You honestly thought you were past it.
It’s been four years since you’ve had a newborn. Four years since you had to answer the inevitable are you nursing? questions, or had to buy a can of expensive hypoallergenic formula, or stare in envy at how easy it was for your friends to feed their babies. You’d sit there covered in renegade powder and splashed water, smelling like rotten potatoes; they’d push aside a designer nursing top and feed with ease. But you got through that hard first year. It was done. It was over.
But then, friends starting having more babies. Some were first timers, some were on number three. And though they may have struggled, all went on to join the sorority. You know the one: Alpha Lacta Nu. It’s a pretty easy sorority to join; the hazing involves some cracked nipples, a few hundred dollars in lactation consultant fees (at least pre-influx of Baby Friendly initiatives and ObamaCare), and a successful completion of Lactogenesis II. But for those who don’t pass the lactation equivalent of pledge week, it can feel like the most exclusive club in town. (Exclusive. Huh. Why does that ring a bell…?)
Beyond the politics of infant feeding, beyond guilt, beyond misleading articles, beyond the pressure to meet public health recommendations, lies something far simpler and emotionally loaded: it’s the feeling of being left out. Of not being allowed into the sisterhood. Of not being part of the real Club Motherhood, the one that shares inside jokes about drinking while nursing or recipes for lactation cookies.
Years go by, and the club opens up – now, your entry is based on toddler tantrums, preschool admissions, moving to neighborhoods “for the schools”. You find common ground. You start feeling like maybe motherhood is more than this, more than milk, more than nutrition, more mind than body.
But it’s always there – that little fizzle of ugly jealousy in your gut – and it will remind you of its presence when you see one of your own – one of the “uninitiated” – gain entry into the sorority with a second or third child. Suddenly, you’re left out again. One of your uncool friends just got invited to the cool kid’s table. She looks up, over her tuna fish sandwich, and shoots you an I’m-sorry-I’m-still-me-I-still-love-you-but-this-is-way-more-fun kind of half-smile. And the leggy blonde next to her, the one with the perfect teeth and 4.0 GPA, tosses her hair and you know, in that moment, that your friend is no longer like you. How can she be? She’s in.
And while you know – you know – that your lack of breastfeeding did nothing to your child’s health, or intelligence, or beauty; and you know – you know – that you are no less of a mother because of how you fed – that doesn’t stop the hurt. Because that’s not what it’s about. It’s not about guilt, or regret, or even jealousy of the nursing itself. You know you made the right choice for your and your family. It’s not about what people think it’s about.
It’s about wanting to be part of the club. Just for once. To not have to be the one people feel sorry for (oh, she couldn’t nurse, poor thing) or talk about (I bet she didn’t have enough support) or judge (I heard she could have if she’d just tried) or try and reassure (it’s okay! My aunt/sister/friend’s baby was formula fed and she’s just fine!) as they politely close the door to the sorority house in your face.
It’s about feeling happy and sad at the same time, when you see one of your own finally gain entry. You want her to be happy, to succeed at something that caused her pain and sadness the last time. But it’s also the loneliest feeling in the world to lose one of the only people who know what you know, and feel what you feel. You’re thrilled for her. And you also hate her, in the ugliest, tiniest, most disgusting part of your soul.
It’s about wishing for the day that motherhood won’t be measured in ounces produced, or tears shed, or bottles filled, but knowing that day probably won’t come, because it’s human nature, and we’re human.
It’s about reaching out, and wanting to start your own sorority – one that accepts you for who you are, and knows that your journey isn’t exactly like hers, and that’s okay – and finding more drama, more disagreement, and more ugliness.
It’s about realizing – finally, really realizing – that you’re not alone. That there’s community out there. That one day, this too really shall pass; that the majority of your close friends will leave the childbearing
jungle years, and this sorority will cease to matter.
Someday, we will all graduate. I promise. And when that day comes, I’ll be the one waving my cap in the air, shouting hallelujah to the bigger, broader, world that’s waiting for us all.