Don’t get excited: I’m not pregnant, and it’s not on the schedule for a bit yet. But although I’m up in the air about a few parenting things, there’s one thing I’m 100 percent sure of: I’m not going to breastfeed the little bebe when he makes his debut.
There are a number of reasons for this, but I need to practice being firm about this before the entire populace of Park Slope descends upon me and my choices, let’s start with this: I’m not going to breastfeed, because I don’t want to.
I think it’s important to say, right off the bat, that I don’t care if you decide to breastfeed your baby. In fact, I don’t care if you feed your baby breast milk, formula, Yoo-hoo, Kombucha, or Miller High Life. I will also rigorously defend your right to feed your baby wherever you like, or, in fact, just to take off your shirt for no reason at the Wal-Mart, if you want to. They’re your boobs, and you can do with them as you please. However, I’m not going to be using mine in this fashion, and I’ll thank everyone to judge me behind my back, as God intended.
Do I sound defensive? I am, and for good reason. In the past couple of years, there’s been entirely too much talk about who gets to decide what women do with their bodies. Much of it has been from conservative, white, male politicians, but a disturbing amount has come from women themselves, policing each other’s choices. Maybe it’s another way to compete, when we’re temporarily away from the office, or maybe it’s displaced anxiety about our own decisions. But for whatever reason, there’s a lot of judgment around how women choose to feed their children, and I think we should all cut it out, breastfeeders and formula feeders alike.
A lot of childrearing decisions are, dare I say, influenced by trends. When my mom was raising us, the fad was to sleep train and formula feed. Now, it’s cosleeping and boob milk. No matter what you decide to do, you’ll make mistakes. It’s pretty clear that no one has developed the perfect system of childrearing. If they had, there would be at least a few totally fault-free children out there. Since there aren’t any, it seems like it’s probably a bit of a crapshoot.
“But science!” you say. “We know more now than we ever did! In the 1970s, they gave children cigarettes to keep them slim and let them ride motorcycles to nursery school!”
Don’t worry: I’m not going to feed you a stack of anecdata and pretend we’re dealing in facts. I understand that a few stories about kids who thrived on formula doesn’t mean that formula is the best choice, just as I know that a couple of old geezers who smoked three packs a day and died running a marathon on their 90th birthdays doesn’t mean that cigarettes are secretly kale.
But here’s what I will say: Everything doesn’t have to be the best all the time, even in parenting. Even if something is clearly the best choice in a vacuum, doesn’t meant that it’s the best choice for actual people, who live in the world and have to make compromises.
I believe that breastfeeding my child would be slightly better for the child. It seems pretty conclusive that breastfeeding decreases, at least slightly, the incidence of ear infections and gastrointestinal problems. I’m less convinced, by the way, that it makes any real difference in terms of allergies or IQ points. But for me, it would mean either not taking medication for a pretty serious autoimmune disorder, or gambling that taking it won’t hurt my kid. Which makes it not the best choice for me, and my family.
There are other reasons, of course: I’m squicked out by the idea of it, which doesn’t mean that I think you’re gross for doing it, breastfeeding moms of the internet, or at least not any more than I’d think you were gross if you liked tapioca pudding, which has just never done it for me. Everyone’s got her own idea of a good time, you know?
“You should get some therapy!”
I’ve had lots. More than Woody Allen at the time of the filming of “Annie Hall.” Breastfeeding still weirds me out. Also, it seems like it hurts, and I’m not into torturing myself.
“But it doesn’t hurt if you have a proper latch!”
Bullshit. It might stop hurting eventually, but in the beginning, everyone I know who’s done it has said it makes you sore. Even women who have an easy time admit that it was “uncomfortable” at first. I’ve been to the doctor. I know what uncomfortable means.
“You know what else hurts? Giving birth!”
It sure does — which is why I’ll get every drug they’re willing to give me, including that gas they gave Daisy Buchanan, if it’s still available. Also, imaginary lactivist with whom I’m apparently arguing, the fact that one thing hurts is not a persuasive argument to do another thing that hurts. Let’s have as few things that hurt as humanly possible, say I.
Most of the time, when I have this discussion with real people and not the people in my head, they eventually suggest either that my attitude will change when I have a child, or that a person as selfish as I am has no right to have a kid. I disagree with both statements. I’m already aware of the fact that having a child means making sacrifices, which is why I’ll go off my meds for my pregnancy, even though the medical literature is divided on whether or not there’s a real risk to the fetus. In the end, it’s just a matter of which sacrifices are the best ones for our family, which includes me, the lady who will (fingers crossed) be carrying the little guy.
And as for being selfish, I’d argue that a little healthy self-interest is an essential ingredient in a good mother. The best mothers, it seems to me, aren’t the ones who give up absolutely everything for their kids, because giving up absolutely everything means you’re dead and you can’t take care of anyone. As they tell you on the plane, put on your oxygen mask first, before you help others.
What my kid potentially lacks in immunological advantages, I hope he’ll gain in having a mother who doesn’t martyr herself to someone else’s idea of what’s the correct thing to do. If there’s one thing I want to give my child, no matter what, it’s the knowledge that unless you are militantly on your own side, no one else will be.
But in the end, all these arguments are just a fun way to pass time. I get to choose, and I made a choice. If we start questioning women’s right to do that, we’ve got bigger problems than what to feed the baby. And in the meantime, if anyone questions your right to breastfeed when and where and for as long as you want, I’ll be by directly to whip a canister of Enfamil at their pointed head.