First, I want to say, “Thank you Hanna Rosin.” Thank you for saying what I’ve been afraid to say of a couple of years now. Thank you for pointing out the sexism in the attachment parenting philosophy (especially as promoted by Doctor Sears). Thank you for a thoughtful look at statistics, which as a mathematics educator I appreciate. I am a little miffed about the title of your article, but I’m going to blame that on an overzealous editor. The point isn’t to make a case against breastfeeding, but, rather, to take the rose-colored glasses off of the choice for breastfeeding. While it has many advantages, breastfeeding also has disadvantages: it can sideline non-nursing parents and make it difficult to share the work of caring for a baby, it can be painful and difficult, and it can be incompatible with working.
As a university instructor with a private office, I still found pumping to be a challenge — I can’t imagine trying to pump if I didn’t have a completely flexible schedule and my own office with a locking door. Still, I nursed for 14 months and pumped for 9 or 10 of those months. My daughter’s lips never touched formula. Why? Sure, nursing saves money, but it didn’t for us. Between pumping supplies and medical complications, I’d say any money we saved was marginal. Yes, nursing provides a way to bond and be close with a baby, but I saw my wife create that same intimate environment through bottle feeding. Absolutely, I think nursing was a wonderful experience that brought my daughter and I closer, but it was also a frustrating and upsetting experience for both of us that at times seemed to drive us apart. Yes, nursing melted away my pregnancy weight (and allowed me to eat anything), but it also cracked my nipples and caused me to develop a painful breast abscess that left me with a scar. Sure, my daughter has enjoyed great health during her 2.5 years, but most of the bottle-fed babies I know have also been very healthy, and some of the breastfed babies I know have not.
For me, every positive aspect of nursing has an equally strong negative shadow. Looking back, I wonder why I nursed for so long. Even more, I wonder why I nursed exclusively. My wife and I had so many stressful conversations about whether I had pumped enough at work that day and whether she could feed the baby now or should try to wait until I got home. Why didn’t we just give her some formula? Guilt. And the need to be perfect parents. Like Hanna Rosin, Lyn and I live in a community where breastfeeding is the norm, and where women who cannot nurse usually feel sad or guilty. We are also a two-mom family, and we have unspoken fears lingering in dark places within us that our family, with it’s missing father, is deficient. Thus we have to make sure that we are above reproach in all other ways. I still feel occasionally defensive that Leigh and I stopped our nursing dance at 14 months. I was wildly happy to be done, but was I supposed to push for more? After all, many of my friends nursed for much longer.
We’re expecting another child in June, so we have a chance to do it over. How will we change things this time? Instead of backup up and deciding maybe some formula is OK, we’re going for the four-breast treatment. I’m inducing lactation, so this new baby will hopefully be able to nurse with both it’s mommies. Perhaps it will be twice as healthy and twice as smart for all our trouble. I have only one good reason for my choice — I want to be able to share the care of our new baby more equitably with Lyn. As I’ve said before, I struggled with nursing, and I’m feeling more anxiety than excitement at the prospect of nursing another baby. But I’m still taking hormones each day, and taking medication to stimulate lactation four times a day. When the baby comes, I’ll be pumping while the baby snuggles up to nurse. Every time. Even at night. So I’m already going deep into the minus column in order to nurse this baby. I’m excited at the prospect of getting to share the feeding responsibilities with Lyn, but it remains to be seen if the results will be worth all the effort, or if I’ll be wondering why we just didn’t relax and use formula.