Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Toddler on The Boob: Notes from One of the Few Five Percent

I never thought I’d become a righteous nursing mom of a sprawling one and a half year old.  I really never thought twice about how I would mother, or the fact that such a major choice in both substance and style would be left up to me.  I never understood that the important discussion of how I would feed and nurture my young would take place largely within the closed doors of La Leche League meetings in church basements and rec halls.  I never knew that I would become part of this secret society of women that make up less than 13% of mothers who nurse their babies beyond the first three months, let alone representing the scant 5% or less that continue nursing their young beyond the first year.  (In fact, according to KellyMom, there are no recent studies offering an accurate count of women that nurse past one year of age, that’s how unpopular it is.)    

But here we are.  My son is happy and healthy and adventurous and smart.  He nurses when he wants to take a break from his broadening world, when he needs a little reprieve from his constant observation and chatter.  Yes, he has a mouth full of teeth and his legs dangle out of my lap, but when he nurses he is just a gentle and soft babe fueling up on love and nurturance that he has not stopped needing in steady supply.  That is, when he's not being a multi-tasking nurser doing the Downward Dog or climbing back and forth over my torso while fastened securely to his milk supply.

The reason I’m a tad righteous about it is because it’s hard to be in such a minority in the most important job of my life.  And it’s hard to feel the increased judgment about it as my son gets older.  I’m sure the judgment is just about people’s lack of exposure to the image of a nursing toddler mom, and yet it is strong enough, and loud enough that I feel I must fight for my place.

I remember a few years back when I was still childless and visiting a mom friend in NYC.  We were at the Whole Foods on Houston, walking into the second floor food vendor area in search of the restrooms.  Directly in front of our path a woman was nursing a two-something child at a table.  The mom shot me a hostile glare and said with that talk-to-the-hand attitude you can only find in  NYC, “It’s called BREASTFEEDING!”

Had I been leering?  I looked away, and was grateful when the path took me away from her.  How could I not look, when she was right in my line of vision?  I certainly was not uncomfortable with the sight, it was more a matter of curiosity.  This was not something I tended to see in my humdrum little childless life in Nantucket.  The idea that women even breastfeed was somewhat of a surprise to me. 

Now that I am nursing a toddler, I’m beginning to understand why it’s something you don’t see very often.  It’s not just that such a small percent do it.  An even smaller percent do it in public. 

I thought I was going to be the miracle multi-tasking modern mom last night and attend Nantucket’s Annual Town Meeting with my nursing toddler.  I thought to myself, well, bars at night may be out for us, but who could fault me for nursing at Town Meeting?  I was doing my civic duty.  I would sit in the back somewhere, and no one would really notice, except those sitting right beside me and behind me.  Then I thought of the scarcity of seats, and the fluorescent lights, and the idea that if I sprawled out with him in an aisle, as I did the last time I attended, two years ago, when I was six months pregnant, people would be struggling to get by us.  I couldn’t guarantee that the nursing would go well.  That we wouldn’t call attention to ourselves.  I couldn’t risk being that mom nursing in the Whole Foods in front of so many people in the town all at once. 

In short, I caved. 

The same old friend who shared my pre-mom experience at Whole Foods recently sent me an email comment on my blog, which I had shared with her.  The particular post I had sent her was The Forty Factor, in which I explore what it means to be an older mom.  The only comment said friend had was a reference to my statement in the sidebar of my profile page, where I claim that I intend to nurse my son for as long as he wants to.  Her mind leapt to the image of a five year old “on the boob.” 

“Do you mean to tell me that Cayce is five years old and still on the boob?  That’s

It was an awkward mixture of shock and feigned support.  “Boob-a-rific” felt pretty put-on and disingenuous, and I could help but feel that she was so deep down uncomfortable with the idea that it deafened her to any other aspect of my described experience.  Her response was the definition of, “She couldn’t get past it.”

So I am now aware of new mountains arising before me in my path as a mother.  My strength will be tested not in my ability to surmount the small hills.  Jeeze… nursing in the Nursing section of Barnes & Noble is small fish to fry.  But if next year I can muster the courage to nurse my 2 ½ year old at Town Meeting (if indeed he is still “on the boob” by then), and if I can teach my friends and family not to be embarrassed by us, then I will be able to  say I’ve climbed the highest and hardest mountains in Momdom.

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