- Tamara Catharina
Breastfeeding, a sacred gift of nature
Before I start, I want to acknowledge every person in this world that prefers to use the word lactation, body feeding, nursing or chestfeeding. In this article, I speak primarily about my own experience. I identify myself as a woman and use the word breastfeeding as that word resonates with me. I hope, regardless of identity, that this article will support people of all genders feeding their baby or helping those who feed.
Breastfeeding to me is a sacred gift of nature. I feel a deep appreciation for the intelligence of nature that I experience through breastfeeding and all the needs it fulfils. It is one of the things through which I understand that everything in this world is interconnected. That we áre nature. And with that experience, I remember once again that I want to be humble to life. I want to honour the cycles of nature and the life that wants to move through my child and me. In this piece, I will reflect on that and give examples of how I live this intention to breastfeeding my son.
Connection to nature vs Habitual choices
To me, breastfeeding comes naturally. And I want to acknowledge that this is not the same experience for everyone that gives birth. In the light of the differentiation between connection to nature and habitual choices, when it comes to breastfeeding, I want to stay connected to what I experience as natural. Natural to me means in flow with the life that wants to move through me. I want to listen to how I feel and what those feelings tell me that is important to me. And I want to listen to Pepijn by observing his body language, facial expression and the sound he makes. By observing him, I can guess his needs and especially tell the difference between when his needs are met and when they are unmet. And I want to stay connected to my own needs and care for my body. A continues dance with how nature wants to move through both of us.
This morning when Pepijn was drinking with me, I felt discomfort in my right nipple. He was still enjoying the drinking, and I wondered what was happening in my body. I wanted him to be nourished by the drinking and wake up slowly with a physical connection to me. At the same time, I felt the discomfort in my body slowly turning into pain and my body becoming tense. I decided to gently uncouple him from my nipple. He started making sounds that I understood as resistance. He didn’t want to stop drinking. I offered him my left nipple. After a few minutes also my left nipple didn’t feel comfortable anymore. I sensed there was no milk left, and I decided to uncouple him from my nipple. He laughed, I’m guessing from the sensation in his lips while disconnecting, and he started to stretch himself out with a smile on his face.
Flow of life vs Planning
I regularly get questions from people when I share that I am still breastfeeding. “So when are you planning to stop?” is the main thing people wonder about. I feel confused when I hear that question. I have a sense of understanding the paradigm that those people live in. A paradigm of “planning life”. Not letting things unfold or letting nature speak, but controlling it. The word “planning” triggers me.
Not only with breastfeeding but with everything in life, I feel uncomfortable with the concept of planning. I want to stay connected to what life brings moment by moment. When I plan, I have a sense of fixating life, making life static, taking ‘power over’ life, rather than flowing with life. I believe life is dynamic and ever-changing. I want to stay open and curious to life and what resonates and makes sense in the here and now. And with breastfeeding, this to me means staying connected to both my needs and the needs of Pepijn. As I believe, our needs are how life speaks to us.
Two weeks ago, Pepijn was sick. He didn’t eat much and didn’t want to drink from the breast before he went to bed. I gave him rice porridge with a small spoon to ensure he was hydrated and had something in his belly before sleeping. My milk production went down, and he ended up only drinking from my breasts in the morning. A question went through my mind “Is this the beginning of the end of our breastfeeding time together?”. Then I connected to my need for openness and curiosity towards life. I want to be open to listening to his needs and requests at every moment. Five days ago, before going to sleep, he asked me to drink from me again by pointing towards my breast and saying, “mama”. I let him drink, but there wasn’t much milk. He cried. I think he felt disappointed. I asked him, “Are you sad because you wanted to drink with me?”. “Yes!” he said. We sat together as he cried a bit more, and we both mourned for his need not being answered. The next day he asked to drink again, and it seemed my body started to produce more on his request, so it took a bit longer for him to release, and he didn’t seem to be sad or disappointed. I guess he accepted what was there for him. Yesterday I believe he had a nice “cup” to drink again in the evening.
Being vs Becoming
When I became a mother, I went (and still am going) through a transformation. I believe as humans, we constantly transform and change in life. And giving birth for me felt like this process accelerated. As if all cells in my body turned into mother cells in a few days. I knew I would never be the person I was before birth. And I cried, and still sometimes cry, as a way to say goodbye to who I was and rest and find appreciation and joy in being who I am now.
Not long ago, I heard one of my neighbours say, “my wife stopped breastfeeding after three months and really became herself again”. I felt triggered. Breastfeeding indeed keeps certain hormones in the body that support the production of milk and (I believe) are helpful for a mother to give intensive care to her child. And I think that those hormones can affect how someone feels, and through that, what is essential for someone at that moment, and what choices they possibly make in life. Yet, I want to stay connected to who I am in every moment. To me, “herself” sounds like a narrative of how she is supposed to be. And that she has to become that again
Right now, I am breastfeeding for more than 21 months. I might feel sensitive or overwhelmed and have the idea that it is ‘more than’ before the birth. I recognise the thought, “I have to become myself again”. It’s a painful thought to me. I want to appreciate and accept myself for who I am in every moment. I want to be with my feelings and take them seriously. Not to go back to “who I was” or “become” something, but fully give space for exactly what I feel, need, say and do at this moment. Connected to the life that wants to move through me here and now.
Being myself to me means being the soul and living the spirit in me. My self is my soul speaking through me. Being myself is life breathing and speaking through me here and now. Instead of becoming myself, I want to be myself. I want to be the life that is moving through me now. I am myself. And telling myself that brings softness. I want to be gentle and welcome myself fully and exactly how I am in this moment.
My partner and I are having a long-distance relationship at the moment. Whenever he comes back after a period of separation, I feel challenged to physically connect with him. I need time and space to slowly connect to his physical presence again and be intimate. My mind is saying: “I am more attached to my son because of breastfeeding. When I stop breastfeeding, I will become myself again, and it will be easier to reconnect physically with my partner”. It is such a painful thought. That ‘what I am now is not myself’. After many dialogues with my partner, I can now rest in what my body needs now. That I need a certain pace of reconnection with his body after being separated from each other. That is what my body needs now. I don’t want to compare my body to how it responded to him before the birth. I want to welcome my body and listen to it exactly as it is now.
The art of being torn
There are moments that I struggle with breastfeeding. Often, I feel challenged because breastfeeding and my favourite strategy don’t go well together. For example, when I dream of attending a multiple day meditation retreat or a vision quest in nature where he can not come with me, or when I think of joining a plant ceremony. When that happens, I want to connect to my “why”. Why am I breastfeeding? What needs in me are being met by breastfeeding my son, and what needs are being met by me breastfeeding him? In those moments, I connect to the needs that are not being met. When I connect to those needs, I notice a shift in me. My favourite strategy becomes less important, and I connect to my creativity to find strategies that work for both of us.
Other times I ask myself the question, “Do I want to stop breastfeeding?”. Most of the time, I have a “no”. Other times “I don’t know”. I might need freedom, adventure, exploration, alone time, energy and at the same time, a need for connection with him, care and nourishment for him. I hold all those needs in my hands and sit with them. I breathe with the “I don’t know”. I rest into not having an answer and trust that there will be a moment that I know. It might take an hr, it might take a week, and it might take a year before I know. Being able to ‘relax’ in not knowing is a true gift to me.
This is only a glimpse of what is alive in me around breastfeeding. I wish for so much compassion and support for every person in the world nursing their baby, including myself. I believe the more we speak about it, the more awareness grows. To stimulate this and to plant a seed for the world I dream of, here is my vision around breastfeeding:
I dream of a world where breastfeeding (lactation, chestfeeding, body feeding, nursing) is fully accepted and welcomed, both in private circles and public spaces and events. Where every person on this planet that has the capacity to breastfeed and chooses to do so, to be seen for the intensive care and commitment they make to support their baby. And where every baby gets the opportunity to locate and latch on to their parent’s breast to meet their need for nutrition and closeness. Where parents can relax and welcome themselves and each other exactly how they are moment by moment.
I celebrate that nonviolent communication contributed to the awareness that I have and how I navigate my connection with children today. And I celebrate that I can stay connected to myself and to them in the same moment. That it becomes like a dance where both of our needs get met. I’m joyful about sharing examples with you from my life through the lens of nonviolent communication. It meets my need to contribute to the world I dream of. I’m curious to hear how it is for you to read this. If you want to read more of my experiences with parenting, please subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of this page. If you want to share how it was or have questions, I invite you to write below this post or send your response at firstname.lastname@example.org