extended breastfeeding

How’s This For Authentic, Carla?

Carla, Carla, Carla.

I appreciate your compliments and I respect that you can like me even if you don’t agree with me. I see that you want more of me. Can do.

I want to address your issues one by one. I know that you don’t desire the list of the last time I cried in frustration at my inability to be a good mom (this past Sunday), the last time my bathroom truly smelled like none of the three males in the house have ever succeeded in having their urine hit the inside of the toilet bowl (yesterday), or the last time I wanted Fred to take his sweet cupid’s bow lips OFF OF MY BREAST because I am overstimulated and want to scream until I have no more voice (that would have been at 4:30 a.m. this morning). But would you be unsatisfied with hearing a whole list of these things? Probably not.

People who know me well would describe me as probably one of the most authentic people they know; I don’t believe in lying, I abhor gossip, I sacrifice (too much of) myself for others, and I am what children would call a goody-two-shoes, and kind adults would call a good soul.

I understand how I may come off as inauthentic. Part of it, I think, is my sort of meticulous and nerdball writing style (and keep in mind I have an editor!), and part of it is that I am in an unusual and sort of difficult position as “celebrity crunchy mama.” If I describe how hard things are in my life, believe you me, I will get so much crap about me having a pity party, about me wanting praise for being such a martyr, and I already get a lot of that as it is: “Why do all this if you’re so exhausted? Are you some kind of martyr!?” My favorite comment I saw recently was, “You get paid millions of dollars a week”–which I don’t!!!–“some of us have to really work! Stop complaining!” Ouch. I really am damned if I do, damned if I don’t here!

I have a strong desire to please everyone, and I thought about laying it all out there for Carla and other readers who might think that I was being inauthentic. But sometimes our struggles need to be private, especially when we are open to public critique; I don’t find this privacy secretive, but protective.

Those of you who saw me on “What Not To Wear” know that on days when I am not under the public eye, I typically wear milk-stained black t-shirts and an elastic waistband grey skirt with a 15 year old punk rock hoodie (with the grim reaper on the back). I am writing a book about our experience with attachment and holistic parenting for Simon & Schuster, but I guarantee they will not use “real” pictures of me; it’s not what the public is ready for. I try and present myself as authentically as I can even when I am “Mayim The Actress,” but I also have to be seen as competitive in my industry if I want to stay employed as an actress.



Mayim on the red carpet

The Mayim you see on the red carpet is in fact excited to be all dressed up, but also quite shy. I am not relaxed when getting lots of attention, standing up straight is something I forget to do on a minute by minute basis, and I miss out on a lot of social events in my industry because of our parenting preferences. I fear that I am seen as anti-social, but for now, my choice is to let that slide so that I can help my husband who often gets no break because I can’t give him one.

As for my general philosophy and parenting decisions, I have learned a lot about how to parent and how to constructively deal with frustrations through La Leche League International. More than just a breastfeeding organization, LLLI supports babywearing, bedsharing, and gentle discipline. This means that when I am struggling, lost, and frustrated, I call my LLLI leader, and I have a network of friends who I get support from. I also joined the Holistic Moms Network when my first son was born (I became their spokesperson a year ago), and this has given me even more friends and support to go to for problems. I used Dr. Sears’
The Baby Book
to guide me through early parenting issues, both attachment parenting-related and not; and we have a progressive and creative pediatrician who we adore and who supports our family in its decisions, and this is something I know most parents do not have. He is very expensive, but that is something we budget for and can budget for; again, we are grateful.

That being said, parenting this way has never been easy for me. I have special nursing needs, and both of my children’s first months were spent in a tremendous amount of struggle with me in a lot of pain, doubt, and fear. I saw a photo of an attractive actress with her newborn in some celebrity magazine the other day, and I had a pang of sadness and regret: I could never have done those celebrity shoots with my babies on day 3, much less week 3 or even month 3. Not that I cared if I could be in some silly magazine or not; it was more the principle that I was so debilitated and struggling so much that hurt.  I became a lactation educator/counselor last year specifically so that I could help women like me who are in so much pain that they cannot make it to nursing stores for help.

The reason I choose not to get into the gory details about breastfeeding in general (and I guarantee you, if it looked like anyone was NOT supposed to nurse based on the first weeks and months, it was me) is because I do not want to put out there that breastfeeding is painful, leads to weeks of discomfort, and makes you not able to nurse outside of your home for weeks. Everyone’s baby’s mouth is different, everyone’s nipples are different, and everyone will learn for themselves about nursing. For some people it’s a cinch.

Nursing all night kicks my butt. I am constantly operating under not enough sleep; I am sleep-deprived all of the time. Many mornings I half-jokingly wonder if my kids will be in one piece when my husband gets up two hours after I crawl out of bed with them to tend to their various dietary and activity needs. Not using television increases the time I am with them, and I am constantly searching for activities that keep my older son busy so that I can tend to my little guy: snacks that are time-consuming to eat, collage-making (magazine, safe scissors and double sided tape), piano practice, and me reading to him while I nurse his brother are our best bets.

There are mornings when I can’t get up or won’t; my husband steps in maybe two or three times a month in these cases, and I sleep an extra half hour. I am grumpy on these days. When I get a migraine, I am even grumpier.  When Fred nurses every 2 hours and the 5 year old is screaming for a snaaaaack and I have a migraine, I am the grumpiest of all.

Nursing in the day kicks my butt. My clothing revolves around nursing and my whole schedule is based on nursing. I have wet stains down the front of my shirts most days (hence my army of black t-shirts). When I go out to publicity events, I can only wear a dress if I will be gone a short enough amount of time to not have to pump (or leak!). I get touched out, burnt out, and nursed out. But I also know that nursing connects me with my son after filming 12 hours (like today), it nourishes him, and on the nights after he is recovering from being so sick, I know that stroking his soft hair 4-7 times a night while nursing his teething pain, fear, and hunger away is a gift I will cherish forever.

Our kids were both sick last week and it was a cranky sickfest if ever there was one from the 5 year old, and our little guy cries as if his heart has shattered in two if he so much as finds a seed in his tangerine slice or can’t get a drawer to close correctly. I literally said to my husband that I was kind of glad to be leaving to go to work, and it hurt to say it, but I had reached my limit. I reach my limit a LOT. I’ve angrily “shushed” my kids. I’ve whispered through gritted teeth, “Just please GO TO SLEEP already!!!!” I have raised my voice and slammed doors and I have broken three laptops and two cell phones with my inappropriate… authentic expressions of frustration.



Mayim's before and aftera on What Not to Wear.

I am not proud of these moments, and I work hard to make amends for them, to understand the rage that sometimes bubbles up inside, and to actively find other ways to stop it before it explodes. I come from a very fiery house, and as a child, raised voices and slamming did happen. I don’t want my children to feel they are making me nuts, and I have taken two classes to help me with this. The first I took when my older son was weaned and I was pregnant with my second son, and it was a S.T.E.P. class (Systematic Tools for Effective Parenting) More recently, my husband watched both kids while I took a Quality Parenting seminar. This class significantly decreased my yelling and anger, and really upped my compassion for myself and my children.

I can’t impress upon you what it’s like for my dear patient husband to live with me. I am very sensitive, a little bit weepy, very hard on myself ­and quick to interfere with his parenting. I constantly feel I work “harder” with the boys than he does; and I remind him of it more than I would like to admit. I am also patient in my own way, I am a morning person, and I constantly find ways to reinvent myself even when I feel there is nothing left for me to reinvent.

I love my children, I love attachment parenting, and I love this life, even when it’s got me down. Because for me, there is no other way to be than authentic: authentic to what my instincts tell me, authentic to what the women I admire have done before me, and authentic to myself and to you, dear Carla.

I address a lot of my authentic self–topic by topic– in the book I wrote, specifically detailing the challenges of birth, nursing, time management, balancing relationships, and everything in between, so you’ll have to stay tuned for that in the spring of 2012. For now, I will leave you with this: When Fred was a newborn and Miles was 3, I had just brought our cat home from the vet with a cone on his head from a major surgery. As we walked in the door, the cat’s stitches tore open, blood started spurting, Fred needed to nurse and started shrieking as only a newborn can, Miles was flipped out and started crying from the blood and Fred’s screaming, and I started to cry, too. We were all of us crying: the newborn, the toddler, the Mama, and even the cat.

And oh yeah: I proudly wear Hello Kitty footed pajamas to sleep in the winter. Authentic enough?

Mayim BialikMayim Bialik is the grandchild of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the mother of two young boys. She is best known for her lead role in the 1990s NBC sitcom Blossom, as well as her current role as Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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