleep issues -- actually bedtime was always my favorite time. I would lay down and nurse my kids until they were drowsy in my bed, and then my husband would come in and take over, rubbing their head or back and singing to them until sleep overtook them all....husband included.
My lazy parenting style was fabulous to me, so I didn't change a thing when babies #2 and 3 came along.
And honestly, I have 3 of the coolest kids on the planet.
So this Thanksgiving weekend, sit back and look at your kids. Really watch them when they look at you. The love, trust and delight in their faces is worth a gazillion dollars and a few years of broken sleep. Realize that no matter the circumstances, you have reason to be grateful.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!
The 4th Trimester.
Most pregnant mothers will attest that three are more than plenty! But...have you ever thought about a newborn and all that they experience as they enter into our world?
Imagine being in a dark, warm, quiet environment. You recognize the scents, sounds, and subtle movements of one person -- the one in whose uterus you call home. You recognize her muffled voice and the voices of family. The taste of your mom's diet flavors the amniotic fluid you swallow.Your mommy's movement during the day lulls you to sleep, and her stillness at night wakes you.
This is the life.
But then, as soon as you notice that your living quarters really are getting cramped, you start to experience new feelings as your home for all these months seems to be, well.....expelling you. As your body is propelled by overwhelming muscular contractions, you find yourself trying to maneuver your body out of this safe home that is all you have ever known.
You take your first breath and instantly your entire circulatory system transitions from the fetal circulation that has kept you alive to adult circulation. It's your first transition and it is literally life-altering.
You are laid upon warm skin, and.....wait a minute...
You know that smell. You think you hear, faintly at first, but growing louder as you shuffle and scoot your way toward the familiar sound of mom's heartbeat. The amniotic fluid on your hands grasp and grope to help you as you continue to move to a familiar scent. Your blurred vision can faintly make out something dark and round --where the familiar scent is coming from --it's like a bullseye. Your hands continue to move, grasping and searching...leading the way to the smell. Your head begins to bob and your feet push your body up and over, until.....
You reach mama's breast. The glands around her areola have been secreting a substance to lead you there. You begin to lick and taste the colostrum that is caked on her nipple, and that, combined with the other substances at work, lead you to latch onto her breast....the thick, sticky substance tastes familiar. The warmth and smell of her skin, the taste of her milk....it all makes you realize that it's going to be OK.
Why are you dressing me? I like being skin to skin. We are exchanging important sensory information. I am being colonized by your bacteria. Your body temperature rises and lowers to keep MY temp perfect. My vital signs stabilize and my blood sugar normalizes when I'm skin to skin. Your prolactin and oxytocin levels rise when we stay in close contact like this...skin to skin.
It's not that I don't love Grandma, Aunt Jane, or the neighbor. It's just....well, I need YOU. I know you're tired and sore. But I feel a little anxious. I'm scared and overwhelmed. Please don't lay me in that cold, hard bassinet.
This is NOTHING like my old home.
Babies are 100% dependent on someone else. They don't stand a chance of survival without someone caring for them. Think about that for a minute. How vulnerable and helpless infants are...which is why they behave certain ways -- to ensure their survival.
Babies prefer to stay close -- preferably skin to skin or at least in a carrier -- so they are close to their food source. The world over, every baby behaves similarly. How we respond is what sets us apart.
We place a high value on independence, yet independence is not a characteristic of a healthy relationship or society. That would be interdependence.
The 4th Trimester is a critical time to ease a child into the world. It is a time to keep baby close, meet his/her needs, which will help the child develop trust. A baby whose needs are met consistently and quickly learn quickly that they don't have to cry to get attention --so they cry less.
Babies are incapable of "self-soothing" for at least six months. "Training" a child to self soothe or sleep alone only teaches them to stop crying because no one is going to respond to them. They just eventually give up.
The 4th Trimester is a time for the family to learn a new normal. It doesn't matter whether this is your first or 14th child......every mother and baby needs this precious time to adapt to the new dynamics of the family, to adjust to breastfeeding, to cope with less sleep, and most importantly, to rest and hibernate and just get to know your new baby.
If you find that you need help adjusting to this new phase, help is available. Don't hesitate to reach out.
And next time you're up at 3:00 am nursing for the 719th time, look at your baby. Think about the journey that he took to get here safely. Consider his vulnerability. And then -- THEN-- look at how he looks at you. He is in love with you. You are his life as well as his lifeline.
So hold him close.
Feed him when he's hungry.
Let him sleep near you.
Enjoy your 4th trimester.