Written in conjunction with Blog Action Day 2011.
About 4 hours into a relatively short 8-hour natural labor with my daughter, I turned to my sister after moaning and swaying through a particularly arduous contraction and said, “I feel like that cow in the birthing barn at the State Fair.”
“Yeah,” she replied. “It’s a mammal thing.” She was right, and at that moment, I had no idea how intimately connected I would be to my mammalhood (mammalness? mammalitude?) during the coming months.
Before I became one, I didn’t really think about what it would be like to be a food source. I just figured breastfeeding would be what it would be, end of story. As it turns out, I was right not to over think it. There was no way I could have ever comprehended what it means to be the sole provider of nourishment to a quickly growing human. Along the way, I’ve discovered many things about my place in the world as a food source.
As a food source, I have to trust my body.
The first time I nursed Lyla, it was simultaneously the most natural and the most daunting thing I had ever done. After the postpartum high wore off, I remember thinking, “Wow. It’s all on me. I’m the one who needs to make sure she gets enough food.”
Lyla was a good two weeks overdue, so she came out waterlogged and full of meconium. As all of this passed out of her system, she lost weight quickly. I was pressured by the pediatrician to give her formula. I resisted, knowing this could compromise the success of our nursing relationship. Instead, I trusted that my body would do what it was made to do. Sure enough, it did. My daughter continues to thrive on what I alone can give her.
As a food source, I am envied.
“She loves you so much. She eats what you make. I wish I could give her food, too.” These words were uttered by a bleary-eyed papa as he watched me nursing the babe to sleep one night. Michael has always been in charge of the food in our house; he cooks, grocery shops, and researches food trends/practices/realities to keep us in good health and eating extremely tasty food. The fact that I’m the only one who can feed Lyla has been challenging for him, since feeding people is one of the primary ways in which he shows friends and family he cares about them.
As a food source, I am tired and sore.
There are times when exclusive, on-demand breastfeeding kicks my butt…hard. At the same time, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is only a short period of time in which I can do this for my daughter, and I know these days will pass quickly.
As a food source, I am more aware of my choices.
It’s mind-blowing how many nutritional options are available to me every day. I realize how fortunate I am; I live in a place where I have access to the best quality food anyone could hope for and I have the means to acquire it. This is a privilege and also a responsibility. Being a food source to another person has made me think more about what I put in my own body, ultimately making me a healthier and more engaged person. It is my responsibility to help sustain those who are working to provide healthy, fresh food so that eventually these opportunities will become more prevalent and accessible to all. It is also my responsibility to help open up access to food choices to those who do not have the means to purchase nutritious food for themselves and their children. We’re all in this together.
As a food source, I am powerful.
Each time I look at my daughter, I am awed by how much she has grown. I am grateful to my body for providing what she needs to thrive. There is so much power in the female body. Not only can I nourish her physically, but also emotionally as I cradle her, sing to her and speak softly to her. The nursing relationship is so complete, so full.
As a food source, I am humbled.
I am humbled when I think of single mothers who nurse to exhaustion. I am humbled by mothers who nurse multiples and those who tandem nurse. I am humbled when I think of women who go without so that their children will have enough to eat. I am humbled by women who go to the hospital every day to nurse their sick infants. What strength, what perseverance, what love.
As a food source, I am connected.
Every day, I feel connected to the sisterhood of women who feed and nurture their children, not only at the breast, but in other ways as well. When I feed Lyla, I think of the women who have fed children in various ways over the centuries. What an amazing gift we have. What an awesome responsibility.