Breastfeeding as a (s)hero’s journey?

Every single human being was drummed into this world by a woman, having listened to the heart rhythms of their mother. 

––Connie Sauer

Recently I re-posted an article I wrote about breastfeeding and parenting as spiritual practices. I received a comment on the re-post that really gave me pause and some food for thought:

I’ve really liked your writing about preparing for birth as a warrior’s rite. I only wish I’d had materials that prepared me for breastfeeding similarly…

I’d like to have at least one breastfeeding book out there that supports women in breastfeeding even when it’s hell, and that doesn’t assume any pain is due to some tiny, easily fixed problem. I continue to get the most condescending advice when I talk about this in public — I don’t know how anyone thinks, with the amount of pain I’ve experienced trying to make this work, that I haven’t already tried every obvious solution.

Anyway, that is all a bit tangential to your post. I do think breastfeeding can be spiritual, though for some of us, it may be an ordeal as much as birth is. I would love to see that acknowledged better in breastfeeding resources.

I’ve been a breastfeeding counselor for nine years. I’ve written before that I have much more often marveled that a mother kept breastfeeding than I have wondered why she didn’t! Mothers are amazing and they go through a LOT. Reading this comment made me wonder why I’ve never really written about my own breastfeeding stories in the sense of a hero’s journey—perhaps because the difficult parts, once overcome, then fade into the fabric of that ongoing relationship? Perhaps because of the sheer ongoing involvement of breastfeeding, rather than the more discreet, definable event of birth? Perhaps because the path can be even more twisty and intimate and embodied and thorough and invested than even pregnancy and birth? Perhaps because, for me, my early breastfeeding stories are very bound up in my overall feelings during postpartum and the struggles I experienced there? Perhaps because for me personally the breastfeeding relationship continues to evolve into toddlerhood and so some of visceral, newborn, early journey elements are subsumed into the more habitual and every day? Why have I never written about the bloody, messy, tearful, painful parts of breastfeeding in my own personal motherhood story?! They’re there. And, when I counsel mothers in person I do talk about those parts. I also never tell people that breastfeeding hurts because they’re doing it wrong—I tell them they will read that phrase over and over, but that in reality, most women experience some degree of discomfort and even pain in the early weeks. Where it becomes not normal is when there is blood or blisters or open wounds, but if someone suddenly started sucking on ANY of your body parts 8-12 times a day, I think it is logical that we can expect some adjustment or difficulty or stress or pain in adjusting to that degree of intense, sustained, body contact/involvement.

I wrote the following at the end of one of my blog posts last year: January 2014 041

I’m also reminded again, however, of why breastfeeding support holds such a lasting pull for me and that is because postpartum is where it is at, that is where we are so very, very deeply needed as support people. Birth is amazing and exhilarating and women most definitely need us there too, but in the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, unglamorous, nipples and breast infections, teething, crying, dirty-haired, exhausted, wrung-out maternal web of daily being is a very tender and delicate beauty that  becomes visible only when we’re willing to spend months and months, or  even years, serving as a listening ear, a medication lookup, and someone to trust with both her laughter and her tears.

Talk Books: Laughter & Tears: The Emotional Life of New Mothers | Talk Birth.

Birth has been one of my biggest passions for many years. It is so exciting and interesting and almost “glamorous”—it is where the thrill is, the big work, and the big moment: the baby’s emergence. But, guess what, it is in the breastfeeding relationship and the first year with the new baby in which the mother’s strength is really tested. Breastfeeding is the day in and day fabric of connection. It is a huge physical and emotional investment, the continued devotion of one’s body to one’s baby. Breastfeeding support may not as exciting or thrilling as birthwork for me, but it is so very REAL and so very needed, and part of the nitty gritty reality of individual mother’s complicated lives as they find their feet on the motherhood road. It really matters.

In what ways has breastfeeding been a hero’s journey for you? I’ve written a lot about birth in the context—the idea of the birth warrior or birth as a shamanic experience or birth as a labyrinth path, etc…but what about the breastfeeding journey? How were you tested, how were you challenged, how did you rise, or make peace, or triumph, or cry, or scream, or dig so deeply into yourself that you had to gasp in wonder at your own capacity? What is your breastfeeding story…?

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Crossposted at Talk Birth.

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About Priestess Molly

Molly is a priestess, writer, birth educator, and activist who lives with her husband and children in the midwest. She is a breastfeeding counselor, a professor of human services, and doctoral student in women’s spirituality at Ocean Seminary College. Molly and her husband co-create goddess jewelry and birth art at Brigid’s Grove: http://brigidsgrove.com and she blogs about theapoetics, ecopsychology, and the Goddess at http://goddesspriestess.com.


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