First Impressions Last


A 6-month-old Bethie nursing during her christening reception.  

Before I became a mother, I used to regard nursing mothers with a kind of awe.  It was astonishing to me how the bodies of these women miraculously produced a life-giving fluid that they could feed to their babies at will without having to go through the tedious process of heating water, measuring powder, testing the temperature, etc.. I instinctively wanted to be like these women, and I promised myself that if I encountered any difficulty, I wouldn’t just cave in to the convenience of formula as long as I could find someone to help me.

It’s lucky that I had such a point of view.  I could have easily considered breastfeeding difficult, unhealthy, vulgar, and uncouth.  None of my relatives nursed their children for any significant amount of time; my own mother didn’t last more than a few days because she had no support system to speak of. At the time, the brand of formula that you fed your children was as much a mark of class as your watch or your car.  For the older generation, formula-feeding was the natural way, not the other way around.  My husband was lucky because his mother was a pediatrician, so she breastfed most of her children for at least 6 months.

Looking back, I can only remember one significant encounter with a breastfeeding mother that must have shaped my mind-set positively. Ate (older sister) Laling was the sister of our childhood nanny.  She was big, buxom, with lots of kids, and seemed to be breastfeeding one of them all the time.  She would visit our house bringing an infant or two, and she’d nonchalantly nurse in front of my brother and me.  We were invariably fascinated; we’d stop whatever we were doing and gather round her, as enraptured at the process as her own child.  Fortunately, no one ever stopped us or told us that it was rude to stare.  Ate Laling never even bothered to cover up, since she did it in the maid’s quarters anyway.  So she’d loll there like a goddess of fertility, a babe suckling on each breast and practically bathing in milk (which she never ran out of). She made the whole process seem effortless, pleasant, and perfectly normal and we could practically watch her kids gain weight before our eyes.  They were the healthiest children I had ever encountered. I was so curious one time that I asked what her milk tasted like; instead of getting a glass, as I thought she would, she just asked me to lean forward.  She then proceeded to squirt breastmilk into my face; fortunately, I had the presence of mind to open my mouth.  It tasted watery and vaguely sweet; nothing like the full-cream powdered milk that I was used to.  Again, no one made us feel that any of this was weird or wrong.  And I guess that’s the main reason why I decided in my child’s mind that when I became a mother myself, I wanted to be like Ate Laling–able to feed my own baby with natural, nourishing, liquid gold from my own body, and proud of it.

What shaped your own perception of breastfeeding?


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