Sunday, July 30, 2006


Its a classroom, but instead of desks, there are metal folding chairs arranged in a semicircle. I am reminded of the hip teachers who would say "everyone arrange their seats in a circle!", shunning conventional classroom standards, much to the thrill of the students who knew that she would be the type to teach fractions using pizza slices and never read passed notes aloud. I walk in late, and every seat is taken, filled with an exhauted looking yet remarkably pulled together woman in her 30s or so, holding a tiny baby in one hand and her own breast in another. It is a breastfeeding support group, and the leader, the "lactation consultant", is a size two blonde who refers to her children but I find it impossible to believe that this woman has birthed anything besides a great idea of how to get paid to feel other women up. I actually have great appreciation for anyone who help women learn to breasfeed - but I am testy today, because my daughter is 11 months older than the rest of the children in the room and struggling to escape my clutches. Every mother is preoccupied and no one even attempts to make room for us as we struggle through the maze of strollers, but they snap to irritated attention as my daughter starts to grab at their massive bottles of Purell.

They are sharing breastfeeding woes - from cracked nipples to husbands that they wanted to send packing for being so unhelpful. Engorgement, mastitis, leaking...the list goes on and on, and it's ugly. The women have that "new mother" look that makes me shudder in empathy. That vacant stare, the cellulite shoved into too tight denim for the rare public outing where maternity clothes were too depressing, the smiles full of phony euphoria where deep inside I am sure they are thinking, "get me the hell out of this cow class!"

I am what some would call and Uber-Boober, having breastfed my daughter for close to a year. It started as something I thought that I had to do to be a good mom. My one mommy friend, older and wiser who makes it all look easy nursed her kids well past the year mark so she was my Olympic trainer of sorts. My first week post-partum, when attending a support group was as likely as wearing a thong, she brought me cabbage leaves and her stretched out nursing bras. But I had it pretty easy. My kid took to the boob immediately. My biggest problem in the early months was "overproduction", as the sweet sounding La Leche League counselor referred to it when I cried to her about milk stains on my hardwood and my newborn child's face drowned under what looked like a looge. Once that settled down it was an easy, portable, free way to feel that I was doing the best for my baby, which is a hard feeling to come by as a new mom.

Which lead me to this meeting, almost-toddler in tow, begging for some advice in weaning her. I head heard about babies that self-wean. That was not my kid. Chloe was such a happy nurser that mom would ask, "What do you have in there?", as Chloe would pull off of me with a face of sheer afterglow. But after months of pumping at work, my Medela whirring a few feet away from many rabbis, after six teeth and never more than three hours away, I was ready to stop. Or so I thought. When the lactation consultant had finally gotten around to me, after almost an hour of nipple latching instruction, she told me that I was not ready.

"I just need a how-to manual" I almost cried, as my daughter yanked at my tank top for well timed illustration.
"What's motivating you?" she asked, suddenly the therapist.

I felt all eyes on me.

"Um, well I would like to go away with my husband without machinery, and she is getting kind of big, and I would like to wear some dresses that don't open in the front..."

My reasons sounded silly, even to me.

"You're not ready". "When you are, you'll know what to do".

I paid my twenty dollars and left, feeling guilty. I was conflicted. It would be the first time in a year that I would deny my daughter something that she loved (other than the times I denied her the pleasure of putting her fingers in the outlets.) I was doing this mainly for me, for some freedom. I had held the year mark as a finish line and as I approached the tape, ready to break through, I felt triumphant despite the fact that I was unsure if I wanted the training and the race to end. I would miss the snuggling. The cries of "mamama" that only I could fix. I would even miss the fabulous cleavage, the lightening fast metabolism, and most of all, the smug superiority that I had lasted so long. But I would not miss nipples on display at Starbucks, beating fists on my chest or the feeling that I was denying independance that both my daughter and I would benefit from.

But help was hard to find. Breastfeeding websites were scant on the weaning details. Books dispensed antiquated advice including application of "foul tasting fluid" to the breasts. And I feared that the La Leche League, much like the Lactation Consultant, would magnify the little voice inside my head that said "just six more months".

So much like many of my other experiences in new motherhood, I decided to wing it. Offered some bottles, some ice cream, some cuddles. Called in for back up (the husband) for bedtime routines. Regressed when she suddenly ran a fever. Dealt with engorgement worse than when the milk came in, and took the ever elusive sick day while I held ice packs in my bra. And one day I realized that it was the first of 365 days when I had not nursed. And we both survived.

When the New York Times article came out, "Breast-Feed or Else", espousing the importance of nursing and shunning formula feeders, it struck me that whatever choices we make as mothers, it is important to find support and validation. It is so easy to tell a mother who wants to wean that she's not ready, or a formula feeding mother that she is harming her baby, but aren't our own doubts and fears bad enough? I know that I could have been spared much physical and emotional torment on this topic of weaning if someone had really listened without judgement. Those are the real "consultants" that every new mom needs.


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