On a recent trip to Bolivia and Peru, our tour group stopped at the mysterious Sillustani burial towers near Puno, Peru. As we hiked up to the site, I was amazed to see a young alpaca nearly as big as the mother root for swigs of milk between mouthfuls of succulent grass. I was equally amazed that Mom didn’t seem to notice. Female Alapacas are obviously mom enough, I thought, zooming in for a closer look at a picture I took.
My thought harks back to the May 21 Time Magazine cover. Its provocative picture of Jamie Lynn Grumet breastfeeding her three-year-old son as he stands on a stool created a predictable storm of controversy. The caption, “Are You Mom Enough?” added fuel to the fire, seeming to throw down a gauntlet to advocates of early weaning.
A quick search led me to an article showing that the proper age and process for weaning alpaca crias is as controversial among ranchers as the human topic.
You know where this is all going: story time! I became a mother just as Lamaze classes and La Leche League were picking up steam in Boston. Fellow grad student wives introduced me to these cutting edge trends that defied the tradition of the anesthetized birth experiences our mothers had undergone and the hassle and hazards of bottle feeding. I inadvertently ended up with an “old school” Harvard Med professor obstetrician about my grandfather’s age, and their pep talks prepared me to stand my ground.
My dignified doctor was aghast at my plans to breastfeed. “We don’t raise our young women to be cows!” he said. “We’ll be traveling across the country when the baby is four weeks old …” I shot back. He gruffly conceded the point, but obviously clung to his belief.
Over the ensuing years, conversations with women friends have often ventured onto experiences and memories of breastfeeding. Some did, some didn’t. Some tried and soon switched to bottles for various reasons.
We talk about it freely, but of all the hundreds of student stories I’ve read over the years, I do not recall a single one addressing the topic of breastfeeding— not even peripherally.
What a shame! What better topic to share with future generations than your experience in this regard, whether it be good, bad, or indifferent. These are the stories that bind generations, and may also serve as encouragement.
Before you write, consider your feelings about the topic. Does it embarrass you? Do you still feel the need to keep a blanket over the topic as you once hid your suckling infant from view? Does the topic of breasts seem too prurient to write about publicly? Where did your attitudes originate?
While you’re on the topic of feelings, think about the physical sensations and emotions involved – the feel of the child in your arms, the chair you generally used, satisfaction, pain, dismay – anything that comes to mind. If you chose to or had to bottle feed, how did you feel about that? Did you feel like a failure for not breastfeeding? Were you relieved? Follow your intuition to the bottom of this feelings barrel. What smells do you recall? How about sounds?
Do you have childhood memories of feeding babies? Did you help bottle feed siblings or babysitting charges? Did your other breastfeed you or your siblings? Did you hear her talk about it?
These questions have no right or wrong answers, but they are important. Weaving insights into a story or essay on the topic will give it life and meaning beyond anything a factual account could possibly achieve. Your thoughts and memories are an important part of the history of child reading and nutrition.
Write now: a story or essay about your experiences with breast or bottle feeding. If you never had children and/or you’re a man, your views still matter. You may not have had the same experience, but everyone has had experiences with this important subject. Please leave a comment about your feelings on writing about this topic.