I had always imagined breastfeeding as a divine act. Me, radiant Madonna nourishing my serene Child Jesus. But when the time came, I discovered that breastfeeding a newborn in public was more like trying to pull off a magic trick. Watch this screaming child disappear under a cape!
At a party three weeks after giving birth, I was trying to do some magic – breastfeed my son under a shawl that kept slipping – which a friend took as an invitation to ask, “How long will you you breastfeed her?” I don’t know how I’d make it through the party, let alone a set breastfeeding trip, I growled a verbal shrug. “Don’t treat him until he’s three, or I won’t be coming anymore,” she sneered. It pushed me over the hormonal cliff I had been teetering on, and my whole body flushed.
If I had a time machine, I’d set the clock back to that exact moment, look it in the eye, and say, “I’m going to nurse him through his infancy to boost his immunity against the deadly pandemic.
As I settled into a new maternity ward, I did a lot of research on breastfeeding. If the option is available for you, the benefits were clear: the longer the better, up to a point. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding a child until two years of age or older, or for as long as mother and child mutually desire. A decade Brazilian study, which followed thousands of babies from birth to adulthood, found that the length of time a baby was breastfed was correlated with higher IQ, education level and wages in adulthood. My own mother was a hippie Buddhist who nursed me until I was three and a half, so by that logic I should have a mansion and a personal invitation from Mensa, but there’s an exception to every rule. . I decided to breastfeed my son until he was two years old, long enough to make him a genius CrossFit champion CEO who miraculously isn’t an asshole, but not as embarrassing since I was breastfed.
Even I was surprised, then, when I found myself crouched behind a play structure nursing a restless tow more than half my size on his third birthday. One of the fathers at the party surprised when he saw us as he rounded the corner: a petite woman ridden by a busty vampire. As he grimaced at me and I grimaced back, I was well aware that he was thinking of that kid from the moongate of game of thrones. I could see it in his eyes. If I had had a moon gate, I might have jumped over it.
Breastfeeding my son until he was three years old was not planned, but six weeks after he celebrated his first birthday, a deadly virus took our lives hostage. We sheltered in place, engulfing headlines about soaring death rates, long covid and children with multisystem inflammatory syndrome. As my brain processed me through a spinning reel of worst-case scenarios, I found a source of assurance in the face of such frightening uncertainty: my own breast milk, which precisely gave my son 24-hour access to a super tonic immunity. Filled with vitamins, probiotics and immune boosters, breast milk is the OG elixir of life. The nipple itself analyze the baby’s saliva to see what nutrients they need, adjusting the recipe accordingly. I would like to have this kind of free and individualized health care.
Like wiping the errands – ugh, that phase – I clung to this measure to protect my son, resolving to breastfeed for as long as it took. Strong, stubborn and prone to hand-to-hand combat, he was sure to be a real pain in the ass about weaning, anyway.
When the vaccine was finally rolled out, studies found covid antibodies in the milk of vaccinated mothers just days after their first shot. Cedars-Sinai called it “liquid gold.” With this news, breastfeeding moms were the heroines of the day. Vaxxers and breastfeeding mothers sold their milk online. Those who had recently been weaned attempted to relactate. Moms slipped breast milk into their older children’s cereal! The older kids cracked up when they found out! It was Milkmania, 2021. Then everyone moved on. My friends and family started asking me again, “How long are you going to breastfeed her?” Or, over the weeks, “He’s always feeding with milk?!”
While it’s common in other places around the world to breastfeed a child until school age, we don’t see it much in 2022 in America, where breasts are still so sexualized that it’s seemingly offensive consider them functional. My son and I get a lot of stares in public, and I get it. It is surprising to hear a child ask for a breast with a complete and grammatically correct sentence.
When my son started attending his kindergarten, which is like Harvard but for germs, in the fall, continuing to give him the maximum protection seemed even more important. He is unvaccinated and an avid anti-mask. Covid epidemics regularly stop classes. But, three shots, I got Pfizer now and Moderna on tap, and although the FDA remains skeptical about the The effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine for infants and children under 5, it has long touted the immune benefits a child derives from breastfeeding. It’s reassuring to share this protection with him, if only to curb my own anxiety, even if it’s not the only benefit for me. Breastfeeding reduces my chances of having multiple babies breast or ovarian cancers, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Most exciting of all, breastfeeding gives me a faster metabolism and bigger breasts. If there was a medicine for this it would be more in demand than the covid pill.
Besides, it’s the only time my child is silent.
Not that it’s all health miracles and D cups. Sometimes that sucks. And sometimes bites. As he will proudly tell you, my son is now three and a quarter, and breastfeeding him has become a little awkward for everyone except my mum, who is thrilled that I’ve become just as hippie as her. At this point, I’m so used to having a boob that I’m likely to forget to put it back on. It’s one thing to breastfeed in public, but walking around with a bare breast at Costco is simply unacceptable. whole foods maybe.
As we move forward to three and a half, I’m researching weaning for the first time. I just can’t bring myself to breastfeed a child on a kindergarten waiting list. What has been protection against a wayward virus, and my sourdough covid habit, makes less sense as cases finally drop and summer is thankfully approaching. I no longer feel so torn between societal expectations and doing my best to protect my child from covid.
I won’t miss the nipple bandages, or the feeling of being a dairy cow, or the siphoning off of hydration. I’m gonna cry breastfeeding when we finally stop. Prolonged breastfeeding has forged a deep bond between my son and me. It gave me the wonderful habit of giving it my all. It helped me learn not to give a damn about what people think of my parenthood. I will miss feeling so connected to him. He will start going to school five mornings a week instead of three. Then whole days. We will never be so close again.
Weaning him also means losing my two most effective weapons against temper tantrums: nursing breasts. The other day, my son had an Oscar-worthy seizure, wait, a broken cookie. He was screaming, moaning, kicking and punching. Fearing for my safety, I dropped it into Pack n’ Play and backed away. When he finally calmed down a bit, I picked him up in my arms and hugged him to my chest. He first fought me, then let out a shaky sigh and melted into me. Snuggled up in the rocking chair with Mom’s milk mood tonic, he relaxed as quickly as he had angered. The contact and the influx of oxytocin brought us back to our bodies, to each other. He was suddenly, miraculously serene. Triumphant, with a crumbled biscuit in my back pocket, I was finally the radiant Madonna.
Kelly MacLean is a comedian, journalist and podcaster. Her work has been published in Esquire Magazine and Los Angeles Magazine, and will be featured in the upcoming “Best of Readers Digest 2022” book. You can follow her @thekellymaclean.