Two weeks after my daughter was born, I hurried through snow and wind to attend my city’s La Leche League meeting for the first time. I wasn’t having much trouble breastfeeding; mostly I thought it would be nice to get out of my new mother bubble and meet some people.
When I lugged baby through the door in her car seat, I knew instantly that I didn’t fit in here at La Leche League. The two other mothers had a seasoned maternal glow about them. One of them wore a sleeping newborn boy in a sling while her 4 year-old trotted around the room. The other had 1-year-old twins (only one was present at the meeting, rosy-faced and walking). The leaders were textbook Earth mamas — long hair, no makeup, soft voices. The one in charge of this meeting wore her Cherubic baby in a Bjorn. The other sat and knitted.
I instantly lifted my daughter out of her car seat and cradled her, fearing the other women were already judging me for not wearing her in a sling. I wrapped baby tighter in her blanket, worrying they thought me an unfit mother because I’d dressed my newborn in a short-sleeved onesie in the middle of December. I was just so damn hot all the time. Postpartum hormones and nerves were waging war on my internal thermostat, plus I’d put a blanket over baby and her car seat, so it just seemed cruel to dress her in anything warmer. But the newborn next to me wore fleece pajamas as he slept on his mother’s chest, and obviously he was content as could be. Shit.
I chatted awkwardly with the mother of the sleeping boy until the meeting started. Bjorn lady introduced herself and attempted to get through her agenda, with frequent interruptions by the outspoken mother of twins. Meanwhile, the 4-year-old of the woman next to me turned into Loki the God of Mischief, running around the room and attempting to rifle through everyone’s purse. His mother did no more than deliver a soft, “no,” on occasion, to which the kid (of course) stopped for two seconds before sprinting around the room again.
When the time was right, I asked my only question about breastfeeding: how do I cope with oversupply? I quipped, “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s great having massive boobs for the first time in my life, but…”
Nothing. Not even a blink. Not even a chuckle from Bjorn lady, whose robust laugh had, until now, been loud and frequent. What? It was okay for us to be sitting there, whipping out our tits to breastfeed in front of each other, but we weren’t supposed to say “boobs”? She answered my question thoroughly, explaining that she, too, had oversupply issues. She and the other leader were very helpful, but I still couldn’t help feeling out of place by their complete lack of reaction to my cheesy joke.
When Bjorn lady had covered her main points and opened up the room to the general conversation, the mother next to me finally attempted to explain her rowdy son, “sorry. He just weaned last week.” Heads nodded and sympathetic “ohhhhs,” issued from everyone. Because, obviously, that makes it all okay for your 4-year-old to act like a toddler.
But her little demon spawn was now approaching me. “What’s wrong with your baby?” He said, looking down at my newborn.
“She’s sleeping,” his mom explained, embarrassed, and probably a little confused about the question. I was too. Being a new mother, I was more susceptible to criticism than ever before in my life. I suddenly worried, yeah? What was wrong with her? Was she sick? Dying? Tell me what you know, child!
Then I thought maybe he was concerned because, well, newborns are kind of wrinkled and funny-looking. So I offered, “she’s so small because she’s only two weeks old.”
The kid considers it, continuing to gaze down at the baby in my arms. Then, “why is your baby Chinese?”
The weirdest silence ever, followed by a couple of awkward chuckles from the adults.
I explain slowly, “she looks Chinese because her daddy is half-Chinese.”
Then, all the women heave a sigh of relief. The mother of twins laughs and says, “oh, she really is Chinese? I just thought he was saying that because all newborns kind of look Chinese.”
What? What is happening?
I laugh more than I should, attempting to defuse things, but I’m actually feeling nauseated and kind of just wanting to leave. I’m not upset with the little boy; he’s just commenting on what he observes. It’s good to notice and explain differences like gender, skin color and whatnot. It’s the adults’ reactions that bothered me — that tense silence, when nobody knew my baby actually was Chinese.
But aside from the awkward attitudes about race and the exclusive Earth Mama culture, there’s another resounding reason I probably won’t go back to another La Leche League meeting. I realized from this experience that joining a group in which the only guaranteed shared trait is motherhood isn’t the best way to go about making new friends. Maybe it works for some people, but not for me. Being mothers isn’t like having a shared casual interest in golf; it’s more like sex, something deeply personal and different to everyone. I would rather make friends with someone based on a shared interest in writing, or volunteer work, or distance running — then, if that someone happens to be a mother too, that’s awesome, but it’s not a prerequisite for being my friend.
I must add that I’m fully supportive of La Leche League’s mission, and I hope that new mothers aren’t put off by my story. I would encourage you to go, learn some stuff and meet some people. That kind of environment (or maybe just that particular group of people) isn’t for me.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, baby is now one-year-old and I am still happily nursing. And my body temperature has cooled down to only twice that of the sun.