Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Nursing at Mass? An experience


I've read several arguments about whether it is appropriate to nurse in Mass. I do admit that this is a slightly different question than whether it is okay to nurse in public at all. After all, I don't believe in giving Cheerios to older kids in Mass, but I think it's fine to give them Cheerios in the park.

However, I do fall on the side that says it's fine to nurse in Mass. My defense is the passage, "Which of you, if your son or ox falls into a pit, would not pull him out on the Sabbath day?" Necessary service of others does not hinder us from worshiping God. Then there's the passage, "When I was hungry, you gave me food ... Whenever you did it for one of these little ones, you did it for me."

I realized this past weekend, though, that I've internalized these debates too much. I probably shouldn't have read them in the first place, because I already know what I think. I read some really nasty comments from people online, and I couldn't help but feel, as the baby started sucking on my shoulder at Mass last Sunday, that the people around me in church were the same kind of people, thinking the same kind of things. I felt that if I tried to feed my son, those people would judge me. I felt the weight of their judgment even though no one was even looking at me.

I have not come out on this blog to talk about the problems Marko and I have had in our nursing relationship. I'm not really sure why, except that perhaps I felt very ashamed. I had expected things to go so well, and it was very humbling when they didn't. Suffice it to say that Marko was 10 weeks old before he was reliably latching on without the help of a plastic shield. Now we have a different problem. He will only nurse when he's happy and not overly tired or hungry. I've found that nursing him every 45 minutes tends to prevent those huge meltdowns that cause him to refuse to nurse. If I don't do that ... well, you'll see.

So I was in Mass on Sunday. I had last nursed the baby at 9:30, at home. Mass starts at 10:30; we have to leave the house at 10. I offered to let Marko nurse right before we walked out the door, but he wasn't interested. Once we had gotten to Mass, it had been an hour since he'd last nursed, but it seemed a little strange to try to nurse a baby who showed no signs of hunger and was perfectly content, there in a place where I might be disapproved of. (Why do I fear disapproval so intensely?) I wanted to sit in the back row, but there were no kneelers in the back row, so we sat a few rows up. I picked the seat because no one was behind us, but then a family came into the row behind us. A few surreptitious glances told me it was a mom, a dad, and a preteen boy, with the preteen boy right behind me. Great.

But Marko was happy and contented, as he usually is in church, so I tried not to worry. Perhaps he'd last till the end of Mass -- or at least till a convenient moment, like the Offertory, when everyone's sitting down anyway.

Guess what time he picked? Yep. The consecration. As the priest began the Eucharistic Prayer, Marko began rooting around. I have been very attuned to early signs of hunger, and I knew it was time. So I sat down -- or tried to. The family behind me was all kneeling with their elbows on the pew, and didn't make any attempt to scootch to the side or pull their arms back. Normally I wouldn't mind that, but I can't nurse a baby while hanging on the edge of the pew. I considered scootching to a point between the dad's arms and the son's arms, but then embarrassment took hold of me. I can be pretty darn discreet if I try, but I do have to be able to see what I'm doing. I can, however, block the view for everyone at most angles. Breathing down my neck from right over my shoulder, though? There is no way to block that view. Either I do it blind -- a recipe for frustration -- or the kid gets to see everything. Cringe.

Now I know that even trying is risky. There is a possibility that the baby will latch right on and nurse away. But there's a stronger possibility that he will fuss around a bit first, and a very real possibility that he will arch backward and scream bloody murder. I don't know why. But that's what he does. The priest is starting in with the consecration of the bread and I'm frankly terrified of causing a spectacle right then. I don't consider myself responsible for others paying attention, but I would feel pretty bad if, right at the most sacred part of the Mass, I flashed half the congregation as a screaming baby arched away from me.

However, I didn't want to climb over people to get out right then either. I let Marko chomp on my finger while the consecration finished. I will not pretend that I was at all recollected during this point. I breathed a sigh of relief as the priest said, "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith," and as the voices of the congregation replied, I kicked my husband's shin and made him let me out of the pew.

Rushing to the back of the church, I scoped out places to be. The back rows were all filled up -- no help there (and besides, he might cry). The entrance around the side door -- nowhere to sit down. I'm not good at nursing without sitting down. I made tracks for the main vestibule. Why, that place was packed! Toddlers, babies, whole families, everyone was in the vestibule. It has glass doors and a sound system, so it is clearly intended as a cry room, and it is definitely being used. Very busy, very distracting. I have a distractable almost-four-month-old, so that option is out too. The stairwell on the left has the sound of a tantruming toddler issuing forth. I finally reach the right-hand stairwell and sit down on the stairs. I try to nurse.

Ah, but the baby that was calmly sucking my finger five minutes ago is pretty agitated now. He arches away and starts to scream. I try to coax him back, letting him suck on my finger, trying my tricks, but he will have none of it. And I'm acutely aware that this is the stairwell that leads to the choir loft -- it isn't really soundproof. So I scurry back out of the vestibule and try to just bounce the baby and make him forget that he wants to nurse. No way. He isn't really a screamer, but he is making loud fussy noises. So I slink out the side door.

There's no one around outside, and Marko likes the outdoors, so I figure we can try again. No luck. He screams and screams. None of my coaxing methods are doing a lick of good. He is full-on meltdown mode and there just isn't any way he's going to be nursing. At this point I know the drill. There is nothing I can do but soothe him the best I can until I can get him to fall asleep. Once he wakes up again, if I can try again before he's too awake, I might be able to nurse. Maybe. In any event, it's not happening now. It's 11:20, almost two hours since he's nursed, and I feel like a terrible mother. Why didn't I swallow my embarrassment and just feed him when he started looking hungry? Or, better yet, offer before he asked? The sun is beating down on both of us and we are both crying hard. He's hungry and tired and wants comfort. All I want is to give it to him. Yet something is out of alignment between the two of us. I have what he wants, but he won't take it.

Eventually I dry my tears, walk him around a bit, bounce him, and he settles down. I creep back inside and sit down next to John. Uh-oh, I sat down! Bad news! Baby starts to cry again. John takes over, takes him to the back, and I kneel in my place and cry. Why can't I mother my child? I demand of God. Why does he do this? Why won't you help? Mass ends without either an answer or any comfort.

There is no point in trying to nurse the baby again and make him angrier, so John buckles him into his carseat and we head home. He's not as upset anymore, but he makes some fussy noises and I worry that he will cry the whole way home. He falls asleep though. I'm feeling hopeful that he'll stay asleep till we get home, and I can get him right out of his seat, bring him up to my rocking chair, and give him a good nurse. We stop briefly on the way home to get some food at the drive-through, and I eat it guiltily, feeling horrible that I am eating while my baby is still hungry. The food has no flavor.

Baby awakes in the car and his short period of post-nap contentedness passes too quickly. He starts to scream and cry and sob pitifully. I ache with the fullness of milk. He hasn't eaten in three hours, and it wasn't even all that much then. I'm flustered, anxious. I snap at John. He doesn't understand why it is such a torment to me to hear my baby cry. But the nursing relationship is such a close one that we are almost one person; his sobs hurt me almost physically.

We get home and I rush to unbuckle my baby. He's hot and sweaty and teary-eyed. I hold him close and whisper to him as I bring him up to our apartment door, as I wait for John to unlock it. Once inside, I banish John, who was only trying to help, because I know letting John comfort him will only delay things. It's not like he'll sleep again, when he just slept. It's find a way to feed him now, or live with an hour or two of crying.

Rocking doesn't help, pacifier doesn't help, standing and swaying doesn't help, singing doesn't help, finger-sucking doesn't help. I bring out the big guns: the bath. We look at ourselves in the mirror as the tub fills. Marko loves the mirror, he quiets a little. He also likes hearing the water run. He likes being against my skin. Finally, blessedly, he latches on. It's a little after one o' clock.

Of course he marathon nurses then, like he's been starving for days. But when he's finally done, he flashes me a giant smile. Like he's saying, "Thanks, Mom! It was just what I needed!"

The rest of the day was shaky, and I spent much of it taking baby on a walk or bouncing him in my arms. Any semblance of schedule or order was gone. He didn't get much naptime. But at least he wasn't starving.

Why am I sharing this? Partly because it is the biggest cross I'm bearing right now. I love to nurse my baby, and it breaks my heart when there's a disconnect there and it isn't working. I would gladly do the labor all over if it meant I could start him off right with nursing this time -- ignore the pushy lactation consultant, refuse the plastic shield, let him figure out how to nurse in his own time and way.

Another reason is to give you a feel for what it's like. Some people disapprove of moms nursing in Mass, but I think that's because they don't know what it's like. They don't know what moms go through. They say ignorant things like "Just wait till Mass is over" because they never nursed a baby and don't know that a baby can't wait.

I'm not sure what the right course would have been, though I've thought of half a dozen things I wish I'd done differently. In any event, you can imagine I won't be trying to make him wait again.

4 comments:

Katie said...

Have you considered using a nursing cover (like this: http://jilliansdrawers.com/products/formom/breastfeeding/bebeaulaitnursingcover)? I agree that it's a pain to try to cover yourself with a blanket while nursing, but my nursing cover is a Godsend! It makes it very easy to nurse discreetly in public without revealing too much or worrying about a blanket falling down. There's curved plastic boning along the top of the cover, so the material is held away from baby's face and mama and baby can see each other easily. It would probably be an easy sewing project if you didn't want to buy one.

Sheila said...

I don't think there's any nursing cover that can keep someone from seeing right over your shoulder and still let you see what you're doing. After all, these people's heads were right next to my head. Using a cover does sometimes set Baby off, but sometimes not. I can't really figure him out.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Maybe I'm just really, really short, but if I were kneeling behind someone who was breastfeeding, I wouldn't be able to see down their shoulders!

I hope you and Marko can find the perfect solution soon, Sheila. =)

Sheila said...

Enbrethiel, thanks for saying this. Maybe I'm overthinking things, and no one would have been able to see anything anyway.

I can think of a few good solutions on top of that, though -- like sitting in the back row next time, like feeding the baby before he starts showing hunger, and so forth.

In other news, I've found Marko is way more willing to nurse if we lie down together on the bed! Doesn't work when we're on the go, but it has made today at home much easier.

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