I've been feeling rather bovine lately. But unlike many lactating mamas I know, I'm not offended to be compared to a cow. Both of my parents were raised on dairy farms and grew up milking cows twice a day, every day. My dad's family stopped milking cows before I was born (due to the 300-year-old barn burning down) and they transformed the farm into an orchard. Consequently I have much more experience with apple cider than milk, but we also spent a lot of time visiting my mom's family's dairy. My brothers and I loved walking to the barn, shouting "Here Bossy! Come Boss!" and watching the Holsteins and Guernseys walk calmly and eagerly into their stanchions for milking time. We'd watch my grandfather attach the milking machines, pet the cows and visit the calves. While I don't drink a lot of milk now, I appreciate the lovely ladies who supply me with the cheese, yogurt and ice cream that I so enjoy. I can't help but think of Bossy and her friends when I pump at work.
While nursing Joshua one Saturday afternoon, I found myself thinking about dairy cows and asking my parents questions. I imagined that the cows would be pretty engorged just before milking twice a day. My dad confirmed that the cows were often leaking and eager to be milked, which is how I feel when I'm running late for a pumping session. The conversation drifted to a comparison of human and cow's milk: cream rising to the top, fat content, pasteurization. Then we talked about how producing so much milk is hard on dairy cows, how they have been bred to produce so much more milk than 30 years ago, and how life expectancy has decreased. Having babies and producing milk takes a lot of energy, and I feel a deep respect for cows. I try to always buy dairy products from farmers who treat their cows humanely, and make it even more of a priority now that I can relate to them.
Of course all mammals make milk, not just people and cows. I feel camaraderie with my horse Annabelle who is still nursing her 1.5 year old baby. Through the years I've also seen momma goats, sheep, pigs, dogs, cats and even a llama nurse babies. I'm in awe of Mother Nature's ingenuity to evolve mothers who can continue to physically nourish their babies after birth with their nutritious milk.
As I reread my rambling thoughts on mammals, I'm feeling so fortunate that I was raised in a culture of breastfeeding, that I'm able to have a philosophical conversation about lactation (of all kinds) with my family, and that I'm able to continue to nourish my son while I'm at work thanks to my handy dandy pump.
I'm embracing my comparison to a cow or any other mammal. They're awesome and so am I!