Friday, May 22, 2009

Hedra, Part One

This post was written by Hedra, who blogs at Hands Full of Rocks.

I successfully breastfed all my kids, including the twins. While I didn't do completely child-led weaning, I did nurse past the two-year mark for each of them. I met the WHO guidelines, as well as the minimum weaning-age preference of the American Academy of Family Physicians. All that is satisfying, but it can also be misleading.

Some people have called me Super-Mom because they couldn't imagine succeeding with breastfeeding twins, or they know someone who couldn't. Or they can't imagine nursing past a year, or they know someone who couldn't or didn't. Or they couldn't imagine breastfeeding at all, or they know someone who didn't even get a fair shot at trying.

I don't like being called Super-Mom. It puts me in a one-up position, which means it also places whoever said it one-down. I am uncomfortable with people putting me above them. It is fundamentally untrue. Worse, it makes life harder for everyone.

There is no such thing as a Super-Mom. We're all just moms, just humans. We differ in skills and resources, training, temperament, style, and intentions. Our histories differ, our lives differ, our networks differ, our values differ, even our goals may differ. But we're all in this together. We really are all human, with no super-powers and no skills that are outside the human range. I'm not genetically modified, and I'm not digitally edited.

When it comes to breastfeeding - whether that's a singleton, twins, or more - it isn't too hard to understand why we use the term. Breastfeeding isn't all that easy, and there are so many challenges that get in the way beyond the physical stuff. Many women do not meet their own goals, fall short of their dream. We may try to make these entirely normal moms feel better by calling the succeeders "extraordinary". I understand the effort to pad the painful parts by distancing the success stories. My successes were never smooth or easy, even if they sometimes look that way from a distance.

Or, someone might use the term Super-Mom as praise, as a way to laud or celebrate what we see as shining examples. We try to make those who did what we want to do understand that we know how hard it may have been to get there. But that's not super-human, either.

Calling breastfeeding success extraordinary, for whatever reason, is entirely the wrong perspective. What is more accurate is that breastfeeding can be hard, or can be easy, and can even be both at different times, even different days or hours. What is also correct is that our resources - personal, family, support, guidance - can also vary on as small or large a scale, can change, can hold us up or let us down. Putting those two patterns together means that normal women, every day, will meet their goals, and normal women, every day, will struggle, and normal women, every day, will not meet those same goals. There is no measure for this that can apply, and no label. It's life. We're human. It just feels worse because we're moms.

The second reason I don't like the term Super-Mom is that it forces women on both sides of the line to attune themselves to the label. Labels are traps, if we buy into them. The more detailed the label, the more a trap it becomes. Super-Mom is that kind of label. The woman who sees someone else as beyond human norm has placed the boundary between herself and that kind of success. The woman who accepts the warm feeling of pride when the label is applied to her also has placed a line between her current moment and the rest of her life - which I can guarantee is not going to be 100% shining moments. To hold onto that perfect label, she'll have to fake it and lie a lot, or work insanely hard some days to continue looking perfect, or will have to accept that she really isn't superhuman, which then might hurt even worse.

Back to my experience... Breastfeeding twins as a normal human woman was hard work. It took effort and planning and support and guidance, and it didn't hurt that I had previous breastfeeding experience. I had a lot of pluses on my side, making it not outside my personal human capability. Right at the edge of that capacity, fairly often. I walked back and forth over the line of 'able' - fortunately, humans evolved to be able to recover and rebound, as well.

The first and most important part of succeeding as a normal woman with breastfeeding twins was having reassurance that it was possible. Talking to twin-moms and lactation consultants who had seen it done allowed me to believe that it was possible. Just believing that at least some normal women can do this is huge. It stops feeling totally insurmountable, and lands instead at least no farther out than the edge of human capacity. I might slip one way or another over that edge, but it is within my grasp.

The second and maybe even more important for the 'on the ground' effort was having a partner (my husband) who felt the same way. He knew I was human, knew it would be hard, and was willing to help in any way he could. Having him tell me (when I was frustrated by another crushing moment) that my only job was lactating, and he would handle the rest... it's more than most women get, and some days more even than I needed. What I needed most was knowing that he believed in me, and trusted me to find my way - or ask for help. This was not blind worship from a distance. He doesn't consider me Super-Mom, either. It was just a faith in me as a person, that I will fight for what I want, and that I will ask for help when something is beyond me. We may not have been taught to do that as women, but having a child to fight for makes a difference.

Some difference, anyway.


  1. When I hear someone refer to anyone as "super ____," I think of all the superhero stories. There are NONE that are just smooth sailing, happy to be the superhero, everything is easy for them stories. They all have all sorts of baggage and personal crises and feel overwhelmed at the pressure. So to me, being called a super anything is not even a compliment! If only others would realize that...

  2. I'm glad you said this. The thing that bothers me about calling someone who successfully breastfed "super" is that it implies that she is better than someone who didn't (as you basically said). I'm not a better person for having worked very hard at breastfeeding than someone who decided that much work was not where they wanted to prioritize their parenting. And I'm not a worse person for having tried and "failed" than someone who succeeded. We're all in this together, or we should be, anyway.

    --electriclady (couldn't make the comment thing work)