Most Unlikely Support-The Grandma Generation

breastfeedingcafecarnivalWelcome 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 your most unlikely support. Please read the other blogs in today’s carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 22nd through August 4th!


 

There was never a question in my mind from childhood that I was going to breastfeed my babies, unless there were some extenuating circumstances. And I was fortunate that those closest were positive about my desires to nurse my first baby. My husband supported me in this decision, because he knew it was healthier and cheaper. I also felt supported by our moms. My mother-in-law nursed all 4 of her kids, though some for only a short time. I was the oldest of my mom’s 5 kids, and I’d watched her nurse all my younger siblings into toddlerhood, all the way down to my littlest brother who was born when I was 14. Both of these mothers in my life gave me encouragement to breastfeed.

However I knew from stories I’d heard and read that not everyone was as on board with breastfeeding as our mothers. In particular I worried how women of what I’ll refer to as “the grandma generation” would react to my nursing my baby. All the women I knew from this generation had formula fed their babies, it was the normal thing. My grandmas and my husband’s grandmas had all fed their babies formula. Even my grandmas, who were born in the 1940s, had been raised on goats milk rather than human milk. My grandmas in particular are strong minded women who have no issue telling me what they think of my decisions and those of my parents, siblings, cousins, etc. I worried that my “grandma generation” friends and family members who had formula fed might find my dedication to breastfeeding weird or silly, and tell me to feed my baby the way they’d fed theirs.

So, with this background, I was taken aback by a few early experiences I had with my nursing baby and women of the grandma generation. I was at a church activity with my daughter when she was about 6 weeks old. As background, my daughter had a few early issues with weight gain, and was of a very delicate build. I always had people commenting on her smallness and comparing her to plumper babies, and I often worried whether she was getting enough to eat. I was walking down the hallway with my bright eyed little girl, when an older woman from my congregation stopped me to say hello and see my baby. She asked the usual, “How old is she, what’s her name?” Then she asked me, “Are you nursing her?” This was an unusual question, and I wondered whether she’d say something about her being little. But she didn’t. Instead she said, “That’s wonderful, she looks so healthy!” That comment made my day, and possibly my month. Those first couple months with nursing your first newborn are difficult, and encouraging comments like that are lifelines for a new nervous mom.

About a month later, I went with two of my old college roommates to get haircuts. My daughter at that point had decided she no longer cared for bottles, so because she ate at least every 1.5-2 hours and could not be reliably left for very long with a sitter, we brought her into the hair salon with us in her car seat. As my friends and I were getting our haircuts, my daughter began to fuss. One of the hairdressers in the salon, a woman who was about my mom’s age asked me, “does she have a bottle?” I explained how she wouldn’t take bottles. She commented about my baby being spoiled. She asked if she had a pacifier, and I told her how she didn’t care for those either, again she clucked, and said something about her being spoiled. About that time, another customer, an older woman who was waiting for her haircut, asked if she could pick up my baby and hold her. I said yes and she rocked her and walked with her with the gentleness and skill of one who hadn’t yet forgotten her own days as a mother. She had overheard our discussion about my daughter only wanting to nurse, and commented wistfully how in her day, nobody had even considered breastfeeding, formula was just what you did. She got my daughter asleep and laid her in her car seat. When she woke up shortly after the grandmother laid her down, and I mentioned how she was difficult to put down to sleep, the hairdresser again commented about my baby being spoiled. The grandma quietly picked my baby up and held her until my hair cut was done and I could hold her and nurse her. I appreciated so much this woman choosing to help in this situation rather than criticize.

My husband’s grandmas live close enough that we had opportunity to visit them within the first 6 months of my daughter’s life. As I actually visited with these women, I learned that their stories of feeding their babies were slightly different that I’d thought. One of his grandmas spoke of being a nervous first time mom with a 5 day old baby that wouldn’t quit fussing. That is when a female relative went out and got her formula for a baby. The baby stopped fussing, and from then on she fed her babies formula from the beginning, fearful of repeating that same experience. My husband’s other grandma had also tried to nurse her first, and ended up with cracked bleeding nipples and a baby that was getting more blood than milk in her stomach. The only advice she got from doctors was “keep trying or use formula,” so she began using formula. These women, one of whom worked as a nurse after her children were raised, complimented me for being able to do such a healthy thing for my baby.
But still, there were my grandmothers to reckon with. Both of them are stubborn women who rule the roost in their families and love to give advice and opinions to their descendants. When I graduated high school 5 years before my daughter’s birth, they both came out to visit at the same time. During our visit I sat sandwiched between the two of them at a movie theater as they both warned me not to get married at 18 like they had. They openly gave their opinions on my fields of study in college, my choice to get married at 21 (which was still too early apparently for both of them), and our decision to have a baby a couple years later. Grandma P. asked if it was planned and worried that I was too young to be a mom. Grandma B. on the other hand, was thrilled we were having a girl, and got right to work making a quilt. I didn’t know what these two dynamic women would think of me feeding my baby in a way they’d never fed theirs.

pic1We got to visit Grandma P. first, when my daughter was 8 months old. It was a long day’s journey to a big city in another state where she and my grandpa lived, and my daughter was teething which intensified her normal loathing of car rides. I anticipated a possible negative reaction to my daughter’s still frequent nursing and especially cranky demeanor. But I was amazed to find my grandma was the one asking me when my daughter fussed, “does she need to eat?” One of the days of our visit, we rode in the same car as my grandparents to see some sights. My daughter had an absolute meltdown in the car ride. I was used to her tantrums, and since it was only a short ride, and I said I’d try to feed her once we got to our destination. It’s not like I enjoy my babies crying, but it was amazing how much my daughter’s fussing troubled her poor great grandmother. She said to me, “If it were my baby I’d just take her out of the car seat and feed her.” When the car stopped she was very anxious to make sure my daughter was alright and had an opportunity to be fed and calm down. While I definitely didn’t do as she suggested and unbuckle my baby to feed her, I appreciated how much she understood my daughter’s need for mommy and nursing. It made me realize that not only did I get my inclination to as some would say “spoil” my babies with lots of holding and comfort feeding from my mother, but her mother as well. Although my Grandma P. formula fed her 4 babies, she did tell me of trying to nurse her 3rd child, though she quit after 6 weeks because it was too difficult. I can only give her kudos for at least trying to breastfeed when she had two other small children to chase after, in a time when breastfeeding was not the popular or common thing.

pic2When my daughter was 9 months old, we took another trip, this time via plane and rental car, to visit my dad’s side of the family in the Midwest. Grandma B., the quilt making grandma, exclaimed over how cute and smart my baby was and had made a little dress and hat for her to wear. I could tell she was puzzled by my daughter’s eating habits though. Due to my daughter also deciding after we introduced solids that spoons were not for her any more than bottles or binkies were, we by default were doing baby led weaning. The first morning of our visit, my grandma B. made us a country breakfast of scrambled eggs, ham, hash browns, and fruit, then watched curiously while I gave my daughter bits of the breakfast, which she mostly just scooted around the high chair tray. This was a woman who I knew had put rice cereal in one baby’s bottle at 2 months to help him sleep better. She seemed a bit concerned that my daughter didn’t eat much, but was satisfied to see that she at least tried everything available to her.

pic3That day my husband, my grandma, my daughter, and I took off on a little road trip to visit some other relatives and see various ancestral graveyards tucked away in the Ozark hill country. I sat in the back to amuse my daughter, and she was pretty content for the first couple hours. But as we drove down a particular gravel road which leads to an old family cemetery hidden in a forest of weeds and tall trees, my baby began screaming with hunger. We pulled over to the side of the road just outside the graveyard to feed her. Grandma B. was amazed by the fit her previously sweet behaving great granddaughter was throwing. I think she was even more impressed by how quickly she calmed down when she got exactly what she needed, which was to nurse. We all sat there together in the car, while my daughter finished nursing, and when she popped up to look at everyone with a rosy smiling milk drunk face, my grandma commented warmly on how she was such a good baby, all that she wanted was to nurse, and once she got what she needed she was content. I was content too. It felt so right and satisfying to be sitting there feeding my baby on the land where my ancestors lived and died, and undoubtedly where my foremothers nursed their own babies. And to have the love and approval of my grandmother made it all the better.

I feel bad for making the assumption that because these women in my life hadn’t nursed their own babies, that they would be negative about me nursing mine. As new moms, we often assume women who parent differently than us are judging our choices in a negative light. This isn’t to say that never happens, as my story of the what the lady at the hair salon said demonstrates. And it is true that aspects of breastfeeding may confuse others who haven’t had that experience. But what I found generally with my grandmas and women their age who’d been mothers, was that they could see how important nursing was to my baby’s happiness, and because they loved her and me they supported it.

bioSarah lives in Utah County and is a part time music teacher and freelance family history researcher, in addition to being a stay at home mom. She and her husband are the parents of two sweet but feisty kids, a toddler girl and a new baby boy. They also have a small dog who thinks it’s his job to sit on Sarah’s lap and guard the babies while they’re nursing.

 


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

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival

2 responses to “Most Unlikely Support-The Grandma Generation

  1. What heartbreaking stories of misinformation these women were getting from physicians! Entire generations of babies missed out on nursing because these mamas got the wrong information when they needed support the very most. I’m glad you were able to find such moments of tenderness with your grandmothers.

  2. jeanajones

    What sweet stories of your grandmothers! Thank you for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s