Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What is up with Mommy today...

I find myself needing to process this morning, folks.

As summer turns to fall here in the Midwest, the nights are getting longer and colder, and that necessarily results in this guy here wanting to snuggle more.

Early this morning (it was still mostly dark), I had just finished nursing little sister back to sleep and resettled her on the bed when I felt the tell-tale nudging and patting on my opposite shoulder. Half-awake, I carefully turned over so as not to disturb the sleeping baby, and sure enough, there was my sleepy-eyed two year old sitting up and signing for milk. I laid back down and gestured for him to come over, and he wasted no time curling up against me and opening his mouth wide to nurse. As he latched on, his head on my arm, he gave this deep, contented sigh and closed his eyes. his whole body relaxing into warmth and comfort.

I was already drifting back to sleep, but that sigh, that moment of pure peace followed me, and I heard a voice say, "Laura, THIS is what he will remember."

Hours later and I'm still thinking about that. Because when I actually woke up, cuddled so tightly between my children that sitting up without disturbing at least one of them was impossible, that statement echoed in my ears, and for some reason I was overwhelmed with a deep, wrenching sorrow. Sadness just isn't a good enough word for that feeling, for the wave of pain that stops the breath and pricks stinging tears and, just for a minute, you wonder if it's possible for your heart to physically rip itself in two, because it sure doesn't feel like it's ever going to beat again.

I chose to disturb Ana, she's much easier to resettle.

Getting ready for the day while my son still slept provided ample distraction from that tearing, aching can't-breathe feeling, which is good because what I really wanted to do was curl up in a ball and tell the world to take a flying leap. I wiped my face, put Ana in her swing, peeled a banana and opened a cheese stick, spread peanut butter on a slice of bread and set it all on a tray with his favorite fruit, green grapes, all on auto-pilot. All in that distance that says, "Don't think, just move."

By that point JJ was awake, I could hear him calling "ah-ee! ah-ee!!" (Which is "Mommy! Mommy!!" in JJ-speak.) Ana was still asleep in the swing, so I went back into the bedroom. We spent a few minutes letting JJ nurse and wake up properly, both got dressed, and came back out to the living room, where we sat on the sofa and cuddled through an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

Which brings us up to the present moment. My brain is awake, I can breathe, but I'm still trying not to think too hard, because I can feel that swirling undertow threatening to yank me off my feet if I look at it too closely.

And I don't know why.

That's the really awful part, I don't know why. Because that moment of flawless serenity and love was beautiful and all-encompassing. It felt like I could stay in that moment forever, right there with both of my children, happy, safe, content. That hour between falling back to sleep and waking up was the most restful sleep I've had in three months. For that hour... I remember the feelings, but ... what I think I remember of what went with them feels like unzipping a compressed file, or watching home movies on fast forward. Microsecond images, layered emotions.

This is what he will remember. A moment of total safety, love, contentment, security. He woke up cold and hungry, and Mother was there to make him warm and full.

This is what he will remember. When he is five and some precocious little girl thinks he's cute and kisses his cheek on the playground, he will remember that Mother kissed it first.

This is what he will remember.  When he is seven and he has to say goodbye to an elderly dog, he will remember that Mother makes it better.

This is what he will remember. When he is eleven and the hormones start making him a little crazy, he will remember that Mother sometimes feels a little crazy too.

This is what he will remember. When he is eighteen and graduating high school, when he looks at the boundless horizon of his looming adult life and feels afraid, excited, confused, invincible, and very very small all at once, he will remember that Mother will always make room for him, and strike out in confidence from that place of safety.

This is what he will remember. That from his earliest memories, Mother represents safety, comfort, feeling treasured, feeling secure, being challenged and built up, being supported and helped and even left to make mistakes and learn from them on his own, but most of all love. Being fully, wholly loved, without reservation or caveat.

And all of that is wonderful. It's amazing and beautiful and staggering in its vastness.

And it makes me deeply, unbearably sad.

And I don't know why.

Trying to figure it out is making me weepy again. In the time it's taken to write this out, I've stopped JJ chasing the cat with his play-stroller twice, changed three diapers, nursed Ana back to sleep and put her back in the swing. I want to cry, scream, shriek my pain at the heavens, or curl into a tight little ball and pretend the world goes away when I can't see it.

JJ knows something is off. He keeps coming up to me with a grape, a toy, a book, doing a silly dance or making faces, trying to distract me. After I got a little frustrated with him chasing the cat, suddenly I just stopped, picked him up, got him changed, and laid down on the bed with him for a minute. Just looking into his eyes. Told him Mommy was having a bad day, but I was gonna try really hard not to yell at him. Told him he could help me by by being kind to the cat and to his sister and doing what I ask the first time without whining. And for the past hour he's done just that. He just now buckled himself into that stroller (which he does when he wants to be reminded to stay put) and is quietly watching Sheriff Callie. Every few minutes he looks at me to see if Mommy is feeling better yet. It's not his normal "Mommy, come play with me" behavior, he's plainly been trying to jostle me out of my funk.

I think I'm going to let him.

Because all this feeling stuff is hurt-y and sore and it really kind of sucks.

And this other stuff over here, the loving stuff, this is better.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Modesty vs Breastfeeding in Church, Pt Two

Part One is my answer to a specific incident.

Part Two: A wider context 

If you read my blog regularly, you already know that I consider the Western attitude toward breastfeeding to be based on political/business-driven lies, antiquated, misogynistic, and just plain weird and silly. But this time I want to talk about that same attitude in the context of the Christian church community. Because it exists there too, often more insidiously than in the secular world, as proponents will use Scripture out of context to support the dogma of feminine modesty and mask the underlying oppressive and unBiblical attitudes toward women inherent in such a position.

Point of clarification? My church is full to bursting with amazing people who are supportive and nurturing and open to differing opinions and approaches to life. Over the years I have been a member, the subject of breastfeeding in public has come up several times, as my son was about six months old when I began attending services. The first time it was raised was when I asked the Pastor if it was alright to nurse JJ in the sanctuary. (Cut me some slack, this was 2 years ago and I wasn't nearly as confident then.) His response? "Of course! If you are comfortable, we are comfortable!"

Win-win, right?

Well, usually, yes. Most of the time, if someone is bothered, they're either willing to discuss it and try to understand my reasoning, or mature enough to select an option from the list I gave in Part One and mind their own business. But in the grand tradition of busybodies everywhere, there is always somebody who figures he or she is the authority on all things appropriate and it is her/his moral duty to censor the world and impose decency upon all. Within the Church, this presents a logical dilemma that we need to explore.

See . . . Jesus had his guys, but he also hung out with the chicks. A lot. And not necessarily the proper ladies of his day either. He pal'd around with the prostitutes, the divorced, the remarried, the single gals. He loved kids too. Given the lack of pharmaceutical birth control and Jesus' penchant for seeking out the ostracized, do you really think that there weren't any single mothers with fussy littles in the bunch? Unlikely. And to my mind, it seems even MORE unlikely that Jesus, who walked with tax collectors and Samaritans, Jesus who said "let the little children come to me," would be disturbed by the presence of a breastfeeding infant, require they use a bottle (really?), or demand that the mother and child remove themselves until they were finished with such an inappropriate activity.

That just doesn't track, folks. That dog don't hunt. Shop it somewhere else, I ain't buyin'.

Women were INVOLVED in the early Church. They didn't just cook and keep house and raise babies for the men, nor were they relegated to teaching baby sabbath school classes or singing in the choir, nosirreebob. There were women deacons, women pastors, women missionaries, and believe it or not, there's some argument that not all of them were married! You gotta know there were hungry babies at inconvenient moments, when they couldn't just drop everything and leave in order to feed a squalling infant. It doesn't make sense for those early teachers and ministers to have been subject to the modern idea that feeding a baby is indecent.

So I have a question, a question that pretty well encapsulates the whole issue for me . . . do we live under the curse of Adam or the sacrifice of Christ? Are we IN the world, or OF the world? Because, this idea that feeding a baby is immodest? It's a very secular, very modern idea. Even in the days when the Church dictated women's dress, behavior, and social activities to a degree aptly called "puritanical" in the modern mind, feeding a baby was a practical necessity and not considered immodest in any way, but a most ladylike and womanly activity. Mother found a convenient seat wherever she happened to be and fed the baby, and it was incumbent upon the men to look elsewhere.

Of course the Church has always been (overly?) concerned with female modesty, but it is difficult to discern whether these attitudes come from the church, or from the world. Very chicken and egg. At some point though, the Church has to look at the world's attitude that breasts are primarily sexual and question it. We have to ask ourselves why we, the Church, continue to bow to the worldly view that the female body is first and foremost a sexual object, and as such must either be displayed in the context of sexual attraction, or hidden away, lest a woman minding her own business tempt a male to sinful thoughts. We MUST ask the question, WHY do we continue to place the burden of preventing lustful thoughts or actions first upon the person lusted after, and upon the one lusting only as an afterthought? This is no different from the first response in Western culture to learning of a rape -- what was she wearing? Why does the Church continue to conform to the ways of the world in this matter???

It seems to me that it is long since time the Church took a hard look at how closely we follow worldly thinking on the topic of breastfeeding (as a subset of the feminine modesty issue) and insist on a paradigm shift. We need to acknowledge that while all human bodies CAN be sexual, that does not mean that female bodies are ALWAYS, or even PRIMARILY sexual. That while breasts are absolutely sensual and attractive in a sexual context, they need not be seen as sexual in EVERY context. So I ask again, are we IN the world, or OF the world?

Know how we change it? By deciding to change it. By saying "This is stupid, unhealthy, and impractical. We are adults who can discipline our thoughts, and by doing so, set example for our children." By taking a breath when we see a woman nursing a child, and instead of berating her and trying to hustle her away or cover the offending boob, we continue our conversation as though nothing untoward is happening. Because nothing untoward is happening! How do we teach our young people that there is nothing sexual, shameful, or immodest about a woman nursing her child? By not treating it as sexual, shameful, or immodest, but as normal, beautiful, healthy, and appropriate. These are societal constructs, nothing more, and by giving them credence inside the church, we give the world power where we should be honoring only God.

It's hard, but it is also simple.

We must choose to change.

Modesty vs Breastfeeding in Church, Pt One

My Answer

I'm having pretty gnarly post-partum issues the past couple of weeks (topic of a later post, PPD in real life). What happened Sunday afternoon was humiliating and brutal and instead of defending my child, I froze. Couldn't say a word. Did NOT cover her, but otherwise? Totally choked. Somehow though, I can't seem to muster the energy to get angry about it. I'm actually pretty f*****g miserable, if you care to know the truth, and I just don't have it in me to get mad about anything that does not fall under the heading of Survival Mode. It occurred to me that I can't be the only person this has happened to, and reading my response to the situation might help someone down the line. So here it is, my calm and prayerfully considered answer to, "Oh my gosh, what are you doing? Can't you cover up?? You're in church!!!"

When you eat lunch with your head under a blanket in the hottest part of the summer, then we can talk about me covering up my nursing child. Until then? Not gonna happen.

Please do not pretend that your concern is for the hypothetical men or children who might see "something inappropriate". It's insulting to all concerned. You are the person confronting me, be honest enough to own your issue.

Be prepared to deal with me ignoring you if I'm not up to debating the finer points of modesty vs. worldly thinking vs. personal responsibility. Because I'm running on fumes, and if I don't trust my mouth I may simply decide not to say anything at all and return my attention to the baby. It happened by accident this time, but on later reflection, it really doesn't seem like all that shabby of a fallback plan.

I am not flaunting myself, vying for attention, or trying to seduce or offend anyone. I am feeding my child, in the way God intended children to be fed.  You are the person looking at a nursing baby and interpreting it as something sexual. Might wanna talk to a pastor (or God or your therapist) about that, but in the meanwhile, stop blaming an infant for your inappropriate thoughts.

Incidentally, the dress I was wearing covers less when it is fully in place. As I have previously received your compliments on said garment, I can only conclude that you approve of the use of breasts as a fashion accessory or a means of drawing physical attraction, but not as the baby-feeding device they were designed to be. Give that some thought, cuz it seems a bit backwards. Also? Pretty sure God knows what my breasts look like, and approves of their use as baby-feeders in His house.

Ana is 10 weeks old, and breast-milk is her only food. You, however, are an adult, and thus you have several options for dealing appropriately with your discomfort.

          A) You can look at my face and continue our conversation. It's really not hard, several of those men & kids you profess such concern for do it every week. Other women too.
          B) You can direct your gaze anywhere else in this rather large room and find someone else to talk to. I promise, I won't get up from my comfortable chair by the wall and follow you about.
          C) You can just keep walking. Again, won't follow, promise.

You will note that deliberately and loudly shaming me, then snarkily commenting "Well FINE, if you're gonna be that way about it" and stalking off in a huff because I do not accede to your demand is nowhere on the list. Again, you are an adult, have enough personal responsibility to address your own moral dilemmas and not expect me to do it for you. Because I won't, not about this. I will not impede my daughter's ability to eat comfortably and breathe freely in order to save you the trouble of exercising two seconds of self-discipline. Same goes for hiding in a bathroom. Ew.

My baby comes first. Before your right to not be offended (which isn't actually a thing, by the way). Before my right to avoid harassment. Before anyone else's needs or wants or whims or sensibilities, my baby comes first.

Part Two explores the larger conversation that needs to be had.