Finding My Own Wave

Guest post by Jessica Lang Kosa, IBCLC

In second grade, I brought in a newspaper story about my mother’s appointment to a government post that started with, “She’s a feminist – yet very feminine.”(!)  I remember my mother and grandmother pinning an ERA banner on me when I was small, and explaining what it meant.  I understood by then that my mother was a pioneer – the first female lawyer at her large law firm, and one of the few women to make partner at any law firm in our city.

On the radio, I heard debates on the “controversy” of mothers working.  It seemed odd to me – though most moms in the neighborhood did not work, mine did, and it was simply a fact of life.  What else would she do?  But I understood that she was unusual, and courageous, and I was proud of her.  So the feminism of the ambitious professional woman entering a male-dominated milieu was mine at an early age.

This feminism served me well as a student and later as a scientist. I sought out female teachers and mentors, and built my own confidence and savvy with their help. I watched how they handled the pressures of career and mothering, expecting that I would follow their lead.  My mom had been a leader of my girl scout troop and attended all my brother’s sports events while starting and building her own law firm.  I fully intended to do likewise, and assumed that feminism required it.

When I first got pregnant at 28, I was a postdoctoral scientist working in genetic toxicology at MIT.  I researched daycare centers and breast pumps, and assured my mentor I’d be back in 12 weeks.

Then I had a baby.

Initially, I breastfed Tommy and wore him in a sling because it was the biologically correct thing to do.  Soon it felt like the only thing to do.  At three months, I had no interest in going back to work.  I’d been assured by other women that I’d be bored on maternity leave, but that was far from true.  Exhausted, yes, but never bored.  My neighborhood was a good one for walking outside, and Tommy was happiest moving around, so we were always out and about.   Also, I quickly learned to read or use the computer while nursing, so mental stimulation and conversation (of the online sort) were readily available.

My husband was a full-time student then, so quitting my job was not practical.  But aside from practical concerns, it was unthinkable.  I would be letting down the women who had trained and supported me directly, and the earlier generations who had worked so hard to eliminate barriers for women.

I started to realize that the question in my mind ran much deeper than the logistics of daycare, breast pumps, household chores, and time-management.  In pre-industrial societies, women typically did not leave their babies to go to work, but neither did they leave their work to be with their babies.  Whatever skilled work a woman was doing before childbearing she continued to do afterwards, with her baby on her hip or back.  She usually was in the company of other women who could assist with both her baby and her work. Modern society mostly pushes women to chooses between two options – either be physically separated from their babies for most of the day, or forgo not only income but the sense of accomplishment and connection to the larger world that comes from skilled work.  For me, neither choice felt natural.

Meanwhile, I was finding myself increasingly passionate about breastfeeding.  I loved looking at my ever-growing son and knowing I had the ability to make him so peaceful.  I started volunteering with La Leche League.  Becoming part of this chain of shared women’s wisdom, stretching back though all human history, connected me to a source of strength that transcended the societal and political struggles of the moment. I liked to open meetings by saying, “We are not designed to mother in isolation.  For thousands of years, women have learned to mother and breastfeed from their own mothers and sisters, and the women of their community.  What we want to offer is the support of experienced mothers, just as women have always offered each other.”

This was my own thread of feminism.  Gradually, I came to trust my own instincts, and to realize that I was drawn to a different kind of work: work that would involve mothers and babies, and that would complement my own mothering, not compete with it.

And that is when I found my true calling.

Jessica Lang Kosa is a board-certified lactation consultant in private practice in the Boston area.  You can visit her site at, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @motherfeeding.


4 thoughts on “Finding My Own Wave

  1. I loved reading this, as a mother who has struggled with balancing babies and a career. As a nurse I’ve been very lucky that hours are so flexible, but even so I’ve chosen to only work 4 to 8 hours a week since I had my first baby almost 6 years ago. I can relate to how Jessica thought she would leave the baby at 12 weeks, not knowing how it would really be. I had thought the same thing, but I was never able to leave! I also found a passion for breastfeeding, and have considered becoming a lactation consultant. What a great post!

  2. You are so right on with this! Thankfully the internet opens up new avenues for us to make income, and contribute to society while staying with our children. And homeschooling!

  3. Ah! I can relate so well to this. I had my baby in grad school because I thought grad school was a great time to have a baby. Flexible hours, etc. Little did I know that grad school was a great time to have a baby for an entirely different reason — because it would illuminate my priorities with staggering brilliance, and teach me that I do not actually need a PhD to do what I want to do.

    I’m in the last throes of my punting masters. I can’t wait until it’s all over and I can do what is really important to me.

  4. I started my pregnancy with the Dr. Sears pregnancy book and also read the breastfeeding book and I loved his natural, gentle approach to everything so I registered for The Baby Book. I devoured this book and loved everything I read. I felt so confident going into parenthood! Then I had my baby and I was shocked to find I was completely unprepared in some ways. I followed some dangerous advice about not supplementing her with formula while my milk was coming in and she ended up in the hospital dehydrated and with dangerously low blood sugar. The day we left the hospital I bought the American Academy of Pediatrics book “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child,” and this is my new bible for illnesses in my baby. It is much more thorough, and I feel comfortable knowing this is what is reccomended by a community of professionals instead of one Dr with one philosophy. Another example, we tried the family bed until she was five months and we never let her cry for a second. At four months old she was fussy, clingy, and was sleeping less that ten hours a day. I finally broke down and bought “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” After some gentler approaches and limited crying it out she will only sleep through the night (12 hours) in her own bed because our moving wakes her, and she gets about 13-15 hours of sleep a day. She is happy every morning and much more playful and engaging, and our bond is even stronger. My point is that you really need to find your own approach to problem solving the ups and downs of parenthood, and this book will only present you with one method. I still practice attachment parenting, but I also respect my child’s needs to sleep and to play on her own. I love Dr. Sears and Martha’s loving approach to parenthood, but I have developed my own loving approach now thanks to the input I have gained from other professionals in the field.

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