The force behind these two little words had the power to do two things. The first was to make me physically move away from Alejandra, my colleague, and the second was to make me doubt every single thing I trusted about myself.
“Yes. I still breastfeed Emilio.” I replied hesitantly.
“But how old is he?”
“He’s a year and a half.”
Now Alejandra’s mouth was hanging so far open that I could count every silver filling.
“But why? What about his health? You do know breastmilk is not good after so many months … ayayay”
Now my mouth was hanging open in shock. Alejandra continued to talk, telling me the all the bad effects of extended breastfeeding, upon his bones to his ability to be independent and his inability to be comforted unless there was a boob around. Suddenly I had a shocking thought: was I terrible mother for still breastfeeding?
Time for me to back up and admit that the road to breastfeeding hasn’t been easy. Like all mums, I wanted what was best for my new family and that just happened to be breastfeeding (especially as New Zealand supports it quite strongly these days). I’d had an all natural pregnancy and birth, and it seemed like the most natural next step. The reality, however, was a little bit different because …
I hated it. Every single moment of it. I gave birth peacefully in a pool in a rural hospital in the middle of nowhere, that basically consisted of a couple of rooms and a few nurses. After an exhausting birth I lay with my newborn son barely able to open my eyes, trying to get him to latch. He wouldn’t. My boob was twisted and turned every such way to get inside Emilio’s mouth but he just screamed. When he finally latched it felt like I was dying. Bizaarely, the famous contractions that plague the early days of breastfeeding were not an issue because I seemed to be in a constant state of that pain except when I breastfed. It was everything else. I didn’t feel that “bond” some mums rave about, I didn’t lie there in raptures gazing into my son’s eyes and saying the moment was the happiest of my life. In fact it was the opposite. I felt bloody awful. It just didn’t feel right to do it. It felt icky and unnatural, and when he let go my nipples were bloody and raw.
A few hours later and we were back at home. Getting him to latch on became an ordeal that was physically and emotionally tormenting. I started avoiding his calls for milk until the last minute, and then I’d cry the whole time he fed. By this time I was so stressed and exhausted that when I’d try to sleep it would be impossible, and I’d just lay there and stare at Emilio, terrified something would happen before I’d had a chance to finally enjoy the moment. I wanted to quit but I didn’t, partly because a part of me wasn’t quite ready to give up, but mainly because my midwife was unrelenting. I was on my last ounce of effort when a friend told me about her success with nipple shields, and the moment that I attached that plastic condom to my boob was the moment the world finally calmed. Emilio stopped his unrelenting screaming and latched on, and I could finally – for the first time in a week- relax.
I later found out that Emilio had had a tongue tie, that stretched enough on its own to breastfeed properly by the time he was 8 months old. Our difficult journey has nothing to do with why I continue to breastfeed, and I’ve never had a goal in mind to reach. Emilio is now two years old and we are still going because it works for us, and I tend to believe most of the hype around its benefits.
Here in Chile, where I have been since Emilio was 9 months, this decision has caused nothing but grief. From a mother-in-law who constantly insinuates that he is not eating properly to family members who tell me I am raising a son to be “mamite” and “mamon“, and nurses and nutritionists who tell me Emilio’s health is being adversely affected (and who needs sugary juices instead!) to friends who regard breastfeeding as something “for the poor.” Or opinions such as Alejandra’s, which at the time were so disapproving and negative that I wanted to quit my job.
When Emilio was smaller I breastfed everywhere discreetly, including the metro and even restaurants (what’s better – the sound of screaming or bad jokes when you eat?), but now the looks have started. The raised eyebrow. The pursing of the lips. The “your still breastfeeding?!”question – even from complete strangers. Now I disappear to sit upon toilet seats or in abandoned corners of the room to avoid hearing veryone negative opinions. Because its just so personal isn’t it, this decision to use our boobs or not? I don’t get the fascination – when I feed Emilio it’s not like you see nipples flying about!!
My doctor thinks I should stop but it doesn’t feel right. I certainly don’t want to do it because someone else thinks I should, particularly when in my culture its considered to be normal. But in saying that, the decision when to stop or how long to feed – if at all – has so many influencing factors (which given my own difficulties, I know all too well). Without that nipple shield I would have almost certainly stopped. I also didn’t have to think about work or sharing feedings with someone.
But I am not a breastfeeding nazi. It doesn’t bother me one iota if someone chooses to use the boob or the bottle. Why should it? I know how much I love my son, and I know that other mums feel the exact same way about their own children. Why on earth does it bother other people so much? But the big question is why are so many profesionals telling me its bad for my son? Does breastfeeding now honestly paint me as a bad mummy in the eyes of others? Does that matter? Or does it matter more how Emilio, and Luis, see me? Something to ponder over the festive weekend I think – particularly as the recent earth wobble helps give life some perspective!
Please share your story if you have one – this blog is merely my own experience and is not a statement about Chile as a whole