Reflections on breastfeeding.
These days more and more women are choosing to breastfeed, sometimes under pressure to do the right thing, but often for the pleasure and benefits that it provides. The vast majority of women born during the baby boom generation were not breastfed. This generation of women, including me, didn’t have the personal cellular memory for this experience which would have helped in choosing this for our children. Although we grew up fine despite this, the social consequences of this are shown in high divorce rates, single parent families, child abuse, sexual deviance, the increasing incidence of racism, and disconnection. This same generation was the one to re-embrace breastfeeding again, and I successfully breastfed four children, and the last two were breastfed for two years each. The conditions mentioned reflect a society which has become alienated and isolated in its ability to express love and intimacy. The seeds of intimacy are sown during skin to skin contact, which has recently become the buzz words in maternity wards advocating for this contact right after birth. This body contact is our introduction to physical closeness which develops into a strong ability to have close relationships later in life. This language of the skin translates into increased abilities to communicate with others, personally and intimately. I have always believed that if all women breastfed and allowed themselves to relax into this experience of nurturing, our children as a society could then reverse the trends that we see all too often in the headlines. I know it cannot solve all the problems in society.
Once the seeds of intimacy are sown it is important to tend to these fragile plants as they grow into a stronger connectedness with others. Intimacy is a growing edge for most people, and with a qualified experience of it people aren’t comfortable being intimate with others. It is hard to share the deepest parts of ourselves with others and it can feel much easier just to stay inside and not reach out. All the stimulation that is provided through toys and equipment, along with programs for babies, do not offer the kind of essential touching stimulation that babies receive through breastfeeding. The rest is compensation. The social trend that changed the family structure from an extended family, when Grandma and other relatives were around, to the nuclear family, with reduced ties to other people, can have isolating effects on new mothers. Some women also find it difficult to be with their mothers in a nonthreatening and life-supporting way because they lack the intimate connection that allows them to be vulnerable with their mothers. I was one of them. My mother was a product of her generation where there was a general state of inhibition that impeded that generation’s emotional development. Even when Grandma was available to help out, some of us would not avail ourselves of this option for various reasons.
Nurturing the seeds
To know nurturing as a close physical experience of touch is to truly fulfill the essence of mothering. You don’t have to become an ‘attachment parent’ to be physically close to your baby. I believe too many mothers today are approaching the process of mothering with a black or white attitude. It is not an either/or experience, it’s a both/and one. You need to feel free to pick and choose the bits that resonate with you. Mothering can provide new opportunities to learn the lessons of service to others, which is also a planetary issue. Nurturing the mother allows the partner to access some of the feminine qualities within, as we are all a composite of both masculine and feminine characteristics. Because society emphasizes an oversized masculinity in men, this inhibits his expression of sensitivity. Although some fathers feel left out by breastfeeding, they could instead appreciate the opportunity that nursing gives the mother to be more receptive, both as a mother and a lover. This makes the circle of unity more complete.
The next generation of peacemakers
Children who experience skin to skin contact in an accepting and natural atmosphere grow up more comfortable with their bodies, more comfortable with others and more curious about the natural workings of their bodies. This begins to reverse the ignorance that generations of people have grown up with. These children will be raised to be more naturally cooperative and concerned for others and to have a more whole and healthy perception of themselves. They bring a whole person into relationship with others, rather than expecting others to fill in the spaces that are undeveloped to make them more whole. Intimacy, or the sharing of oneself with others in a profound personal sense, is a deeper, more satisfying experience when both individuals move into it as whole human beings. The choice to breastfeed has many long range benefits which enrich individuals and serve the betterment of humanity, even if you are planning to go back to work. The nursing couple is a mutually beneficial relationship. Both mother and baby benefit by the experience on the physical, emotional and relational levels, and this interdependence is undeniable. I suspect this has something to do with why some fathers feel left out. There are many ways that a father/partner can engage intimately with the baby that enhance the connection between them, including baby wearing, bath time, and heart-to-heart napping. In our household, my children’s father was the bath master! It takes the closeness of breastfeeding and expands it to include both parents. Those seeds become beanstalks when this happens!