ChinaBoth wanting to breastfeed and trying to assert themselves at work, new mothers are faced with problems that cannot be solved by themselves.
Since 2017, Liu Xinyu, an assistant professor at the National Academy of Arts of China, has studied the daily parenting practices of urban families with children aged 0-18 months. He interviewed 22 mothers in Beijing about their daily lives and parenting.
Researcher Liu Xinyu was surprised that one of the most common complaints was difficulty related to weaning.
Their problems often revolve around three main categories: physical discomfort and pain, guilt and emotional stress, discrimination, and unsympathy in the workplace or in public spaces. .
Feng Qing is typical among the mothers who participated in the survey. She and her husband, Pan Ming, both work at a state-owned enterprise in Beijing, have stable incomes and have a good relationship. In 2017, when Feng was 31 years old, they welcomed the birth of their son Longlong. Despite some initial difficulties, Feng soon exclusively breastfed her baby.
Feng’s maternity leave ended when Longlong was 3 months old. To make enough milk for her baby, she decided to pump every day, when possible. Feng brought a breast pump and other essentials to the office, pumped during his break, and brought home every evening for his son to drink the next day. They also rented an apartment near the house for Feng’s parents to live in so that it was convenient to take care of him while he was at work.
The company gave her a new position with a higher workload than before, so she had less milk. Feng is embarrassed to have to pump milk regularly at work. After pumping, male colleagues often ask awkward questions. Gradually, Feng found that breastfeeding was something that should be done at home, not suitable for work.
Feng decided to rent a new apartment near her work place for her parents. Every morning before going to work, Feng would take his son to his parents’ house. Around noon or whenever she has free time, she walks home to breastfeed. In the evening, the whole family had a simple dinner together at the small apartment, after which Feng and her husband would take Longlong home for the night.
However, while Feng gradually adjusted to this new breastfeeding routine, Longlong was no longer interested in breast milk. The doctor said her son had entered a “period of milk disgust”. Feng’s friends advised her to wean, but she hesitated, fearing that her baby would not be provided with calcium or nutrition for the approaching winter.
She also has a simple desire to bond with her son. “I couldn’t bear to not see those eyes and the actions he did when he wanted to breastfeed. Thinking about weaning wouldn’t be so exciting, I wanted to cry,” she recalls.
After some deliberation, Feng decided to wean her son at 7 months old. After five days of separation, Longlong accepted the formula and Feng thought she would “return to normal” that she had long been waiting for.
However, she soon found herself struggling to readjust to the workplace. Her efficiency and problem-solving abilities plummeted. She also suffered from acute exhaustion, headaches, and dizziness. These are common complaints among the women Mr. Liu interviewed.
Meanwhile, when Longlong was sick, Feng didn’t dare to ask for leave. This made her more anxious and felt that she was incapable of being a mother.
A young co-worker saw Feng in trouble and helped her with her work, but this made Feng even more depressed. That colleague was less experienced than her, but now more competent. Feeling frustrated, Feng considered quitting her job to stay at home, but her husband disagreed because of the family’s economic situation.
In the end, Feng adopted a way typical of many middle-class women: compensate for the discrimination she faced and the lack of support she received by working to improve herself. She planned a strict weight loss plan, changed her style of dress, makeup, and even got her nose done. “I wanted to reinvent myself,” she says, referring to the cosmetic procedure. “A rhinoplasty will make me look slimmer and more professional.”
Expert Liu Xinyu heard many stories like Feng’s during his research. From having to have a limited sense of self, to the physical pain of breastfeeding and the cost of getting back in shape, the embarrassment of having to constantly pump, to unsuccessful weaning efforts. The inherent struggles of mother-child separation leave mothers in an almost impossible situation.
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