Happy belated #WorldBreastfeedingWeek! Happy because I am a breastfeeding mama, and belated because... well, let me explain. As with so many things in the universe of momhood, breastfeeding comes with some complexity baked in. For me, it’s that I’m still breastfeeding my toddler. I’m proud of that, and it’s absolutely the right choice for my family... so why do I feel a tinge of shame just saying it out loud?
daughter is old enough to ask for the breast. She has even created her own little ritual around it. She’ll sweetly place her chubby hand on my shoulder, give it a little squeeze and say in her mousy, lipsy voice:
My heart, of course, explodes with love every time -- is there anything more endearing?! Yet now, as I am trying to wean her off of breastfeeding throughout the day (she can do it in the morning -- I’m half awake anyway!), I’m navigating a new sensation. One day, she asked just as beautifully and correctly as always, and I had to say the dreaded word: No.
I knew I hurt her feelings. Her eyes looked up at me, puzzled, and her lower lip formed into a half-pout. I was this close to saying ‘I TAKE IT BACK! COME AND GET IT!’ when something dawned on me. Despite how difficult and unnatural the moment was, it was also the first time I was actively, verbally teaching her about consent.
Consent is about saying “no” out loud. It didn’t matter that she was asking nicely, or with the best of manners, or if she feels that my body owes her something. “This is my body, and I don’t want to” is an answer she needs to internalize is acceptable and allowed -- no questions asked.
It’s the same agency that I act with in my decision to breastfeed my child into toddlerhood -- “My body. My choice.”
My misplaced breastfeeding shame is likely the same as how a mom bottle-feeding a newborn in public might feel eyes on her back; or how someone who chose not to breastfeed might sense the judgment of her doctor. To all those who are nursing, not able to nurse, chose not to nurse, nursing a toddler -- I want you to feel joy and not shame in whatever your experience is. Your personal choices are yours alone and can be used to start conversations with your children about consent and agency, and ultimately, how every single choice they make for and with their bodies is theirs and theirs alone.