The Boychick weaned sometime between Christmas and his birthday. I’m pretty sure he was still nursing at Christmas, and I know he was done by his birthday, because part of me was sad we didn’t make it to three years.
But most of the rest of me? Was so, so relieved.
I loved nursing him. I loved being able to look at him for the first seven and a half months of his life and know that, aside from a few thyroid molecules, every atom of his being had come from me. He made himself, but he made himself from my body, and my milk. I loved snuggling him close, and I loved calming him, and I loved never having to worry about hydration or nutrition when he was sick, and I loved that I could help him sleep, and I loved the symbiosis of full breast, empty baby leading to happy me and happy him. I loved nursing him.
I also hated it.
Not all the time, but more and more as he got older, as my period returned, as my milk dwindled. I felt sexual sensations, which would have been fine, except I loathed it. There were times when nothing but my breast would do, and I was crying while nursing him, chanting “make it stop, make it stop, make it stop”. There were times when nothing but my breast would do, and I couldn’t do it, and he and I both cried. And in the end, that was what lead to his weaning. It was at his pace, but accelerated by my need for ever shorter, ever more infrequent nursing sessions.
So when Twitter and the lactivist blogosphere exploded over an op-ed from the UK that, among other things, said breastfeeding felt “creepy”, I cringed.
Breastfeeding isn’t creepy — except for me, it is, a bit.
Breastfeeding isn’t sexual — except it is, for me and people like me, and for many people for whom those feelings aren’t a bad thing, and they’re not perverted or child molesters, they’re just normal women with a functioning sexual system.
Breasts are sexualized in our culture, exaggerated into caricatures of themselves, used to sell cars and movies and everything else, and that’s a problem. But, breasts are also sexual. Not just because our society says so, though that “helps”, and not just because all the body is sexual, though it is, but specifically, actually sexual; nipple stimulation releases the hormones of love, of sexuality, of life-giving. It contracts the uterus, floods the brain with prolactin and oxytocin, sends blood to the genitals. It can start or augment labor, it can stop postpartum bleeding, it can, all by itself in some women (not me, alas), bring about orgasm. Breasts. Are. Sexual.
Some breasts. Some of the time.
When I say breastfeeding is creepy, I’m not insulting those (including myself) who breastfeed. There is nothing wrong with breastfeeding, and I wish more women would do it, and for longer — we would all be a lot better off, as individuals, as a society. Even more, I wish that all women who wanted to (which is most women) had the support and the lack of “booby traps” to nurse for as long as she and her child(ren) wanted. I smile when I see women nursing in public, when I see pictures of a child in a lap, held close, both parties obviously content.
But when I see a beautiful, naked, close-up picture, when I think too hard about it, when I am reminded of the feelings in my body of the last months of nursing when I had little milk, of the early months of nursing when he suckled for hours, when I think about having a child suck on my breast — I get the creepy crawlies.
And I hate that. I wish I did not feel this way. But I do.
So when I hear someone say that they didn’t breastfeed because it “feels creepy”, I get angry. I get angry at a culture that says breastfeeding is perverted. I get angry at a culture that says my breasts are not my own but my lover’s, exclusively. I get angry that breasts are so sexualized and breastfeeding is so controversial that the only way one can admit in a major publication that the thought of suckling a child feels creepy is by saying that, therefore, she wouldn’t dream of doing it.
And I get angry at the lactivists who have declared that breasts are not sexual, that people who think so are the ones who are perverted, that my breasts are not my own but my baby’s, exclusively. I get angry that I hear her feelings, which are so like mine, dismissed as “disgusting”, and I wonder, what would they think if I told them I felt the same? Would I get a gold star for persevering anyway? What if I’d stopped at fourteen months, when my period returned, and it got a lot harder? What if I’d stopped at two weeks, when I handed him to his father to latch on because it was that or self-harm to the point of permanent injury? What if I, long-time breastfeeding supporter, never started at all? Would I be disgusting? Or would I be OK, because I was on “the right side”, even if I was “broken”?
I am not broken. I don’t know why I feel the way I do while breastfeeding, and while I suspect fewer people would feel the way I do if our culture normalized breastfeeding and decentralized breasts in sex, I might still feel the same. Or I might not. Maybe “wires are crossed” in my brain, maybe I trained myself into it with nearly a decade of using my breasts to help me achieve orgasm before having a child (yet was I supposed to be anorgasmic?), maybe I was just born this way. Frankly, I don’t care, and I don’t want to hear anyone who does not feel this way theorize about why, especially not in a way that pathologizes and Others me and ignores what I have to say about my experiences.
What I want is to be allowed to talk about it. I want to not be shoved into a corner, head patted and gold star decorated, and told to shut up because my feelings might make the job of “selling” breastfeeding to the masses harder, might give ammunition to anti-breastfeeders who will use anything to call us perverted, any excuse to avoid nursing. What I want is to never, ever hear someone called disgusting for not being able to — or not wanting to — reconcile a lifetime of having a lover at her breast with the thought of having a baby there. What I want is to be part of a movement that doesn’t debase itself to use any means to achieve its goal, no matter how worthy that goal is; what I want is to be part of a movement that honors women and our multitude of feelings, that works not to control our actions but to give us the freedom to do as we wish.
Until we can talk about all the experiences of breastfeeding, until we can recognize that a woman’s breasts are not for sex nor for feeding babies nor for decoration but for whatever the hell she wants to use them for, people will continue to think that breastfeeding is creepy, and thus won’t do it. Those of us who feel this way — a minority even of people who don’t breastfeed, perhaps, but how large or small we don’t know — will continue to get defensive and toss out any excuse to not try and attack and belittle those who do; to reach in tears for a bottle and for the socially-sanctioned fallacy of “I didn’t have enough milk”; to grit their teeth and not seek help and fall into darkest depression; to soldier through and hurt themselves so as not to hurt their babies; to question whether they really want another child if it means going through all that again, alone. We have to be able to talk about it — we, those few (but not so few as you might think) who feel this way — so we can get past it, and get to peace. Whether we choose to breastfeed for nearly three years, or some, or not at all, if we cannot talk, we will be alone, and we will not find resolution.
So make the space. When someone says she didn’t breastfeed because it was creepy, listen to her. When someone doesn’t want to tell you why she didn’t breastfeed, or gives you a reason you know to be false, realize you don’t know the whole story, and grant her her privacy. When someone says she didn’t love every damn minute of nursing, don’t assume she’s anti-breastfeeding.
Mostly, shut up and listen. There are worlds of nuance that are being missed in the all-or-nothing shouting match as it stands, and I can’t stand it anymore.