You have a beautiful, bouncing little babe and you have chosen not to breastfeed. Please do not, you begged this morning, think any less of me.
And with those eight small words, you broke my heart.
Watching you become a mother is a great gift. You are my friend. I love you as I love a sister. You believe in me, cherish me, support me through thick and thin. I believe in you, cherish you, support you through thick and thin. I cannot imagine tossing aside a friendship we have spent years crafting together without good reason. The fact that you even for a moment thought I might stings beyond measure.
Every day, women opt out of nursing their babies. Some of them lack the education or the support they need to continue. Some of them are made uncomfortable by our society’s sexualization of breasts or by prior sexual abuse. Some of them have medical conditions or take pharmaceuticals that preclude nursing. Some of them have children who have physical impediments or who have rare allergies to their milk. Some of them try very, very hard to make breastfeeding work. Some never try at all.
The reasons you have elected not to breastfeed are none of my business. I will not ask you why. I will not ask you for justifications. I will not imply that you have somehow failed. In a culture where nursing a child is not a constant part of the landscape and where mothers are discriminated against NO MATTER WHAT THEY CHOOSE, breastfeeding is a very personal decision. Furthermore, how and why you opt to perform natural biological functions is a private affair. I very strongly believe that every individual has the right to govern their own body. I respect WITHOUT QUESTION that you have made the choice that you believe is best for you, for your child, and for your family.
Isn’t this what friendship is?
You are right: I believe in breastfeeding. I believe that for most mother-child pairs, it is the healthiest and most affordable option. I believe that with stronger community support, better maternity benefits, and more widespread education, breastfeeding would be more socially acceptable. I believe that formula industry needs a massive overhaul. I believe in boycotting companies who do not comply with the WHO Code. I believe that milk sharing – be it raw milk from the neighbor, pasteurized milk from a bank, or fresh milk from a wet nurse – should be lauded. I believe that breastfeeding is an experience that cannot be compared with any other. I believe that women who choose to breastfeed toddlers and even school-age children and that women who choose to breastfeed adopted children should be as positively supported as those who nurse infants who grew in their womb.
But I also believe that you are a grown woman, a good person, a loving mother, who is doing all she can. I believe that your reasons, whatever they may be, are valid even if I did not make the same choice. In your shoes, maybe I would. I believe that you and I are different people and that this is what makes our friendship special. We do not have to make identical decisions for me to respect you, your choices, and your parenting.
I believe that you have helped me enormously by trusting my choices for my family and refraining from judgment when I nurse my child. I believe that right now, the very best thing I can do for you and for our friendship is to trust you and refrain from judgment when you shake up a bottle for your own child.
If you want to talk, if you want to discuss your reasons, if you want to ask questions about my decision to breastfeed, if you want more information or resources, or if you just want a big hug and a strong shoulder and some reassurance, here I am. Here I always will be, with open arms and listening ears. And if you do not, then here I am. Here I always will be, with open arms and silent faith.
I hope that you are confident in your choice, Friend, as confident as I am in you. But more than that, I hope I never again give you reason to believe that I might ever think less of you for mothering with love.