Alpacas Are Mom Enough


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.


Linda Austin said...

Gee, did Anne Lamott cover this in either of her two mothering memoirs? I don't know that anyone would think to write about it except in a memoir or essay that concentrates on parenting of young children. This can be a very emotionally-loaded topic, esp for women of my (and your) parenting era - sure was for me. Ugh.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Ah, Linda, "emotionally-loaded" goes with the discussions on Life Writers Forum about connecting with readers. It's definitely a juicy topic (pun intended) and also a challenging one. You said a lot with one word: Ugh. That word is a story flag!

JoAnn Melton said...

Having lived long enough to see how the winds change in relationship to feeding the baby, plus the huge "shame on you" placed by those who didn't get into La Leche League that coincided with mothers who (a) decided to go back to work or (b) had to go back to work, while the newest member of the fambly was an infant, I'm glad to see that most people realize that it is an individual choice or that some women are just not able to nurse an infant.

In certain cultures people still welcome the wet-nurse as they believe a mother's milk is the best for a growing person, and it is a revered occupation.

The variety in mammals ranges all the way from a seemingly set inner clock on when to quit providing breakfast, lunch and dinner to animals such as the lhamas you encountered. Good post from your trek.

Robin Dorko said...

My daughters are 35 and 32 and both nursed well past a year. I've avoided writing a response to the Time cover for my blog because my feelings are so complex. I'll take this as call to write!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Joann, you raise interesting points. Sounds like you have some stories to tell on this topic. Write on!

Sharon Lippincott said...

You sound like a La Leche League poster girl. I understand your reluctance to take on the Times Cover controversy in your blog, but in a few weeks that will all blow over and the path will be clear again. Let that alpaca mom's oblivious attitude be your guide toward critics.

Franklin Newsletter said...

I am breastfeeding my baby and nothing is better satisfying than holding your baby tight and feeding her. there is an overwhelming connection between mother and child when you are breastfeeding.

Unknown said...

I love this post! The first of these isn't exactly memoir-y, but it is an in-depth discussion of my friend's recent breastfeeding experiences: And it's funny that you should post this now because breastfeeding figures partially into my recent post about not having the answers as a parent at But there's a whole lot more to write!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Hey, Franklin,

Nice to hear from happy moms and babies. I hope you write your thoughts down somewhere so you can share them with that tiny one when she's old enough to appreciate hearing the story -- like when she has her first child.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Elizabeth, every first-time mother-to-be should read that blog post, and not just for the authentically honest message. Your description is exquisite. I especially loved the line:

"But in the hole where the knowledge was supposed to be, I felt something else--something soft and strong like the silk the Chinese used for armor. It was love."


Read the whole post here.

Herm said...

If I could remove the picture from my mind of my mother breatfeeding my little brother, I'd frame it and hang it on my living room wall.

There are eight years between us, but I can see her rocking and hear her humming while he suckled and slept. Does it get better than that for a baby?