This picture was taken exactly 34 years ago, on my birthday. The picture and the emotions captured in it, would shape my life and influence my decisions forever. See those tired, relieved eyes? See that messy hair? See those sweet dimples? Those arms wrapped easily around her new bundle? That is the look of relief and indescribable pride in her feat. That is a woman in beast mode. My Mom decided for me, baby #3, she wanted to truly “experience labor.” She had had an epidural on one of my siblings and didn’t like the way it made her feel. She didn’t feel she was truly able to embrace all the emotions involved. She had just had me naturally, no drugs, just a little sweat and tears and a whole lot of determination and “umph.” And how about this stat? I was 9 pounds, 8 ounces and 21 inches of “umph.” Yeah, beast mode. She would relive this story to me as soon as I was old enough to know about having babies. She would relive it and describe it being exactly what she wanted. She claims she had always wanted three, had always wanted me to be a girl (though she hadn’t found out before my birth), and had gone into this pregnancy wanting only a natural birth. As a child, I thought the story was akin to a fairy tale. I was so wanted. I was so thought out. I was so loved.
When I got pregnant with my first, I never really considered an epidural. I also never considered finding out the gender. I was driven solely by my Mom’s experience with me. “If Mom can push out a 9 ½ pounder with no drugs, surely a 7-ish pounder will be easy.” While “easy” isn’t how I’d describe my son’s, or later my daughter’s, natural births, they certainly matched up with the fairy tale description. I tried to embrace every detail. If you know me at all, you have no fear that every detail and memory was captured by camera, any memorabilia given, and, of course, my words. They have scrap booked memories detailing everything from what my “last meal” included to the feeling I had as soon as I saw they’re bloody, writhing, little bodies for the first time. A natural birth is not something most choose, but it was the best decision for me. I would not change one detail about either of my children’s births.
My Mom breastfed me. She breastfed me with fervor and determination. She breastfed me for months upon months, with none of the modern day conveniences. She had no pump, no boppy pillow, and a husband that traveled many weeks at a time. And have I mentioned that I was her third? She did that and recounted that to me when I was a child, as she headed off to La Leche meetings. She embraced breastfeeding when it was so not cool to breastfeed. She would spout off the benefits, matter-of-factly, to me, the ever inquisitive child. She never pushed any of her beliefs on me, she just provided me with information. I feel certain she never realized the impact she was making on me.
I breastfed my son his entire first year of life. I am 7 months into making it a year with my daughter. Neither has had a sip of formula. It’s not something everyone chooses and I often feel like a freak with this decision. It is not the common thing in the South. I can’t figure out why other than, well, it’s just not the common thing. I hate that it makes me feel insecure and defensive when people ask me why I opted to breastfeed. I will not stop though, almost solely because of the support I continue to receive from my husband and my Mom. See how she’s sneaking back in again? She showers me with praise in regards to all of my decisions. “You are making the right decision for them,” she repeats.I often whisper to my children, “You have no idea how much love I have for you.” When E tells me he loves me, I usually reply, “And I love you so much more.” Then, I think, "That’s how much my Mom loves me." After all these years, she wants nothing more than to be in my company. She is my best friend and my hero. On this birthday, I realize that this picture is that of pure love and dedication. So when you ask me why I didn't have an epidural or why I breastfeed for a year, just refer to this picture. While not popular decisions, both are internal accomplishments that I dreamt my entire life about achieving. I did it. I had natural births and was successful at breastfeeding. I realize this matters to no one else but me. However, to me, they were 30-some-odd years of thought and determination. When C is a year, I will likely stop breastfeeding. I will have made it. I have almost crossed the finish line in my "mothering marathon" and it feels damn good.