We were mothers of toddlers at a tiny tots’ roller skating class. We ‘clicked’ as you do with other mothers sometimes. I was quite isolated in my parenting style. So was she.
I was still breastfeeding my toddler. Her little one was adopted and she wasn’t breastfeeding but was accepting that I was. My toddler was a snuggly co-sleeper – so was hers. I never heard her speak to her child with anything but sheer patience and love as she carried him on her hip whenever he needed to feel close and safe. Neither of us believed in smacking. Most of the other mums were ‘out and proud’ about smacking their little ones. They called it ‘discipline’. We called it ‘punishment’. We had read the same information about nutrition – our poor kids got wholemeal bread (oh how they would have loved fluffy white rolls!), home-made granola, free range eggs and fresh veges (except for occasional frozen peas). We didn’t give them antibiotics for sniffles – a dose of vitamin C seemed to sort out most things and they rarely got sick anyway.
I became pregnant with our next child. She adopted another baby. Soon after her baby arrived she left her older child with me while she took her tiny six week old baby to a doctor’s appointment. Her baby started crying as she spoke to the doctor and because her toddler had been older when she adopted him, she was still climbing the learning curve with a newborn. She said, “I thought, what would Pinky do?” There was only one response – she pulled up her shirt and put her baby on the breast.
We still laugh about her Doctor’s reaction – he stopped speaking mid-sentence, opening and shutting his mouth like a goldfish as my tall, slim blonde friend attached her beautiful black, curly haired Haitian baby to her breast. No milk, but her baby was soothed.
When she arrived to collect her son, bursting to tell me her story, I asked, “have you fed her? Do you have a bottle with you?” She answered ‘no’ to both questions. I told her, I don’t own any bottles but I can breastfeed her if you are ok with that – she’s hungry!
There started a discussion. My friend knew how breast milk would help her tiny baby thrive but she hadn’t dared to raise the issue. From this event, started a very special sharing: I breastfed her baby, along with my own chubby little red head and my nursing toddler. My friend tried breastfeeding, using a ‘lactaid’ (a supplementary Nursing System – mail order, no internet back then). Sometimes she had peaceful feeds but others, her toddler would knock over the milk and the bag needed refilling during feeds so the process became a nightmare. However, although she didn’t produce milk, my friend would comfort her baby at the breast for the bonding.
Our girls are now adults. Her daughter is a talented artist and we have joked, “when you are famous, I can say, I know her! I breast fed her!” Being an artist is secondary now for this strong, caring, young woman. She is living in remote Western Australia, working for a welfare organisation. She and her partner are fostering a little Aboriginal boy – he had been labelled as ‘difficult’ but is thriving in their care and he goes to work with his foster mum.
As I said to my friend, this little child is so lucky – you were such a nurturing, responsive mother, you bonded so strongly with your daughter that she will be imprinted to nurture and help this little boy feel secure and loved, just as she was.
You see, when we are responsive to our children, when we support each other to nurture, we start a trickle – a trickle of love that filters down and outwards to other babies and children beyond our own families. Our bonds with our children are like beautiful invisible threads that weave in magical ways to bond with others who come into their lives. And this makes a difference to families, communities and society. So, on the tough days as you wonder, is this worth so much effort? Should I just shut the door and let my child sort herself out? Should I ‘train’ her? Should I punish her? Please consider the bigger picture: you are imprinting your child to be compassionate – to take care of herself, her own children and others who may need her love. And she will have love to share.
Pinky McKay, International Board certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), runs a private practice in Melbournespecializing in gentle parenting techniques. A sought after keynote speaker and best-selling author with 4 titles published by Penguin, including her recent book Parenting By Heart, she’s an expert source for media appearing regularly on major network TV and quoted in various publications. Pinky’s books, parenting resources and her free newsletter ‘Gentle Beginnings’ can be found on her website www.pinkymckay.com