Warning: you are going to see some breasts.*
*If you are a man, this means Warning: open this magazine or you will miss some foxy side-boob.
That's what TIME magazine really meant by putting this photo on the cover in a photo shoot and article about attachment parenting and Dr. Sears.
I saw this cover and I wanted to stay quiet, to let TIME magazine and the mommies and the bloggers have it out, but I can't. It makes me want to stand up on the stool they put the little boy on to reach his mom's breast in an artificial, impractical and purposefully-provocative pose and say, BACK OFF! Let people parent in the way that works best for them! Leave breasts for their original purpose: to feed babies. Don't use them to stir up controversy between women by playing to the extremes, by throwing the gauntlet of 'good enough motherhood'. Don't use your big red letters to pit us against each other. Don't propose the ideal that one way of parenthood is better than another, especially not when there are a host of other issues in politics where we women need to stand beside each other; attachment parents, bottle feeders, co-sleepers and cry-it-outers alike.
Baptism By Fire
Before our first son Hayden was born with PRS, a craniofacial condition that included an undeveloped lower jaw, a cleft palate and a tongue that covered his esophagus and trachea, preventing him from breathing or feeding without machines, J and I had some ideas about the kind of parents we would be. We were adamant that parenthood would not change us. We'd read a book that encouraged us not to change our lifestyle for our baby, but to 'invite him to join ours'. We intended to get him sleeping through the night in his $800 Pottery Barn crib as soon as possible. I imagined I would try breastfeeding but supplement with formula so J could be involved and we could have the convenience of our travel-filled, sporty lifestyle.
We were so committed to showing everyone parenthood would not slow us down that we booked a trip to the Bahamas to go windsurfing for two weeks after my due date. We figured one of us could hold the baby on the beach while the other surfed, and then we'd switch. On the day that plane took off, we were sitting beside our son in the NICU, praying for his life.
I remember before he was born, walking with my aunt, a mother of six, and telling her how I had read that you never nurse the baby to sleep, or he learns to fall asleep at the breast, preventing the lifestyle acronym we had read about, E.A.S.Y. (Eat, Awake, Sleep, You Time!) and I remember my aunt just looked at me and said gently, "Wait and see when he gets here."
Hayden at CHOP
When he got here, everything changed. (You can read Hayden's story here) He was born with an Apgar of zero, whisked away from us, intubated and transported to a childrens hospital downtown. We were told he would need many surgeries, months in the hospital and years of therapies. We were told he would never, ever be normal.
But I digress. This post isn't about Hayden or my transition to motherhood; it's about BREASTS, and who TIME magazine deems "mom enough".
Back to breasts. Shortly after Hayden was taken away, I hooked mine up to a mint green hoovering pump in the hospital for two days while I waited to be discharged. I'd had an emergency C-section and had to recover before I could be driven to the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia to meet my son. When Hayden was six days old, doctors botched his first operation and he developed an infection. They took us into a small closet away from the other parents and told us he would either make it to the end of the week, or he wouldn't. We were no longer allowed to hold him. In a fog, I pumped. It felt like the only thing I could do. Our son hung in there. When a doctor credited my expressed breast milk with helping Hayden to fight the infection, I pumped with new commitment. Every three hours, I hooked myself up to the machine in a converted cleaning closet next to the NICU. My breastmilk went into Hayden through an NG tube, and several months later, when he graduated from that, a Haberman feeder.
A baby with a cleft palate cannot make suction; a baby with a severely recessed lower jaw cannot make his mouth meet to latch; a baby who is failure to thrive cannot afford the calories it takes to try and a baby whose tonuge has been stretched and surgically attached to the inside of his bottom lip to free up his airway cannot breastfeed.
My husband, J, was able to be more than 'involved'. When Hayden finally came home from the hospital, I pumped around the clock and J hung the 90cc bottle on a coat hanger rigged above our bed that connected to Hayden's feeding tube. As predicted, this offered convenience! One night, when I was exhausted, I hooked Hayden up to his monitors, nestled him in his boppy in the middle of our master bed and pinned a note to him that said, "Hi Daddy! Mom doesn't want to see either of us until 8 a.m. There are three bottles in the fridge. Love, Hayden." And I went and slept for eight interrupted hours in our unused nursery.
But at five months, Hayden weighed barely nine pounds and my milk supply dropped severely. My body would no longer be tricked. I took fenugreek and prescription meds. Other mothers offered to pump for me. I upped my regimen. I pumped on airplanes and in restaurant bathrooms. I pumped to bolster my son's immune system when he contracted RSV and pneumonia. I pumped because he had severe reflux and the feeding team was afraid he wouldn't tolerate formula. I pumped to get him through his first three surgeries. I pumped exclusively for eight months, and then my breasts shut down. There was relief, and there was fear -- had I gone long enough? Had I done everything I could? Had I been mom enough?
When my second son was born healthy, I took him to my breast immediately. I had waited three years for this moment. My nurse was old school, pissy and horrified. An hour after Max was born, he was still latched on, and she huffed that she had never seen someone nursing while in the stirrups, and not to let him 'loll at the breast, or I'd end up being his human pacifier.' I told her I had nowhere else I'd rather be. I was Max's 'human pacifier' for almost a year.
When our daughter Piper came along, I breastfed for over two years. When she was three months old, we were rear ended at an intersection and the safety belt crushed my right breast. I went through unspeakable medical procedures and pain in the months following the accident, but I continued to breastfeed Piper on the left side until her second birthday. By then, she had developed an aria that she sang, "Nurse you me, now, nurse you me now, nurse you me nooooooooowwwww!" with a lot of vibrato and increasing insistence and volume and warbling on the high notes. One of the last times was on an overbooked flight that was delayed, with Piper on my lap and a two hundred-pound skinhead with swastikas tattooed on his neck on my right as she belted out her snack time theme song: "NURSE YOU ME NOW!!!" I tried to distract her, but the aria continued. Staring straight ahead, my seat companion said through his teeth in a tight, Eastern European accent, "Is not problem for me if her feet are HERE!" and he plunked Piper's big twenty-two-month-old feet in his lap so she could lie down and nurse herself to blissfull sleep.
Parenting By Instinct/Attachment Parenting
My point is this is the story of my breasts, and how they fed my children in a wide variety of ways and for different lenghths of time through their early years. It is also about how Hayden's difficult arrival, our baptism by fire into parenthood, shaped the parents we are today.
When Hayden first came home, after weeks of not being allowed to hold him and fear of crying exacerbating his swollen airway (he had narrowly avoided a tracheotomy), we wanted to carry him all the time, keeping him peaceful. Although he was only 7 lbs, after a day my arms ached. He hadn't reached the weight minimum and lacked the head control for the Bjorn, so I dug out that 'hippie sling' I had top-shelved after my baby shower. It was the beginning of the era of the Paisley Womb.
We took our son everywhere in his sling. It helped with his reflux and kept him calm. We also slept with him between us in our bed to manage all the false alarms on his apnea and pulse-ox monitors, to change his feeding tube, to cuddle him and relish every gurgling snore.
Led by Hayden, we stumbled into what we called "parenting by instinct," only to discover that thousands of people were doing the same thing and calling it "attachment parenting." We read Dr. Sears and it resonated. This felt right.
We continue to practice this method, though it looks different as they grow. My breasts aren't a part of it anymore, but for years, they were. Attachment parenting for us meant creating connection between us as a family. All three of our children were worn, carried in our arms or on our backs or in slings. All three of them slept (and some of them still!) sleep in our bed. Or we sleep in theirs. Or they sleep curled up with each other. Or with the dog. We move around. This works for us.
Parenting Across the Spectrum
This is not the only way to parent. We have fed formula. I saved the lid of the first can of Nutramigen we bought for Hayden, where my husband wrote YOU ARE AN INCREDIBLE MOTHER on the lid. I have many friends whose children sleep in cribs and beds. I hold dear to me women who have been able to let their children cry it out, because it worked best for their family. I applaud those who try breastfeeding, but know that it is not the only way to raise a healthy baby. I have friends and family whose children go to boarding school, who have nannies, who cannot fathom that we regularly wake up with several of our children nestled in bed around us. And I embrace the ideal that good parenting wears a lot of faces.
So I take exception, I cannot let it go, when a national magazine tries to stir up controversy and sales by throwing gasoline on the fires of the mommy wars. Shame on you, TIME, for being sensationalist, for holding up the extremes as the example of something that works for so many. The above was the story of my breasts and of our unique introduction to the style of parenting that has worked for our family for ten years. What's your story?