Oh, breastfeeding. How can such a simple thing be so fraught? Even if you are one of the lucky ones who finds it easy, whose baby latches, whose nipples don’t turn into gruesome scabs, whose milk flows plentifully, who learns that awesome skill of nursing while doing other things (eating spaghetti, sleeping, walking your toddler to music class, sleeping, did I mention sleeping), you have the next series of hurdles to cross: the prying eyes of everyone else in the world who has an opinion on your breastfeeding habits, which is usually about 10,000 people too many.
My buddy Luisa Colón, a very fine writer among her many other talents (i.e. acting, drawing, rocking the cutest pixie cut ever), has a really insightful piece in the New York Times Motherlode today, about how as a breastfeeding Latina mother she has not found support in her community. She writes:
“I’m just half Puerto Rican, but my fellow Latinas always seem to be able to spot me as one of their own. It’s a cultural community that I’ve found to be made up of protective, generous women. I love how a group of Hispanic women, assembled around my children, will issue gentle coos of “Que lindo,” a chorus of affection and acceptance. More often than not it’s a Latina who offers me her seat on the subway or a hand up the steps when I have my family in tow.
Up until a few months ago, I lived with my family in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Lest you think Puerto Ricans in that famously bourgeoisie neighborhood are as rare as gluten-free pasteles, seven years ago my partner, Joe, and I moved into a rent-stabilized building in the South Slope next door to a Puerto Rican matriarch and her assorted children and grandchildren. The night we moved in, they presented us with a giant baked ziti that had our initials written on the top in tomato sauce. It seemed like the start of a harmonious relationship.
Then I had my two boys. I nursed my first born, C. C., until he was 20 months old — about 19 months too long, according to my neighbors. To their horror, I also nursed him in public, often while he was strapped to my chest in the Ergo carrier.
I heard a lot about how my sons were “too attached” to me because of breast-feeding, how my breasts were “out there” for everyone to see. And I heard enough for 20 lifetimes about how my neighbor’s formula-fed, similarly-aged grandchild was younger than C. C. and way, way chubbier (the Coca-Cola he was drinking at 18 months probably helped with that, too).”