A Response to TIME

This guest post is by Jessica Kosa, Ph D, IBCLC.

Last week my daily dose of Facebook came with a huge side of Time magazine. I didn’t bother to enlarge the thumbnail. Media trying to stir the pot, provoke mothers, ok, same stuff different day. I’m with Meredith Fein Lichtenberg here: let’s not give these “mommy bombs” more oxygen by clicking and linking. (No such taboo applies to the spoofs, which are worth a click.)

When I did see the cover, it was the headline that made me roll my eyes. “Are You Mom Enough” -­‐ calibrated to make mothers feel criticized whether they do or don’t have anything in common with the mom on the cover. No surprise -­‐ getting people shouting sells a lot more ads than getting people thinking. I loved Lisa Belkin’s response to that provocation:

Breastfeeding is not a macho test of motherhood, with the winner being the one who nurses the longest. In fact there ARE no macho tests of motherhood. Motherhood is -­‐-­‐ should be -­‐-­‐ a village, where we explore each other’s choices, learn from them, respect them, and then go off and make our own.

The very sensible piece by Diane Weissinger calling for more support to help moms “relax into a very ordinary nursing relationship of whatever length they choose” drew an angry comment that “to say that breastfeeding is the only way to NURTURE your children is such a ridiculously ignorant statement..” Except, she didn’t at all say that breastfeeding is the only way. She said it is an effective way, that mothers should feel entitled to choose. She said it isn’t weird. The anger, IMHO, comes largely from the sense so many women have that the bar is being constantly raised. Whatever you do, there’s an article about how much more others are doing. None of us are “Mom Enough.” It’s crazy, of course. But the common sense reassurance that moms, in general, do what we can, and mostly it turns out OK, is not what sells.

Also not surprising that the photo is staged for maximum visual impact of the mouth-­‐to-­‐ breast contact point. Granted, kiddos do sometimes nurse in odd positions, especially when mom is busy in the kitchen, at the computer, or standing on her head. If I wanted to show what nursing a toddler is like most of the time, I’d show a child cuddling in mama’s lap at bedtime. Or a sick child who feels too miserable to eat, but turns to mom to be comforted at the breast. Or a working mom who just walked in the door, sitting down on the couch to reconnect with her kid with nursing and snuggles. But in those pictures, viewers might not even notice that the child is breastfeeding. They would not look so different from any mother holding and comforting her child. Mothers -­‐ whether breastfeeding or not -­‐ would relate. Imagine that.

“Extreme breastfeeding” is a phrase making the rounds. That’s how I felt when I was pregnant with my first and my doctor said, “We recommend breastfeeding for at least one year.” One YEAR?! I couldn’t imagine. Extreme is exactly how it sounded. But she said in a low key voice, “You don’t have to do it full time. You could do just morning and bedtime if you want.” That sounded more interesting -­‐ I hadn’t realized there were options, flexibility.

Still, there was the squick factor, a reaction much in evidence this week. Nursing a baby is one thing, but nursing a walking, talking person? Who might remember it? Squick. I get it, because I felt that way myself initially. But I got over it. I read about research like this showing how normal it is for our species to nurse for several years. I hung around online and in person with experienced mothers. I heard from grown men that their memories of nursing were no different from memories of mom giving them a bath. And my baby didn’t turn into a big kid overnight. He got bigger little by little, and got most of his nutrition elsewhere, but still needed to be mommy’s baby for a moment now and then, so he kept asking to nurse, until, eventually, he didn’t. No, they won’t nurse forever. All young mammals wean.

If a woman knows only what it’s like to nurse a newborn, projecting that out for years feels exhausting at best. When I was struggling with painful latch at the beginning, or the frustration of pumping at work later on, I never would have imagined that I’d eventually go away for a weekend, with no pump, and come home to a little person who was thrilled to get her mommy fix by nursing. I opened the door to toddler nursing because I heard about the health benefits of human milk, but I kept it up because it became a mothering tool. The ability to transform a cranky tantruming child into a sleeping one with a flip of the breast was a pretty cool superpower. Why give that up?

No, it’s not the only right way. No, a mother should never feel like she failed if it isn’t her way. I’d like to see less fear and guilt in parenting all around. A relaxed, confident mother who enjoys her child is a wonderful thing, and I’d like to see more of it. I’d like to see a society where a mother who nurses a 4 year old is not labeled a weirdo, and mothers don’t feel perpetually criticized for not being everything to everyone. So here’s a modest proposal: No more shaming of women over mothering.

Give it no oxygen.

Jessica is mom enough (most days) to three kids, and a lactation consultant who above all loves to see mothers gain confidence and connect with their babies.  She has not found the perfect parenting system that guarantees perfect kids, and is quite certain no one else has either.  She and her family love hiking and camping, usually spend too much time on the computer, and are looking forward to a long weekend that is only partially scheduled.
Jessica is a board-certified lactation consultant in private practice in the Boston area.  You can visit her site at Motherfeeding.com, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @motherfeeding.


Did you know The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year is now for sale? Are you interested in learning more about gentle, mom and baby-friendly practices that foster a joyful, connected relationship? Want to introduce a pregnant friend to natural parenting? Check out our website or head over to Amazon to grab your copy today!

Fear of AP-ing

Guest Post by Jessica Lang Kosa, IBCLC

Back in the day, when I was a teenager, I read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying.  The Baby-Boomer sexual revolution context went completely over my head.  It didn’t matter – I was only in it for the dirty parts.

Now Erica Jong has taken to the interwebs to warn the Gen X & Millennial moms that our own lives are seriously lacking in dirty parts, and the reason is the way we mother.  (Apparently we all do it the same way.  Or least her daughter does, and some celebrities do, so that’s how it is for everyone.) Her take on it: “With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion?”

A little context here. Jong wrote a Wall Street Journal piece last year in which she makes some great points about the unreasonable expectations that so many modern mothers have internalized.  She notes the insistence of many educated parents on trying to optimize and control every aspect of their child’s life, and that the absence of a “village” means that “much of the demand for perfect children falls on mothers.”  She ends with the fabulous sentiment, “We need to be released from guilt about our children, not further bound by it. We need someone to say: Do the best you can. There are no rules.”

But, she sprinkles the whole essay with examples of  “green” or “attachment” parenting, and blames these choices – not the perfectionism, not the rigidity of parenting standards, not the internet-fueled anxiety, not the absent village, not even the economic & workplace stresses – for making mothering a “prison.”

Why does this stuff bug her?  Why is it any skin off anyone’s nose if some women are walking around with their babies in slings and cloth diapers?  Apparently she equates this type of mothering with a rejection of the battles her generation fought. She bemoans, “Our foremothers might be appalled by how little we have transformed the world of motherhood.”

Jong’s own daughter Molly Jong-Fast sees it a little differently – she wrote:

To my mother and grandmother, children were the death of a dream; they were the death of one’s ambition.  Ironically, it was because of my mother’s hard work that I have the life I do now. She worked hard so that the women of my generation could have the choice to work or to stay home.

It might be that Jong is concerned that her daughter’s peers are not “choosing” so much as giving in to guilt.  Or maybe she’s just threatened. I don’t know.

I do know this:  It’s possible to do obsessive, guilt-based parenting with any philosophy.  You can make yourself nuts with Dr. Sears attachment parenting books.  You can make yourself nuts with the (very opposite) Babywise series.  You can make yourself nuts trying too hard to do it right, no matter what your concept of “right” is.

It’s also possible to co-sleep, wear your baby, etc, because you like it and it fits your life, and to enjoy your mothering even more because of it. It’s possible for physical closeness with your baby to be a celebration of your sensuality and love.  For some women, all that breastfeeding and babywearing that Jong describes as “man-distancing” actually nurtures her physically and emotionally, and makes her more available to her mate, not less.

When they’re working well, baby-wearing, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping can also be convenient. Some of us make these choices because it makes our lives easier, and helps us take care of our babies while we do our jobs, get some rest, socialize, run errands, and participate in the world. I’ve gone to meetings, gone to parties, written journal articles, taught classes, and testified at a public legislative hearing at the state house, all with a baby in a sling.  I’m not saying it’s a requirement, or even a realistic option for every woman. But please don’t tell me that nursing and wearing my babies has imprisoned me!

As for Jong’s question about co-sleeping, Yes, of course there’s space for passion – the couch, the guest room, and the shower are popular ones.

To give the new parents among us a serious answer – everyone’s different, but yes, most couples go through a substantial dry spell after the first baby arrives, most get past it, and usually their sex life rebounds much faster after subsequent babies.  This is true whether you co-sleep or not. With co-sleeping couples, some find it hot to sneak off for some privacy; some find it annoying but tolerable.  Some couples are on the same page, and some fight about it.  There’s no guarantee that co-sleeping will be good for your marriage, or bad for your marriage.

If you want to protect your couplehood, check out the research studies concluding that when fathers help more with the house and kids, wives’ libidos are stronger. And the recent Kinsey study that found that, contrary to popular belief, married men’s sexual satisfaction is tied to kissing and intimacy, not frequency of sex.

Mothering shouldn’t feel like a prison, and the women of Jong’s generation did make the world a less imprisoning place.  The baby-boomer grandmas have useful wisdom to pass on.  I’d love to hear more from Jong herself, if she ever drops the shallow generalizations and sweeping judgments about us, and just writes what she learned about raising kids while being part of the world.  Or she could just go back to novels – as long as she still includes lots of dirty parts.

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

Remembering Dad

Blogger Jessica Kosa and her father, Tom McGrew in 1986

This guest post is by Jessica Kosa, IBCLC

Some things I often wish my father had lived to see:  1) His grandchildren.  2) the 2008 election.  3) the Internet.

Dad passed away in early 1995, at the age of 53.  He was a man who loved to tell stories, loved to roughhouse in the swimming pool, and loved to do magic tricks.  He would have been delighted with his six grandkids, and vice versa.

Dad was a politically complicated man – a disillusioned liberal turned Reagan democrat, full of pronouncements that used to drive me nuts.   As a teenager, I campaigned for a series of decent but uninspiring candidates, and Dad once told me it made him sad.  He described the idealism and excitement of the Kennedy campaign, and said he wished there was something like that around for me.  I scoffed at him – I was already cynical about politicians, and assumed I would always be choosing the lesser of two evils, not inspiration.

In 2008, I finally got it.  Dad grew up in a racist community – when he joined the Peace Corps, he was told by his own father not to come home with a Black wife.  He’d have been fascinated and thrilled to watch his home state grapple with, and ultimately welcome, a Black president.

After the election, Dad certainly would have reminded me once again that even the most inspiring politicians need to be closely supervised.  He often said, “We believed in JFK, and he got us into a war.  Our mistake was in not standing outside the gate screaming at him until he lived up to his promises.”   That part, I understand now, too.

Dad got his first PC when he was recovering from his first surgery.  He’d never been a technophile, but the advent of computers excited him.  His first project was a BASIC program that taught the computer to politely welcome him by name, but respond to any other login with “Yuck! We don’t want you! Go away! Yuck!”  He was one of the first to join the dial-up bulletin boards that preceded the internet.   When he was healthier, he had gone biking every weekend with friends.  When that wasn’t possible anymore, the boards were a perfect social scene.

I was in college when email arrived, and we started to email regularly.  That doesn’t sound surprising, but here’s the thing:  Dad was a difficult guy.  I was a teenager.  For many years, we rarely spoke without pissing each other off.  And so once I left home, we rarely spoke at all.  Email changed things.  It was easy, brief, and low key.  His political commentary arrived in small doses, and felt less overbearing.  He was now provocative in an interesting way.

He sent me funny anecdotes, and I started to appreciate his storytelling gift.  I still don’t pack for a work trip without remembering the time he traveled out of state for a court appearance, and discovered too late that the dry cleaner had switched the pants on his two suits, leaving him to argue his case while wearing brown pants and a grey jacket.  As his medical problems escalated, his humor kept pace.  His emails described quirky or idiotic hospital incidents, and he gleefully recounted the times he told off young residents who got it wrong.  When medication caused him to retain so much water he couldn’t put his shoes on, he signed himself Barefoot Aquaman.

At his wake, several people approached me and explained that they’d never actually met my father, but knew him from a theology discussion board where he was active.  One woman said,  “It’s so hard to explain, but it’s a really intimate way to know someone.”  Dad would have thrived in a time when online friendship is so common it requires no explanation.

In 2000, when I was pregnant with my first, I discovered an online discussion board where I made internet friends of my own.  Some I’ve since met in person, some not.  From them, I learned tricks of the mothering trade.  Because of them, I had conversation available when I was housebound with a winter-born baby.  From them, I first learned of the 9/11 attack, and we mourned together, and debated our country’s response.  With them, I found shared values in people with very different beliefs, lives, and politics.  Much is made of the internet’s potential for incivility, but it also offers connection, commonality, and real bonds that are honest and, yes, intimate.  I get it now.

If Dad were alive, I’m sure he’d have a blog and a twitter feed. He’d love Facebook.  The chance to comment at will on everyone and everything would be entertainment enough.  But the chance to have a daily window into the lives of his grandchildren, to play farmville, scrabble, and chess with them, and above all to show off their pictures to all his friends – for him, this would be heaven on earth.

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

A Month of Mothering: Perspectives

This guest post is part of our Month of Mothering. We’re featuring the words of women (and a few men!) from a variety of walks of life. In recognition that all mothers want what’s best for their baby, and knowing we all have different ways of achieving that, we welcome commentaries and experiences from mothers of all different philosophies and practices. Please note that the opinions expressed and baby care techniques used are reflective of the individual posters only, and do not imply endorsement or recommendation of the Other Baby Book.

by Jessica Lang Kosa, IBCLC

I vaguely remember a Mothers’ Day when I was small, spent in Florida with my mother, and her mother, and her mother.  Four generations.  I remember someone toasting “To all the mothers present.  To the mothers absent.  To the mothers no longer with us. To the future mothers.”  That last part being me, circa age 5.

In 1912, my great-grandmother, then age 17, left home and sailed alone for New York.  She brought with her a letter from her parish priest in Clara, Ireland, which described her as  “good and trustworthy,” and recommended her for household employment.  She must have saved the letter, and passed it down to her daughter, since my mother found it with her mother’s belongings.

I knew my great-grandmother only as a little old lady – to imagine her as a teenager with the nerve to make a life for herself in a new country is mind-bending.  But also,  I imagine her mother.  Standing at an Irish port, watching a ship launch, carrying her only daughter to a huge city in a foreign country.  Not knowing when she might hear from her.  If all went well, she might get a letter in a few months or a year. Not knowing if she would return.

My mom and I think of that day in 1912 and laugh, remembering that when I was that age, it was a big deal for her to leave me at a college campus only two hours’ drive from home, knowing I would call within days to complain about the food, and be home for October break.  Boring by comparison, but still a big deal.

My oldest will start middle school next fall.  Before that, he’ll go backpacking with his dad in the wilderness of a country I’ve never been to.  I puzzle over whether he’s ready for each new step towards independence – sleep-away camp, biking alone to school, getting a Facebook account.  (Seriously.  I made him friend me.)  So far, I get to decide.  Not much longer.

Thankfully, we get these little moments as practice for the big deal later.

Once at a women’s Passover seder we were asked to introduce ourselves by our matrilineage.  I am Jessica, daughter of Jane, daughter of Theresa, daughter of Lucy (who sailed for New York), daughter of Jane (who watched her go).  Each generation launching the next.   Some more dramatic, some more ordinary, all with some mix of excitement and worry. 

Again, I’d like to raise a glass to all the mothers –  past, present and future.


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