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.

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.

  • Romany Rivers

    Oh Gods, yes, yes and yes. I just welled up with tears reading this, and I don’t know why it never occurred to me to view my own story in these terms. I have so much personal work still to do on this particular point of my past journey, but maybe now I have a different language to explore this story. After the troubles I had with the breastfeeding relationship I had with my firstborn, I trained in the provincial breastfeeding support program so that I could support others in their unique and often challenging journeys. My desire to help others was just one avenue of personal healing, but there are so many other ways to view my growth, love, loss and fears from the battle with birthing and breastfeeding that changed me so much as a woman. Thank you Molly, your words exposed a raw wound but with a light touch.

    • http://goddesspriestess.com/ Molly

      Thank you for your comment, Romany! I don’t why it took me so long for these ideas to come up for me, but I’m really interested to start exploring more using these terms and language…

  • mateenisis

    I tried and tried and tried but had to give up when I started having panic attacks because I couldn’t produce enough milk and the pain of her latching on was like having salt and lemon juice rubbed into an open wound. I’d had “breast is best” drilled into me by every nurse, doctor, friend, and stranger from the moment I found out I was pregnant. I felt so awful about switching to formula that they had to put me on anti-depressants for a while. I felt that I had failed my child, that I was less of a woman (that feeling being compounded by an emergency c section because I wouldn’t dilate even after 3 days of labor) for being unable to feed her the “natural” way. It wasn’t until I was reading up on the history of midwifery that I stopped killing myself over it. No, I couldn’t feed my daughter from my body, no, she wasn’t born the natural way – BUT SHE WAS ALIVE, HAPPY, AND HEALTHY; and I realized as long as I could keep her that way, I hadn’t failed as a woman, I wasn’t a bad mother and that had we had lived just 60 years earlier, we would both be dead. That is my hero’s tale. :-

    • http://goddesspriestess.com/ Molly

      That IS a hero’s tale for sure! You made me feel a little tear-eyed over here!

    • http://asawest.wordpress.com/ Asa

      Mateenisis, that was almost exactly my experience, too. Tongue-tie, bad latch, drug-resistant thrush, incompetent care providers…I gave it six weeks and a lot of money and then gave up. I’m still mourning. When people hear me say, “I tried to breastfeed but failed,” they correct me by saying, “No, you breastfed, period.” But I still don’t quite believe them.

  • http://aidaredza.blogspot.com/ Aida Redza

    Love the goddess jewelry. How can i order and purchase to be send to Malaysia?

    • http://goddesspriestess.com/ Molly

      You can contact me via my etsy shop and I can set up a special shipping option for you. :-) http://etsy.com/shop/BrigidsGrove

      • http://aidaredza.blogspot.com/ Aida Redza

        Thank you for your reply. Sorry i did not get to see your message until now and did not know how to reply. Are all of it pendants? Do i give you the name of the piece i like, and pay you via card on your site? Or how? When i was in the states many years ago – i did buy a shakti pendant that looked almost like yours, but i never found out who made them. I have lost it since – and i wish to find it again. But i guess it would not be easy as it was like in 1996 or something like that. But definitely would like to put an order. Thank you

        • http://goddesspriestess.com/ Molly

          Yes, message me on Etsy and tell me which one you want and I’ll change the listing to including Malaysia. Then, you will check out with your preferred payment method via the Etsy site. :)


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