I breastfeed my son for eighteen months. I never once breastfed him in public, both because I felt embarrassed and because feeding my tiny baby boy felt so intimate and beautiful; a secret bond that only he and I shared. While friends of mine were attending breastfeeding protests--or nurse-ins--fighting for the right to feed their babies wherever they choose, I contently snuggled my boy to my chest in the front seat of my car each time we left the house. I felt proud of my friends but didn't feel the need to share my secret bond for fear that someone would sexualize our relationship simply because the top half of my breast was showing. How silly, I thought, that I feel ashamed of something so beautiful.
Some of my mom friends showed no interest or had difficulty in breastfeeding their babies and instead opted for formula. I supported them for their choice but internally felt as if they were doing their babies--and their wallets--a disservice. Those babies won't know the intimate nursing bond I shared with my son! They're not getting important antibodies found in breast milk! And who would want to pay for formula when you can feed your baby for free? I judged, but never out loud. How someone else decides to feed her baby is none of my business.
Twenty weeks into my second pregnancy I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I remember calling my sister to tell her that the mass in my throat was cancerous and breaking down in tears as I told her, "I can't breastfeed my baby." Cancer was hard but knowing that my baby and I wouldn't share that priceless bond was devastating. I was failing my daughter before she had taken her first breath. Or so I thought.
Sixteen days later my daughter and I were on an operating table undergoing a total thyroidectomy to remove the tumor. Four months and one day later my beautiful baby girl was born. After she was examined by the medical staff she was placed on my breast to eat. She latched immediately. We savored every second of breastfeeding for an entire month before I was told to wean her in preparation for radiation.
The day I first bought formula at the store, I felt ashamed. I told the cashier, "I have cancer and can no longer breastfeed her." because I didn't want that Target employee to think I was a bad mother. But here we are four months later and my sweet, healthy five-month-old is thriving. Sleeping through the night even. Sure formula is expensive, but it sure is nice not to be the only one feeding my baby. Feeding her formula doesn't mean that I cuddle her any less.
And this brings me to the science of motherhood. You know back when you were in sixth grade and all of the girls wrote caddy notes to each other? Can you believe she's wearing that? Her new haircut is soooo ugly, she looks like a boy! Motherhood is a bit like being back in sixth grade except instead of talking gossip, moms judge. We compare our parenting styles, brag about our child's milestones, diagnose each other's kids to feel better about our own shortcomings. We disagree on what is best for our children, what is safe, what is appropriate.
My kids have co-slept and crib-slept, were breastfed and bottlefed. They've eaten processed foods like hot dogs and have had cookies for breakfast on occasion. We watch too much TV and we read just as much. We don't cry it out although we sure have sent a crying child to his room when deserved. We believe in time-outs and talking rationally over disciplining with hitting, and we don't feel a child should be in a forward facing carseat until he is at least two. We use disposable diapers instead of cloth, we allow our son to cook dinner with us next to a hot stove, I carry my infant in both a Moby and a Bjorn--even though Bjorns have been reported to cause hip dysplasia. We don't coddle our child when he falls unless he is bleeding or noticeably injured, yet we have been known to spend an entire day cuddling on the couch. We don't rush them to the doctor at every sign of a cold, and the hand on the forehead trick is used more often than a thermometer to measure a fever. We push them too high in the swing and let the dogs lick their faces. We feed solids starting at four months instead of six, we let our kids listen to popular music, we make them say please and thank you.
I've been a nervous person since I was a little girl, but when I became a mother I was overwhelmingly calm as if I knew that however I raised my babies, I would do what I felt was right. I do read the product recalls and am aware of the dangers, but I continue to use products that my children enjoy. Yes, they might fall out of a Bumbo seat without the new seatbelt attachment, but they might also fall while walking down the sidewalk. And while I feel like what I do for my children is what is best for us, there is a nagging voice in my mind, an unspoken judgement emanating from the pores of other moms. I feel like moms are passing notes to each other, whispering.
Here's the thing, moms. No one understands how hard it is to have a child who refuses to nap more than we do. We've all sobbed into our pillows after our child threw an all-day tantrum or dropped our $300 camera lens. We all have felt the unending joy of holding our babies in our arms and watching them smile and coo at us, or hearing our toddler say, "I love you, Mama, so much!" We know what wiping someone else's poop for the last one thousand days feels like. We moms should be each others' greatest supporters, shouldn't we? Let's remove the sticks of superiority from our butts. We all have buckets of flaws and still, we all are superheroes in the eyes of our children. I plan on trying harder to lead by example. To judge less. I am glad to know moms who have never slept in bed with their babies, moms who feed their children organic food, moms who save the planet by not filling our landfill with diapers. By embracing our differences we can make a difference. And if my child has hip dysplasia ten years from now from being carried around in a Baby Bjorn, please feel free to say I told you so.