Happy Birthday

Blessings, what a difference a year makes. Just 365 days, when is your birthday? Today is my grandmother’s birthday, she taught me the most I know about breastfeeding my babies. She would be 111 years old today had she not died in 1985. She gave me her old car after driving it awhile. It was her suggestion that I could take her Chevy Impala, when my pregnant self would no longer fit behind the wheel of our International Scout.  Reaching forward to shift the gears was just too awkward came and she sat with me in the scary weeks as I awaited my first child.  Her loving presence made all the difference.

My grandmother was the only family member I knew at the time who had totally breastfed a baby. Her mother died when she was three. An unbroken chain of maternal mammalian connection until my mom and then me. There is something about being an elder that is an unvarnished reflection of of yourself as a young person.  Youth with another perspective Id say.  When I started this blog I wanted to connect and intersect with the elders, the ancestors who had nursed their babies, the ones who didn’t and the women who might need to talk with us now, about what was on their minds and hearts and how we might be able to help.

Who would whisper in your ear that it would be alright, and that nursing your baby would be good for you if that was what you wanted and that fierce longing was your passion for how you wanted to be just this once just this time.  

I am a grandmother now.   Five grandchildren all breast fed, nursed long and lovingly by their moms just because they wanted to without influence from me. I hope I was there for their mothers when they needed someone older and wiser.  I am the elder, wise woman in the room, the one with the gray hair.  Some memories are crystal clear. Some things, the hurts and petty slights have lessened over time and I mostly remember the love and how it feels when you are called to do something and be someone and follow a path that you may catch some heat for. I miss my grandmother, but I also don’t have the illusion that I appreciated her as much as I do now that she is gone.  I see things differently than I did then.

Many of the women I meet now or know casually on social media are surrounded by family many of them women that don’t support what they want. Maybe because it is different, or strange, or that nursing calls for a level of support that they are just unable to provide.  There may be a full generation or even two who have never nursed an infant. If all your advice comes from your contemporaries or “Health” professionals. You just may be missing the long view and those who have weathered the battle and the sweetness and lived to tell the tale.

 Be gentle with them; but be yourself even when it feels a bit scary. Do it anyway and know you are loved and cared for just because you are you! You both have some important stories to share, we are listening! Happy Birthday! We celebrate you! Just one more year to go. This too shall pass!

The “Price is Right” is My Favorite Game Show

There are some things I do daily.   Some things happen weekly; biweekly, monthly; bi-annually; you get the picture, they are on the calendar, a regular practice. Somethings I don’t have to remember, they just occurred. There was some security in that knowing something would happen in spite of me, or because of me.

Every other Tuesday, I would get paid a set amount.  There was some comfort in knowing that. I thought it provided some measure of control I thought over my life.  I could plan things at least I thought around my spending.  The regularity of that check made me do or not do a lot of things.

 Until I nursed a baby, I don’t think I had an activity that occurred regularly that I allowed “control” to be given so freely and lovingly by someone else as an extension of me.  TNTC (too numerous to count). Why would I count?  That’s about how often you might nurse your little one some days.  

Surrender if you will if you can… I just sat down, or lay down, or refused to move or to do anything else. Allowing little else to take precedence over that five or ten minutes to at least to take the edge off. And then maybe a bit more time when needed or without watching the clock. Just till done, till the next thing called or we felt better.

  It wasn’t scheduled, this “nursing on demand” thing. We just had to be willing to show up for each other… I called to my little one when I felt full. My little one called to me when feeling near empty or hungry, or lonely, or curious, or just when something smelled yummy, or new or whenever.

What might you be saying by now does this have to do with the “Price is Right” ? Well I will connect the dots for you.   I love the Price is Right because I get to vicariously witness people with such excitement and joy.  They hear their name called and first with initial disbelief, it then registers , they mean me and the announcer gets louder and calls their name again and beckons them to come on down. They are usually crazy ecstatic! Running or moving gingerly, slowly, or great deliberation; they make their way down and bid on the prize.  From that moment on it doesn’t quite matter whether they get the price right or win the game. The joy and possibility is there and tangible and folks are jumping and excited when it means they mean me and I have something excited to look forward to…

Some people associate watching the game with others, my grandmother watched and I sat with her and we shared a snack. She was very reliable about the cuddle time and the snack. We also watched a program long off the air now called “Queen For A Day”. I can relax easily into that memory from time to time. However most often, I just like seeing people happy, total strangers especially full of hope and expectation.  It is absolutely contagious. It makes me smile.  

I find that if I schedule my day around the Price is Right and I hold that time from 11AM to 12 Noon weekdays. My day just goes better.  Watching a game show is not a quick cure for postpartum blues, or worry that won’t go away, or even a good substitution for a nap. But scheduling time for pleasure and joy reliably is a good spiritual practice. Something I learned from watching those amazing women around me who cared about me and for me.

Maybe I just won’t answer the phone, or I will sit still a minute and not multi-task. Or maybe I will actually play along with the game and guess the prices and wonder why they listened to someone else in the audience instead of relying on their first instinct and best intuitive judgment, but I rarely come away sad, after watching the Price is Right. 

Do you have something you do that you can schedule in or spend time with that will give you infectious joy and confidence in yourself and the world and most folks around you?

Did you smoke, drink, or do drugs while nursing your baby?

Nursing your baby for 365 days non-stop or longer is a long time, but not that long if you have made up your mind to stay close to your baby and to breastfeed until you or your little one no longer enjoy that kind of time together.  

Even if you planned to nurse that long, that is a long time to give up something you have been in the habit of doing just because you have decided to breastfeed your little one…  Just like nursing one day at a time, we have habits that are hard to break, or habits that we continue because we can’t stop. 

The big “A” words for addictions and abuse may rarely come up until you are pregnant, or nursing and you begin to wonder.  Will what I am doing hurt my baby? If I am solely responsible for their health and well-being; then maybe I will stop or try to stop a practice that is potentially not in their (our) best interest.  Perhaps considering my own health and well-being prior to this pregnancy was not incentive enough. Harm to the unborn child or the innocent infant as if it was defined as a separate entity unto itself raises the stakes.

Pregnancy is one thing; a finite set of time is different from the time after birth and others can observe and step in and judge you as the surrogate mom.  My daughter-in-law and I share a love of salami, cured, uncured Italian pork products are a treat. Shortly after the birth of the baby we shared a delicious deli sandwich that tasted the best ever… because it had appeared on a long list of items she had willingly given up for the weeks of pregnancy.

I recalled giving up coffee (caffeine) and soda. I never drank so that wasn’t an issue, occasional marijuana to enhance “?” was not a problem. The list was short, and I don’t recall any hardship.  I was much more impressed with folks who could give up cigarettes, alcohol, fried foods, sugar, an intolerable boyfriend and an array of other things they “did” daily so not appropriate for an infant or toddler.  I was supremely impressed with women with serious drug habits who were able to abstain from the minute they knew they were pregnant until the instant the baby was out. Alcohol use was less a reliable indicator of abstention, while it was probably the most likely predictor of fetal alcohol syndrome, many women did not associate weekend occasional binge drinking as affecting them at all.  Denial of abuse of any kind is a feature of addiction or abuse.  Is there something more “real” about involving someone else involved in your secret. I also remember doing things that I hadn’t done before, like eating more vegetables, drinking water, counting grams of protein, reducing sugar, drinking milk before I knew about lactose intolerance, and those wonderful daily naps.

Some women don’t choose or can’t give up or add anything to their already tight health regime. They live to tell the tale and either feel guilt and remorse while noting their child survived the life they led as did they.

Please tell us your story. Many women even today feel that their child’s health status today directly stems from something they did or were exposed to before they knew or when they knew but it couldn’t be helped.  No judgment, compassion and love pave the way for new beginnings and forgiveness.

Have you ever nursed another mother’s baby?

Before the advent of readily available infant feeding substitutes, it was not uncommon for women who were unable, unwilling or unavailable to nurse their babies to engage the assistance of wet nurses who would readily nurse another women’s baby.  This would not only save the life of the baby and in some regards the life and reputation of the mother.

It was considered a noble activity, sister sharing if within the same family or close-knit community, it could also be a lucrative profession for women at a time when women were rarely paid for women’s work. Often their own infants may indeed suffer the loss of milk or time, though depending upon cultural norms, their own children could be raised alongside or just ahead of the infant they were also nursing.

I have had the pleasure and the honor to nurse another woman’s baby. Always with permission, and in my case by the request of the mother in whose absence I was “called to duty”. Whether it was due to the reluctance of the infant to take a bottle or for the expressed comfort needs of the mother who felt what I had was better than the alternatives. Today, we may freeze and share vast quantities of excess breast milk given or sold by women with an outrageous supply of milk either because their baby was not available or had passed, or who had a tremendous supply due to the efficiency of modern day “milking machines” or electric pumps.

There is a clear history of black women nursing the babies of their white slave masters, their own children by their owners or the infants of their wives at times even simultaneously. It is a tangled web of traditions, secrets and clandestine relationships between women, their babies and the fathers of their children especially in isolated rural areas. There were many stakeholders in the decision as to who would nurse the baby when mother was not around. Having accessible affordable household help has always included the nurturing of children as well as support for the women unable to maintain the house and home-making. Having a ready supply of milk from healthy mothers was one way families and communities were ready to address an excessively high infant and maternal mortality rates rampant in certain parts of the country.

Where the wet nurse lives, who she lives with and the proximity to the baby and the babies’ mother and father could make for very interesting dynamics in the household.  It also extends our notion of “family”, cooperation and sharing.

More recently in social media and blogs, mothers have reacted quite strongly to women nursing their babies without permission.  Slate, an online newsmagazine took reader’s questions supposedly regarding the etiquette of a mother-in-law and a babysitter nursing someone’s baby secretly without permission.  However well-intended and well meaning, trust was broken, and both mothers reacted as violated and saw the offenders as criminals.  

Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Emily Yoffe ” pseudonyms” for Dear Prudence neither of whom would identify as nursing mothers Dear Abby’s of our day made no mention of any endearing qualities in a person spontaneously offering a breast to a baby while solidifying the moral outrage for women who lack boundaries on when to nurse someone else’s baby. 

 There is a long tradition now broken of the source of that instinctive touch of maternal connection and comfort. When we are gender neutral and there are pacifiers, bottles, nipples as well as multiple options for infant feeding, pureed foods and liquids; what might have been considered life affirming and lifesaving for the infant rarely considered the mothers’ emotional response to a crying, hungry infant and their stressed out mom.

Hormonal surges aside, whether lactating or not, the women felt something strong that might override any hesitancy to offer their breast.   Many nursing mothers may be shy to say they only wished there was someone who could “fill in” in their absence that they could trust. Would you feel differently if you believed the infant was orphaned and there was no other mother to step in? The police officer who found an abandoned baby, who had a nursing infant at home was applauded for her quick thinking and willingness to immediately take a cold hungry, dehydrated infant to breast as quickly as someone else might perform CPR.

So, what’s your story, please tell us about your experience?  Have you ever nursed an infant other than your own? Have you heard of a “wet nurse”?  How do you feel when you hear someone else’s baby cry? What do you think about the possibility of nursing another mother’s child if she asked you, if she gave you her blessing and permission?





Day care provider breastfeeding your baby: advice from Dear …

https://slate.com/…/daycare-provider-breastfeeding-my-baby-without- permission-advice.html

Feb 19, 2019  Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat. Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Good …

Dear Prudie: I caught my mother-in-law breast-feeding my son. What …

https://slate.com/…/dear-prudie-i-caught-my-mother-in-law-breast-feeding- my-son-what-do-i-do.html

Jul 9, 2012  Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers.

Mother-Baby Couples

In my book, Little Black Breastfeeding Book: Maternal Experience of Breastfeeding. 

 I have a small section where I expand on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. It is the concept of the mother-baby couple. Back in 2012, it began as a letter of support to my daughter who even after successfully nursing two children seemed to be struggling. I also noted that after many years as a lactation consultant and nurse midwife, I saw startling differences in the women who successfully nursed their babies. I also saw startling differences in the type of support and guidance nursing mothers received. Rarely was support and guidance given from the heart from those who had already successfully nursed their own children or even from those who had witnessed such a thing. We had skipped one or even two generations of no cellular memory of being breastfed or having nursed a little one. Not only was it fast becoming a lost art, but few were speaking about the benefits and experience of the mother. Here is a tiny excerpt from my story on the mother-baby couple as a tenet of the five keys for success that most mothers may need.

“The mother and baby are inseparable.  I would like to have you begin to think about how lives intersect along a continuum that begins with conception and one which ends with weaning. We cannot think about the needs of the infant during this period of time without thinking of the needs of the mother. There is no separate life for the mother or for the fetus.  Many midwives think that pregnancy is actually the establishment of a symbiotic relationship between interdependent souls. 

If conception occurs shortly after intercourse between a man and a woman, this act starts another relationship involving a heretofore-unmentioned third party: the mother -baby couple.  The experience that comes from joining two entities is uniquely interdependent on each other.  There is no mother without the baby. The development of who we are as mothers uniquely depends on the awareness and presence of the other.  We can speak of the origin of the mother-baby couple in terms of love, passion, sex, desire, planned or even as an unintended consequence of a momentary act.  However, we don’t always the know the spiritual circumstances of conception. I believe and I would like for you to consider if there is not some part of you that was called to be a mother.  Maternal instinct is an oversimplification of what I am talking about. Is there some part of you that opens to sharing yourself with another human being and for caring for a part of you that will become its own separate being?”

This morning I listened to yet another Story Corp of a woman in search of her biological mother. She spoke about the longing of discovery while also loving her adoptive mother. Her story points to a unique and special connection.  On her journey she met her siblings, folks she shared womb space with under very different circumstances than her own. Earlier in the week, my grandson called to tell his mother that his best friend’s mother called to say sadly his friend had committed suicide the night before. My daughter called to tell me. We cried as mothers, worried for our own sons and the despair we experienced in our own lives. Last night I finally got to speak with him.  In no small way was it a conversation about grief, love, and connection with the mother. It was about both longing and reflection.

In less than a month, four friends of mine noted the passing of their respective mothers.  All acknowledging the wave of memories and conflicting emotions. Last night I listed to Gloria Steinem speak about a pivotal moment when she decided she was unable to continue this relationship and how it impacted her life, her vision of her own mother and childhood and all the life experiences as a woman and a feminist that would yet to come. At a casual lunch, a friend mentioned she had not heard from her daughter for a long while; her daughter telling her just after her wedding that she no longer needed a mother just now.  My friend at 72 lamented missing her so, yet unable to cross the chasm to be where she was not welcome or wanted.  Settling for grief, is a most delicate form of love.  Our experiences as mothers deeply influences our spiritual lives. 

This blog honors what I hope is the maternal experience of the connection if for however brief or tormented or joyous. It is a shared memory that women so rarely give voice to because they are not heard or are shamed at a point of great vulnerability with such high expectations.

Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday.  She has been long gone as we noted ten years since her death the day before President’s Obama’s first inauguration. We buried her the day after my birthday.  I shopped today for a headstone that I hadn’t quite gotten to purchase just yet. At 65 I am still a part of that mother-baby couple.

Please tell us your story of your experience as a part of the mother-baby couple?

Where is my period?

Do you ever wonder where your period went while nursing that baby?  

There is such variability out there around when your period returns after having the baby, whether you can get pregnant or not, and actually how much nursing (sucking-stimulation) is actually going on.  What is the frequency? What is the intensity?  I am so curious about how it felt to not have a period for so long and not be pregnant and what nursing may have had to do with it. How did you feel when the bleeding finally returned? Had you actually decreased the amount of time you actually spent nursing your little one? Perhaps it was not a factor at all!

We know so very little about the experience of women and how it feels.  Of course, you can get pregnant without the return of your period, or even having had a “first” period. Ovulation can occur in the absence of menses. Just a single drop of an egg can slip by you and meet up with the sperm; but it is not a likely occurrence if there were few separations between you and your baby. Increased sucking inhibits ovulation but does not prevent it from taking place. There are many other factors at work.

Whether you actually thought to use lactation as a form of contraception is not relevant.  However, to protect the mother from conceiving too soon after the last baby, there is a biological shift that allows for a gentle space between each child over a period of decreased fertility.      

If you are completely focused on your part in the developing relationship of the mother-baby couple, your period is probably the last thing you will see until the slow and steady introduction of solid foods accompanied by regular and lengthy separations from your baby.  Sucking inhibits ovulation indirectly through the release of two hormones prolactin and our old friend oxytocin.

If you have never heard of the term:

“Lactational amenorrhea”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactational_amenorrhea as a legitimate form of contraception, it doesn’t surprise me. Today, we expect a much higher rate of certainty these days in our birth control methods.  But we are barely just barely two generations away from widespread use of oral hormonal methods when for centuries all women had were abstinence, barrier methods and nursing babies to stave off the next child wanted or not. Women had to have the permission of their husbands to obtain almost any contraception. Most women historically never have the option to decline sex without serious risks or consequences.

With my two babies, my period returned about nine months and eleven months respectively.  They were six years apart almost to the day, so my frequency of lactation had little to do with my fertility or so I thought. I enjoyed not having my period. No cramps, no heavy bleeding, just diapers for the baby…

The return to bleeding was a powerful sign of a huge shift in my relationship with my little one.   I felt different, I smelled different, I wondered at times if the milk tasted different. For some reason the blood or absence thereof was a sign of connectedness.  I was aware of feeling a bit PMS, anxious and irritable with some bloating, and then I would just sit down or lie down and nurse my baby and we would both feel better.  Was that the signal for the onset of my period?

There came a time when it was over… I didn’t recall that it had anything to do with weaning. It had to do with our comfort and ability to spend time away from each other freed up to be available to others. My periods were “normal” less onerous for a time. And then the bleeding got heavier as I got older, more painful and associated with fibroids and the doctor said, have another baby, or these fibroids must come out… the end of my fertility, the return or the absence of bleeding.

Please tell us your story. What is your recollection of your period?  Do you have stories about your first period? The first period you missed and why? Who could you tell? How did you handle your period?  What was your bleeding like when you nursed your baby? 

References. read on…

The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor by Sheila Kippley 



Palms, Passover, Passion! Breastfeeding365.com

Many traditions celebrate the coming of Spring; but there is nothing like a birth, or the restoration of a life thought dead and dormant to signal Spring.  Breastfeeding365.com is finally here! 

Nursing a baby for a year or more is quite an accomplishment. It is not the same as bottle feeding the baby your breast milk. Making a decision to stay close to your baby and maintain the connection through the fourth “trimester” despite all odds is quite frankly epic! Experiencing long physical separations as a part of the mother-baby couple, no matter how legitimate the reason is traumatic to mothers. Most mothers literally suck it up and move on, but that doesn’t mean there were no consequences.  We are changing the way we treat women first and foremost by listening to what they have to say about what happened to them from their perspective.

A few years ago, I didn’t even know what a blog was. Now I read many blogs and use this personal blog as a way to support the women who want to nurse their babies by sharing our experiences. I discovered a while back that writing daily was an essential spiritual practice for me.  It helped me to focus my ideas, illuminate my passions and I quickly learned it was one of the best ways I knew to connect with women who had a secret so they would no longer feel isolated and alone. We healed by talking to one another.

Sharing that experience with other women and attempting to put those emotions in to words is to preserve the recollection of what is it like to have a profound attachment to your baby. These genetic memories are ancient, and occur on a cellular level. Feminism can be defined in the many diverse ways of a woman’s lived experience.

I was surprised to learn that many women had no experience with even seeing a nursing infant. Nor could they explain the complex tangle of feelings that occurred when pregnancy and lactation quickly and abruptly ended. Child rearing, like child bearing was in danger of being seen only as a medical event with little mention or concern of the lived experience of women and their families. Nursing a baby was primarily looked at as beneficial to the baby with no mention of the mom and heaps of guilt if you decided that you couldn’t or didn’t want to nurse your baby. Pediatric recommendations of nursing your baby for one year took no account of how that might occur for women in their current role and space.

Nature provides many examples of mammals (live birth-warm milk) tending to the needs of children, nursing mothers, and the family. We are the only ones that can express those feelings as a part of our legacy. Have you nursed a baby, yours or someone else’s baby for one year or more? We want to hear from you and hear your story. Sharing across the miles, and generations as part of our human family.

Many women have no mother, grandmother or elder to learn the stories of nursing their babies. We can introduce ourselves to one another and keep those memories alive. What would you like to see happen on our brand-new breastfeeding365.com website?  What questions do you have? How can we help you share your story?

Losing your baby, does the heartache ever end?

I always used to think that there was a special kind of grief reserved just for mothers who lost their little ones in the first year of life.   Whatever you thought those first 365 days would be like, you could not have imagined it ending with death. Now that I am older and way wiser, it doesn’t matter how old you or they are, there is no preparation for the loss of a child. I was invited in to a moment of a dear friend who yesterday wanted to share with me the birth of her now dead daughter who would have if she had lived would have celebrated her 58thbirthday with her mother. The day that the two of them would forever share.

Birth, anniversaries of precious events still ring true and ever present knowing no time or distance between mother and child.  It occurred to me that there are other kinds of loss. Estrangements, separations, consensual or otherwise that activate the grief button. It is not depression, it’s not something you get over. There may be comfort and solace, but it is something we learn to live with as if an essential part of us, a missing limb is now gone.  You live differently, you acknowledge the special place in your heart and your memory and your expectations and desires.

It also occurred to me that even if you didn’t experience such a loss, most mothers live in abject fear that once the love and connection has been made, everything at all cost must happen to prevent anything or anyone from causing or contributing to that loss. The fear of separation, actual or virtual is intolerable. So, we hover, we smother, we meddle, we neglect our own lives in avoidance of feeling even the threat of that potential separation or the belief that we or anyone in any way could cause harm to our baby.

Blessings to you, or to anyone feeling the loss and searching for a way to fill the void. Tears are sweet.  Today, I learned even cows cried tears when they missed their babies.

Please tell us your story. We are listening and standing by.

Is anyone you know seem a bit jealous of the time you spend nursing your baby?

Their comments seemed harmless enough at first, but the feeling of disapproval lingers and stings.

“How many times are you going to feed that baby, he can’t be hungry?”

“They better learn now; someone is not going to pick her up every time she cries.”

“You are spoiling that baby!”  “No one is going to watch her for you, and she won’t ever take a bottle if you keep that up”

You need nerves of steel to keep the milk flowing and not take to heart when the people you know, and love don’t get it. Strangers of course are a different category of misery.

When I think back especially to those times, it was my first time as a woman when I decided to nurse that I stood up for myself and did day in and day out what I thought was best for me.  A classic conflict avoider from birth, I usually remained silent and just did what I wanted to do anyway and hope I didn’t get caught in having to explain.  Nursing my baby just because I wanted to… forced me in some ways to take a very public stand about my own values and beliefs as it related to my own well-being.  I could rationalize from time to time that it was for the baby when in fact it was absolutely for me.

I remember once the little one was crying at a large gathering of extended “family” and friends. Most everyone thought they were being helpful by passing the fussy, cranky smelly one around, asking for a bottle, a pacifier, jiggling and shaking the baby and I heard my mother in a mildly annoyed way.  “Give that baby to his mother please…” They belong together.

My mother’s defense of me caught me off guard, it was my husband who usually stood between me and the crowd of parenting style police. She had taken on a not so new role of advocacy for me that allowed me the courage to step in to my rightful place of connection with my own baby. I lost my fear, and I know longer cared what other people thought about the things that were within my power to do something about. It was my first and best attempts at consistently choosing love.

Being a mother made me fierce and confident and able to stand my ground.  It would be many many years later that I would get my words and my voice on how being a mother made me feel. Until then, just claiming my space and nursing my baby was enough.

Please tell us your story and recollections.  How did you handle harsh criticism of your desire to nurse and stay close to your baby? Especially when it seemed like the baby was seen as competition for your love and respect and you weren’t seen at all.