Taught Without Being Taught

Welcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of The Breastfeeding Cafe’s Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to www.breastfeedingcafe.wordpress.com. For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today’s post is about how the mothers before you influenced your choice to breastfeed. Please read the other blogs in today’s carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th through the 31st!

How I was influenced to breastfeed by mothers before me was very subtle. I was taught, without being taught. I listened to stories of when I was little and my mom would take me to La Leche League meetings in the various states we lived in (Utah, Massachusetts, and Colorado). There’s a funny story about a really big (huge, really) young baby and a very small, petite mother carrying him into the meeting that makes me smile every time. I knew my aunties nursed my cousins, but never actually saw this taking place because 1) we lived far away, and 2) most of my cousins are older than me, so by the time I was conscious of such things, nursing had long since ceased.

I knew that breastfeeding was going to be important to me, but it wasn’t a conscientious thought in my brain until my husband of 5 years and I decided to start thinking about expanding our family unit. Breastfeeding was almost magical – something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and something that I wanted to know about, but was not willing to, until that point in my life, put energy into. I really never saw women nursing in public. Well, I can’t say that. I never noticed. Therefore, either they were really subtle, and/or covered up, or, which is more likely the case, it just wasn’t on my radar.

Throughout my college years, my friends from high school started getting married and some started having babies. One in particular did all that pretty early on. I remember when I finally got caught up with her (sans baby) over a mediocre salad at IHOP a few months after she’d given birth, I was actually a bit bothered that she had to take several phone calls during the dinner, in which she tried to reassure her husband, who was home with the baby alone, that things would be fine. I could tell she was stressed out, and for reasons that I didn’t understand at the time, I didn’t really “get it.” I mean, how hard could taking care of a baby be for an hour? I remember coming home and talking about the experience to my then-fiancé and about how I couldn’t believe that my friend’s baby could be so dependent on mom (and by the way, she was nursing exclusively) and that the baby’s dad was so inept that he couldn’t just “suck it up” for an hour while we had dinner together.

Well, now I feel like a total jerk. A jerk for thinking those things so long ago, and now an even bigger jerk for actually putting them in print.

Jerkiness aside, I learned QUICKLY once I became a mother how very dependent a nursing child (or, I assume, any child regardless of how they are being fed) is on their mother in a healthy relationship. From the time we brought our daughter home from the hospital, she was stuck to me like glue, just the way she was supposed to. Because I was sleep deprived and hormonal, and nervous about my baby being so small (she was only 4 pounds 1 ounce when she was born at 38½ weeks), I didn’t actually realize my jerk-status until several months later when my life had kind of settled into a somewhat routine with my beauty. I remember sitting in the chair I designated for nursing, holding my sleeping babe, and remembering that night so many years before (I believe my friend’s “baby” was by then seven) when I sat across from my dear friend who must have been hormonal, sleep deprived and completely overwhelmed, and I had the audacity to ridicule her silently (well, at least I was silent to her face), and ridicule her husband for being a wimp who just couldn’t take care of their child for an hour.

I guess that is one thing that motherhood has taught me. I truly, deeply, to the core didn’t realize how hard it would be. How emotionally and physically exhausting being a parent would be. How mothers the world over are struggling in their own ways, all the while enjoying it more than anything else EVER (hopefully). There’s that old saying about not judging until you walk in others’ shoes. Well, I walked in my friend’s shoes, but it was 7 years too late to be sympathetic toward her and her situation. I wish that I had been able to comprehend how hard it must have been for her to even get out of the house. To shower(!), get dressed, put some makeup on, probably calculate when to time the last nursing session right before heading out the door as to (hopefully) avoid panicked calls from her spouse. To pump, or not to pump. I now understand that there were probably a hundred factors that went into getting my friend out of the house that day, and I never thought of one. Now being a mother myself, I understand when a new mom is running late, or an experienced mom is looking like she could fall asleep at a meeting, that they are doing the best that they can, with what they have, at that particular time. I get it. Finally.

Sometimes lessons take so much more time than you can possibly imagine. Only in hindsight do things become clear.

My parents came out to watch our daughter when she was 5 weeks old. We had a wedding reception of a former work colleague that my husband and I were invited to, and I really wanted to go – first outing after having the baby and all that build-up. This was the first time we’d left her with anyone for more than a minute, and as we were leaving, we were giving my parents (who, mind you, successfully raised me, and quite well, I might add) petty instructions about things that they could eat in the fridge, where the changing table was (sad, considering they’d been to our house at least weekly, if not much more, since our daughter was born), what cute outfit to change her into if she had a blow-out, etc. Driving away, both my husband and I were completely nervous. I specifically remember my heart beating like it was going to come right out of my chest. My husband looked at me and started to laugh. He said, “I can’t believe we just told your parents to help themselves to food. It’s not like they are thirteen. They are your parents. Of course they are welcome to anything we have. We’re just so nervous. We need to relax.”

But we couldn’t. The entire time at the wedding reception, I was not at-ease to say the least. I was worried about our daughter. Was she okay? Was she crying inconsolably? Was she wondering where mom was? Was she starving for milk? All these terrible thoughts ran through my mind.

I did call once, about an hour in, and my mom said our babe was sleeping soundly. I felt a bit of relief, until I realized that once she woke up, she would probably want milk. She might be hysterical. We left the party quickly thereafter. We nearly ran in the house, so worried of what we might find. There, our daughter was in the exact spot we’d left her, sleeping. She apparently slept the entire time we were gone, and my parents just relished in her beauty for those hours. This was a positive experience, but it could have gone the other way, easily. I could have been receiving calls every 15 minutes from my parents asking me what to do to help calm the baby down. I’m sure glad that didn’t happen, but I would have understood if it had.

I hope that my friend doesn’t remember that night at IHOP. I hope that sleep-deprivation may have blocked it out of her memory. I’ve never talked with her about it, and I probably never will. However, writing about it makes me want to thank her for being an example to me of what motherhood truly is about. Balance. Sacrifice. Love. She took the time to be with me, to be away from her new baby and her husband, to talk with a friend over food. She sacrificed herself and the happiness/comfort of her baby. She cherished our friendship enough to be with me. Of course, she didn’t know her baby would need her so dearly during that one particular hour. I am guessing she probably needed a break. Maybe not. New mothers can be so torn between going out and staying in. Isolation in our country is such an epidemic.

The point is, I learned from women and mothers before me. They never came out and said, “you need to breastfeed or else.” They never shunned those who made alternative choices. They may have inadvertently made comments that built the foundations for my belief that breast milk is best. It wasn’t an “a-ha” moment for me. It was tiny, rather insignificant moments strung together like pearls throughout my whole life that led me to be nursing my 3.5-year-old daughter to this day. It wasn’t one person. It was my aunties, my mom, my friends. These amazing, dynamic women taught me, without teaching me, to trust myself, to trust my instincts, and most importantly, my body. What a wonderful, powerful, life-long, amazing gift I was given! I hope, with every bone in my body, that I can teach without teaching my own daughter to know that breast is best. I hope she will just know these things because of the small pearls, strung together, that have already set in motion the foundations of her life.

No, I take that back.

I don’t just hope. I know she will know what is best.

Today’s guest post is from Laurel Miller-Jones. Laurel is a SLC resident, mother of a 3½-year-old daughter, and wife to her best friend and college sweetheart. She is a La Leche League leader, and hopes that she can help women believe in themselves, their bodies, and their own wisdom. She hopes she is one day forgiven for her idiotic behaviors pre-motherhood.

Here are more post by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.


Filed under Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival

5 responses to “Taught Without Being Taught

  1. Hindsight really is an amazing (and awful) thing to experience, isn’t it?! Your words about mothering being the hardest and most incredible job ever are so true. I had a similar experience when leaving my son (with my in-laws) for the first time to go on a date; it was just so difficult! Thanks for sharing your journey with us. =)

  2. I was/still am always a bit of a hover craft with my daughter. The endless ideas of what might happen when I was away just ate me alive. Having a breastfed baby who doesn’t take pumped milk increased that anxiety for me. In my own hindsight I know that I could have relaxed a little more because, like your friend, that hour passes so quickly and you are home again with no damage done and maybe a little more sanity to get through all the other days without a break.

  3. theadventuresoflactatinggirl

    I love how many posts from today are about women who grew up with breastfeeding just being normal for them. For it to be just how you feed babies rather than a choice you have to make. I hope that, one day, all children grow up with breastfeeding just being a normal part of the background of their lives.

  4. Sarah

    It is amazing how many things we learn unconsciously. I took for granted my own mom’s breastfeeding of her kids. I didn’t learn til I was an adult that nobody she knew on her or my dad’s side of the family breastfed. She pioneered through it with her kids though and my dad supported her even though the whole experience was quite mystifying to him initially. I second the comment above hoping that this will be every child’s experience someday.

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