by Nancy Massotto, Ph.D.
When I had my first child, I was determined to breastfeed for at least six months. Even with that modest goal in mind, I had friends and family members question my decision, ask why we weren’t using formula, and nag us about when we would start solids and stop nursing. Along the way, breastfeeding led to co-sleeping, babywearing, and a whole host of “alternative” choices on my parenting journey. In a blink, my son was 3 and we were still nursing. And the questions were coming with even more intensity.
As our parenting journey evolved so, too, did our commitment to more holistic choices. I now refer to it as a sort of “snowball” effect. Breastfeeding brought an even deeper awareness and concern about what I was putting in my body, for health and nutritional reasons, but also as we discovered that our child had a number of food allergies. The more I investigated, the more concerned I became about what toxins our food might contain and how genetic modification or artificial ingredients would impact our health. That awareness quickly spread to the presence of toxins in our home – in personal care products, toys, and cleaning products. And the snowball grew.
The bigger the snowball, the larger the pressure seemed to grow from those who didn’t agree with my now “crunchy” parenting style. I became the wacky extremist and felt more and more alienated. If it were not for the amazing support I found with other women, my journey would have been very different. I could not imagine nursing a three year old when my son was first born, but seeing other moms nursing toddlers, having the voices of encouragement and support, and knowing that I was not alone made all the difference. Surrounding myself with a community of moms was essential not only for my journey, but for my sanity. My fellow mamas could laugh with me at the critics, brainstorm on ways to stick to my principles, and sympathize with the struggles – even when they did not agree with my choices. That empathy, that understanding was empowering. Being connected opened up a space to embrace my instincts and to build the parenting relationship that I wanted. And it brought me to a place of tolerance and understanding for others’ choices, even when I did not agree with them.
Another child later and my snowball is now a mountain of holistic choices. From homebirth and breastfeeding to sustainable and simple living, my lifestyle and my parenting continue to evolve. My community of moms continues to inspire me to follow my own path and laughs with me at the many critics who find fault with my choices. I have found my personal comfort zone because of that support and know that my tribe has many different members, but a common purpose and shared support.
What parenting doors has breastfeeding opened for you? Has it forged a new journey? And how do you deal with the naysayers?