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Telling Mothers the Truth About Breastfeeding


(This was written in response to the recent New York Times article, which I don’t want to link to here. Google “overselling breastfeeding” if you haven’t read it and want to.)

I have listened to mothers weep over how difficult breastfeeding is, or how much they hate it, dread it, want it to end.

I have helped mothers get through to the other side of breastfeeding, which usually includes varying amounts of pleasure and love.

But I have also helped mothers make the decision to end breastfeeding.

I never gloss over their feelings of loss and regret: these are feelings they need to feel and work through.

I don’t think it’s helpful to tell a mother she shouldn’t feel these feelings, that she needs to move on, or that breastfeeding doesn’t matter anyway.

A mother’s breastfeeding experience lives in her bones. Most (but not all) mothers have a visceral and primal urge to breastfeed. When it doesn’t happen for whatever reason, it can feel earth-shattering.

This is not a feeling EVERY mother has, but when a mother has it, it shouldn’t be disregarded. Women need support to work through these feelings.

I also never downplay the benefits of breastfeeding. I never say breastfeeding isn’t important for babies and mothers. It is. Its short-term and long-term health benefits are confirmed by research (despite recent claims in the media). Every major health organization stands by this.

I will not lie to a mother and tell her breastfeeding doesn’t matter. Because it does, and she usually feels that it does, even though weaning may be the best decision for her and her family.

I believe I can relay this to a mother who stops breastfeeding without hurting her feelings or shaming her. How? By being a good listener, by showering her with love, and by honoring her feelings.

Here’s what else I tell a mother who chooses to wean:

There is more to mothering than the food that you feed your child.

Breastfeeding is just one of the many choices you will make as a mother, and it is the sum total of choices that contribute to the health and well-being of your children.

Breastfeeding is not the only way to bond with your baby.

You are a good mother. You are loved. You are doing your best. You are following your heart, and that is the best thing you can do for yourself and your child.

But I can do all that without diminishing the power of breastmilk, breastfeeding, and her feelings about it all.

Regret is a human emotion that is OK to feel. Disappointment is too.

I am sorry that some women have felt hurt by friends, lactation professionals, doctors, or others when they had to make the difficult decision to end breastfeeding, or when breastfeeding didn’t work out for whatever reason.

But we don’t need to skip over the facts about breastfeeding, or sugar-coat a woman’s feelings in order to be empathetic. Women are most empowered when they are given the whole truth, when they are armed with facts, when they are encouraged to feel the whole range of their feelings, and when they are allowed to speak their truth.


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I am lying in bed with my son while he naps. Last night I held him in my lap while he vomited onto a towel. Now, he sleeps deeply, chirping like a far-off sparrow.

The days are long, and, often, the nights are longer. Sometimes I walk around the house stepping on broken rice cakes, and think: This? This is my life?

Now I’m lying under the covers, typing on my phone. Rain is starting to fall. The forecast calls for a bit of snow. On the last day of March—imagine that.

On Sunday I took my first run in many weeks without having to navigate across piles of snow. It was bright and warm. Finally spring. I made my goal of running to the dock.

Now it’s illness and cold weather. Winter again. All I want is freedom—to wander the world for a half an hour alone.

And sometimes I let myself day dream of more than that. Afternoons—whole school days—where I write and work and run errands, alone with my thoughts. No whining children to pull down the street, or in and out of the car.

Right now, lying here, feeling his small fingers brush against my arms as he shuffles in his sleep, I feel everything at once—the desire to move onto easier days, and the sorrow of not wanting to lose these most intimate years with my children.

I’m trying to find a word for the mix of feelings I feel at times like this, and the best word I can come up with is longing.

Isn’t it all wrapped up in longing? Longing to escape and longing to stay. To be free and to hold on. I long for it all. Every day. Every breath.



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Recent Publications

This January, I made a short list of publications I’d love to have my work featured in, and I am happy to report some success. I am not only thrilled to see my work share a larger audience, but I am humbled to share space with so many amazing writers. I have been just floored lately by the honest, reflective, searing, beautiful writing by other women/mother writers. So here they are my Huffington Post, Mamalode, and Brain, Child Magazine debuts. You have probably heard of Huffington Post — they publish many of the writers I admire! Brain, Child Magazine and Mamalode seem to consistently publish stuff that get right to the heart of parenting. So happy to be in these places! Check them out, and please share if you are so inclined.

Mama, Open Up Your Hand, via Huffington Post

To My Son, Turning 8 via Brain, Child Magazine

In Winter, via Mamalode

The Dread and the Fear


Winter break is over.  Tonight I say goodbye to 12 days of husband-home, no school, no schedule, days blending into one another, Christmas/New Years bliss.

That other “me” is back, the one who walks around from room to room balancing stacks of laundry on my hands, who picks up clothes and underwear off the floor, and lays out tomorrow’s clothes on the coffee table next to the TV.  In the morning, the boys will watch TV for those all-too-important-7am-minutes when I can’t yet face the “me” who I’ve become.

Tomorrow I will wake up alone, in the winter darkness, my husband gone hours before me.  I will hear him stir at 5am, and I’ll shiver a little, knowing what his twelve-hour absence means.

It means boys who won’t get dressed, who need 78 different breakfasts, who are too hot in their hats and coats and mittens, but too cold once they step out the door.  It means wiping up snot, breaking up fights, cleaning up spills, stepping on legos, tinkertoys, and various plastic fruits and vegetables.  It means wiping butts, giving naps, lifting the stroller in and out of the car, lifting the toddler in and out of the stroller, dealing with the after-school hungry/tired meltdowns, cooking dinner while both kids are crying at me and each other.

But it means more than that, more than the work, the lifting, the dragging, the bending, the stressing, the waiting, the headaches, the debilitating exhaustion I never knew it was possible to live through.

No.  It is the loneliness.  The overwhelming responsibility of caring for these two bright eyed, passionate, needful boys.  The loneliness of that responsibility.  The feeling that all of it rests on my shoulders.  It has the vastness of this cold, black winter night, and the snapping bite of the pond outside our window that is just beginning to freeze over.

Oh, my days are full of joy, of course.   Just to have these two lively, sparkling, tender boy-souls in my life is a blessing I never take for granted.  But this isn’t about that.  This is about the other side, the feelings that aren’t even part of my life as I know it, but which sweep over me suddenly like a sharp panic.

They usually come on days like tomorrow, transition days, where my husband’s absence is most felt.  On a Monday, or a day that is jam-packed with activity, with more than I feel I can handle.  Usually first thing in the morning, or the hour right before my husband comes home, the witching hour.

But there is something about the passage of time.  Today my older son turned 8.  Eight years of motherhood under my belt.  And I felt–dare I say it?–OK.  I felt calm about the days ahead of me.  That feeling of dread that I usually have felt going into another marathon of a week just wasn’t there.


I know that the overwhelming lonely panic of Monday morning might still come, but it will feel familiar, like a sad, dysfunctional, funny old friend.  You just know she’ll say something dark or dumb or out-of-touch and you have learned to laugh it off.  You accept her.  You’ve let her go.

Tomorrow will suck, a bit.  But it also won’t.  My kids will be who they are, kids who need lots of help to get through their days, who won’t need this much help forever.  And I will be their mother, tired, happy, moving through the hours, the three of us scurrying about, crying, playing, yelling, chatting, a hush of white winter light encasing us.

Who needs the dread and fear when there is this overflowing richness of ridiculous, awe-inspiring love?

2014 ~ Reflections

New Years Eve, last year.  He fit so perfectly in my lap.

New Years Eve, last year. He fit so perfectly in my lap.

A year ago, my husband had just started a new job, and a new career. It was good, but it was hard, a big adjustment for us all. And it came after many years of training, looking, living off a very small income, worrying, and hoping.

We were still living in our tiny one-bedroom apartment. We were happy there and it was cozy, but we knew we’d outgrow it soon enough and we were overwhelmed by the prospect of selling it, especially since we knew doing so would be another financial hit, as the price had dropped dramatically since we’d purchased it seven years before.

It was a long, endless winter of snow and illness.  My second son was still very small, just a few months past a year old, nursing and waking the way most mothers describe their newborns—constantly, his body still very much linked to mine.

P. and me, last winter.

P. and me, last winter.

So much has changed since then.

By the spring, things felt much more secure in terms of work for my husband, and we found the courage and peace of mind to put the apartment on the market. It sold easily and quickly, and we moved to our new home over the summer.

Now, we can walk to school, and the train that takes my husband to work is up the block from us.  We have more space to run, more room for privacy, projects, and stuff (though I still try to stay as minimalistic as possible). We have a small yard, and beyond the yard is a pond with egrets, ducks, and red breasted robins.

Bird watching in the yard.

Bird watching in the yard.

Then, in November, my post To The Mom of A Nursing Toddler, went viral (and was soon picked up by Scary Mommy). It was amazing to see that a few simple words strung together could have such an impact on so many people. I got comments both on and off-line from people saying that they cried when they read it, that it made them feel normal and ok about nursing their toddler or young child. I felt blessed to have touched all those people. I felt grateful to all the moms who shared their stories with me.

I realized how deeply I cared about writing. You see, since having children, I didn’t know where I fit in as a writer. Before kids, I was a published poet—that was my identity was a writer. But I was long past my MFA years. I had left my college teaching job, and was never going to have the university affiliation that many poets do. I didn’t have time to do readings or attend many writers conferences.

My heart is still in poetry and I will always write and (I hope) publish it, but in the past few months, I have been pulled in the direction of writing more prose. Prose about breastfeeding, but also about motherhood in general. Prose that draws from all that I love about poems—the rhythm, the images, the language, the silence, the weight, the hush, the longing.

It was going to be my New Year’s resolution to write and publish more of my prose pieces, not just on this blog, but in magazines, journals, and websites that I admired—places that published other writers whose words gave me comfort and solace during the long days and nights of motherhood.

I wrote my first piece for this purpose, and sent it to a few places I admired, and just a few days before the new year, the piece was taken by Brain, Child Magazine.  It’s a piece about my first child turning eight years old, and it’s very dear to my heart. I don’t know if writing and publishing my essays will continue to come this easily, but I am happy for the bit of encouragement that this publication has given me.

So I’m looking forward to 2015 being a year that I write more, dig deeper, and share with you.  I am forever grateful for the year of renewal that my family and I have had, and I want to spend the next year savoring what we have, how far we’ve come, and the beauty that surrounds us.

Shadow/selfie from my morning walk/run, last day of 2014.

Shadow/selfie from my morning walk/run, last day of 2014.

As Though You Will Never Not Be Mine


Dear Boys,

The last of the maple leaves have fallen and the backyard is fire and ash.  Through the bony branches we can see the pond where the egrets lived.  In summer we huddled at the window, watching them swoop across the verdant branches, stopping for a moment to look right us, it seemed.

Now you wonder where they’ve gone, where they might be hiding, if they’ll be back next summer.

Winter is near.  The sun goes down early.  The morning is cold.  When we walk to school I can sometimes see your breaths ghosting out of your mouths.

Winter reminds me.  My time with you is brief, impermanent.  In much less than a lifetime, you will be men, out on your own, without me.

This is the thing I always come back to as parent, as your mother.  And as much as I am a mother in mourning (from the moment they cut the cord I was), I am excited for you to immerse yourself in the world outside my arms.

But.  These brief few years when I am yours and you are mine.  They are everything.

I was your first breath.  Your first touch.  Your first food.  Your first cry.  Your first hurt.  Your first laugh.  Your first fear.  I was your first love.

I hope I have done right by you.  I hope I have shown you trust.  I hope you will know, when life hurts (it will), there is always mercy.  I hope you will remember me then, somehow.  The buried scent of my skin, the far off boom of my heart.

I’m glad I don’t have to break it to you now, how short our time is together.  Our time like this, when you fall asleep with my hair against your face, when I’m the only one you want as the tears start to burn behind your eyes.

You wouldn’t understand now—all the many nights we will one day spend apart, you with your legs wrapped around a lover, then your own child.

No.  Let’s keep it like this.  Our bodies rising and falling in the big bed as the first snow of the season falls outside our window.

Let’s open the curtains and let in the harsh winter light.  Let’s forget the future and live here now, as though you will never not be mine.