As I was drinking my morning coffee today, I came across an article about breastfeeding, specifically whether a woman can be a good mother if she chooses not to breastfeed. Reading through it, I became thoroughly annoyed and decided to post an essay I wrote last year about my own experience with mothering and nursing. The long and short of it is that every woman – no matter her background, education level, socioeconomic level, marital status, or anything else – has the right and should be encouraged to make her own decision as to what’s best for her and her child, without guilt, without fear. What was right for me is not right for everyone, and I have no right to judge what any other woman does to keep her children fed and happy.
Yesterday I had fifteen minutes to spare while waiting to go pick up my little man at school. It wasn’t quite enough time to do any of the myriad household chores that seem to pile up daily like so much waste after a natural disaster, so I decided to have a cup of tea and surf around the CNN website to catch up my news.
I quickly read through the world and local news items that caught my eye, making sure I was up to date on where the presidential race stands and the weather, then clicked on the entertainment tab. I scrolled down to the bottom, where I often find the most interesting tidbits buried deep by the techies at CNN. I clicked on a link about celebrity moms.
One of the photos showed Alannis Morrissette with her son. Next to her photo was a snippet from her interview on Good Morning America back in May. The essence of the caption is this: she is a proponent of breastfeeding and plans on allowing her son to continue nursing until he has decided he is done and weans himself.
I am a major proponent of breastfeeding, as well. I read the Time Magazine article in May about extended breastfeeding and attachment parenting, and at the time I sat down for a good long think about my own feelings on the subject. It’s a deeply personal decision and while I might advocate it as a positive in developing a strong bond with your child, it is by no means the only method by which a mother can bond with a child, and for a whole variety of reasons, it’s simply not for everyone. That being said, here’s what else I thought about.
My son is nearly 5. I nursed until he was thirty-nine months old, including through recuperation from a lumpectomy. I held him constantly until mobility grabbed hold, and I never let him cry. Until almost age four, my son slept in bed with my husband and me. Now, The Boy starts out the night solo in the room next to mine, but more nights than not, ends up back with my Ernie Hemingway and me by morning. It has only been recently that my husband and I resumed any social life. Until four months ago, my son had never spent the night away from me; in June, Ernie Hemingway and I went away for a weekend and The Boy spent two nights with my parents. The only people who have ever watched The Boy are my parents, my sister, and very occasionally his older sisters.
Apparently, all that makes me an attachment parent. Apparently, that makes my parenting style is about self-sacrifice and utter devotion to my child, devoid of any intention to raise a self-sufficient child.
But I don’t see it that way.
I was raised by a young mother who became a single mother. She did the best she could do, exceedingly well, and came as close as possible to attachment parenting before it was defined. Although she was not able to nurse me due to medication given her to cease lactation, she held me constantly and may have even slept with me, but in any event never left me to cry. Until I was school age, I don’t believe she ever left me with anyone but family or close friends.
I am independent, self-sufficient, and accomplished. I had a successful and lengthy professional career, and I voluntarily gave that up for my son, who is more important to me than any career ever could be. I am raising my son the way my mother raised me: we are bonded and he is confident that I am always there. I encourage my son to explore the world and make the experience personal and intimate.
I did all this because it’s what felt right to me, not because I was subscribing to someone else’s definition of being a parent. I nursed my child because it was the healthiest option for us. I slept with him because after he was born he lost nearly 2 pounds and I needed to nurse constantly to get the weight back up, but I still needed sleep. It was the best option for us. I held The Boy, refusing to let him cry because I love him and can’t stand to see those little eyes filled with confusion and hurt when beloved mummy won’t hold and cuddle him.
If I am attachment parent, that’s fine with me. I waited until I was almost forty to have a child. I waited so that I afford – financially and emotionally – essentially to drop out of life and spend my time knowing and raising my child. My son is the single most important contribution I will make to the future of this world, and why shouldn’t I devote all my energy to that endeavor? Shouldn’t we all have the choice to do that for our children? It has been a wonderful experience for us, and every parent should be able to say that without fear of judgment.
I applaud Kristin Chase, Casey Mullins, Casi Densomre-Koon and Catherine Connors for their willingness to stand up and defend their decisions, their lifestyle, and ultimately for a mother’s right to choose how to best nourish her children. These women and so many unnamed others have given me the courage to take ownership of my situation, to stand up and proudly flex my parenting choice muscles.