Dec 7, 2013 0
With the amount of breastfeeding news stories in the media, what else could there be to say about the topic? Compare my mom boobs to a model’s jubblies? Maybe. Add that to a few other observations about the sweet suckledom, a subject which seems to invite the most opinionated, some of whom shock the bra straps right off me.
The first person – an elderly gentleman – to provide a mouthful on my own mammary glands proclaimed, “Oh, this is most inappropriate. You should cease this nonsense immediately.” I was in an embassy, and I began to breastfeed my 12-week-old son in what I thought was a discreet manner. Mind you, I never used a nursing cover – an apron-like garment that conceals the feed. I assumed that if I wasn’t keen to eat under a blanket during meal time due to a feeling of suffocation, my son probably wouldn’t be either. This gentleman – or not-so-gentle man – made me cry with his unsolicited comments. Due to still-settling hormones, and what felt like a betrayal by the breast is best campaign, I wept, tears falling on my feeding son’s cheeks. I said nothing to the man, but I wanted to say, “I make milk. The boob juice feeds my child, best stuff on the planet for him right now. It’s a bit of a superpower I have. What do your man-boobs do?”
The second time I was the recipient of comments of the anti-boobs-au-lait-in-public variety, I was having dinner at a local pizza joint with a friend, my five-year-old and my five-month-old. There were two other diners – a man and a woman – across the room from us. My friend asked if I heard the comments the man just made: “Oh that breastfeeding is putting me off my food. It’s outrageous.” I’m happy I hadn’t. What I found odd is that this man’s back was to me. The woman he was dining with felt obligated to inform him that there was a semi-visible breast in the vicinity. The man kept turning around, and it was after the fourth or fifth time doing so that my friend was tempted to say something. I finished feeding my son, we got the bill and we left.
There were other times when observations voiced were kinder, more innocent. When I fed my son Lumen in the playground, a handful of my older son’s friends felt compelled to gather around me as if I was Santa redistributing gifts that the naughty kids never received. Some giggled, others asked why I was doing this, and one young boy asked, “Does it hurt?” I answered honestly, saying that there were times when it was painful. He then asked, “Then why don’t you stop?” I responded, “There’s a little thing called sacrifice that mothers do for their children. And of course the meta-analyses of scientific studies of this milk that’s coming out of my breast and into Lumen’s mouth right now prove that his immunity is being boosted and that feeding anything else to him right now is more likely to make him ill.” The bemused little youngster ran away. One young girl, part curious, part frightened of cannibalism, shouted, “He’s eating her. Aaahhh. Run away before he starts eating us.”
While spending time with my fellow moms, one remarked on my “milk sprinkler system” as I brought my son to my breast. And I told her that I was going through a box of disposable breast pads quicker than Kim Kardashian can post selfies. A couple of additional moms made note of the way the veins on my mama melons pulsated as my son was feeding. Like a lactation landscape of blue roots throbbing under pale, rolling hills. If only JMW Turner were alive today.
Chest chatter aside, there are other things about breastfeeding that I was unaware of until my moment arrived. I was incredibly fortunate that both of my boys latched on with nay difficulty. Despite this, I was ill-prepared for the letdown sensation, often referred to as the milk ejection reflex – the tingly, pressurey pain in breasts when the milk lets down, set off by hormones to stimulate the melon muscles to squeeze out the goods. If my sons so much as cried, letdown occurred. And if another baby cried, if I simply looked at a letter showing a hungry child in an impoverished country, if I heard a machine whose sound resembled my breast pump, letdown followed. Loony boobs, perhaps, but I’d like to believe mine were breasts of the hyper-empathetic strain.
As well, I was ignorant to how using a breast pump can be considered practice for a mammogram. The machine manages to serve as a flower press for the boob blossoms, with a noisy suction attached to it. The noise frightened my breasts on occasion, and letdown became letmebackup. I had to use my iPod to drown the noise, and the milk flow got its groove back.
I learned that breastfeeding on demand is no joke. My younger son has had an appetite from the day he was born, and I was supplying the nipple tipple about every two hours, including in a moving lift/elevator, on trains and buses, on the floor of many a shop, at art exhibitions, on curbs/kerbs. I had a tremendous amount of gratitude for shops that had breastfeeding rooms or WCs/restrooms that didn’t smell like toilets.
With breastfeeding on demand came the realisation that breastfeeding sucks sometimes. Literally. With my Enlai, we both had a bout of thrush/yeast infection – he in his mouth, and I in my breast. Common during breastfeeding because it thrives in moist, warm, sugary spots – which is exactly what a baby’s mouth is like during breastfeeding – the infection can then pass to the mama’s mamilla. Fun, fun times, but easily curable with prescription cream. With my Lumen, I had mastitis five times. Because he was feeding so often, my breasts were always full. If he overslept or decided he wasn’t as hungry one day, this was enough for a bout of mastitis – inflammation or infection of the breast. Imagine a hard, burning, throbbing baseball under a breast, making it tender to the touch and giving the body to whom the boob belongs a fever, chills, aches and pains. Now imagine breastfeeding with that same breast, up to 12 times a day. Admittedly, I do not have a high pain threshold, but mastitis was agony. Agony.
And although my personal feeling that once a woman becomes a mom, she loses a lot of her inhibitions – with doctors, midwives and nurses checking out her girly bits and asking when the last time she had a roll in the hay was, how can she not – I was still keen to keep feeding time a private party. To this end, I was ecstatic to make the acquaintance of breastfeeding tank tops/vests, especially while breastfeeding during those cold winter months. Those vests answer the call of modesty, and truth be told, they look less pornographic than some of the breastfeeding bras.
To those semi frontal feeding faultfinders, I have this to express: I am most proud of being a mother and of trying to give my sons the best possible start in life. I am swollen with pride that I persevered in breastfeeding, and perseverance is the correct word. Despite the fact that only 25% of six-month-olds in the UK receiving any breast milk at all, and with exclusive breastfeeding rates running at less than 1%, I managed to breastfeed both of my sons exclusively for at least six months. I say that those appalled with breastfeeding in public may want to have some words with the Department of Health and its “breast is best” campaign. Might I suggest you ask these lactivists to change the slogan to the less-catchy “breast is best, but only behind closed doors”. And while you’re speaking to them, you might also want to ask them to curtail their somewhat aggressive campaign, so as to not make my fellow moms who are not able to breastfeed feel like they’ve let humanity down. I want to ask you what you think of the da Vinci, Rubens and Picasso paintings, among the hundreds of others, depicting breastfeeding, some with – shock, horror – milk dripping from the nipple. Or even the Victoria Memorial right outside Buckingham Palace, whose statue facing the palace shows Charity, a seated figure breastfeeding a baby while placing her arm around another infant and with a third infant at her feet.
I want to say to these folks that I’ve no doubts that, given the chance to stare without anybody judging you, you have probably admired Miss Upton’s and her well-endowed contemporaries’ jubblies. And these jubblies may be the jubblies that helped sell a thousand copies of a certain sports, fashion or obscene magazine, but my bosom, my smaller-but-still-perky, vein-mapped, subjected-to-thrush-and-mastitis bosom is the bosom that helped launch two little ships.