After 20 years of living my dream being part of the MilkWorks team, I know that it is my time to wean. Just like my first breastfeeding experience, I started my MilkWorks journey both excited and a bit nervous. With hard work from many people, MilkWorks prospered. The road was bumpy and exhilarating. I got to work with a group of incredible women, serving other women, and providing the type of care I would have loved when I breastfed my first child 38 years ago.
Is it time? Will I miss it? Is it good for me and MilkWorks? All the same questions that I asked when I pondered weaning my own children.
When MilkWorks opened our doors in 2001, our country was waking up to breastfeeding. Mothers had transitioned to formula feeding in the 1960’s. Except for a group of women in Chicago, who boldly formed La Leche League, the rest of the country quietly followed the guidance of health care providers, an aggressive formula industry, and the changing norms of our culture. Yes, women were now entering higher education and working outside the home. Quality, efficient breast pumps had not been invented and someone else needed to feed their babies. Yes, men were walking on the moon, and everything modern, factory-made, and processed was in vogue. Grow food in your own backyard? Never!
The first semi-controlled medical research was a study of scurvy aboard a ship in 1747. Medical research standards were vague until the late 1970s, when the IMRAD emerged. These standards allow for greater confidence in research findings. During the 1990s, medical research in the US was well funded. As a result, scores of research began to examine the impact of infant feeding practices.
When MilkWorks opened our doors in 2001, we were backed up by public health and medical experts, but we faced a culture that was firmly engrained in formula feeding. Many mothers were working outside the home, WIC was dispensing free formula to low-income mothers, girls did not grow up seeing women breastfeed, and the primary role of breasts was advertising lingerie for Victoria’s Secret.
Like any new mother, the team at MilkWorks entered into our journey not really knowing what we were doing. But, oh, how we learned. And, oh, how breastfeeding changed over the course of the next 18 years!
Just like any breastfeeding mom, we had to figure it out. We learned that breastfeeding a newborn is nothing like breastfeeding a four-month-old or a nine-month-old. Every step of the way, we learned what it took to do something we had never done before. There were few experts for us to turn to (just like the moms we were taking care of), so we turned to each other and put our heads together to problem solve (sounds like a mom’s group, right?).
We lived through all the typical hurdles of a new mother: How will we pay our bills? Do we need more space for our growing baby? Are we doing this right? We gained experience alongside all of the mothers we were supporting. They were feeding their babies. We were feeding our dream.
I remember the first time I breastfed one of my babies in public. It felt no different when MilkWorks decided to put images of breastfeeding babies on our web site and hang them on our walls. Would we offend someone? Or would we break down barriers and create a new comfort level for breastfeeding?
Weaning for a new mother is full of mixed feelings. We start to see our baby “be ready for what’s next.” Developmentally, our baby tells us when he or she is ready for solids by sitting up, showing an interest in what we are eating, and picking food up with their fingers. Nature and life have a way of moving us all forward whether we think we are ready or not.
These developmental signs are often accompanied by an assortment of feelings on the part of a mother. Does my baby need me anymore? Do I keep breastfeeding? What will it feel like to let go? Hey, I think I like this! No more tugging at my boobs! No more breast pads! I can run an errand without looking at the clock!
Then one day, it happens. As a mother, we know it is time to wean. We know it is time for the breastfeeding relationship to be celebrated, and to end.
That time has come for me and MilkWorks. Fraught with feelings of joy and wistfulness, which I remember so well while weaning all four of my now grown babies, it is time for me to wean from MilkWorks.
Like all mothers who watch their babies grow up, I have many dreams for the future of MilkWorks.
I would love for MilkWorks to be here for another generation – to serve the children of our first mothers. Perhaps by then, it will be time for MilkWorks to wean? Mothers will have support everywhere they turn and the job of MilkWorks will be done.
I want all mothers to access human milk easily and reasonably – whether it is their own, or from another mother. Throughout history, mothers have always supported each other. There is no reason this needs to end.
In my lifetime, I hope to see our country step up to the plate and provide paid maternity leave. Mothers can then firmly establish their milk supply, take care of their newborns, and move back into the workforce in a manner that works for their family.
Last, but not least, I am confident that one-day medical research will investigate why some mothers don’t produce enough milk, why some babies struggle to latch and remove milk, and how moms and babies can maintain the healthiest digestive and immune systems possible. If we can put a man on the moon back in 1969, certainly we can determine the nuances of the breastfeeding process!
I have immense appreciation for all the working parts of MilkWorks: for the other founders (a brave group of women), for all the passionate and talented MilkWomen who make MilkWorks a reality, for our dedicated board of directors, for all of our donors who have kept MilkWorks afloat, and for the families who have trusted us to help them feed their babies. I have been blessed with an incredible journey and am forever grateful. Like all mothers, my weaning will be satisfying, as well as sad. I will carry many MilkWorks memories with me as I pass on my responsibilities to the next Executive Director.
The MilkWorks Board of Directors is currently seeking applicants for the position of Executive Director at MilkWorks. Click here for additional information