Beary good friendsI’ve learned an important lesson the past few months that I’ll carry with me into my midwifery career. That lesson is…. the value of support.

I didn’t realize that I was learning this lesson until my little family hit the peak of our broke-ness. Our gas tank was on E, I had .83 cents in my bank account, I was sending mental messages of “thanks” to the jerk that stole my phone because it would be blowing up with banks calling me to remind me that I was one week, two weeks, three weeks late…we couldn’t even buy dish soap to wash our dishes, so we were getting pretty creative.

We (almost) all know that feeling in our guts we get when we don’t know how we are going to make it until payday. Helplessness. I usually have a pretty good sense of humor about things, but my summer classes began recently and my car said that we had 10 miles to empty. My class was probably 8 miles away. So how would I make it home? I drove to class, left when it was over, and used a handful of change I had come up with to pay for gas. Standing in the line at the gas station, I was so nervous that the cashier would embarrass me. She seemed like she was in a bad mood. “I’m just getting gas” is what I told myself. “People probably pay with change every day.” When I jokingly handed her the handful of change, she huffed out a big sigh and counted it frustratedly as a line formed behind me. It really kicked me while I was low. We didn’t have money to eat a decent non-ramen meal in the land of the free, and here I’m getting hell for requiring this cashier to spend a couple seconds longer counting my money? Was she not getting paid by the hour? Is spending time at work not a good thing for her?! When I left, I was so upset that it really just toppled over all of the frustrations that had built up. I promised myself that I should always be more patient with people. Her small lack of patience in such an irrelevant-to-her situation really hurt me. How easy was that?

Now, fast forward to yesterday. I was yet again asked by a friend: “So… when are you going to stop breastfeeding?” This is an issue that’s been dragging on in my personal life for months now. Let me first say that breastfeeding past a month is a serious accomplishment: it’s selfless, exhausting, and oooooh so painful. So I got a lot of static from family and friends about continuing through my son’s awful Silent GERD. Some said I was stressing my family out to the point of unfairness. Everyonw said introducing formula was really okay. Some said my milk was bad. Those things really tore me up, too… Here I was, veiny-boobed, holding a screaming baby, trying with all of my haven’t-slept-in-weeks strength to do what I felt was extremely important for my son, and these people are not only doubting me, but they were giving me doubts about myself. I believe they meant well, but it made it that much harder to keep pushing through the scabbed nipples and 20-minute intervals of sleep. So when my son turned about 6 months of age, everyone was so proud and happy for me to have made it through the dark times and encouraged me to keep doing what was best for my son. So when I continued breastfeeding past my son’s first birthday, the encouragement faded little by little towards “well, it’s really time to stop.”

The World Health Organization recommends that a child remains breastfed until at least 2 years old. This I know, and I continue to do because I’m a student of biology and I see what difference a calf’s breastmilk has on the gut from a baby human’s breastmilk. That’s right– a calf’s breastmilk. Milk of a dairy cow’s utter is made for baby calfs, yet we remain the only species that not only consumes breastmilk after childhood, but regularly consumes the breastmilk of another species! How ironic that we get grossed out by human breastmilk but are cool with cow milk, coming from a bulging utter, that has been boiled and transferred and shaken and EXIT SOAP BOX…..

So anyways, this is what I have figured out: when faced with a feeling within myself that another parent is doing something concerning their children that I feel is questionable in its correctness, this is what I’ll ask myself:

1. Is that parent making an informed decision?

2. Is that parent acting with their child’s best interest at heart? and

3. Is that parent of sound mind?

If that parent has made a decision in which they know the pros and cons of, a decision which is best for their offspring and their family, and that parent has not gone totally off their rocker…. then I ought to respect them, support them, and limit my advice that they didn’t ask for. My one comment, my one huff-and-puff sigh as I count some broke girl’s change, could make or break her spirit that day. When I’m standing next to a mother who is telling me she would like an elected cesarean after I have told her what the (worth mentioning) risks and benefits are, then she is choosing to experience her birth in that way and I won’t traumatize or terrify her with pressure to do otherwise. If the risks of a forced traumatic and terrifying vaginal birth outweigh those of a happy, peaceful cesarean for her birth, then call the anesthesiologist and whip out the scalpel.