Just read an interesting article in the New Yorker about breastfeeding. It looks at the current trend: women pump milk more, rather than directly breastfeeding. The author, Jill Lepore, points out that in the US, this is a government sanctioned activity, and also points out that pumping is a cheaper (though less human) alternative to paying for actual maternity leave. In some cases, this borders on the absurd (like work "pumping" rooms that are forbidden to moms with actual babies.)
I read the article in the light of a recent visit to a close friend who just gave birth for the first time. Her daughter is now six days old and my dear friend has gotten very little sleep. No one really talks about why the first weeks are so hard, and why they are especially hard on moms. It's because we have the breasts.
My first year of parenting produced a real crossroads of faith for me. Being a mom, being reminded every day about the physical abilities that separated me from my husband, being reminded every day how tied I was to this tiny child, made me very much question God's sanity. Why in the heck had he put all of this biological baggage on _one person?_ Couldn't the fathers get pregnancy, and the mothers get breastfeeding? (Or, since I had an easy pregnancy, vice-versa?) I got rather angry that while I was learning to be more selfless than I'd ever really desired to be, I participated in a faith headed by a heavenly Father (and, not being Catholic, very little mama-centric imagery to guide me in a bewildering new life phase).
Sitting with my friend brought all of that rushing back. And the article cemented it. Pumps, very simply, even the equation. I have several friends that don't pump. I respect them deeply. I didn't pump for Lucy, but I'll tell you, I'm planning on it if we have another baby. I needed an out. I'm a little ashamed of that, but principles are less important than staying sane the next time around. And even if my baby didn't take a bottle next time, I'd want to know I did everything I could to take care of myself.
Which leads me back to the article: much as I agreed with it, much as I question our society's dependence on the artificiality of pumping, I think pumping can really help even the playing field. I hated the few times I tried pumping--the techno beat of the machine, the uncomfortable suction, the ADD sterilizing--but if I got used to that, I think it would be worth being able to roll over and go back to sleep every once in a while.
What I end up wondering, though, is whether this dependence on pumping is less about the intrinsic demands of mothering--and more about our culture. If we lived in a culture where new mothers were truly supported, truly prepared, would the beginning be such a trial by fire? Would so many women shudder when they look at the pump--and then reach for it anyway?