Parenting Stories: Breastfeeding?! Whatever.
Like so many people this week I did a fairly significant double take when I passed a newsstand with Time magazine’s latest cover. I think we can all agree that Time is using shock value to push sales and will be patting itself on the back for years to come – or until the Internet finally kills print – on it’s “controversial” cover.
I of course didn’t actually buy the magazine (that would play right into their hands!) but had to find out WTF was going on so I followed this link over to Time’s site to get some of the backstory. Seems that Dr. Sears is stirring the pot again. If you’re not familiar with Dr. Sears or the concept of attachment parenting – and you have children – then you didn’t pay attention to all those books your wife was reading when she was pregnant. According to Wikipedia there are eight principles of attachment parenting (I didn’t really pay attention to those books my wife was reading either) many of which boil down to “be extra nice to your kids.” The one that Time is so graphically illustrating is the new and improved idea of “extended breastfeeding.”
Now, I want to make this perfectly clear. I SUPPORT BREASTFEEDING. Don’t believe me? Read on.
A lot of parents we know got into a PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) group when their little bundle of joy arrived. Because the Wife was so concerned about breastfeeding successfully – it’s not always as easy as it might seem – we got into a breastfeeding support group through the hospital where our kids were born. Even though it wasn’t called a PEPS group that’s essentially what it was and we proceeded to meet with this group of mothers and kids on a regular basis for several years. Now, when our son was born we were both working but it was the very end of the Dot com boom. I had taken paternity leave and was just about to return to work when the news came through that the Seattle branch of my agency would be shutting down. This provided the unique opportunity to get a nice severance package and collect unemployment while staying home and taking care of the boy. A nice little temporary arrangement. It also meant that I would be attending our regular baby group meetings.
During this time my wife was pumping during the day to provide a steady supply of breast milk. She and a friend whose daughter was born around the same time commandeered the very cold server room at their office to use as a private space to do their pumping. If you think breastfeeding in public is a subject of controversy just imagine the traumatized IT staff who repeatedly failed to read the “Do Not Enter” sign or called meekly through the door, “Can you reboot The Dark Side?” The Wife is thrilled that I’m including this in the story.
Anyway, here I was trundling off to regular baby meetings, bottles and breast milk in my dad diaper backpack (the accessory that says, yes I’m taking care of a baby but I’ll be heading into the mountains this weekend to do manly stuff). So there’s me, and a bunch of breastfeeding moms. The kids would hang out and play, we would talk about what the kids were up to and generally discuss the whole early parent support thing. Happily for me they kept conversations about the Bridges of Madison County, or Sex and the City, or whatever to a minimum. However, the inevitable moment would come when someone would get hungry – and it was never just one kid at a time. It was a domino effect where someone would demand sustenance and then the other kids would get the idea or the moms would decide that it was time.
And suddenly I was surrounded by naked breasts.
At this point I would try to be a gentleman and look away but I should emphasize again, I was surrounded! I would turn away from one naked breast only to be confronted by another. After some time with my eyes pinballing around the room I would eventually end up taking an unusual interest in the ceiling or becoming intent on something near the floor.
It’s naked breasts and I am just a man!
The moms, of course, found this funny and their inevitable response was, “Oh, it’s just John.”
Just one of the girls.
Yay for me.
So breastfeeding in public? Fine, whatever. Our society is way too puritanical, and not in the good puritanical way. I do have to say, I find the idea of extended breastfeeding a little surprising but I think that’s because I’m used to the idea that kids are babies when they’re breastfeeding and that’s the image I have in my mind. When I see an older kid breastfeeding it breaks that preconceived image and it’s a little jarring but ultimately that’s the parent’s choice – and it’s not doing any harm. I don’t agree with all of Dr. Sears’ philosophy but as many people have noted, including the mom featured on Time’s cover, we shouldn’t be fighting with each other about different parenting styles, we should spend our energy keeping our kids safe and happy.
John Kubalak is a writer, teacher, volunteer coordinator, raconteur, and scalawag. He does not publish science fiction under the pseudonym Jonathan Black but he does publish a monograph on fatherhood, The Eclectic Dad. He has a son, a daughter, a beautiful wife (and a little dog too!) who are adorable, maddening, zany, and brilliant all at the same time.