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Dec 13 2010

Let’s Get Real, Mayim

By at 9:49 am

Mayim Bialik makes it all sound so easy. How does she do it?

Mayim Balik is a frequent blogger on Kveller.com, and I can see why. She’s a dedicated mother, a committed Jew, and an all-around interesting person.

Mayim recently wrote about nursing her 2 ½ year old son, a post which (not surprisingly)generated a fair amount of feedback. (As I write this there are 171 comments.) Some folks loved it and some folks didn’t. I fall into the latter camp, though not necessarily for the same reasons as others.

Now, before I go on, I must tell you that I have a huge amount of respect for Mayim. First, she is clearly deeply committed to her children, and she is raising them according to her values and beliefs about what is right for them, even when it isn’t easy. (The woman keeps a vegan household, for goodness’ sake. SERIOUSLY? Second, Mayim is a working mother, and living proof that it is actually possible to finish a doctoral degree. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Mayim guest-starred on MacGyver in 1990.

Having said that, I’d like to share with you all my biggest concern about Mayim’s recent post. I don’t care if she’s still nursing her toddler. If she says it’s healthy for him, and it works for her, then I believe her. Full disclosure here: I am currently nursing my second child. My older daughter weaned herself at 8.5 months, and I suspect #2 will be off the boob by the time she’s 12 months old, one way or another. Although I am a big fan of breastfeeding, the truth is, I still get wigged out if I spend too much time thinking about milk coming out of my boobs. Eew!

I don’t care if Mayim’s son nurses through the night. Or that he’s not verbal at 2.5. He’ll get there. And although I would probably be one of those people shooting her an “icy stare or embarrassed glance” (hey, just being honest here!) if I saw her nursing on the floor of the lingerie department, fundamentally, I don’t really mind. Life is hard, parenting is damn hard, and we each need to do what works for us.

No, there’s just one thing that needled me about this blog post. It wasn’t authentic. It didn’t feel real. I’m not questioning Mayim’s commitment to her lifestyle, I’m just bothered by the way she portrayed it. There were glimpses of real life in there, when she referred to herself as living with “plain old, manageable exhaustion,” but then she glossed over it. The thing is, those are the details of life, and that’s what I want to hear about.

People react so negatively sometimes to benign posts like these because of this lack of authenticity, this idea that it’s easy to do it all. That’s why the “bad mother” writing has become so popular – we mothers are desperate to know that we’re not the only ones who get pissed at our kids, or feed them macaroni and cheese every night for a week, or let them watch TV every day just so we can take a damn shower.

I’ll bet if we all step back, peel that toddler off our legs, and take a deep breath, we can agree that Mayim is probably a great Mom. It’s not like she’s beating the kid or smoking crack during naptime. (Although, given that she’s working on 4 hours of sleep of night, I can’t say that I would blame her. I don’t know, though, is crack vegan?) But she doesn’t seem real to me, and that makes it hard for me to connect with her, which makes it hard for me to truly understand her decisions.

I want to hear about the struggles she had in coming to the decision to let her son self-wean. I want to read about the ways in which it actually sucks to have a squirming toddler hanging off your boob (as I have to assume it must, from time to time). Tell me about when you forgot to put in your breast pads, and end up going into the coffee shop with a big, wet, target on your shirt. Tell me about those moments when the fatigue becomes more than “manageable” and you end up sitting on the living room floor crying because you just don’t know what else to do, and then your toddler starts crying because you’re crying and then you cry even harder because you feel terrible for making your toddler cry, and then she cries harder, and then all you can do is gather her up in your arms and tell her that it’s all going to be ok, even though you’re not entirely sure you believe it yourself.

I don’t want to hear about this because I revel in other people’s suffering–although sometimes I do–I want to hear these stories because they make me laugh, and sometimes a good laugh is what gets me through the day. I want to hear them because they remind me that there are a lot of different ways to be a “good enough” mother, and most days I get it right, or pretty damn close. Mostly importantly, I want to hear them because they remind me that I’m not alone. They remind me that even though Mayim and I have vastly different parenting styles, the truth is that we’re both just Mamas who love our babies and want to do the best we can to keep them safe, healthy, and happy.

So, Mayim, lay it on me. I may think you’re crazy for nursing a toddler, but I respect you for it, and I want to hear the story behind the boob.


Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

29 Responses to Let’s Get Real, Mayim

  1. Cohen's Mama says:

    “I still get wigged out if I spend too much time thinking about milk coming out of my boobs. Eew!”

    Really? REALLY??? Wow.

  2. Pingback: You Didn’t Really Expect Me to Keep My Mouth Shut on This One, Did You? | Adjustment [and] Disorder

  3. Casey says:

    As I read your post, it seems like you are making assumptions. You are assuming that Mayim experiences things the same way as you. I have 3 boys. They are 5, 3, and 2 months. My 5 year old weaned at 4.5 years. My 3 year old weaned just shy of his 3rd birthday. We have a vegetarian household, and we make many of the same choices as Mayim describes yet I resonate much more with her post than I do with your post requesting authenticity. When someone is parenting the way she is/we are, it is at the same time harder and easier. Because you make so many different choices it’s possible that little if anything she said would resonate with you.

  4. janet says:

    Wow, reading this blog I was really surprised. I nursed my children until they were 2, granted I had no desire to go ppast that here is a news flash for you, it is recomended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to nurse for a minimum of FULL year and then however long after that you like. The World Health Organizations recommends for at least 2 years!
    You judgmentally talk about how she is not doing things good for her children like being vegan (even though millions of children grow up around the world in vegan households and aren’t dying left and right) but you post proudly that you would not do whats best for your children (by stopping nursing so early.) simply because you can’t get over your own stigmata about using your body how God/nature created you instead of how men decided it should be used for.
    I don’t know much about the other woman but I did read her blog and yeah, shes not perfect, and you are far from perfect also. I feel sorry for your children, not because they aren’t being nurse longer, but because they have such an close-minded ignorant mother.

    • daniela says:

      Are you seriously calling Carla’s opinions close-minded and ignorant? Bringing her children into this is shameful. The fact that she takes the time to think about what’s in the best interest of her children makes her a dedicated and loving mother. She’s not knocking Mayim for breastfeeding or feeding her children only vegan foods; she’s simply stating that it is hard to relate to Mayim on a mom-to-mom level in a respectful tone (unlike yourself) and for Mayim to give her public a more honest betrayal of her life (which she does in her next blog entry.)

      This is not the forum for making judgmental statements – how about contributing something beneficial and supportive, rather than something so hurtful and rude.

    • Carla says:

      Hi Janet,
      I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me, but I think you may have misunderstood what I was saying. I am in *awe* of Mayim for keeping a vegan household – I can only imagine it’s a hard thing to do, and I am impressed that she does it. I respect any mother (or person!) who lives in accordance with their values, especially when it’s not the easiest path.
      Also, I don’t feel proud that my daughter weaned herself at 8.5 months, and I didn’t say as much in the article. She chose it, and I wasn’t going to fight it. It’s true that I almost certainly will not nurse #2 past 1 year, and if you think that I am truly a bad mother for making this choice, well, you are certainly entitled to your opinion.
      I appreciate your thoughts, but I must say that I wish you could have shared them with a bit more respect.

    • not a martyr says:

      @Janet: “You judgmentally talk about how she is not doing things good for her children like being vegan” You misread the post altogether, then. Naumburg didn’t say that vegan was bad for children at all. She said it wasn’t easy, and she respects Bialik for doing it on the grounds of believing that it is good for her children.

  5. I too love the let’s hear the story behind the boob line, Carla. The thing I always come back to in thinking about *all* our choices as mothers is that we don’t all have the same support systems (partners/extended family/friends close by etc.) or resources (e.g. financial). We’re in different communities with their own sets of different expectations. And then there’s our own biological makeup (milk supply, sleep needed, etc.). Clearly we all have to do the very best we can under all those constraints.

    And then there’s us. We have our own ideas of what doing the right things are and also of what our own limits are. How much are we willing to sacrifice to do those things for our children? How many years can we actually live and function (and how highly) on broken sleep? Can we be all things to all our little & grown people that we love, do our work, see/talk with our friends, and still actually have time to care for our own very basic primal needs (eating, sleeping, hygiene)? I struggle with all of this myself as a mother of “3 under 5″ (who breastfed, coslept, still babywear & all that stuff) and an attorney with a rapidly-growing solo practice.

  6. Ashley says:

    Before reading your blog post, I was trying to imagine what your beef with Mayim was going to be. I mean, I found her post to be her perspective without all the preachy or judgmental stuff that can accompany a post like this. Plus, she was sharing how she handles all the preachy, judgmental stuff that gets thrown her way. On one hand, I get your complaint. It can be so refreshing to hear the “real” stories of motherhood that we all have, whether we disclose them or not. But on the other hand, I’m not sure that was the angle Mayim was going for. It is so rare to hear someone “admit” to toddler nursing because so few children in the U.S. nurse that long. It felt like, in her Blossom-esque way, she was stating her decision with a positive, relaxed, confident tone. It was refreshing to hear someone who is sure of herself in this area, especially when there is so much stigma about nursing a toddler, nursing in public, etc. And well, while I rarely nurse in public because of my modesty, I also rarely disclose that I nurse my 22-month-old because of my privacy. But there you have it. And you can shoot me one of those icy stares if you want. I can take it. ;)

  7. Very appreciative of this, Carla. I read Mayim’s piece and felt a little…inadequate, actually. I birthed my kids in the San Francisco Bay Area, where mama-culture looks down upon less than two years of nursing. Both of mine managed to self-wean right around then, so I felt I had fulfilled the minimum lacto mission, but it was hard, exhausting and messy. I went for coffee with wet target boobs more than once and may never be able to feel sexy from the waist up ever again.
    The extended nursing? Right, fine. But you’re right about the other stuff- the vegan house, the phD, the calm demeanor when describing waking up all night long—the nursing seems like another peg for an exceptionally high-achieving individual who makes the rest of us look like nose-picking sloths.
    Should you ever need validation on how motherhood only gets filthier, more confounding and more expensive as children enter their tweens, feel free to be in touch.

  8. Amy says:

    I’m just jealous. My son self-weaned at 9 months…

  9. Stefanie says:

    I think it’s terribly unfair to label someone as disingenuous simply because she doesn’t publicly wallow in self pity. Just as you might be uncomfortable with watching a nursing dyad, she might be uncomfortable with (sorry) the cliche mommyblogger martyrdom histrionics. Or maybe her life is just that rad.

  10. jlfmama says:

    Well, I’m torn. To me, Mayim’s piece felt like a regurgitation of lots of the things that one typically hears from supporters of extended breastfeeding. On the other hand, I consider myself a supporter of extended breastfeeding (my soon-to-be-two-year-old is still nursing, although sadly, it’s slowing down), but I don’t feel the need to be so…defensive about it.

    On the other hand, I imagine that the reason many supporters of extended breastfeeding say the things she said are because they are true. I don’t have to get defensive about it, because A’s nursing has been almost totally private since she was about 15 months old. So I don’t really have to defend what we’re doing to anyone else. All of my extended family is supportive of it.

    And on a totally unrelated note, if the milk coming out of your boobs grosses you out, how do you feel about the living, breathing human beings who came out of your coochie? ;-)

    • jlfmama says:

      I just wanted to throw in one more “on the other hand.”

      Someday, I’ll learn to re-read my comments before I post them.

  11. Karen says:

    I agree with you 100% that it’s nice to hear other “fails” as much as “successes” to know that no one’s perfect no matter how much we’d like to think we are. When the picture is too rosy you start to wonder what you’re doing wrong.

    Your writing always makes me smile. Can’t wait to read more.

  12. Betsy Naumburg says:

    Reading this piece, of course made me go read Mayim’s piece to see what I thought. As a woman who nursed two children 25+ years ago and has taught young physicians about breast feeding- it is definitely a topic of interest. Mayim’s piece brought to mind a woman’s group that I was a member of in the early 80’s. It was to discuss lefty writings and quite interesting and fun. One of the more memorable meetings was when one of the women nursed her 7 year old son during the meeting. Quite frankly that was more than I bargained for. Nutrition aside- the sexual overtones of the dyad were inescapable and seemed just wrong to me.
    Back to Mayim’s piece and Carla’s response. I read Mayim’s piece as defensive. She is trying to make a case- mostly by doing the scientific thing of quoting experts- of why what she is doing is right. I do not hear how she feels about it personally emphasized or explored. In that sense it lacks the authenticity of her voice.
    I think that is what Carla is reacting to.

  13. Emma says:

    Thank goodness you are a voice of reason here Carla. Let’s be clear, getting up 4-7 times during the night for a toddler just to breastfeed would be absolutely exhausting and Mayim glosses over this and other points without addressing reality. As the mother of a 2 year old with another one on the way, I know all about exhaustion and sometimes it’s ok for a mom to say ‘this is tough’. Great piece – let’s hear about reality so we can all feel a bit better!

  14. Signe says:

    Carla,

    I appreciate your witt. It feels good to have a laugh about the everyday realities of being a mom. I agree with you that it is humanizing and less isolating to know that others are struggling with the same process…and frankly I would rather laugh than cry.

    Signe

  15. Karen Girouard says:

    Hmmmm… I disagree. I actually felt it was pretty authentic, mainly because this is my life too! My daughter nursed til she was almost 3.5, through my pregnancy with my son, and a little bit after he was born. Now I am only nursing my son, who is now 16 months old. Sure, I am exhausted and crying about it at times, but for the most part, I am really happy about my parenting choices and my lifestyle. It is so great to hear an affirmation instead of a blast against the way I live my life.

  16. Vicki says:

    I have to say, the way Mayim portrayed it was oretty much how it was for me. I thought the article was pretty accurate. When I had three kids in five years,(along with an older child) and nursed through the pregnancies and tandem nursed afterward, I was was tired. But I didn’t spend much time thinking about being tired. We got up every day, I homeschooled the oldest daughter, we did what we did. I made the decision long before about how I was going to parent, and once the decision was made I dealt with the difficult moments like anyone deals with difficulties. I did the best I could and kept going.

    I didn’t want my baby in my bed. Then she didn’t sleep well, and I had a 10 year old to care for and housework to do and a husband that traveled for work. So I bought a sling for the days and I slept with her at night. It worked really well, so when babies three and four came along, I wore them in a sling and they slept in my bed as well. Sometimes we got more sleep than other times. I think we always got more sleep than if I was getting up in the night several times. Sometimes I was tired and cranky, sometimes I was blissful.

    I expected a certain amount of fatigue, of frustration, of confusion simply because I think mothering is at its heart tiring, frustrating and confusing. When those emotions bothered me, I talked to good friends, I talked to my husband, and I lived through them. I didn’t spend tons of time re-thinking our decision to share sleep, or breastfeed until the child weaned. Once we read and learned and decided on the basics of our parenting style, which ended up to be very attached style, I went with what happened in that. At my core I was most comfortable withsharing sleep and self weaning and being there for my kids. Temporary problems or questions that sometimes arose from those decisions didn’t take up lots of my time or thought, because that was expected. At the end of the day, snuggled in bed with my children for however long I might have that night, I was happy with our lifestyle and our choices. Even if I had been tired out that day, and had dealt with clinging toddlers and fussy babies and couldn’t take a shower alone. Every day I was glad we were raising our children the way we had chosen, and I dealt with the hard times because there are always hard time.

    My friends who bottlefed had to deal with night waking and ear infections. My friends who had nannies had to deal with employer/employee frustrations. EVERY family decision has consequences. I think the important thing is to take your time deciding how you want your family and parenting to be, and then don’t waste time second guessing every difficult moment. Parenting is filled with difficult moments, no matter what choices you make.

    Those three babies are 23, 21, and 18 now. I have an eight year old, as well, who was also nursed for years and slept in my bed. The older kids are great, we are close, everyone is happy and healthy. I think all mothers spend some time wondering if their choices are valid, but I am grateful that I didn’t spend any more time than I did worrying about it.

    • Carla says:

      Vicki –
      Thank you so much for sharing your perspective! You remind me of something that I need to keep in mind – first, just because something doesn’t connect with me, doesn’t mean it’s not going to connect with someone else. We need all sorts of writing and all sorts of stories out there, so there’s something for everyone.
      Second – you said “EVERY family decision has consequences.” Well stated! I agree!
      Thanks for your thoughts!
      Carla

  17. Anna says:

    Kudos for calling out a different angle of Mayim’s piece. I agree with you that for many (most?) of us, talking about what’s real and what’s shockingly hard and what’s mind-blowingly awesome about parenting is a valuable way to connect with others and get perspective on our own parenting.

    I agree that the tone of Mayim’s post was a little too smooth. At the same time, she’s putting herself out there for doing something that she knows will seem weird for most people. I don’t blame her for trying to frame it in a good light. I think it’s a bit different to tell “the story behind the boob” (love that line!) when it’s an experience to which most can relate, such as leaking through layers or trying to nurse in a public area, than when it’s an experience that you know going in is going to be controversial.

    None of which takes away from your message about the importance of mom’s being real with each other, both in writing and in person.

  18. jos says:

    I admire you for being honest in your writing and not just pointing fingers and calling, “BAD MOM!”. It’s so easy to do and makes it us all feel worse in the process. I also like to read about the down and dirty reality of what other moms are going through — it gives me strength and hope. Thanks for posting this piece — it gave me a lot to think about.

  19. LCR says:

    I agree! My husband often says that moms lie to to impress each other — if you want to know how kids are sleeping, eating and behaving at someone’s house, ask the dad. I’m totally guilty of being too critical of other moms, but what are our options? It’s a Catch 22. We fib to look better; we look better when we fib.

  20. AD says:

    To be honest, I just envy her milk supply.

    And that the little Bette Midler of Beaches is probably reading your article. I never watched Blossom, but she had me at Beaches. Nice piece, Carla!

  21. Dana says:

    Carla,
    I agree with your comments – both regarding Mayim’s specific lack of specifics, and generally regarding mothers (and fathers) giving each other a break and helping each other through the day.

    One of the reasons I enjoy reading your writing is that you are honest about both your ups and your downs. And it doesn’t hurt that you are MUCH more witty than I!

    I learned in a literature class once that the more specific a story is, the more universal it is.

    And I think that’s your point! We’re all just trying to get through the day/week/month/year the best we can. And if we give each other support and help rather than judgment and criticism, we’d probably not only be happier, but we’d also help the word outside of our own four walls a little bit more.

    Keep on writing! I’ll be reading.

  22. LilMisBusy says:

    Loved the piece, Carla. I’ve been a longtime Mayim fan as well, but the piece didn’t ring true for me as well. But, she is right that we have to do what we as parents find works best for us. However, if she has a way to get past that crushing exhaustion, I’d love to hear it!

  23. Leah says:

    You want real Jewish nursing parenting, with all of its guts and glory?

    I swore up and down to myself I would give myself “time off” between nursing and getting pregnant again. And then, we got lucky and there I was having to wean an exceptionally verbal 20 month old while pregnant. We eventually did, just past her 2nd birthday.

    I know this already puts me into your ‘weird mom nursing her toddler catagory,’ but hey, I’ve got the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics behind me, where as you’re working off the gross out factor (thank you for owning up to that, by the by).

    Fast forward 4 months. I’d stopped leaking and making milk altogether. Then, said 2 year old needed surgery. She howled coming out of anesthesia, and I rocked and soothed, giving her a cup. I arrived back home, baby abed, took off my sweater, and above my 31 week pregnant belly were two enormous wet spots where I’d soaked through. My body heard its baby howling, and that was that.

    Fast forward 6 months later when I’d sworn I would never EVER tandem nurse. And then I was sick. And both children were howling. And I was howling. And my husband was working a late shift. I put all three of us in bed, with one on each boob and collapsed. We all fell asleep, tears done. It was desperation, and it may gross you out, but it was my home, my children, my choice, and it got us through the night.

    The now 3 1/2 year old is thoroughly weaned, though when feeling especially sad or sick, she wants to be held in nursing/cradle position and drink her cup. The now 13 month old is still nursing. I don’t leak so much anymore, except when I’m away from her too long. But, hell, that’s what’s layers are for.

    I read Mayim’s piece and it was real for me because I live it. Maybe it doesn’t read as real to you because it’s something you could never imagine yourself doing. Fair enough. Your family, your body, your choice. But I read her as real, and like she said, I didn’t feel alone anymore.

    • Carla says:

      Leah –
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience! Although I have a hard time imagining nursing my two year old, I can totally understand why you did what you did, and I can almost imagine doing the same thing if I was in your shoes. Those are the stories that are real and powerful to me – the ones where I hear the details of the struggle… the times when we make choices, and have a plan, and then life steps in and kicks our butts and reminds us that sometimes we’ll do whatever we have to do to get through the day and take care of our kiddos!
      Thanks again for sharing, Leah, and I hope both of your little ones stay healthy! (I say as I am cuddling my 2 year old who has the stomach flu… ugh!)
      Carla

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