Wednesday, August 8, 2012

National Breastfeeding Month Guest Post: Leticia's Breastfeeding Story

           As you all know, August is National Breastfeeding Month. I was originally planning to post just seven breastfeeding stories in honor of World Breastfeeding Week. However, I received more than seven stories so I have decided to continue the celebration for the rest of the month. Yesterday, I posted Jo Ann's story here. Today, we get to hear from one of Jo Ann's daughters, Leticia. Here is her story:

It was just the three of us till fairly recently….Just the three of us….for the first three years of motherhood it was my breasts and my daughter AlmaLuna….then for another eight years my daughter and me. I say this in this way because truly for the first three years it was all about the breasts and Luna…in the most natural of ways, mind you. Other than the fact that I became a single mother during this early period, it was also because I breastfed on demand…so yes, it was about my breasts on and off all day long….naturally and subconsciously. But this was also perhaps because it was part of a whole style of early child rearing that had been more of a conscious decision to begin with. I had decided after much self-reflection during what proved to be a very trying pregnancy, that I not only had to find a method or combination of methods that I was comfortable with but also find one that would suit what could be potentially (and became) a lone parent experience away from direct family as I was to live across an ocean and sea from direct and extended family. I decided to do what I called the tribal method…that I had witnessed in my travels and in my studies…but that had a more academic name, The Continuum Method, championed by Jean Liedloff in her 1975 book The Continuum Concept.

           This concept is based around studies into evolutionary psychology, hunter-gatherer culture, sociobiological behaviour etc… It outlines that baby humans should, amongst other things, be given immediately to their mother (or in her absence a mother figure-could be male too!) and breastfed , held and carried around till they can climb down and crawl away of their own volition. Co-sleeping, responding to  the child´s body signals without judgement and instilling by example a sense of elder expectation in the child to form part of the social habitat they have been born into are all essential parts of this “method”. I agreed in most part and, though I believed it a hard one to follow in the modern dog eat dog world of individualistic society, I thought it would suit me and the kind of life I would lead, especially as a single parent…my social circle would be like a surrogate family and my adult life would not be able to simply stop, we would both have to adapt.

         So I just did what came naturally…I was child led possibly to the eyes of others who only saw me breastfeed on demand and not have a socially acceptable baby routine or set nap times etc…but, in actuality my life was very adult led…it was real…a combination of both. Luna breastfed when she asked for it as long as it was humanly possible…she got herself into a routine but would comfort feed between regular feeds. She ate mushy solid food earlier than other babies we knew on formula, but was still avidly breastfeeding. Needless to say she had a laughing Buddhist monk statue quality about her persona…physically and personally. And so many people thought she was bottle fed because she was so strong and healthy looking. They were often shocked to see or know that she was breastfed. I in turn was shocked to think someone would think breastfed babies would be emaciated! Even the “health visitor” (in the UK this is the lady who takes over after the midwife and gives wellness checkups and advice to new infants and mothers) said after 6 months that maybe I should consider giving up the breast as she was already eating solids and seemed so healthy and maybe to supplement with a bottle, that demand feeding was spoiling her!! I was horrified and quickly brought her a stack of Breastfeeding Coalition pamphlets and a copy of my continuum method book. I ended up not ever going back to her…she, I believe, was secretly glad.

          So here I was, co-sleeping, breastfeeding on demand, and carrying my child around in a sling or tribal band all day long wherever I went (only using umbrella buggy when shopping in order to use her as a counterweight to carry bags home!). Needless to say most people, even fellow mothers at the baby and parent groups I frequented, thought I was some sort of self-righteous massoquist anarquist though I never tried to indoctrinate anyone, in fact I was very supportive of everyone´s choices…but it seems that even just setting silent examples are often louder than one thinks or others want to see and hear! They were shocked I didn´t pump and that nobody had fed her a bottle EVER. They were shocked that I only had one cupboard with a child safety lock (the meds and poisons) and that other than a mesh gate at the top of the stairs and safety plugs in the sockets, the house was just a landmine of potential disasters….to them mainly breakables of course! I tried to explain that Luna only played with, chewed up and promptly spit out rubber nipples so bottle feeding was out whether expressed or formula. As to the house,  I just preferred Luna to learn that some things needed a careful touch, or that they needed to be respected as someone else´s  belongings or treasures, and only to be touched with permission than to just have everything put up on the top utmost shelf and for the child to think they were brought up in a museum. She also had to learn by making mistakes, letting curiousity lead her to breaking something, and I had to be ok with that too. As to safety, I felt she needed to learn what household danger was and to avoid it as this was her environment. Children who know how to use kitchen knives won´t run around with them pointed at their faces going “mommy what´s this!”. If I had lived on a farm then she would have been exposed to those dangers in a guided way and taught how to avoid them. A house was no different. Fencing a kid in, is not helping them survive.

          I took this same view on breastfeeding… I figured, if it is not bothering me to feed when she needs or wants it, then why not? It was funny to me that some people, very educated people even, would say to me that what I was teaching her was to be demanding. Implying that demand feeding would automatically raise Verruca Salt, an I want it and I want it now type child. This could not have been farther from the truth. She was independent and polite from the get go…and has continued to be so. As soon as she could climb down and crawl away she did….even if she crawled back as soon as she needed just a sip for reassurance and then back off again! She walked before she was one and then still slept on my back or helped out while I did errands or accompanied me to (decaf) coffee with friends or to the cinema screenings that they would do at noon for mothers with infants at our local picturehouse, or breastfed to sleep into the late night council meetings when I campaigned for recycling collection in my neighbourhood. She learned to be a human in the world because of her inclusion into it. Through those activities alone, she learned by osmosis how to hang out with girlfriends and be supportive, to love film and be an activist, for example. Things she enjoys to this day!

          She never had separation anxiety when she did her first days at the Montessori inspired preschool she attended in the mornings. I had taken her there BECAUSE of her independence and her strong social character that really sang out for other kids and grownups. All of her friends went there too and we were all, parents and kids, her tribe. She was 2 and a half then and still “on the breast” as I breastfed her till she was about three. The end happened like it started, naturally. She was co-sleeping , remember, so it had to be combined “sleep on your own and wean yourself”…no easy feat! In the end it was also, sleep dry through the night  (as she had potty trained herself by just after one but was wearing pull up terry cloths at night)…it happened all at once it seemed…or within weeks of each event. Being a single parent was hardest at this stage because in the middle of the night she was used to rolling over and helping herself…hence allowing me to sleep relatively undisturbed or at least not to have to fully wake up in the night. I could go to bed late and sleep in late, that was the beauty of co-sleeping and breastfeeding on demand. While taxing on my body to some degree, of course, I did not feel as sleep deprived as my fellow parent friends, that was for sure. She slept in her own bed on the floor in her own room much easier than anyone would have had me believe…she then promptly decided she would only have a sip of milk late at night before bed and if she hurt herself really badly…but that only lasted a few weeks. And then BAM! My boobs were mine again!! Though every time I walked into her room naked I still felt like a girl walking past a building site in a bikini. Her eyes would flicker with longing melancholy for a few seconds…and then she would just get on with what she was doing.

         And now as I write this I am forced to look back and think…would I do anything differently? Would I have been more professionally independent had someone else been able to feed her for me? Would I be richer? Would she be different? The answer to all of those is yes. I would not have sacrificed my career goals perhaps as much. Breastfeeding meant I did not tattoo for three years. But I did a lot of other things, important things. Community oriented things that really mattered. I mothered. I nurtured.  Richer? On an economic level, yes! On a human level, no! And yes, Luna would be different…she would be ok…she would be maybe even marvellous…many, many kids who are not breastfed on demand and have not co-slept, whose parents have not followed some bonkers evolutionary method of early childrearing have grown up to be just fine…more than just fine, great! But she would be different for sure…I believe that in my very gut. She is empathetic and mature like few kids of her age that I know, she knows how to use a knife and to take care of herself, she knows how to shop and to manage money, she is tactile and has great control of the senses, she is independent and is able to maneuver now as a teenager in an age appropriate manner in the world around her…which is largely an adult world. She was slowly and naturally inducted, initiated, into the human race…at a combination of paces, her own age needs and the environment´s demands… Back then she seemed clueless to the horrified stares and oblivious to the admonishments of other adults to my style of breastfeeding etc.. Now, she is properly mortified when anyone finds out she breastfed that long, slept with her mother, and was carried on her back till she was three…but secretly I think she is proud…and even at 13 she still cuddles and crawls into bed and holds hands when she walks down the road with me…so, it couldn´t have been THAT bad.

About the Author:

Leticia Molera Vasquez is mother to a teenager, anthropologist, tattooist, writer and teacher.

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