A new fathers reflection on breastfeeding shared as part of World Breastfeeding Week
Being a woman and a mother is no joke.
After accompanying my wife through pregnancy and delivery, I have gained an awe-filled wonderment for the strength and stamina required to be a mother and bring new life into this world. This amazement is accompanied by an equally great appreciation for my Y-chromosome that exempts me from such physiological gymnastics. I honestly don’t know how mothers do it!
But if there is an aspect of motherhood that I am envious of, it is most certainly breastfeeding. Yes, breastfeeding.
It is an interaction, between the two people I love most in this world, that is as unique as it is intimate. A beautiful drama underlined by tenderness and love. I feel incredibly privileged that I get to observe this fundamental human embrace of self-giving oblation in all its wondrous detail and ritualistic devotion.
First, there is the child.
This helpless, defenceless little being. His little body feels the pangs of hunger, his eyes scrunch tight, his bottom lip quivers in trepidation, and toothless gums wailfully proclaim the extent of his misery, as if it is the worst thing to ever happen in the world! Indeed, it is most certainly the worst thing to have ever happened in his little world.
Then there is the mother.
Her baggy eyes immediately respond to the call of her child. Barely a moment’s thought is given to her own tiredness, her painfully engorged breasts, or her healing abdomen that is simultaneously aching from the wound in her womb, and bloated from the opioids used to numb it. No, instead she holds and comforts her distraught infant. He requires comforting, because in his distress he has even forgotten that hunger was the cause of his plight. And so she gently rocks him.
She places him on her breast and nature takes over. It most certainly feels mysteriously divine that this little human can barely control his limbs or movements yet he knows just what to do once on his mother’s breast. Millenia of adaptions have equipped him for this very moment. A gift passed down from all the ages. He smells her comforting scent and his sobs turn to sniffles. He feels the brush of her nipple against the side of his cheek and his instinctive neonatal rooting reflex causes him to turn his head toward it, and open his mouth.
And then the climactic moment.
My wife describes it as dozens of shards of glass piercing her breast, as her swollen breast ducts, now squeezed by the chomping gums of her baby, painfully open. The pain is evident in the catch of her breath and the quiet glistening of her eyes. It slowly subsides as the life-giving fluid is dispensed into his thirsty mouth, completely unaware of what his mother has just endured for him.
“How do you cope with the pain, my love?”
“My baby needs me.”
There is something mystical about the peace and comfort in the moments that follow. The mother’s moment of pain is now replaced by tidal waves of consolation. As the oxytocin floods through her body, her face softens and her shoulders relax as she is neurochemically bonded to her child through her gift of nourishment. The child’s cries of distress now turn into the soft grunts and squeaks of contentment.
I can’t help but feel that this interplay is somehow uniquely Christ-like. It’s the story of a suffering endured for the sake of love, that is then consoled by a literal outpouring of love. It suddenly seems so obvious that in Christian sacred art, the virtue of love (or charity) is traditionally depicted as a breastfeeding mother. There is no other human interaction that could be more loving and life-giving by its very nature. And so I watch my wife and our son, locked in their embrace of love, in awe and appreciation for the beautiful design of nature. How many generations of mothers throughout the ages have participated in this sacred life-giving act in order to allow for me to be here today?
The theme of this years World Breastfeeding Week is “Protect breastfeeding: a Shared Responsibility.” Breastfeeding is under attack in many quarters of society through the objectification and sexualisation of women. Breasts, instead of being seen for the conduits of love that they are, are seen as the objects of desire and sexual gratification. The dichotomous confusion of our culture is no more starkly seen in the way breasts are put on display when being used for advertising or commercial gain, but are shunned and hidden away when a mother needs to suckle her child.
As men, husbands, and fathers, our physical participation in the act of breastfeeding is limited. However, we most certainly play our part in the sexualisation of women’s bodies. We often stare with selfish desire. We feel uncomfortable talking about breasts, babies and suckling, but feel happy to comment on perkiness, cleavage and boobs. This needs to change.
Breasts are truly beautiful not for the characteristics of size and shape, but for the selfless motherly life-giving love that they allow to be imbued to their children. We must remember that we are here today because of generations of mothers at whose breasts we suckled. We owe it to all of humanity to share in the responsibility of protecting breastfeeding – to be real men that see breasts with the eyes of real love and appreciation with which they deserve to be seen.