Monday, April 03, 2006

The Naked Breast

(where I climb up on my soapbox)

"we've been breastfeeding & bed-sharing for 1 year, 8 months, 3 weeks and 3 days"

This is what one of my tickers says (I'm a freak for tickers and counter boxes but that'll merit its own post soon enough) and, in case you're wondering at the use of the word "we", most people don't realize how much this has been a joint decision, which really bugs me. I don't mean "we" as in the baby and I... this is something Mo and I have discussed, chosen, worked on and adapted ourselves to. I've wanted to write about this subject for a week now because I thought about it a lot when El Niño and I came down with the flu. There must be some huge cosmic vibe that's seeping into others on the internet because it turns out that Dooce, Sweet Juniper and DaddyTypes are also on this parenting-landmine wavelength. I decided not to check any other blogs until I wrote down my thoughts because I didn't want to be responding to someone else's post.

My first son came home from the hospital on a very user-friendly schedule. Maybe this is because he was a preemie and they kept him in the NICU for a week, so by the time I got him home he was programmed. But I don't really think so, I don't think a week would be enough to imprint such a profound, personality-driven behavior in a newborn. I never had problems getting him to sleep ANYwhere, at any time. At three weeks old, he rolled over and I had to move him from the bassinet to his crib, in his own room (across the hall from mine). He did suck his thumb for a few years but I'd seen him do that in every sonogram I'd had, and I'd done it myself when I was little, so I knew it was natural and he'd someday stop. As long as he had his thumb and some blankie or burp-cloth he could use as a lovey -- like Linus from Peanuts -- he was golden. Eventually he stopped wanting a blankie, and his thumb became a thing of the past by age four.

When El Niño was born, I thought things wouldn't be all that different and stocked up on blankets. It didn't take long for me to realize things would be very different this time around: we only slept three hours his first night outside the womb. He would only sleep while next to my breast. I was so confused, I HAD been a baby-parent before... I should be an old pro at this, right? Mo convinced me to try co-sleeping, something I thought I was dead-set against. Because, the baby could suffocate or develop an unhealthy dependence or something!?!?! And THAT was the beginning of the end for me, for what was left of the old me. See, even though I grew up in a fairly "hippie" environment and I've always been one to flout convention, this co-sleeping/bed-sharing thing gave me pause. Yet looking back on it now, I'm SO grateful for it, and for Mo's attitude and support.

My way of doing things has always been to sit and read up on whatever it is, to do research. This is how I wound up moving to Oregon, how I cut out foods from my diet to more than halve the incidence of my migraines, and how I found the church I attend. So, after a few days of "closet" bed-sharing and feeling helpless because my new baby would never be happy unless he was in some way enjoying skin-to-skin contact, I sat at the computer and looked it up, and found information on Attachment Parenting. The hook for me was that it wasn't rule-based, and that we were advised to try to raise our child as if we were on a deserted island, relying on our instincts and love, instead of books and experts and the opinions of everybody and their mother. Huh! That kinda made scary sense to me. I've never liked sleeping alone and have had cats to keep me company in bed most of my life... the feeling of another warm body next to mine has always been a comforting, soothing balm for me. I also had night terrors for years (which El Niño has had too), and as an adult have had to resort many times to using prescription meds to help me sleep. So, why would I believe that my utterly helpless & dependent infant needs less physical comfort than I do for a peaceful night's sleep?

I want to be clear that I don't think this is the right solution for every family, or for every baby. I get very. annoyed. when I tell people that this is what we've found works with THIS baby, and still they insist on conveying their horror and disbelief at our choice. If I thought this would harm my child, I wouldn't do it. If I thought it would harm our marriage, I wouldn't do it. Intimacy is always brought up, as if the only place two people can be intimate is a bed, at night. Puhh-leeze! Our intimacy is great, thank you. It *would* be better if not for the fact that Mo goes to work at 5:30am every day and is exhausted by the time he comes home, and the fact that we don't want to risk another pregnancy right now so we have to be very careful (apparently we're both Über-fertile). But the fact that our child's sleeping in our bed is a non-issue for us.

El Niño's constant need for me also *forced* me to bond with him, and this is a good thing. Looking back, I think I had a mild case of PPD after his birth... we hadn't even been married a year, Mo was working in construction because he'd been laid off, and we were so broke we weren't sure how we'd pay the bills and/or eat... things were really scary for me, for us. Oh, and I was really hoping for a daughter, as shallow as that sounds. If I'd been able to put that baby down and walk away from him, if he'd been as quiet and sleepy as his older brother was, I'm not sure how much warmth and attention he would've gotten. By spending all this time with him, nursing and sleeping together and holding him all the time (thank God for baby carriers and my discovery of them!) I've tapped into a part of me I didn't know existed. I've learned to love, nurture and share in new ways, healthier ways for ME. So has Mo. It's not only made us better parents but better partners.

And my baby sleeps snuggled up against my naked breast.


Vic said...

I really really loved this entry. I'm so glad I read it, seriously.

In the past I have been very anti-attachment parenting (for me) because I wanted my sons to fit in with society when they got older. I didn't want them to be mama's boys, nor come running for me for every little thing. But at 8 and 6, they do it anyway because that's just the way they are. I kept them in bed with me until they were a little over a month old each, then moved them to their crib. It worked with my first one, like yours. But the 2nd one had night terrors (his dad is a sleepwalker) and for 3 years I was ripped from my sleep by a screaming baby who didn't even know he was screaming. Sometimes I look back and wonder if I'd done things differently could I have changed it? It doesn't matter now, but not being afraid to defy an "expert" and to go with your gut is a great thing.

When my sons were in their cribs, I put them to sleep on their bellies even though Americans are screaming about SIDS. They were more comfortable that way. They probably didn't feel as vulnerable that way. I went with my instincts that they were healthy, had strong necks and if they spit up it was going on the bed anyway. I may have thought differently if they were weak or sick.

Anyway, I'm just rambling. Like I said, I'm glad I read this so I'll always keep it in mind for the future.

Anonymous said...

do you know elijah tuttle?
if so email

stefanierj said...

It's such a relief when people who feel strongly about a position can be cool about other people making a different choice. I had the opposite experience as yours. I was pretty pro-AP before we had D, but after trying to do it Sears' way, I just couldn't get the hang of it and felt like a total failure as a mother. He hated being carried, thrashed so much that our double bed wouldn't accomodate all of us, and on top of it all, my body decided to wean at 8 mos. All of which meant that for Dr. Sears, I was basically setting my boy up to be a crack-abusing felon. To make it worse, my "friends" offered helpful thoughts like, "I don't know what to tell you. Benjamin hasn't had anything a single drop of formula or slept anywhere but with me since he was born." or "Well, I guess parenting is about sacrifice, huh?" After 14 months of waking up 3-8 times a night to comfort my son back to sleep, I crossed into my own personal "final frontier" and let him cry a little as he fell asleep or when he woke in the night.

I never thought what I was doing would work for anyone but me, and I have NEVER recommended, let alone *pressured* anyone to try my way, but I wish-wish-wish some of my veteran mom friends had been more understanding about the choices I made. I think you hit the nail on the head, though--once you're confident that what you're doing is right for your fam, you can tell others to shove it if they pretend to be calling CPS on speed dial whenever they see you. That's how it should be.

Great post!