My Weaning Party: thoughts on breastfeeding on the occasion of having weaned my daughter.

June 10, 2016


There is nothing I can say in the space of this essay that won’t have an emotional impact on someone. I need to say that first. This is my story of breastfeeding and I know I can’t speak for anyone else. However, it’s a sensitive and emotional subject for many. Myself included. This is the story of breastfeeding in the current moment. It is so hard to talk about openly and because of that before this past year, nothing. Or next to nothing.

I came into breastfeeding knowing very little. I had a friend who upon giving loads of advice in my late pregnancy told me her wife was unable to breastfeed and she has it much easier. The advice was: don’t stress about it, either way you’ll be okay. The comment was the first time I realized that feeding my child could potentially be a challenge.

Now I know, breastfeeding is one of the most challenging things that women’s bodies can do. That it is a rarity for it to come easily to a woman and her child. But it is easy to forget in the haze of the early months that we struggled to achieve the ability to feed our children with our bodies. Breastfeeding makes pregnancy look easy.

And here we get into challenging territory. My mother, who cherished her time nursing her children, really wanted me to succeed. She gave me a couple of books including one that she said had been very helpful for her. The book basically said that if you don’t succeed at breastfeeding it is probably caused by a lack of education about how breastfeeding works.

And here a binary is set up: you can breastfeed and succeed or you cannot breastfeed and fail. The “Breast is best” campaign started ringing in my ears and I knew I needed to succeed. I wanted to believe that I had the education, that I had the desire and that my body could provide what my child needed. This child I had fed for almost 10 months inside of me could continue to be nurtured by my body.

Every bump we hit I felt as my body failing me and my child. She wasn’t gaining enough weight, my milk wasn’t coming in enough even as my breasts ached and burned. She wanted to eat all of the time but according to the lactation consultant her latch wasn’t effective and even the amount of time she spent pulling on my nipple (pulling to the point that I bled) didn’t amount to much. And so like many women, I had to start supplementing. First with a bit of formula and then as I started to pump more with my pumped milk.

My maternity leave consisted of breastfeeding, feeding her the pumped milk, attempting to get  Joan to sleep, or giving her to my husband or another visitor and going to pump. I watched a lot of Anthony Bourdain in those early days. I was pumping and visiting some place around the world where I watched a man execute his privilege over and over. And pumping itself wasn’t easy. As the machine went to work so did I. At the end of twenty minutes of hands on work I was frustrated looking at my ounce or two wishing I could produce more.

At around two months we experienced a shift. I don’t know if it was her or me but she gained fine (still/always a tiny little thing) and no longer seemed to need to supplement. For the last few weeks of my maternity leave things were working the way I had always expected them to. When she was hungry and got fussy I adjusted my shirt, she latched and we nursed until she was satisfied. The nipples healed up and breastfeeding became pleasant.

As a working mother that pleasant relationship was bound to change.  For the first few weeks of daycare I pumped five times a day. I woke up, nursed Joan, got us dressed and pumped while she “played” on her mat next to me. At work I pumped three times a day. I got home, nursed and then pumped again after dinner. Now I watched Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Agents of Shield, Jane the Virgin or Scandal the dramatic shifting action occupying my mind while my hands pressed into my breasts trying to push out every little bit of milk available. And still I was hardly making enough for her daycare bottles.

I felt like a failure. I was a wreck. My body was pushed to the extreme, I was exhausted (in addition to the schedule above Joan was still waking 2-4 times a night to nurse at that point) and emotionally I was hardly holding on. Andrew in the middle of one of my exhausted crying episodes suggested getting some formula just to have as a back-up to release me of the pressure of having to stress about all of the pumping. Sure, I said but only as a back-up, just in case I can’t make enough one day.

But the truth is that formula released me. One level of the stress went away. It didn’t have to be all on me and my body. Joan would be okay. Formula even filled with chemicals and looking/smelling gross was created just for this purpose to make sure my daughter got fed.

Within a week I gave up my morning pump and life got much easier. I continued on for about five more months. When Joan was about 8 months old, and had started solids, I pulled back to two pumps at work. At about 10 months I stopped my evening pump. And at eleven months I stopped pumping at work all together. With each pump I dropped Joan got another bottle of formula. Each time I felt more free despite the hard-to-shake guilt that I somehow failed.

For those who haven’t breastfed you may not realize that it’s not a choice to pump or nurse. Your body demands it. For most of the past year I couldn’t go three hours without needing to do one or the other. I would be sitting in a meeting, onstage at a discussion or walking down the street and I would feel at first a bit uncomfortable, then a huge anxiety and nervous energy (I took this to be a biological internal monitor letting my know my baby was starving – my monitor obviously isn’t aware of formula) and then pain and at times a release. One night when Joan slept longer than usual, she woke up and I changed her diaper before feeding her. Standing at her changing table I felt something drip on my foot – is our air conditioning leaking? – nope, just my breast dripping onto my foot.

Is this what success looks like? A year of stress, anxiety and even pain? My body connected to the demands of my daughter even if she is happily drinking a bottle miles away at daycare? I left dinners early, I avoided going to the theatre, I got frustrated easily in meetings when I was passed my pump time, I certainly fought with my husband when he didn’t deserve it just because my body was being pulled by its biological obligation. Is that success?

Nursing has really special moments. The first time I realized Joan could see and focus was when she was nursing and suddenly looked up and made eye contact. Thinking about that moment now makes my heart swell. As she got older nursing could be gentle or playful. Her head nestling into me with its soft curls, or her fingers pinching and exploring.

I spent time with mothers who nursed their children until they were well into toddlerhood. I wondered if I would, could. “Stop by the time she can ask for it”– friends would say – not realizing that she started asking for it by pulling at my shirt when she was three months. I had hoped she would wean herself (but secretly I hoped that would happen soon).

Joan is starting to develop language. She can ask for water with a word that sounds like a mix of water and agua: wagua. She still asks to nurse by pulling on my shirt. And in the past week I’ve said no. It was my choice not hers. Part of me still feels bad about it – that I’m somehow failing her that I should keep going until she no longer wants it.  And I was nervous I would lose that time of closeness of her eyes in mine, her hair against me, and her fingers taking ownership of my skin.

As far as I can tell this is the point of parenting: to take a helpless being who relies only on you and helping them get to the point when they don’t need you anymore. Joan doesn’t need me for sustenance: she drinks milk, water and eats EVERYTHING.  I feel both a loss and a huge gain.

And so we are done with that part of our relationship. In Genesis it is mentioned that Isaac had a weaning party. I love that idea. I want to celebrate Joan’s growth and I want to celebrate my freedom. My body is finally my own again almost two years after I first got pregnant. Instead of having a party last night I bought a ring. It’s a milky white rose and a reminder to me that I was successful. That despite all the self-doubt, the feeling that I wasn’t good enough, and the hours spent pumping, I was successful. My body did what it was supposed to do: it allowed me to make my own choices. That Joan’s body did what it was supposed to do: it thrived.

Bye, breastfeeding, so long.


My weaning ring. Purchased at Brookland Arts Walk made by the talented Rachel Pfeffer.



green days

June 16, 2009

have you all been following the situation in Iran? I find it fascinating.

I don’t really know how to talk about it or write about it.  Without being there, without having an Iranian friend by my side to guide me through the intricacies, it is overwhelming to just follow twitter feeds and blog postings.

Just so, I suggest taking a look through out the day at Andrew Sullivan’s blog on the Atlantic. He has done an amazing job of keeping up to date and filtering with the bits and pieces of news.

And also I just wanted to make note of Twitter responding to how it’s being used in Iran by changing their maintenance time so as not to stop the flow of information during daytime in Iran.

I hope the situation ends peaceably and I send out hope to Iran that they can create a society that reflects all the people not just the religious extremists.

quick thought about art in the depr/recession

April 2, 2009

On the New York Times’ Homepage today they have a headline Reader’s Photos Picturing the Recession. They have photo galleries filled with images taken on peoples digital cameras and sent in, there is even a place to upload your own.  This isn’t the first one of these send us your own photos things I’ve seen.  A couple of different new sources have had them, this all comes on the wave of citizen journalism I guess. And it makes me sad.

In the great depression, photographers like Dorothea Lang and Walker Evans and Gordon Parks were paid to document what was happening in America. Their photographs were moving works of art that spoke to much more than what a snapshot can accomplish. And did I say they got paid? Yes, right I did.

Having an open place for participation, though exciting at first, leads to a dismissal of the artist. I know this is an issue with journalism as coveted spots and, on tv, time get taken up people who are submitting for free.  But the more it happens it seems to discredit those who want to do the work. If we can all do it for free why pay anyone?

Maybe we should stop submitting to these things.  Maybe there should be equal pay for anyone willing to put something in the public eye.  Maybe we should heighten photography again to an art form not just within gallery walls. Maybe we should let the journalists do their jobs. People who are trained and paid will do it better.

Anyway, just a little rant for the morning.

artists are people too

February 7, 2009

I don’t know if you knew that. That artists are people. People who are losing their jobs. People who raise kids and buy food. People just like everyone else. People who are doing a service to the community by making art. Art is important. Artists are important. But it seems some people in this country don’t think so.

The Coburn amendment that passed last night restricts the use of federal funding in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act from being used by those in the arts. The actual language states:

None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway beautification project..

Rep Jack Kingston actually said in reference to giving money to the NEA: “We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous.” (found on the createequity blog) Did you catch that? Real people. Artists aren’t real people our jobs don’t count.

I can’t even begin to describe my anger. I get even more angry as I read these quotes from op-ed’s from Americans for the Arts:

* “True to form, Congress has loaded the [bill] with hundreds of billions in wasteful spending. The bill includes $650 million for digital TV coupons, $140 million to study the atmosphere and $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. None of these proposals would create jobs or boost our economy. They’re just old-fashioned waste” – Op-ed in the Indianapolis Star

* “The National Endowment for the Arts would get $50 million for new exhibits to deem America racist and sexist.” – Op-ed in the Norwich Bulletin

* “The National Endowment for the Arts, for example, is in line for $50 million, increasing its total budget by a third. The unemployed can fill their days attending abstract-film festivals and sitar concerts.” – National Review Editorial

* “I just think putting people to work is more important than putting more art on the wall of some New York City gallery frequented by the elite art community.” [U.S. Rep Jack] Kingston said. “Call me a sucker for the working man.” – Congressional Quarterly report

So what can be done? Click here to let your Senator know what you think. Unless of course you are an artist in dc, ’cause we are just screwed on so many levels.