When I was pregnant with my first child, my momma bear instinct was in its initial phases. It was just starting to develop and blossom into its full potential. And although it was small, it was mighty. I had no idea how mighty until I walked away from a friendship because of it—because of breastfeeding.
Before having my first child, I was a confident, self-assured woman. But once I had a baby, I realized that I stepped into a world that was beyond my wildest understanding. Babies were foreign creatures to me. I had barely babysat in my childhood and felt completely unprepared for the barrage of questions that come during pregnancy. Would we swaddle the baby? Would we let it have a pacifier? Would we put it in a stupid costume for its first Halloween? (Spoiler: Yes. It's the law. You are legally bound as a parent to put your kid in one for their first Halloween.)
But there was one thing I knew for sure: I didn't want to breastfeed.
Here's the thing, I have large breasts. And unlike many big-boobed women, I don't love mine. They don't fit in T-shirts; they always want to pop out of bras; and they are often the target viewing location for creepy men. But through it all, whether I liked them or not, they have always been sexual organs to me. Nipples are meant to be caressed, and breasts are meant to be nuzzled. I like them being sexual parts of my body. It didn't gross me out to watch other women breastfeed, but the idea of a baby sucking on my boobs definitely never sat well with me.
I never thought about breastfeeding actually being a controversial decision because only men had taken an interest in my boobs throughout my life. I wasn't thinking women, let alone mothers, would care what I did with them. But I was wrong—very wrong.
While six months pregnant, I called a friend of mine who had a son who was just turning 1. He was sick with a common virus for the first time in his life. I told her that although I was sorry to hear her son was ill, I hoped my child would also have the good fortune to not be sick in the first year of her life.
"Well, that won't happen," she said, bluntly.
I thought she misunderstood what I was saying, so I tried not to sound defensive, which is extremely challenging for a New Yorker.
"Why? What do you mean?" I asked.
"Because you aren't planning to breastfeed, you won't provide the baby with the nutrients for them to prevent illness," she said.
"What?" I said, stunned.
She continued, "No, I'm serious. You're being selfish by not breastfeeding. If your baby gets sick, it's really your fault."
I didn't have a response. I just stood there with my mouth open and my head spinning.
"See," she went on, "studies show the breast is best. You want to make sure..."
She kept talking, but I stopped listening. I was confused. Not confused about whether or not to breastfeed. But rather, confused as to why someone cared about what I did.
I shook my head, snapped out of my stunned state and said, "I'm going to have to interrupt you, but I'm sorry, this really isn't your business. I have to do what is right for me."
"But it's not about you," she replied.
"Yes, actually it is. I'm the one who had sex. I'm the one that has morning sickness, and I'm the one that has to birth this bowling ball of organs. It actually is all about me," I said.
"But once the baby is born, it isn't about you anymore. It's about what's best for the baby," she said.
"And what's best is up to me. I think that's what being a mother is all about, right? Figuring out what's best?" I replied.
She tried to make an argument about the perils of formula feeding, but in the end, I made up a fake reason to get off the phone and put a stop to the conversation. After that call, we hardly talked again. She eventually stopped calling, and in time I stopped waiting for her to apologize.
But I did learn something from it all.
I learned that there is no "right" way to do anything when it comes to parenting. No "right" way to get a baby to sleep or to walk, and definitely no "right" way to feed them. We all have to find our own path. And in the end, that's what I want my children to know is important in life—supporting each other when we choose our own paths, even if that means having to find the courage to walk away.