Lindsey McLean (writer of the blog Swiss Lark) is one of the mothers I met very early in the life of my first-born boy, back when breastfeeding was failing for us. I remember watching her breastfeed Coco and being in awe; being filled with envy at her ability to do this magical, unattainable thing; being the mother that I had dreamt of being my whole life. I doubt that she has any idea of the impact that she had on me at that time, but she has always been a mother that I admire — for her confidence to follow her heart when it tells her to try new things, for her openness to making a change, and for her continued hunt for happiness.
Lindsey is the first of hopefully many mamas I will interview about their breastfeeding experience. Here she is, fully exposed, in all her vulnerable, beautiful glory:
Why do you breastfeed?
I LOVE breastfeeding. In my view, there is nothing more beautiful than a contented baby (or toddler!) at the breast. I am a big believer that “breast is best” and I love the bonding it provides for mother and baby. Theo is 21 months. His older sister Coco is 4 ½. I nursed Coco until she was 2 ½ and plan to do the same for Theo. My allergies are off-the-charts horrible, so I also want to do everything I can to prevent that for my children. Long-term breastfeeding is supposed to decrease allergy severity. It may not be true because mine are so bad – or, they might have been even worse if my mom hadn’t nursed me for two years!
Did you go into motherhood with a firm idea of how you wanted to feed your baby? Where do you think this idea came from?
Absolutely! I come from a long line of breastfeeding women. My mother breastfed each of my three siblings and me for two years minimum. I grew up hearing stories of my mom’s struggles with weaning me. She tried everything, including cayenne pepper sprinkled on her nipples before feeding! I was very verbal very early, and responded, “Nursey-nursey tastes funny!” but kept on anyway. My poor mom! My aunt loves to recall the time my mom was literally running away from me on the beach at the lake, and I was chasing her calling out, “NURSEY-NURSEY!” I actually don’t even know how she eventually got me to quit! My maternal grandmother breastfed all four of her children in the 1940s, when breastfeeding was definitely not in favor! She was the child of Finnish immigrants and not interested in following trends. Her entire life, she focused on good nutrition. She never boiled, but always steamed her vegetables, she walked several miles each day until her late 80s and she lived to be 97 years old. In her opinion, breastfeeding was the healthiest for mother and baby, so that is what she did. Obviously, by the time I gave birth in 2011, this idea was well engrained in my head.
|Lindsey with her mum
Did your experiences follow your expectations? How/How not?
Yes, with Coco, I had a really easy time breastfeeding. My milk came in after three or four days and, being in the hospital in Switzerland, I was relaxed, had help all around me and just focused on feeding her and getting it down. I always had lots of milk and aside from the usual obstacles of getting her to latch properly and some initial engorgement, it was a breeze! With Theo, it was a lot harder. We went home from the hospital after 36 hours and the problems began. I had major engorgement, got mastitis twice and had terrible cracked nipples. It was so painful and miserable the first few weeks. If I hadn’t had supportive friends and family and already breastfed successfully, I would have quit. On the third or fourth night when my milk really came in, it was unbearable. I didn’t have a pump, and I was so badly engorged that I actually asked nearly 3-year-old Coco, who was really missing breastfeeding, if she wanted to nurse! She said yes, but had apparently forgotten how to latch, because she declared it wasn’t working and went back to sleep. I was in such agony!! I went at 2am to the 24-hour Walmart (a place I NEVER shop out of principle) and bought a hand pump. My husband and Coco were fast asleep, so I just took the baby with me. Two nights later, of course, the mastitis struck. It was late at night, but I knew it was mastitis, so I called the nurses at the hospital, they diagnosed me over the phone and my husband went to the 24-hour pharmacy and got me the antibiotics. The mastitis cleared up, but then, the morning of Theo’s one-week-birthday, he finished nursing, spit up and it was full of blood. There was no way to tell if it was my blood, from my horribly cracked nipples, or his, so we went to the emergency room. Thankfully, it was my blood. The following Monday, I went to see a lactation consultant, got Theo to latch better, and had to pump exclusively while my nipples healed. All of this in the first ten days! So much running around and exhaustion. If I had been in Switzerland, I would have still been in the hospital, with lovely midwives there to take care of me and meals brought round three times per day. It makes me cry to think of how badly mothers have it in the US by comparison.
What is the biggest challenge that you have had to attempt to overcome?
Honestly, for me, the biggest challenge is the lack of sexual desire. With both of my babies, I have been convinced there is something horribly wrong with me. Every time I’ve mentioned my lack of libido to doctors or midwives, they all say the same thing. “It is normal. Hormones are different when your body is breastfeeding. Your body is focused on providing for your baby. This is nature’s birth control.” There is a lot of pressure to be sexy while juggling all the demands of motherhood. I feel like I must be the only mother on earth who isn’t keeping her house perfectly clean and tidy, whipping up delicious organic meals, killing it professionally and, of course, having lots of hot sex, all while providing mother’s milk, contending with sleep deprivation and keeping on top of the never ending laundry pile. It’s giving me a major shame complex if I’m perfectly honest. But, whatever. Keep calm and carry on, right?
What do you think is the number one reason that more women are not breastfeeding until the WHO recommended two years?
I don’t know. I hear a lot of women say they want their body back. I’ve also heard a lot of women say their husbands wanted them to stop breastfeeding so that THEY can have their body back! A lot of women don’t know how, or don’t want to breastfeed, a child with teeth. But it’s easy to overcome biting and the entire reason humans have two sets of teeth is because one set is going to be ruined by that sweet breast milk. They’re called “milk teeth” in most languages for a reason! Overall, I think there is a huge push to make babies fit in with the routines and desires of the modern woman. But having a baby and breastfeeding are very disruptive and require the mother to follow the child and give a lot of herself and of her time. It doesn’t fit with the “have it all” maxim of today.
What are your thoughts on this idea of a ‘mummy-war’ that exists between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding mothers?
The “Mommy Wars” seem to be a result of that “have it all” school of thought clashing with the way babies and breastfeeding naturally work. Newborns are completely helpless and very needy. But the popular “have it all” idea is to make the baby fit into your life, rather than change or eliminate things in your life in order to make space and time for the baby. I think that is the basic idea behind the “Mommy Wars”. The fact is that every woman has to do what works for her. For me, that meant clearing my plate and focusing 100% on caring for that baby. For others, that might mean weaning when they go back to work so that they can do both, or pumping. I totally admire the moms who pump – it’s a ton of work and exhausting and shows a great deal of commitment on their part. Of course, the “Mommy Wars” leave out TONS of moms. Not every woman can afford to quit work and stay home with her baby, even if she wants to. Not every woman can breastfeed, even if she wants to. At the end of the day, every woman wants to feel supported and good about what she is doing. The problem is, when one woman writes a Huffington Post article declaring, “I’m okay and what I’m doing is okay,” to other women making different choices, it sounds like, “You’re doing it wrong and what you’re doing is not okay.” It would be great if we could all feel okay without having to defend our choices. Then, no one would have to hear anyone else’s manifesto, thereby doubting her own choices! Every mother experiences insecurities. I remember feeling really scared about being a mom before we decided to have kids and a no-nonsense, older mother told me, “Listen. You’re never going to be a perfect mother. You don’t have to be. You just have to be good enough.” And she was right. If you’re a mom and reading this, give yourself a little pat on the back. You’re doing just fine, mama!
Thanks for this insight into your life, Lindsey!
Lindsey writes the beautiful blog Swiss Lark, focusing on design, culture and motherhood, and currently explores her struggle to reintegrate back into USA after living in Switzerland. I was lucky enough to be interviewed as the first in her ‘Expat Mamas’ series, and if you are interested in reading about my life bringing up my boys a whole planet away from Australia, head here for a read.