I write these words on my oldest child’s 30th birthday, a milestone that also marks the 30th anniversary of the day I became a mother. In those 30 years, I have learned many life-changing lessons about breastfeeding and parenting. To mark this occasion, I’d like to share a few.
Child-rearing is an incredible opportunity for personal growth. When I was pregnant with my son, I imagined all sorts of things I could do to give him a better life. What I couldn’t imagine was how my child would affect me. In hindsight, I don’t think I really grew up until after I gave birth to him. Round-the-clock breastfeeding was a part of that. When it became clear that my baby knew what he needed and when he needed it, it also reinforced my understanding that my child’s needs were valid and deserving of respect, another step toward my own maturity. From my child’s perspective, having his needs met demonstrated beyond words that they mattered, which helped him stay in tune with his own inner voice—a dynamic that increased his resistance to peer pressure during his teen years.
What about parenting “experts” who encourage mothers to remain in control by scheduling their babies’ routines by the clock? As I wrote in my post “Fear and Surrender,” my decision to surrender to my baby’s individual feeding rhythm not only gave me abundant milk but was also instrumental in achieving a life-changing intimacy with him. Had I tried to control the process, I have no doubt our relationship would have been different. One of my early lessons came after several days of heeding the voices around me and letting him cry at night. I was dismayed to find that I began to care less when he cried during the day. Because this was not the kind of parent I wanted to be, I decided to go my own way and never looked back, convinced that these cry-it-out methods could distance me from my baby. Unfortunately, many new parents embrace rigid methods that feed into their fear of change and the unknown, and their chance to experience this growth may be stunted.
Process trumps products and people trump things. BC (before children) I was a Type A, check-it-off-my-list kind of person. When my son was born, it was a big adjustment for me to put my list away and focus on him. In the evening, we both looked the same as we did in the morning, which at first was hard to accept. It slowly dawned on me, though, that rather than having a finished product to show for all my hard work each day, what I had instead was a thriving, happy baby. I began to realize that my new job as a mother was more about the process rather than the product, and that was okay.
This product-versus-process struggle can also spill over to breastfeeding. Some mothers become overfocused on the milk, which is of course important. But perhaps even more important is the process of breastfeeding. As the months and years passed, breastfeeding became much more than a way to feed my son. It morphed into an all-purpose mothering tool and a significant source of comfort for us both. I found myself calmed by breastfeeding at family funerals and saw my toddler son’s tantrums short-circuited by the breast. I began to see the milk as a nice “value add,” while the bond we shared at the breast as the real deal.
On this special day, I say: Happy birthday, Carl! Thank you for everything you have taught me and have given me.