World Breastfeeding Week is August 1-7, which is most definitely something to celebrate. Yes, let’s promote awareness of breastfeeding issues, work to normalize and desexualize it, and support nursing moms by posting breastfeeding pics! I have to admit, though, I’m feeling a little… Bitter? Jealous? Cheated? Ambivalent? It’s some combination of those, but I don’t think there’s quite a word for it. I have written before about the fact that, though I was determined to nurse my daughter, it didn’t exactly work out as planned. I mostly pumped to feed her for the first eight-and-a-half months of her life (I just quit two weeks ago), and even though she got breast milk like I wanted her to, it wasn’t how or as much as I wanted. A year ago when I was so naïve and a tiny bit smug about parenthood, when I complained about my poor sleep quality because of that tiny human who was chilling out – tiny, silent, demanding nothing, mostly asleep – in my belly, I thought I would be celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with my exclusively breastfed infant. And the fact that that’s not the case makes me sad.
Oh Emily, get over yourself. Ok, I apologize because this is about to get kind of heavy, but news outlets have been awash recently with news about plane disasters, a record drought, an Ebola outbreak, and the terrible situation in Gaza… And I am becoming more and more aware that my daughter is safe, she’s healthy, and she’s mostly even happy, and I need to quit brooding or feeling cheated about anything for a second and just be FRIGGIN GRATEFUL already.
In the spirit of gratitude and with World Breastfeeding Week in mind, I wanted to share with you all the story of how my husband was fed as a baby. (**Disclaimer** This almost forty-year-old story was told to me by my mother-in-law through my husband over the phone, translated from Spanish to English, while she was shopping at Target. This story is as I understood it, but I bear no responsibility for its complete factuality!)
Tony was born in central Cuba in the mid-70’s. At that time, commercial formula was not readily available there, so breastfeeding was the norm. As my mother-in-law tells it, when she was unable to produce breast milk, she could only obtain formula from the hospital and with a prescription. It was quickly apparent that my husband was a pretty sensitive guy (Still is. Yay me.). He was allergic (or at least had a bad reaction) to the hospital formula, so my in-laws looked to a local wet nurse, this lady who had such an overabundance of breast milk that women who couldn’t breastfeed constantly sought her out. From the way my mother-in-law tells it, this lady’s breast milk gave him jaundice. From my non existent medical expertise and five second Google search, I think it’s probably more likely that Tony was either not getting enough fluids or had Breast Milk Jaundice, which has no known cause but curiously does not seem to be caused by breast milk. [Aside: family folklore goes that this woman gave jaundice to a bunch of babies at the hospital too!] After this debacle, Tony received regular light treatments, as his jaundice persisted, and his parents tried a variety of different things to feed him. There weren’t very many choices, but they tried cow’s milk, condensed milk, and make-at-home formula, which was a concoction of evaporated milk and “different foods.” (Green plantains were mentioned, and I’m pretty sure she also said chicken!) With each food change, Tony had to be medically observed for 24 hours. After this month long ordeal, Tony’s mom was besties with the doctor at the hospital, his dad had taken him to the hospital (on his bike!) so many times that the incidents blended together, they had made too many formula concoctions to mention, and at the end, the only thing that Tony tolerated was plain old evaporated milk. (Seriously, imagine. I Googled “can babies drink evaporated milk” and text from the first result reads, “Can I give my baby evaporated milk? Answer: No.” Grateful, grateful, grateful…) And that is the story of how my husband was raised on evaporated milk and grew up into a fully functioning (successful, even!) and wonderful human being. The End.
So Happy World Breastfeeding Week to all you breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mamas out there! Regardless of our individual breastfeeding journeys/choices/successes/failures, I think we can all agree that we need to be supportive of nursing moms. But also, take a moment this week to express gratitude for the relative safety, health, and happiness of our children, regardless of how we feed them.