Our milky way

Growing up in Lithuania, I don’t remember ever seeing women breastfeed. Ever. I was the youngest one in the family, and my friends’ younger siblings seemed to emerge into this world already attached to their milk bottles.

Whenever I asked my father to draw me paper dolls, embarrassingly to my younger self, he always drew them with hips and breasts! Imagine that! He would explain that big hips were needed for babies to be born and breasts to feed them with milk. It never quite convinced me – I mean, how do you show dolls with breasts and hips to your friends?!

As much as I preferred boyish figure paper dolls, I remember finding breasts so fascinating. Lucky for me, I was a very early reader and my parents had a vast selection of encyclopaedia – there were some real information gems under the sections ‘breasts’, ‘puberty’ and ‘sex’. I’d draw breasts or play with my mother’s knitting wool balls and stuff them underneath my shirt to imitate having a pair, although I found the mechanics of breastfeeding my dolls somewhat confusing.

And then there was this one episode of my parents’ friend sort of hesitantly inviting me over to see how she ‘milks the cow’. She had recently had a baby and was using a hand pump to relieve her breasts. Again, I didn’t actually witness breastfeeding, just an adult being slightly awkward, embarrassed and confusing.

In preparation to our daughter’s homebirth, I devoured insane amounts of information on pregnancy and birth. During our one and only visit to the local medical centre (we did our whole pregnancy care with a group of midwives), I was told by a general practitioner that I needed to spend the rest of my pregnancy vigorously scrubbing my nipples with alcohol to “prepare” them for breastfeeding. I left his office enraged – just about biting my tongue not to tell him where he needed to scrub himself! Seriously?! My body that was busy nourishing a baby for nearly 10 months would get all shocked and confused about nurturing it when the baby arrived? What kind of advice was this? More research followed – this time on breastfeeding. (There are some incredible interviews and documentaries touching on these topics on FMTV.com, including The Milky Way documentary about breastfeeding. Also, The Milk Meg is an absolute treasure chest of information and support to all the mamas wanting to breastfeed.)

And then fast forward to the night this photo was taken on the mattresses in our living room. The first latch – she crawled her way up my belly and she just knew what to do, just like my body. The start of the breastfeeding dance between us. Sure, with some stumbles – but which dance isn’t? – an odd engorged breast, blocked duct or a sore nipple. It all got resolved smoothly with home remedies and lots of rest (metaphysically, issues with breasts indicate that we are nourishing others more than we are looking after ourselves). So here we are, 2 yrs and 8 months later, still dancing it, and for us there’s nothing awkward, embarrassing or confusing about it.

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