Last month I wrote a blog post for Breastfeed Chicago. The title was “Three Life Lessons for Breastfeeding Mothers.” Writing that article brought me in touch with some of the things I had learned but had never thought to express. My years of focusing totally on being a mother, following what we then called “La Leche League philosophy,” was really a meditative, spiritual path. As I reflect now on what I wrote, I realize there was more. Thus, I send you this month: three more lessons.
1. There is no other.
2. Hold nothing back.
3. All you have to offer anyone is your own state of being.
There is no other.
The wisdom of the east teaches us that we are all one on this planet. The perception of separateness is an illusion. In most spiritual traditions, the most important teaching is to love others as one loves oneself. Maybe all of this seems like mere words until you find yourself in that state of love where you truly are merged with another being.
In pregnancy, caring for yourself literally is the same as caring for another. What you eat, breathe, and feel…your baby eats, breathes and feels. And then when you are breastfeeding, that symbiosis continues. You love with a selflessness that surprises you. (That’s not to say you never have resentments, frustrations, and awful moods. But if you are breastfeeding on demand, without pacifiers or supplements, then you are getting the benefit of some mighty mothering hormones that make sure you are feeling some powerful love.)
If this is your first baby, then you are sure of one thing: you will never love another baby the way you love this one. If this is your second baby, then you are sure of one thing: although these two children may be entirely different in almost every way, they are both your heart.
And if you can love two children this much, could you love a third? How much love is in your heart, anyway? And when you are “marathon nursing” a teething or sick baby, or a baby who is going through a growth spurt, that powerful prolactin might just convince you that you can really love the whole world. There is no other.
Hold nothing back.
If you are a breastfeeding mother, you learn the rule of supply and demand: the more you give, the more you have to give. Now, how deep is that?
You don’t have to hold back from giving, because you will always have more, and more. This is another lesson that is taught in all the great spiritual traditions. With your tiny baby, you learn that the more you love you give, the more love you have.
“All you have to offer anyone, ever, is your own state of being.”—Ram Dass
As a young mother, you learn and re-learn this one every single day. You find out that taking good care of yourself is the same as taking care of your children.
If you are coming from a place of weariness, discouragement and depletion, then that is what you have to offer. If you are coming from a place of rest, good nutrition, grateful thoughts, and peace of mind, then that is what you have to offer. Your babies and children have a sixth sense that informs them of your moods and energy levels. They hold the mirror up relentlessly, every day! For their sake, as well as for your own, you need to practice good self care.
I wasn’t so very young when I became a mother; my first child was born when I was 25. Nevertheless, I feel that I grew up with my children. I was being formed, just as they were. If I’ve written a lot about love in this article, it’s because I remember the overwhelming love, and how it took me by surprise. But I haven’t forgotten the other feelings: the boredom, the aggravation, the self-doubts. I had days when I felt I just wasn’t cut out to be a mother, and I was sure that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Now I know that those are all normal feelings.
Everything that you are experiencing now with your baby is deepening you as a spiritual, thinking, feeling human being. Just as some aspects of your child are being formed, some aspects of you are also being formed. The happy moments—and maybe even more deeply, the not-so-happy moments-- have meaning and depth. Let them teach you and lead you. Trust in the process. Never forget: we all screw up. Forgive yourself generously. Like a child, start each day with hope and high expectations.