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34 weeks | The perils of mothering slowly in a fast, fast world | no. 0027
I am frustrated that in the hour-long nap the munchkin just blessed me with, I was only able to write a few paragraphs. As you can see, I’ve deleted those paragraphs. This makes me think I should have spent the precious break prepping vegetables for the mixed bean chili instead. Wednesday’s Bloom is off to a choppy start.
He stirs now.
It’s official. I have not magically found the rhythm in my words. The story falters, and undeniably so it appears. Not because I don’t know what I want to say. But because I am angry. And I’m trying to temper this anger in an essay that’s perhaps too large for me to handle in just one post.
This is me pulling back the veil, by the way.
Once, an English professor told me that you can’t write about certain things when you are too close to them. This topic is fresh. Like yesterday fresh.
I am still smoldering from an argument I had about breastfeeding exclusively for the munchkin’s first year, not wanting to resume pumping milk, why cosleeping works best for us, and not needing a crib. Whew! A mouthful, I know. Whenever I get sucked into these debates (and I use that world euphemistically because in all honesty this exchange was less than a debate–at least in a debate people listen), I wonder the same thing. First, why do I need to defend my process as a mother? And then, why this urgency, this push for so-called independence, when it comes to a baby’s first year of life?
It’s maddening. But I can’t let it go. This whole argument that babies need to be “taught” independence is so absurd to me. And it’s destructive too, as it threatens the naturally occurring cycles of development that will happily progress in any loved, fed, and supported child.
Babies are wired for independence. I am witness to this phenomenon everyday. It’s called the munchkin. He works hard to figure out how he can move, grab, take, touch, clutch, bite, gnaw, squeeze, scoot, pull, knock, bang, kick, slap, yank, roll, lurch, and bounce. All these choices he makes without me telling him or showing him how to construct an independent thought. To me, this is age-appropriate independence. I am more than confident that he will gradually learn increasingly complex processes of independence as he grows. But for now, he is nearly 8 months old and he is 100% not in danger of becoming “too dependent on his mother.”
Which is another thing I am tired of hearing. I get this a lot because we breastfeed exclusively and cosleep. To say this reasoning roils my blood would still be a severe understatement. I am the one the munchkin pushes against most often on his quests to freedom. On any given day, more times than I could ever count, he tries to wriggle out of my arms, jump off my lap, hold his face away from the washcloth, lean in the opposite direction of where I’m going, reach for things that I don’t want him to touch. It’s infinite. His need to decide when and how he expresses himself. Nothing I do– no amount of breastfeeding, babywearing, or cosleeping– can ever impede his intrinsic imperative to seek his own way. I think they have a term for it, human nature.
That said, I wish the world would get off my back. He’s a baby! Everything in my intuition says that I am to make all efforts to slow down and experience the fullness of the munchkin’s first year. There is a deep knowing that things will change dramatically at some point. And when the shift comes, I will be extremely grateful that we took our time and grew into our milestones organically. Whether it’s the birth of our second child, or our family moving to another country, or mommy being on a book tour. Whatever it is, I’ll know that I did the right thing by committing to an unclocked process as new mother and child. Furthermore, this first year is but a speck of time. A single dot among many dots of what I pray will stretch out to be a long and joyful life for the munchkin.
Due to the fleeting nature of infancy, nothing has given me cause to rush its bitter and sweet existence along.
The munchkin nurses on my lap as he falls asleep. He has tired himself out playing with toys, crawling into corners where he’s not supposed to be, fussing when he’s been redirected. And laughing. Since last night, and most of today, the munchkin has been taken over by these fits of laughter. It’s so wild because I’m not doing anything to make him laugh. It’s all him. And it makes me laugh of course, which then makes him laugh longer. I think it’s extra interesting that he’s in such a good mood when I have certainly intended to continue being pissed off about yesterday’s failed debate. It’s thoroughly challenging to sustain the working and reworking of counter arguments in your head when your baby is lifting your spirits.
Still though, I feel it’s important to untangle my thoughts even if it’s just to have an authentic conversation with myself. I mean, it’s so natural to me, to go slow. First foods can come, later. The majority of his life he will eat solid food. He’s currently not lacking in any nutrients. He’s strong and perfectly healthy. Thanks to my breastmilk. I don’t see the pressing need to give him food right now. I do see a culture where early introduction of foods is normalized, however. So much so, a woman breastfeeding as “long” as I am appears abnormal to many people. This truly baffles me though. Were I to have started the munchkin on bottles or used formula, not because I was going to need to be away from him, but just because– perhaps for “convenience”– this would not bring much alarm. But because I want to nurse him, from my own body, with my own breastmilk until he’s a year old, this, this is what folks are in an uproar about.
That is so backwards to me. How did the natural breastfeeding method morph into the abnormal, disastrous, oh-my-god-your-child-won’t-know-how-to-swallow-food-if-you’re-only-nursing (yes, someone really said that to me) method? My problem is not that some families choose differently than me. My issue is that the dominant discourse has tilted so much in favor of the “conveniences” of bottles and baby food, that the breast is now seen as other. And worse, as deficient.
This is part of the nonsense rendering my work, my long and labored hours spent nursing my child, as invisible to the world. The more I think about it, the more I see the damaging effects of this propaganda. If breastfeeding is seen as that which can simply be substituted by something you buy at a store, then the mother doing the breastfeeding can be more easily dismissed as a non-critical contributor to the global workforce. The time and energy she devotes to nourishing her baby is then irrelevant to any discourse on labor issues, workers’ rights, and company policies. A mothering body is not seen as a working body. And that is the problem.
Sadly, it is only one part of a network of problems that many mothers must confront. I know this issue hits home for many on so many unspoken levels. Ask the mom who would gladly pump if only her employer provided the time and space for it. Ask the mother who is trying her hardest to breastfeed in peace with an unsupportive family by her side. The same family who, amongst other demands, wants the baby on the bottle so that the mother can get back to “doing” something.
This is not paltry stuff. These are real, complicated, and nuanced things that many mothers deal with in silence because there’s often no space, no language to discuss it. But I’m convinced there has to be a better way to honor all of our choices. One of the reasons I think I am called to go so slowly in my mothering, and in turn to document my process, is because my writing helps people reflect on those choices. No, everyone doesn’t need to blog about their journey. But if just reading these words encourages one mother to stop and look upon her needs and her mothering with a more open and honest heart, then I’ve done something good for humanity. For it is within these pauses, these reckonings with self, that we mothers can begin to imagine and construct a more spacious world for our work. One free from the divisive and systemic norms that encourage some people to see my infant at the breast as an anomaly that must be corrected.
But I’m saying all this to say that at times I feel like I am being bullied. Pushed and pulled faster than I want to go, than I feel is actually necessary or natural for our development as mother and munchkin. And what I want to ask those forces outside of my understanding is why is it so important to them that we speed up. I want to know what is so troubling about a mother who would just rather take her time, supporting her child as best she can to grow up in tune with nature’s perfect pace. And if anyone is not willing to answer those questions for themselves first, then I ask them to swiftly, and respectfully, get out of my face.
An indecipherable babble falls as freely from the munchkin’s mouth as his drool. A third tooth rises, and is likely the reason he is eager to chew on each page of the new book his father bought him. The munchkin has been patient with me in the writing today. And he even took another long nap, which of course was excellent. I think it’s time I laughed some more, though. I am not even angry anymore since first stumbling into these words.
I guess it’s fitting that today’s post did not come smoothly for me. After all, there is no map through this labor of making space for our mothering. But if anything, I do think today’s writing illustrates what it can be to mother a process, slowly.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.