I wrote about the first ten months of breastfeeding my son in March 2011. My closing comments were: ‘I am looking forward to continuing to breastfeed Ewan as he grows into a toddler [... ] Like all journeys I am not aiming for the destination but the experience along the way. This journey so far has taught me more than I ever imagined, about myself, my baby, our amazing bodies, our culture, and opened me up to new ways of seeing’. Continue reading →
Here is a review of the anthology ‘Musings on Mothering ’, edited by Teika Bellamy, published by Mother’s Milk Books. As a contributor to this anthology, a great supporter of it and of La Leche League, I feel it is time to write some more about it. I have already written an introductory post about this anthology, in a blog post posted on October 2nd, entitled ‘Newsflash; ‘Musings on Motherings’ anthology has just been released’. I hope that by reviewing this anthology more people will feel inspired to read this book and feel comforted by its central message.
The message at the heart of this book is that mothering through breastfeeding is the norm. This is a refreshing and somewhat rare take on this most natural of human behaviours, nursing our young. This is because we live in a society where breastfeeding is a marginalised, misunderstood, shrouded and truncated activity, if it takes place at all, steeped in myths and falsehoods. Essentially it places nursing at centre stage, as the activity from which other mothering behaviours stem, instead of as the more typical mechanisation of nursing, where it is separated from other aspects of mothering as simply a way to feed our babies.
The market is crying out for more books which help to normalise and demystify breastfeeding, basically to position breastfeeding as a normal, everyday, open, accepted and celebrated behaviour which mothers simply do with their young children. Contributor after contributor allows the reader to glimpse a little of their parenting world, helping to lift the veil on nursing, through the beautifully written poems and prose, as well as the wonderfully crafted art and craft work. The anthology cleverly weaves the many pieces together in such a way that a thread of celebration is felt, a celebration of mothering through nursing.
The rich variety of the content and the creativity evident in each of the pieces is to be applauded. The writing fits neatly with the art and photo work, for instance on the same double page spread of Cindi Eastman’s ‘The Answer I Keep in my Heart’, where she explores the reasons she is naturally weaning her son, there is a beautiful photo of a toddler nursing, by Alex Simon entitled ‘The Softest Place on Earth’. The prose and the photo, though from different contributor’s, perfectly complement each other. Continue reading →
See last week for the second installment of this story
Louisa sits at a cross-road, unsure of her next move. As she admits ‘I wanted to think about how I could influence Karen in particular to change her attitude’, but after much thought admits ‘I’d love to talk to Karen, but feel that in this instance she’d just justify how wrong I was’. In protecting herself Louisa does not feel emotionally ready to approach Karen, an attitude I empathise with. Aware of how all-consuming this episode has become, Louisa is searching for a more therapeutic, constructive way of moving forward.
She could contact her local La Leche group for more formal support in a nurturing atmosphere. She could also become involved in campaigning for breastfeeding women’s rights at a local level, by talking to local business owners about the legal position of mother’s nursing in public places. Being proactive within a supportive environment of likeminded mums may increase Louisa’s confidence and friendship group, a way of turning a traumatic experience into a more positive one. Continue reading →
I like to call breastfeeding past one year ‘sustained breastfeeding’, a term used by many in the breastfeeding community, including Anne Sinnott, which she discusses in her book ‘Breastfeeding Older Children’. Other terms, such as extended or long-term breastfeeding, carry the assumption that it isn’t ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ to breastfeed past one year. The term ‘full-term breastfeeding’ can also be used, meaning the child nurses until the point he/she naturally weans.
Whilst breastfeeding toddlers and pre-schoolers is a normal biological human behaviour, and common on a worldwide basis, it is a rare, often cloistered and misunderstood activity in much of the West, in particular the UK and the US. The reasons for this are complex and beyond the scope of this post, however, culture has a huge part to play in the rarity of this practice.
My son is my greatest teacher. In our first meeting our eyes locked as he looked, all knowing and serene, into my eyes shining with wonder. He communicated, with a depth amazing for a newborn, that it was all OK, that he would show me the way. Each and every day he keeps this first unspoken promise, teaching me to listen to him and to my mothering instincts, to really trust nature.
There are moments when I am swayed by mainstream society, becoming a sheep plodding along the well trodden, comfortable path, craving approval, normality and recognition. At such times all I must do is stop, question, and look to my son to steer me back to the right path. Yet this path is little travelled in this modern age, weeds tangle and knot as tree trunks lie haphazardly blocking the way, ancient wisdom and primordial practices, half lost, so difficult to find amongst the debris.
Walking this lonely path I eagerly look for other like-minded souls. I find a few and stumble upon others who are supportive and appreciative of this alternative style, even if they choose not to practice it themselves. I also begin to search the virtual world, one of the many wonders of our modern age, sharing my parenting style through writing. I find a growing online community who listen, applaud and reflect on my words, as I in turn listen and learn from theirs.
Support groups are also a lifeline to me, one an informal weekly meeting between local mum friends, the other a local La Leche League group. I also find wisdom in natural parenting literature, including research about the benefits of attachment parenting, which helps affirm my belief what I am doing is right. My cousin recently pointed out that my parenting is an example of research-based practice, which to a certain extent is true, although my son is by far greatest teacher, research often backs-up my practice.
Sustained breastfeeding, one of the tenets of attachment parenting, has been placed centre stage due to TIME magazine’s controversial cover photo of Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her almost four-year-old son. Thanks TIME for reigniting the debate around attachment parenting; this is a long overdue, necessary public debate and one to be celebrated, especially if it leads to a more balanced, understanding of sustained breastfeeding.
However, reading the backlash so far confirms my suspicions, and therefore saddens and frustrates me; most of us are ignorant and misinformed about sustained breastfeeding, so deeply culturally conditioned, that we accept and propound the many breastfeeding myths which have been floating around Western society for the past century or so, mostly without question and touted as facts. We have lost awareness of the facts because so few of us actually see breastfeeding practiced (or practice it ourselves), especially with older children. It has become a dying art, and with it we have suffered a huge collective loss of skills and knowledge.
Unsurprised by the defensive chafing of attachment parenting and a renewal of the ‘mommy wars’ between ‘so-called’ attachment and non-attachment parenters, I began formulating answers in response, trying unsuccessfully to answer the many attacks placed at mothers who nurse past one year. I soon realised even a thesis on this subject would only begin to unravel the cultural, political, social, sexual, economic and historical interplay of factors behind this phenomena. However, not all of the mainstream media portrayal of sustained breastfeeding has been negative; I have been pleasantly surprised by a number of responses, such as that by Channel 4 news, with guest speakers Denise Sumpter and Dr Charlotte Faircloth http://www.channel4.com/news/staying-abreast-of-the-debate.
Instead, I decided to write a personal response to Bonnie Fuller’s ‘Hollywood life’ blog post ‘Time’ Breastfeeding Mom Is Nuts Like Other Extreme ‘Attachment Parenters’!’ posted 11th May 2012, in the hope this will dispel a few of the many myths she and so many others, espouse. I only speak for myself, but know through extensive research on this topic, through attending La Leche League GB, spending the past two years with other mothers who breastfeed, as well as an upbringing where sustained breastfeeding has been practised as the norm, that I DO NOT speak alone.
Note on terms used; I choose to use the term sustained breastfeeding in reference to the activity of breastfeeding past a child’s first birthday up until the point he/she naturally weans, which usually falls between the ages of three and seven. The term ‘extended breastfeeding’ carries the assumption that this activity is extended beyond its ‘normal’ duration. However, the length of time a child breastfeeds for is in the West is very much culturally determined.
Response posted Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week