Breastfeeding? Not in My Family

The November Carnival of Breastfeeding poses a question I have thought about a lot: what is my family history of breastfeeding and how were the decisions concerning breastfeeding made in the generations of mothers before me.

Check out the other posts in the November Carnival of Breastfeeding linked below.

I have no memories of my mother breastfeeding. I have one picture of my mother breastfeeding my younger brother. It is black and white, very grainy, and hand torn around the edges. My grandfather took up photography as a hobby for a while and he never mastered it. In the dark, somewhat haunting photo of a four year old me standing on one foot looking at my infant brother in my mother’s arms, I can see my brother is at the breast. My mother is wearing a bathrobe and so am I. From the series this shows up in, and the infrequence of visits from the grandfather, I think this was taken the morning of my brother’s bris. No surprise that I have no member of the breastfeeding but remember the bris very clearly. I watched the circumcision in horror and did not for a minute believe he wasn’t in a lot of pain because he screamed and screamed.

Based only on this picture, I thought it was possible my mother breastfed her five children, at least for a little while. But I wasn’t sure and it wasn’t information easy to acquire.

You see, my mother left me when I was a year old or younger – no one seems too sure. When I was growing up it was something we weren’t allowed to talk about and is now something no one will talk about. My older siblings were far too concerned (justifiably) about their own survival to keep much track of me though it is my understanding my then-12 year old sister did all the child care after my mother left and when she went to school I stayed with a woman I came to think of as my mother. From what I can piece together I was born bloated from likely alcohol use by my mother. She is an alcoholic. And then sometime within the next year she decided to leave my father and her four children.

By the time my younger brother was born four years after me, my mother had a new husband and had come back for me and one other of my siblings.

So I am fairly sure my mother didn’t breastfeed me and given her alcoholism I am likely better off. But that one photo of my mother breastfeeding my younger half-brother always had me wondering. I have only spoken to my mother twice in the last 34 years but I did ask her that question. She told me that she had started breastfeeding all of us but she never had enough milk. She said she thought breastfeeding was best for babies and that it was great I was breastfeeding my children (who she has never met). I don’t know whether to believe her or not. I am inclined not to.

My grandmothers are dead so I can’t ask them whether they breastfed. Knowing what I do about them, if formula or wet nurses were available options, there is no way either of my grandmothers breastfed. Both of them wanted as little to do with their children as possible.

One of the many reasons I was committed to breastfeeding my children was the lack of attachment in the mother-child relationships in my family for as many generations as I can trace. Mother after mother who handed her kids off to paid help if she could afford it and just ignored her children if she couldn’t. Each woman’s inability to attach to her children led to more people who couldn’t form healthy attachments. This was a cycle I was, and am, determined to break.

Extended breastfeeding of my three sons isn’t the only reason I believe the abuse of my childhood won’t continue on to future generations through my children. Breastfeeding is not the only reason I have relationships with my sons that my own mother could not even conceive of. But breastfeeding was my first experience of deep true love. Breastfeeding gave me my first attachment. Breastfeeding is now a family tradition.

Other November Carnival of Breastfeeding Posts:

Christine @ Christine’s Contemplations: Carnival of Breastfeeding- My Family History of Nursing
Judy @ Mommy News Blog: My Family History of Breastfeeding
Jona @ Breastfeeding Twins: Beer & Bottles (and other motherly advice)
Elita @ Blacktating: Three Generations of Breastfeeding
Mama Mo @ Attached at the Nip: How Women in My Family Feed Babies
Alicia @ Lactation Narration: Only the Hippies Were Breastfeeding
Dr. Sarah: Breastfeeding, Circa 1950s
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: An Unbroken Chain

17 comments to Breastfeeding? Not in My Family.

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November 22nd, 2010 at 8:16 am · Reply […]

This post was mentioned on Twitter by Elita, Jake Aryeh Marcus. Jake Aryeh Marcus said: New blog post: Breastfeeding? Not in My Family. […]

Mama Mo November 22nd, 2010 at 8:38 am · Reply Oh, my goodness, what a heartbreaking yet redemptive story. Thank you for sharing. Your boys are lucky to have a mama who is aware and determined to break the cycle and commit to attachment with her children. I love your last sentence…

Ebony November 22nd, 2010 at 8:38 am · Reply Hugs. I bet u are a great mom. I have a similar story. My grandmother had 13 babies many who died, I don’t know if she did breastfeed but having kids close together suggests she didn’t. She died in childbirth of my mom. I was my moms only child but she didn’t nurse me because I was biting her. She was an alcoholic so I basically raised myself. I nursed my first child for 10 days then exclusively pumped for 4 months, and my second and third are currently tandem nursing: 3.5y and 16 months

Shannon Drury
Twitter: radicalhw

November 22nd, 2010 at 9:21 am · Reply My mother looked at me like I was nuts when I told her I was breastfeeding my firstborn. She said that in 1971 she was told that there was NO WAY her milk could be superior to the powdery stuff at the supermarket. Over time I’ve realized, though, that her own body shame and self-hate had as much to do with that decision as anything a doctor told her.

Beer and Bottles (and other motherly advice) :: Breastfeeding Twins November 22nd, 2010 at 9:48 am · Reply […] Jake Aryeh Marcus: Breastfeeding? Not in My Family […]

My Family History Of Breastfeeding «Mommy News and Views Blog November 22nd, 2010 at 10:08 am · Reply […] Jona @ Breastfeeding Twins: Beer & Bottles (and other motherly advice) Jake Aryeh Marcus: Breastfeeding? Not in My Family Elita @ Blacktating: Three Generations of Breastfeeding Mama Mo @ Attached at the Nip: How Women […]

Elita @ Blacktating
Twitter: blacktating

November 22nd, 2010 at 10:16 am · Reply What a fascinating story. I am betting so many women in past generations had children because they had to and it was what was expected, even though many of them didn’t want to and shouldn’t have been mothers. I have known others with similar stories and it’s all very sad. It’s wonderful that you have broken the cycle and your children are very much loved and wanted and able to attach in a healthy manner. Now you’ll just have to make sure your boys have babies with women who want to breastfeed ;)
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Twitter: MommyNews

November 22nd, 2010 at 10:27 am · Reply Oh Jake, thank you so much for sharing your story. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for you to reach down inside and dig this out. I sit here with tears running down my face. Your boys are so lucky to have you.
Judy@MommyNewsBlog´s last blog ..My Family History Of Breastfeeding My ComLuv Profile

Sara Dodder Furr November 22nd, 2010 at 10:42 am · Reply Jake, this is a gut wrenching story. Your mom has missed so much by being unattached to you, choosing alcohol over her children. I love the way that breastfeeding brings us into such an intimate relationship with our children, allowing us to love them fully, even when we are exhausted, anxious, doubting ourselves. My mother died in 1982, taken from me way too soon. I don’t remember ever asking her about breastfeeding. But my sister Debra told me time and again that I was breastfed by my mom for months, though I know she was also giving formula (per the doctor’s instructions on day 1). I wonder if having been breastfed is one thing that has protected me from the years of poor health my two older sisters had before they died this year. I don’t know if my mother was breastfed. I know my dad was a (surprise) twin born in 1929 to a mother overwhelmed by giving birth at age 39. She didn’t breastfeed my dad, never believing she could make milk at an “advanced age” or make enough for 2. Of my 3 sisters, one had no children, one didn’t breastfed her biological daughter because she was given up for adoption, but did give donor milk to one of the two daughters she adopted. I remember my oldest sister breastfeeding one of her three sons but I don’t think she breastfed the other two. I know it would have been much harder for me to mother my children without the attachment being made so much easier due to breastfeeding. For me, it was all about the attachment. I knew little or nothing about the immunological benefits when I began breastfeeding. I learned about that through going to LLL meetings, then becoming a bit obsessed about learning more and more about the “science” side of breastfeeding. I just knew before I gave birth that a close attachment was what I wanted and, though I had 3 births that were far from the ideal, I have lovely memories of breastfeeding my three children and would not trade those for anything.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting
Twitter: phdinparenting

November 22nd, 2010 at 2:43 pm · Reply I know that my mother breastfed all four of us. She nursed me for 9 months (until I “self-weaned” …also known as nursing strike, early solids, supplementation, etc.). She nursed all three of my siblings for between 1 year and 18 months (all until they “self-weaned” too). When I was 15 years old, I went to Australia for a year on an exchange program and my host mother was nursing her one year old.To me nursing was so normal that I didn’t even realize that not nursing was an option until I started researching things during my pregnancy. I thought formula/bottles was something that all babies had in addition to nursing, not realizing it could be one or the other.I am a bit saddened by the fact that my now 3 year old, who weaned less than 3 months ago, seems to take more of her cues on how babies eat from her 6 month old cousin (formula fed, early solids, jarred food) than from her own experience (exclusively breastfed, baby-led solids starting at 6 months). Unfortunately most of our like-minded friends are also done with the baby-stage, so she is taking her messages/cues from elsewhere.
Annie @ PhD in Parenting´s last blog ..Let’s throw the assumptions out with the bathwaterMy ComLuv Profile

Annie @ PhD in Parenting
Twitter: phdinparenting

November 22nd, 2010 at 2:44 pm · Reply Sorry….that should say 3 year old who weaned less than 6 months ago.
Annie @ PhD in Parenting´s last blog ..Let’s throw the assumptions out with the bathwaterMy ComLuv Profile

Carnival of Breastfeeding: Family Ties – Mama Bear November 22nd, 2010 at 2:49 pm · Reply […] Jona @ Breastfeeding Twins: Beer & Bottles (and other motherly advice) Jake Aryeh Marcus: Breastfeeding? Not in My Family Mama Mo @ Attached at the Nip: How Women in My Family Feed Babies Alicia @ Lactation Narration: […]

Twitter: feministbreeder

November 22nd, 2010 at 2:55 pm · Reply Yes, everyone in my family thinks that breastfeeding is “gross.” My own mother was too busy running away to feed me anything, let alone breastmilk. And honestly? I dislike that woman so much I’m actually very glad that I was never at her breast. But boy, oh boy, do I get sick and tired of the shitty comments from my family about me “Still! OH MY GOD!” breastfeeding my 2 yr old. At this point I swear I’m just doing it to piss them off.But for this reason I try to make sure my boys think that breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, and I hope it never occurs to them to feed their babies formula unless completely necessary. I also hope they partner with a woman (if that’s their inclination) who also shares their trust of the female body. I’d hope my grandbabies are breastfed too.
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Michelle @ Mama Bear November 22nd, 2010 at 4:37 pm · Reply Thanks for writing this – it’s not easy to recognize that the history of your family’s mothering isn’t a happy one. When I started writing my post for this carnival, I sort of thought that was the direction it would go – about my birth mother & that I am floating link in this breastfeeding chain (I assume from the social history I have that my birth grandmother would have breastfed by sheer necessity). But it ended up going the other way – as I have ended up with a mother who is a formula-feeding lactivist.Your kids are very lucky that you broke that unhappy record – and the rest of us too for the writing and advocacy you do.
Michelle @ Mama Bear´s last blog ..Carnival of Breastfeeding- Family TiesMy ComLuv Profile

Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus

November 22nd, 2010 at 5:34 pm · Reply Thanks everyone for the wonderful and supportive comments.When I refused to have any contact with my mother after I was 14, people would always says things like “When you are older you will regret this” and “When you have your own children you will understand why she did what she did.” Nope. Don’t regret having no contact with her and having my own children made me far more horrified by her behavior.There are times I think there may be a “mommy chip.” Some people have it, some people don’t. I don’t have the energy to be angry at her much anymore. Sometimes I feel sorry for her – in a very generalized “sorry for a stranger” way – that she missed out on what I get from my kids. What I waste.

Twitter: feministbreeder

November 23rd, 2010 at 1:52 pm · Reply Yes, ditto. My MIL asked me right after I had my first son “So, now do maybe perhaps understand where your mother was coming from?” Um – NO, are you kidding?!?. It wasn’t until after I had a child that I realized exactly how terrible of a person my mother actually was. I could NEVER EVER treat my kids the way she treated me. FTR, my MIL hasn’t a clue what my mother did to me and I have no patience to try to explain it to her. My husband has mentioned things, but she just doesn’t get it. Most people can’t understand. It’s outside their comfort zone.
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Twitter: daydreamymama

November 23rd, 2010 at 1:03 pm · Reply Neither of my grandmothers breastfed their children, and my mother didn’t either. There are pictures of me walking around alone with a bottle of formula in my hand, going to bed with a bottle. It makes me sad. I breastfed my son for three years, and it was the most rewarding, beautiful experience of my life. All that time we spent cuddling together brought us very, very close, and I’m sure it contributed to the content, curious, open-hearted child he is today. I am sad for my mom and grandmothers that they didn’t have that experience, and also sad for myself and my brothers. And for years I carried around a warm, sweet, creamy cardboard cup of coffee with me wherever I went and joked that it was my “security blanket.” Yep. You get it where you can get it, you know?
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