Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nursing Nag

I was talking with a good friend about her upcoming baby, and she asked me for the dirt on what it was like last time when Gail was nursing and I wasn't. The short answer is that it was way better than I expected it to be. The combination of reading Rachel Pepper's book about lesbian pregnancy, which more or less makes it sound like if a non-bio-mom touches the baby, the baby will starve to death (only slight overstatement), too much Dr. Sears, and a few essays in the Other Mother Anthology by Harlyn Aizley had me convinced that I was (a) completely unnecessary and (b) would have to wait at least 2 (or 3 or 4 or ...) years until my child was done nursing before she would even bother to look at me. Yeah, I might have blown it a little out of proportion, but it's hard to know that ahead of time. And since then, I've met plenty of families (straight and queer) in which (a) and (b) are pretty much true for non-nursing parents, so I don't think I was completely making it up.

We already know that in terms of those particular worries, things turned out fine. But the conversation got me thinking about the ways in which things weren't fine. My friend and I were talking about the particular pressures on queer families, and how we seem to feel this collective pressure to "be perfect." I certainly did. I felt like I needed to do absolutely everything "the right" way in order to prove I wasn't messing up our kid, since, somewhere in there, a part of me believed I probably shouldn't have a kid at all. Pressure like that is never good, and for me, it manifested as an intense desire for Leigh to NEVER EVER EVER have even one teeny tiny drop of formula. I had completely internalized the idea that if nursing "failed," it would probably be my fault for not being "supportive" enough. After all, I did have mixed feelings about not personally nursing our hopefully breastfed baby, and surely, it would be my mixed feelings that led to "failure," maybe because I would do something awful like pressure Gail to pumps so I could give a bottle (this specific dire scenario is warned against very strongly in Pepper's book...those pesky non-bio-moms -- always trying to take care of the baby!).

So that put me in a position where (a) our baby had to have all-breastmilk-all-the-time so that I would have proof we were "doing it right," and so I wouldn't be blamed for feeding "wrong" (possibly mostly blamed by me, but still, we all know there's plenty of judgment to go around on the infant feeding front) and (b) I wasn't making any milk. While not quite a recipe for disaster, it is close, and this confluence of factors is a lot of why I pressured Gail way too much. about feeding. Not at first. At first I was the picture of the "supportive" partner. No. The problem started when she went back to work, and I turned into the pumping nag. I was home with Leigh, and thus very aware of our milk stash. My constant worry about how much milk we had made for way too many conversations about how much milk was in the fridge, how much milk was in the freezer, how many times Gail pumped, how many times she planned to pump the next day, whether or not she was drinking enough water, whether or not it was time for her to take fenugreek again, rinse and repeat. We were never even close to being out of milk. We kept a steady freezer stash (not the mountain we generate now, but enough) and Gail did a wonderful job finding time to pump at work. But I still worried about it. All the time. Because we had to do it right. I put way too much pumping pressure on Gail.

I am very sincerely sorry for this, and I've told her, and she accepted my apology. But I'm a little sad that it took me until now to realize how not nice that was, and to genuinely apologize.


N said...

I always love your guys' posts. Do I say that enough?

jessie said...

I know what you mean about feeling like we have to prove that we aren't screwing our kids up. It's a lot of pressure!

Strawberry said...

Funny, in our household it's the reverse. Nutella always has her eye on our fridge stash and worries if she's pumping enough, and I'm always telling her, don't worry, we have enough or we'll just use a little bit of our freezer supply.

Heather T said...

Wow, this is a great post. I love that you are able to be so reflective on the past and genuine about your change in perspective. Thank you!

Sarah Friedmann said...

After our talk a few year's ago about Rachel Pepper's book, I read it ... and had the same impression. It's like the baby will turn into an alien or something if 1) the non-bio mom tries to do more than change a diaper (where "bonding" is supposed to occur) or 2) the baby is not breastfed. Granted, our discussion surely influenced my view :D ... but I so agree with you still!
I appreciate your ability to be self-reflective, honest, and humble about your experience, Lyn .. one of the many reasons I love you dearly!

Lex said...

While in many ways it was incredibly difficult, I was very glad to have twins the first time for the reason of having no time/energy to worry about anything like this. I read the Pepper book and found it useless, but didn't get the message about non-bio moms (???), not that it would have mattered since we needed ALL of the hands in our house to be doing as much as possible when our twins were babies.

My wife never nagged me about pumping/nursing in any way at all, but she did often try to hand babies off to me saying that they "needed to nurse" when really they would have been just as happy to be bounced around the house a bit (but were always willing to take the boob). Granted, I suppose it was easier for me to just sit on the couch and nurse them.

I think I feel more pressure to prove that "attachment parenting" isn't screwing up my kids than I do to prove that our queer family isn't screwing up our kids . . . perhaps because there are a plethora of queer families where we live, only a small handful of which practice AP (my theory is that most of the queer families we meet are so very "mainstream" in their parenting philosophy BECAUSE of this pressure idea; they want to prove that their families are "just like all the straight families").

Lyn said...

Lex -- If you go back and read Pepper's book now that you have Leo, it's possible you might have a different view. When I read it first, pre-Leigh, I felt a sense of dismissed and unimportant, but it was hard for me to pinpoint exactly why, though the message about nursing I mention here definitely came through. If I had been reading expecting to TTC myself, I'm not sure I would have noticed it.

When I read the book again after Leigh was born I was able to put a finger on more of what set me off.

She never refers to non-bio-moms as "mothers." We are always called "partners." I.e. we are defined in relation to our partner only, not our child. Now, I know language is hard. I know lots of non-bio-moms don't like the language of negation and I get that. So at first, I gave Pepper the benefit of the doubt on this front, and tried to forgive the dismissive tone.

But then I found out that she wrote

In the same essay I quote in that post, she writes about how even her lesbian home birth midwife agrees with her that there can only be one mom, that there can be a "partner," but not really another mom.

I stopped giving her the benefit of the doubt after reading that.

I should also note that in the newer edition, Pepper allows that NGPs can also be "dyke daddies" or "tranny pops," but still, she never calls us mothers. I'm all for trans inclusion, but I am neither of these things. I am Leigh's mom (as well as Ira's, but Pepper wouldn't argue with me on that one). Of all the books out there, shouldn't a book for lesbians about having kids acknowledge that as a possibility?

Gail said...

Lyn and I are just sitting here next to each other on the couch, typing away. Does anyone else do this at home?

I just wanted to say that Lyn is STILL obsessed with our milk supply, even though sje is now a nursing mom!

Oh, and apology accepted. You weren't that bad, but I appreciate you noticing. I also appreciate the apology this morning for the fact that you didn't sympathize with my post-partum lack of clothing enough :)

Susan said...

You guys are hoot! Speaking as the grandmother of your two kids, and a people watcher to the max, I can tell you that you and all of your non-straight friends with kids are doing a great job of parenting. You all put much more thought into the process and the anticipated outcome than I ever did. I love you matter how much breast milk is in the freezer at any given moment!

JustAnotherJenny said...

Thank you, to both of you, for being so thoughtful and open. It's just beautiful. :)

oneofhismoms said...

Funny, I was so different from you. When A was nursing Cakie, I was just quietly counting down the weeks until I could safely give him a bottle at a dream feed as per our LC's advice. I was very jealous and I think maybe not so helpful in some ways. Like, I never cleaned any of her pumping equipment for her. I realized just as I read your post, that I probably did it subconciously because I was jealous.

Anyway, don't be so hard on yourself. You were doing what you could to be involved in the feeding of your child.

Anonymous said...

my wife HATED pumping, and i was constantly bugging her to pump more. when nate turned one, i let her off the hook -- now she nurses when she nurses, and if he wants milk otherwise, he gets whole (cow) milk. our house is much more peaceful.

also, i'm totally with lex on this -- my straight friends and acquaintances "get" our lesbian parenting much more than our attachment parenting. i get a very similar vibe, like as long as we do things the same as them, they're okay. but the craaaazy hippie stuff (still nursing when he's 17 months, co-sleeping, etc) is too much.