Breastfeeding is a choice. One that I made very early on in my pregnancy. Just as I was convinced that I wanted a natural, no drugs, childbirth experience. Of course, one is always aware that what one wants and what one will have is not necessarily the same thing. All we can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best. So throughout my 9 months, I was preparing and hoping. I worked out (a little), ate right (ish), lived a normal working life till two weeks before the due date and delivered on cue, bang on the scheduled delivery date. Since my entire pregnancy was in Ireland, away from the large paid and unpaid support system that many people I know in India enjoy, it was not the easiest journey.
Once my little bundle of joy was born she latched on pretty quick. But as a first time mother how was I to know whether she was getting enough? She was small enough at birth and I just wasn’t aware enough of my body to know whether she was being nourished properly. Plus she had colic - that is between 4 to 6 hours of incessant screeching crying every evening for the first 4 months. Needless to say my sleep and my brain cells were shot.
Our plan was that I would breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months (I had 9 months paid maternity leave) and then we would add bottle/formula to her diet. What do they say about what man proposes again? At 6 months, she absolutely refused to take a bottle with any sort of milk in it (me, cow, almond). I went back to work with her in tow – ferrying her to town and back, on the buses in her pram to a crèche below the office. Every few hours I had to run down and feed her and run back up and deal with tax strategy meetings. Fun? I think not.
When my daughter was around 10 months old, we had a wedding in the family and we flew back to India. I had a bout of food poisoning a few days into our holiday. There I was sick, retching and wanting desperately to rest. But I had to feed. I still have no idea what she got in terms of nutrition those 2 days since I wasn’t even keeping water down.
This went on for 2 years. Yes she started solids in between but in terms of milk – it was only me. Just before her second birthday she miraculously stopped. I felt suddenly let down. I had enjoyed my precious moments with her despite the torture breastfeed had me enslaved in. At the same time my newfound freedom was like hugging an old friend. I’m not certain I can say I was proud to have stuck to breastfeeding for so much time. I had very little choice because the alternative was to starve her of milk.
As women, everyone has an opinion on what we do with our bodies. Whether it’s what we wear, or how we walk, when we speak, what we say, when we should enter the kitchen or not enter the temples, when we should get married, whether we should have access to contraception, when we should have children, make up/ no makeup, long hair/short hair – the list is endless.
As baby making machines, the barrage of unsolicited well meaning advice is overwhelming. I truly believe each mother wants to do the best by her kids. Does that mean that she needs to sacrifice herself to a set of societal rules to be the ideal mother? Absolutely not. Each one should have the freedom to do what they believe is the best for their kids based on the information they have. In addition, one really never knows the struggles that a new mother goes through. I know women who tried but failed to breastfeed – the baby wouldn’t latch on, hard lumps formed, milk didn’t flow. The physical pain and mental agony was aggravated by the judgements that followed.
We know that refined sugar has no nutritional value but how many parents give their kids sweet treats on a regular basis? Overuse of TV and gadgets at young age are linked to addiction in many studies and yet so many of our children are plonked in front of the idiot box whenever they need to be fed, or kept quiet or out of the way. We don’t judge those parents by the same standards as the woman who chooses not to breastfeed even though in these cases the parents are actively causing harm to their children.
A choice only has meaning when there is freedom to make it based on your own personal circumstances. Breastfeeding is a choice. A choice each woman has the right to make for herself.
PS: No TV in my home and no sugar for the kids (Except birthday cakes!) but you’re welcome to judge me all you want. I stopped paying attention a while ago.
Disclaimer: All photographs in this article are original and belong to the author. Reproducing them in any form without the permission of the author will not be allowed.
Also read: “Breastfeeding Is A Responsibility. Period.”
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