A World Breastfeeding Week Plea: Stop celebrating, start collaborating

Usually, I’m all over the place this week. Getting quoted in the requisite “it may be breastfeeding week but gosh darnit some women still find exclusive breastfeeding super hard” articles. Posting my own stuff here on the blog, or over on HuffPo. Talking about #ISupportYou and pissing off hundreds of people in the process, because they see it as a veiled attempt to “steal the thunder” from World Breastfeeding Week.

But this year, I’m all but invisible.

Part of this was unintentional. I’ve been going through some stressful career-change mishigas, dealing with the inevitable gaps in childcare that occur between camp and school, entertaining a ridiculous number of visiting extended family members. I’ve been too exhausted to blog, or talk to media sources, or self-promote (because let’s be honest – that’s a part of what all of us parenting bloggers do. Even the most altruistic of us. Even those of us who don’t depend on hits or advertising or who never make a cent off their blogs. We write because we want to be heard; we pray for bigger audiences, book deals, evidence that we’ve made some sort of impact. I happen to be rather shitty at this, which is why I don’t blog much anymore. I don’t have the stomach for that part of the job).

Another part of my conspicuous silence has been intentional, however. Probably more than I care to admit. See, I’ve been focusing my efforts on the supportive stuff. Reaching across the aisle, trying to understand all facets of this debate, and hoping that by creating better resources for all moms, I can help stop all the guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt. I know that breastfeeding is important to many, many women. I want those women to succeed, and feel happy and proud and supported. So this year, I wanted to try and stay out of World Breastfeeding Week drama like I try and stay out of my kids’ sibling squabbles.

Yeah. Because that works so well with my kids.

The problem is, I also want formula feeding mothers to feel happy and proud and supported. And for some reason, it’s not okay to want both of these things. It’s ok to pay lip service to it, to claim #ISupportYou and tell formula feeding moms that celebrating breastfeeding isn’t about them. But if you actually do the work you need to do to ensure that non-breastfeeding parents are supported, you are violating WHO Code. You are taking attention away from the women who “need it”. You are stealing…. what? Resources? Sympathy? One-up(wo)manship?

I tried to stay out of it. I really did. I held my newly-minted CLC certification close to my non-lactating chest and bit my tongue.

And then the articles came, and came, and came. And so many this year were not about the benefits of breastfeeding, but rather how hard it was. Or how hard it was NOT to breastfeed. How this mom felt like she was poisoning her baby, or this one felt like she’d be booted from the “mom club” because she didn’t wear the EBF badge.

So much guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt. None of it is stopping. There’s more this year than ever before.

Then this happened.

https://www.yahoo.com/health/olivia-wildes-breastfeeding-photo-causes-a-stir-93893024387.html

https://www.yahoo.com/health/olivia-wildes-breastfeeding-photo-causes-a-stir-93893024387.html

And I heard my community inwardly wince. Not for the reasons you might think. Not because they didn’t think it was a beautiful image, and not because it glamorized something that had been messy and painful for most of them, although those certainly were thoughts that some of us had to squash down into that endless pit of mother-guilt. No, it was because it was yet another image of a breastfeeding celebrity, with headlines and stories that spoke of her bravery for normalizing nursing, and comments all over the place about how breastfeeding was finally being celebrated.

I think, for many of us, it was the “finally” that did it. For many of us, it would seem far braver for a celebrity to do a shoot with her bottle-feeding her kid with a can of formula in the background. We have only seen breastfeeding being celebrated. There’s so much partying going on, and we feel like the crotchety old neighbors calling the cops with a noise complaint. But you know, it’s late, the music is loud, and we’re tired.

Now, just to be clear – I’m talking about breastfeeding being “celebrated” That celebration doesn’t do us much good. It does not mean that it is easy for moms to nurse in public. Obviously, it isn’t. Or that lactation services are plentiful and accessible to all. Obviously, they aren’t. Breastfeeding is celebrated, but that doesn’t stop it from being difficult for the new mom in the hospital, whose birth didn’t go as planned. Or the one who has to go back to work 2 weeks postpartum. Or the one with a job not conducive to pumping. Breastfeeding is celebrated, but not when you’re overweight. Or when you’re nursing a toddler.

Idealized images in the media of what breastfeeding looks like do not normalize nursing. In fact, I’d argue it fetishizes it – not for men, so much, but for women. Now, we don’t just have to feel inadequate for not fitting into size 2 jeans a month after giving birth, but we need to feel inadequate if we don’t meet the feeding norm and make it look gorgeous and natural and easy.

Please do not misread what I’m saying here – talking about breastfeeding, supporting breastfeeding, and implementing changes to make breastfeeding easier for those who want to do it are important, admirable, and necessary goals, as far as I’m concerned. But the comments I saw coming from my community after this photo hit the news were not about any of these things. They were from women feeling totally drained, frustrated, and alienated after a nearly a week of hearing how inferior their feeding method was, who were sick of being told they were defensive or that they feel guilty if they tried to stand up for themselves. This story was the last straw. It’s weird, when you think about it – it wasn’t the piece on the risks of formula, or the memes about the superiority of breastfed babies – what broke the camel’s back was a seemingly innocuous spread of a gorgeous, confident actress proudly nursing her baby.

This is what perpetuates the cycle of guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt: our lived experiences are so damn different, that it’s like we’re constantly talking at cross-purposes. The nursing mom who is the only one in her small town not using a bottle sees a photo spread like this as thrilling, victorious, self-affirming – as she should. The formula feeding mom living in Park Slope who carries her formula-filled diaper bag like a modern-day hairshirt sees the same spread as just another celebrity being held up as a pioneer, when she’s only doing what’s expected of a woman of her stature – as she should. Both are right. Because both are personal, emotionally-driven responses.

Earlier this week, I said that deciding how to feed your baby is just one of a myriad of important parenting decisions. But somehow, it’s become the most important one. We cannot expect formula feeding moms to support their breastfeeding sisters when they don’t receive the same support. We just can’t. It’s not fair, and it’s not realistic. I feel like that’s what I’ve been asking of all of you, and somehow I just woke up to that fact.

Why are there still articles talking about how shitty we feel for not breastfeeding, instead of articles talking about what’s being done to change this? Where is the news story about the doctors who are saying enough is enough (because I know they are out there – many of them contact me, and I appreciate these emails, but I wish they were able to say these things publicly without fear of career suicide)? Where’s the NPR program about ways we can improve breastmilk substitutes so those who cannot or choose not to nurse aren’t left hanging? Where’s the Today Show, The View, The Katie Show, doing segments on why women are REALLY not meeting breastfeeding recommendations, instead of segment after segment on how brave so-and-so is for posing nursing their newborn on Instagram, or talking to dumbasses on the street about the “appropriate” age for weaning?

When we stop “celebrating” and start normalizing and supporting and being realistic about how different life can be even just a street away, maybe World Breastfeeding Week can have it’s proper due. Maybe we can actually talk about ways to help women in the most dire straits feed their babies as safely as possible – clean water, free breast pumps, free refrigeration, access to donor milk.

I want to be able to be silent during World Breastfeeding Week. It shouldn’t have to be “overshadowed” by emotional, personal pieces about breastfeeding “failure”. It shouldn’t be a time for articles about not making formula feeding moms feel “guilty”. These words shouldn’t even be part of our infant feeding lexicon, for godsakes. Failure? Guilt? For what?

This year, I want us to stop celebrating, and start having some calm, productive conversations with people outside your social circle. For many of us, the celebration feels exactly like high school, when the popular kids had parties and we sat home watching Sixteen Candles for the thirty-fifth time. That’s not to say breastfeeding isn’t worth celebrating, but the end goal should not be one group feeling triumphant and the other feeling downtrodden. Formula feeding was celebrated for decades too – and that celebration made the current atmosphere of breastfeeding promotion necessary. Please, let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s move on. Rip down the streamers, put away the keg, and open the doors to the outsiders looking in. You never know – they could end up being the best friends you’ve ever had.

 

FFF Friday: “Maybe My Better Isn’t Your Better”

Today, World Breastfeeding Week begins. There’s a lot of good that comes out of this week, but it can also be a painful, triggering seven days for those who have struggled with their infant feeding decisions. 

That’s why I was excited when this FFF Friday landed in my inbox a few months ago, because I knew it would be the perfect entry for this week.  Carly’s piece isn’t about breastfeeding or formula feeding. It’s about the terminology we use to discuss parenting choices; our inability to look outside of ourselves and our experiences, our beliefs. 

I hope people take this one to heart. I honestly believe if they did, we could stop discussing the same, old, tired issues and move on to the real work of supporting parents in concrete ways. 

It’s something to dream about, at least, on this late World Breastfeeding Week eve…

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Maybe My “Better” Isn’t Your “Better”

by Carly Ceccarelli

“When you know better, you do better.” Maya Angelou

I tried to dig to the bottom of the context of this quote and was instead bombarded with legions of posts from various blogs, online groups, and message boards regarding choices in parenting and how many use this quote as not only their parenting compass, but a ‘gentle’ way of recommending that what you are doing with your child is hopelessly, utterly wrong.

Have you ever considered…..maybe my “better” isn’t your “better”?

I have been through so many seasons in life. Haven’t we all? Fortunately, I have gained some perspective from those. I have been broke and living off of fish sticks and canned ravioli.  I have been a working, single mom with not exactly a load of free time or patience. I have been a stay at home mom to an intense baby that taught me more about lacking free time and patience than being a working, single mom ever did.

As a result of seasons, we make choices. My current season is being at home full time with two children under two years old. That intense baby is now a very mobile, intense toddler.  My experience with him greatly impacted my choices with his younger sister.  Having to be a present and attentive parent to two children simultaneously impacted my choices with both children. Only having two arms and two legs impacts the choices I make every day.  Yet I am bombarded with what I “should” choose because this person or that person knows that I “know better”.

I do know better.

I know better that, for me, these are the choices that are in line with the goals my family has, all people and categories of impact considered.  I have a diverse group of friends who are all over the spectrum regarding their choices, based on the goals THEY have within their familial units.

I had all of the answers, too. I understand the need to spread the gospel of my amazing experiences and informational finds, because, heaven forbid, that person doesn’t have access to Google and would “miss out”.  I realize how very wrong I was. I realize now that there isn’t one answer for everyone in any category, and that I am showing more wisdom when I am silent because I don’t know everything, as opposed to saying something because I believe I do.

Guest Post: Respecting the Bottle During Breastfeeding Awareness Month

The following is a guest post I received in response to the I Support You movement. I’m currently on deadline for a whole mess of work, but will return next week with new posts and (finally) the collection of #ISupportYou messages and photos. Until then, I hope you’ll find Kathleen’s passionate and reflective essay as cheer-worthy as I did.

- The FFF

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Respecting the Bottle During Breastfeeding Awareness Month

by Kathleen Holscher

My daughter turns a year old next week. She’s a joyful force—climbing, cuddling, staggering around the room with growing confidence. There are a thousand things that amaze me about her, and my relationship with her, twelve months in. One thing I’m amazed by, and proud of, is that she and I are still breastfeeding. After a rocky start—a NICU stay, feeding and oxygen tubes, an early bottle given to her by a well-meaning nurse—I pumped, nearly exclusively, for the first six months of her life. For the first six weeks, she screamed at the sight of my nipples, never latching once. After that it was a long, slow, and uneven process—dreary pumping sessions, day and night, punctuated by an occasional hopeful moment when the baby would want to nurse. Most of the time she didn’t. I had just started a new job, and was teaching full time for the first semester after her birth. It wasn’t until I began my (delayed) maternity leave that she and I were able to build our breastfeeding relationship, gradually, one session at a time.

 

Today, feeding her feels comfortable, an expression of who I am, and who we are together. For a long time, though, nursing her (and not nursing her) was hard. Hearing or talking or reading about breastfeeding filled me with guilt that sometimes verged on despair. I’m the woman Americans probably imagine when they think of a breastfeeding mother—higher degree, relatively affluent, liberal leaning, with a desire to do everything from childbirth to diapering “naturally.”

It was how I imagined myself, anyway. Even as I pumped, I felt like a failure. I felt like I was failing my child. The first time we supplemented my pumped milk with formula, after a miserable series of clogged ducts tanked my supply, I cried. We’ve supplemented with formula ever since.

 

And so, while I feel fortunate and proud to be approaching the one-year mark breastfeeding, the culture of breastfeeding has left a lasting and bitter taste in my mouth. Yes, teaching women about the benefits of breastfeeding is important. It’s absolutely critical—and I can’t stress this enough– in the developing world, in places where women don’t have reliable access to formula and clean water to prepare it with. Yes, breastfeeding also benefits women and children here in the United States. It absolutely does. But for many women, breastfeeding is neither easy nor “natural.” For some women it’s not reasonable, given the demands of fulltime employment, or lots of other circumstances life throws their way.  For a few women it’s not possible. My own experience, my opportunity to build a nursing relationship gradually, isn’t typical—most American women don’t have the luxury of a maternity leave that lasts for months and months, a pediatrician for a father-in-law, a mother and a gang of friends who also breastfed. Most women don’t have the resources to build a breastfeeding relationship with their child, when that relationship takes extra time and effort to build. I know many women would love to build that relationship, and many feel like failures (are made to feel like failures) when they can’t.

 

Breastfeeding advocates in this country need to advocate not only for new babies, but also for new mothers with busy and complicated lives. That means more than just urging women on, telling them “You can do it!” (the primary message I received at the lactation class I attended). It means finding ways to continue supporting women when they do not. Until American hospitals, health insurers, and corporate and government leave policies are all transformed to provide mothers with the enormous resources it actually takes to breastfeed, a woman should feel confident and reassured when she decides to give her baby a bottle of formula. At the end of the day, a mother needs to be able to decide which option- breast or bottle- is best for her and her child, without worrying that she’s making the weak, harmful, or “lesser” choice.

 

Again and again, women I’ve met have responded to my baby’s chubby legs and cheeks with the exclamation, “Well, she must be a breastfed baby!” It’s a situation I disliked intensely when I was exclusively pumping, and I continue to dislike it, even now, when I can answer them in the affirmative. Sure that’s me being sensitive—but we new mothers are a reliably sensitive bunch. There’s a fine line between healthy encouragement of breastfeeding, and unhealthy pressure toward the same. Finding that line is easier said than done. Still, in the future, when I give advice to my friends who are approaching motherhood, it will be this:

 

Do what works for you, and do all you can to ignore the rest of them. Formula is not poison—it’s just not. Breast or bottle, your baby will turn out fine.

Kathleen Holscher is an assistant professor of American Studies, and the endowed chair of Catholic Studies, at the University of New Mexico. She lives in Albuquerque with her husband, her daughter, and her dog. 

I Support You: Yes. And.

Back in drama school, we used to play this game called “Yes, And”. Basically, one person would start an improvisational scene by saying something wacky, and her partner would need to accept the challenge by acknowledging the setup and running with it.

“This meatball is causing a traffic jam.”

“Yes, and… I wish we hadn’t decided to take a left turn and run smack into the middle of the annual Butcher’s Parade. Next time, listen to the damn GPS, will you?”

Ok, so I kind of sucked at that game, which is why I never pursed improv as a career. But I always thought that the concept was one that should be applied to debates. Instead of immediately challenging someone’s point of view, what if people listened, accepted the challenge by acknowledging the perspective, and ran with it?

“Breastfeeding needs to be promoted and supported.”

“Yes, and… there needs to be a way to do it without limiting a woman’s autonomy, ignoring social and cultural barriers, and marginalizing those who end up formula feeding.”

This, to me, is what the “I Support You” movement is all about. Offering the yes, and proposing the and. Telling the powers that be, and each other, that what’s currently happening in the world of infant feeding isn’t good enough; that we can’t support some women while penalizing the rest.

When I first approached Jamie and Kim about initiating a supportive, inclusive movement that could bring moms together, I wasn’t 100% sure what it would look like. All I knew was that as Breastfeeding Week approached, I was starting to see more pain in my inbox, more anger on my Facebook page. Memes popped up like snarling Jack-in-the-Boxes, taunting us with images of baby bottles lying in caskets, misquoted statistics, careless messages that divided moms into categories of “good” and “less-than”; “us” and “them”. Women I greatly respect began resorting to schoolyard taunts, when a few weeks prior they were able to discuss the same issues respectfully and calmly.

This happens every year. Breastfeeding Week brings out the best and the worst of breastfeeding advocacy, and thus the best and the worst in the women that this advocacy has failed. No matter how much we support breastfeeding, the current atmosphere in the media and the blogosphere infects our wounds, whether fresh or scabbed over, and immediately puts us on the defensive. Some of us would love to go to one of the incredible “Latch On” events happening in our towns, but worry that by showing up with bottles full of formula we’d be viewed as unwelcome intruders. It’s hard to imagine we wouldn’t be, when so much of what we see online is about how our method of feeding our children is dangerous and a direct threat to the efforts of breastfeeding moms. We want to share “Happy World Breastfeeding Week” messages, but worry that posting something like this is an invitation to be tortured by comments about how sub-par the food we feed our babies is.

I wanted to find a way to celebrate the efforts of our breastfeeding sisters, and to show that we support them – that we aren’t the enemy, not by a long shot.  Jamie and Kim felt the same way, from their respective “sides” of this perceived mommy war. So, we asked women to share photos and messages of support, whatever that meant to them. The response was incredible; far more than we ever expected. I put some of these photos into a video slideshow, which you can see below. I’ll also be putting up all the submissions as a static webpage in the next week, so that we will have a permanent collection of these messages of commiseration, empathy, and hope.

We’ve been getting some backlash about the fact that we launched this project during World Breastfeeding Week, and we understand where this is coming from; we’re not trying to steal the thunder of those advocating for more awareness for breastfeeding throughout the world. But we also feel that the best way to support breastfeeding is to ensure that every woman feels empowered and equipped to feed her baby in the best way possible. That may not always mean breastfeeding; this doesn’t mean that we are ignoring the science, but rather performing our own risk/benefit assessment and making a highly personalized decision. This may not be your choice, and it may not be the best choice on paper, but parenting is not a standardized test. It’s more like an open-ended essay question. By listening to each other’s stories, as long-winded, convoluted, and complex as they so often are, we can start fresh. This can wash away the negativity, judgment and defensiveness, so that we can more adequately address the real reasons women are not meeting breastfeeding recommendations. And we can do all of this without ruining a mother’s sense of self or well-being. I think that’s a pretty clear win-win.

So… yes. And… how do we actually go about doing this? Jamie has written a great post about how we can better support breastfeeding mothers, and why we need to take a global perspective on these issues. Kim has offered some amazing practical tips on how to best support a new mom who is trying to breastfeed. Go and read these; then read them again. Think. Digest. Process.

I’d like to offer my own suggestions, about how we can better support moms who either choose to or have to formula feed, whether partially or exclusively. This may seem counterproductive to Breastfeeding Week, but I don’t see it that way. According to our latest Breastfeeding Report Card, by 3 months out, 63% of us are using some formula. While advocates are fighting to raise these rates for the future, we need to address the NOW. And besides, there have been, and always will be, women who choose not to breastfeed. By ignoring their needs, we are putting their babies’ health and their mental health at risk – and that’s certainly not conducive to improving maternal and infant outcomes.

Start addressing the REAL reasons women are unable to meet their breastfeeding goals.

In the past 4 years, I’ve heard countless stories of women who feel immense loss, pain and guilt due to their infant feeding experiences. Very few mention the reasons for “suboptimal breastfeeding” that are so often cited in breastfeeding advocacy literature – formula marketing, embarrassment over the process, lack of education. What they do mention is feeling incredible pressure to “succeed”; physical impediments that were probably foreseeable, had anyone thought to examine their breasts prenatally; and varying degrees of support that felt more like judgment. To counteract this, we need to time our education and preparation for breastfeeding better. By having more realistic conversations – both with our care providers and each other – we can raise awareness for the problems that might make breastfeeding difficult, so that we can properly manage them. For example, I’ve heard from many women who had never heard of IGT (Insufficient Glandular Tissue) until they read about it in an FFF Friday story, and realized that they had all the symptoms and markers for the condition. If they’d known about it, they may have been able to seek specialized lactation assistance that could have helped them at least partially breastfeed, if that’s what they wanted to do.

As for the pressure to succeed – this is what “I Support You” is trying to counteract. While some people work better under pressure, others are rendered impotent by it. If you know that those around you support you and have your back no matter what happens, you can go into birth and breastfeeding with a sense of confidence and flow.

Provide better educational materials and assistance for formula feeding parents.

Since formula is seen as a competitor to breastmilk, any mention of it is perceived as a threat to breastfeeding success. For those of us who are formula feeding, this means that every article we read about the basic how-to’s of formula begin with long caveats about the benefits of breastmilk, which can feel really punitive, especially to someone who feels crappy about using formula in the first place. We don’t have the formula equivalent of LLL, so there’s little peer support, and prenatal classes don’t typically discuss bottle feeding. The clearest, easiest-to-find information about formula comes from the formula companies – and when we’ve been taught not to trust them, this causes internal conflict and confusion.

I keep hearing stories from parents whose daycare providers are mixing or handling formula in very unsafe ways – and god only knows how they are handling pumped breastmilk. Until we all get a year’s paid maternity leave, the fact remains that a large portion of America’s kids are going to be in daycare. Improper formula handling can make babies extremely ill, so this is a matter of public health. While we are promoting breastfeeding, we can’t throw the baby out with the sterilized, pre-boiled formula water. If we stopped viewing this issue as breast vs bottle, perhaps we could ensure that bottle-feeding parents were given adequate education and information so that they too could feed babies in the healthiest way possible. We have a right to know that we can still do skin-to-skin, that we can “bottle-nurse”, and that we can practice paced feeding and treat mealtimes as bonding times, just like breastfeeding moms can. We have a right to know that there are differences between formulas, and to have more options (donor milk, new types of formula, organic and GMO-free varieties) available to us.

Focus on peer support and maternal mental health as well as breastfeeding support.

Breastfeeding has a learning curve, and it can be really difficult to get through the first few weeks. It’s essential that we have organizations like LLL and hospital-sponsored breastfeeding support groups. But there’s no reason we can’t promote social interaction and professional facilitation of peer support for ALL moms. Postpartum depression is a major problem in this country, and maternal mental health affects breastfeeding in a myriad of ways. Since the only care providers that typically encounter a mother between birth and the 6-week postpartum visit are the pediatrician and the lactation consultant, we need to make sure that these professionals are taught to pay as much attention to a mother’s eyes, behavior and words as the functionality of her breasts.

Don’t put yourself in an us vs. them mindset.

We all want to find our tribe, but try and remember that tribes are made up of individuals. Just because someone doesn’t parent exactly the way that you do does not mean they are judging your choices. The I Support You movement is a launching pad for us to start fresh – to teach the next generation of moms that to be a breastfeeding advocate does not necessarily mean you have to vilify formula; that there’s a way to be positive and empowering in your advocacy. And, for formula feeding moms, I Support You challenges us to stand up for breastfeeding rights; to understand that nurse-ins are not about formula hate, but rather a protest against misogyny and conflicting messages (“breastfeed or else, but not for too long or in front of me”… I mean seriously, what kind of bullshit is that?).

It may seem overly simplistic to think that we can hold up a bunch of signs, snap a few photos, and change the world. But this week, we’ve witnessed how many people are hurting, and how many people are in dire need of support. This doesn’t negate the need for breastfeeding advocacy; if anything, we need it more than ever. But we also need to find a way to reframe this ridiculous battle between breast and bottle. And that isn’t the responsibility of breastfeeding advocates; it’s the responsibility of the rest of us, the moms who have the power to reach out to another mom and let her know you’ve got her back. We can start in our own social circles, and create an atmosphere that counteracts whatever muddled messages society may throw at us. This is a way of saying yes to the positive actions breastfeeding advocates are taking to help mothers reach their breastfeeding goals. But let’s not forget the and.

So, yes. And… I support you.

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Interested in joining the “I Support You” movement? Here are more ways to get involved:

1) Check back later this week, when I’ll be posting a collection of the stories, messages and photos I’ve received from women all over the world, responding to the “I Support You” call for submissions.

2) “I Support You” is thrilled to be partnering with Huffington Post Parents to celebrate Breastfeeding Awareness Month.  Our friends at HuffPo believe that it’s time to celebrate ALL feeding choices, and they’ll be working with us throughout the month to share stories about what feeding with love really looks like.  Let’s make sure that they know how much we appreciate their message that we are all doing our best to feed in a way that works for our family, by joining the conversation here.

3) Join us on August 7th for a Twitter Party at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST.  We will be encouraging all of you to share your stories and connect with parents who are making similar choices.  We’d love to hear your suggestions about how I Support You can take shape in your community, so we hope you’ll join us by using the hashtag #ISupportYou

4)Link your blog up by clicking on the button below, and show us how you feed with love; share an interview with someone you did who has an entirely different feeding experience than you.  In the subject line, please state HOW you feed and WHERE you feed so that other parents can connect to someone who feeds the same way they do.  Or even better, they can learn from someone who feeds differently than they do. (Example: “1st Time Breastfeeder, CA” or “Formula, foster mom, TX” or “EP mom, NICU twins, MI”)

Announcing the “I Support You” Movement

Last week, I got together with a group of friends for a rare “mom’s night out”. We sat for hours, sipping white sangria and inhaling carcinogens from the nearby fire pit, laughing in that way only overtired, overstressed moms can when they finally get a chance to let loose.

I’d met these women at Mommy & Me when our firstborns – all boys, born within days of each other- were about 8 weeks old. So it was no surprise that as the night wore on and the wine glasses were emptied, our conversation turned to those hazy postpartum months, when we were younger, more confused versions of ourselves. I began inwardly musing how much we’d all evolved since then; how through two pregnancies each, our strength and power as women had stretched to new limits along with our bellies.

And then it happened.

“Do you guys remember breastfeeding support group? What a godsend that was!” one of my friends gushed.

“I remember sitting next to you and crying,” said another. “Eh, I think we were ALL crying,” another responded, and the whole group started laughing in self recognition and commiseration.

I felt my shoulders tense up, an ancient and forgotten ache shooting through them, down into my belly, where old pain dies hard. The ache grew deeper when one of my friends told me that my children probably didn’t sleep as long as hers did because she breastfed them, because “nursing gives them sleepy hormones”. And when another, trying so hard to be kind and include me in the conversation, reminisced about seeing my son in his infant carrier making little sucking movements with his lips as he slept, “as if he was still sucking on his bottle”.

And all I heard was “other”; all I heard was “different”.

The next day, I was interviewed for a documentary about breastfeeding, and asked about my journey from passionate breastfeeding wannabe to Fearless Formula Feeder. I’ve done interviews like this a hundred times now; told my story a hundred more. But this time, when I came to the part where I went to Mommy & Me for the first time – the first time I’d really been out in public, let alone surrounded by other moms and babies, as prior to that I’d been stuck at home attached to my pump and held down by the weight of postpartum depression and a baby who couldn’t stop crying, no matter what we did to soothe him – I felt the ancient pain rise up like bile in my throat. As I recalled sitting there, in a circle of nursing moms, feeling like all eyes were fixated on my bottle, judging me, I choked back ugly, rusty sobs. Rancid tears punctuated my typically canned tales of feeling separate, isolated, and constantly on the defensive.

I don’t think I’d realized how much the previous evening’s conversation had affected me. My children are 2.5 and 4.5; while some of my friends have younger babies or are still nursing their second-born toddlers, breast vs bottle is not something that our group is emotionally invested in. Breastfeeding, in and of itself, doesn’t really come up anymore. But breastfeeding support group does. The days we  they spent at the park discussing breastfeeding difficulties do. Those days carry a rosy glow for my friends, but my memories are tinged with gray. Those days I sat silent, clutching my son’s formula filled bottles, gritting my teeth through the inevitable comments about how terrified they were of having to supplement, smiling a frozen smile when a new mom would join our fold and ask the inevitable question “are you pumping?” which would be met with someone else in the group recounting my story of going above and beyond, as if I needed excusing.

Something I’ve heard a lot from those who don’t quite understand my passion for this issue is that “once your kids are out of the infant stage, you won’t care so much about breast or bottle.” And that’s true, to a large degree – the scary statistics and shaming memes don’t carry the same power; I’m able to dismiss them, laugh at them, debunk them without it affecting me personally. What surprised me about the other night and my subsequent breakdown over faded memories, is that while the logistics cease to matter, the old pain and doubt are always there.

There’s a lot of research out there about imprinting, and how first experiences affect infants. But isn’t new motherhood a sort of infancy, itself? Here you are, reborn into mother, your skin and organs and thoughts raw and foreign. Everything is new. Everything is a first, postpartum- your first shower, the first time you have sex, the first time you take the baby for a walk, the first time you feel confident in your new role. Is it surprising, then, that your first social interactions as a mother don’t imprint on you in the same way a new food imprints on an infant’s taste buds?

What would have my postpartum experience been like if I could’ve sat next to my new friends without being afraid of what they’d been made to believe about formula feeding? If I could’ve attended a support group in those first weeks, too, and not had to wait 8 weeks before my community allowed me the gift of peer interaction? And what would my friends’ experiences have been like if they hadn’t been made to feel like failures for the supplementing they had to do, or made to believe that their ability to breastfeed was what made a mother worth her title? What if we could have all been supported in our individual experiences and goals, without fear of some Orwellian gaze, labeling us with a “pass” or “fail”?

And most of all…. what would have happened if I’d had the courage to speak up; to give voice to my demons, to help my friends understand how their innocent words could hurt more than my Pitocin-induced labor pains? What if we could have spoken openly, and found our differences to be our power, the power that could bring light to our fundamental sameness?

World Breastfeeding Week begins in a few days, and the theme this year is “Breastfeeding Support – Close to Mothers”. This is a fantastic theme, because breastfeeding moms need tremendous support, especially in those early days. But I think we should be taking this a step further. ALL new moms need support. Hell, all moms – those with toddlers, those birthing their fourth babies, those with teenagers – need support.  I think brand new moms are the most vulnerable, though; these are the women who are not only dealing with all the craziness that babies bring, but also their own rebirth.

I want to support breastfeeding mothers. I wanted to support my friends, in those early days; I wanted to help them through their struggles, but I felt trapped by my own insecurity. Their efforts seemed like an indictment of my choice. Their well-meaning questions about whether I’d tried talking to a lactation consultant (try seven) felt like judgment.

The problem is not us, us mothers just trying to do our best for our babies, us mothers desperately seeking a tribe, a source of support, a group to someday drink sangria with and laugh about how tough those first few weeks were. The problem is with how breastfeeding has become the antithesis of formula feeding; the problem is with how the two are set up as black and white, as polar opposites, as competing interests – rather than as two entirely independent, valid ways to feed children. Those promoting breastfeeding because they honestly believe formula is risky can continue to do so, but I think there is space for a new type of breastfeeding advocacy and support: one that celebrates and honors mothers’ autonomy, and focuses energy on providing REAL support to those who need it, regardless of feeding method. If infant feeding wasn’t set up as a succeed/fail dichotomy from the beginning, imagine how moms might be able to support each other without feeling alienated or judged for different choices?

My belief that this type of advocacy would be far more powerful in helping mothers meet their breastfeeding goals is what has inspired me to join forces with Kim Simon of Mama By The Bay and Jamie Lynne Grumet of I Am Not the Babysitter, to encourage moms to stand up and say “I Support You”.

Created by Cary Lynn Davis

Created by Cary Davis

The I Support You movement is a respectful, empathetic, compassionate exchange between parents.  We all feed our children differently, but we are all feeding with love, and in ways that work for our individual circumstances and family dynamics.  I Support You is the first step in helping formula-feeding, breast-feeding, and combo-feeding parents to come together and lift each other up with kindness and understanding. We have chosen to announce this movement during World Breastfeeding Week, to honor the commitment of those who fight for better support for breastfeeding moms; we are inspired by this, but believe that by changing the focus to supporting all parents, we can truly provoke positive change without putting the needs of some mothers above the needs of others. The “I Support You” movement aims:

 

1) To bridge the gap between formula-feeding and breastfeeding parents by fostering friendships and interactions.

 

2) To dispel common myths and misperceptions about formula feeding and breastfeeding, by asking parents to share their stories, and really listening to the truth of their experiences.

 

3) To provide information and support to parents as they make decisions about how to feed their children.

 

4) To connect parents with local resources, mentors, and friends who are feeding their children in similar ways.

 

(written by Kim Simon with a tiny bit of help from me)

 

If you want to join the movement and celebrate real support with us:

 

Send us your photos. I’m creating a slideshow of photos to show how beautiful support can look. If you are willing to let me use your image, take a photo of you, your baby, your family, you and a friend – doesn’t matter – with a message of support (i.e., “I exclusively breastfed, but I know every mother does what is right for her – and I SUPPORT YOU” or “I may formula feed, but I’d fight like hell for a woman’s right to NIP. I SUPPORT YOU”) and send it to formulafeeders@gmail.com by Friday, August 2nd.

 

Interview Your Opposite. Are you a blogger?  Are you a formula-feeder who is best friends with an extended breastfeeder?  An adoptive parent who knows of a mom using an SNS nurser with a baby in the NICU?  We want you to interview someone who is feeding in a different way than you are, and then publish it on your blog.  If you’re interested in participating but don’t know where to start, feel free to email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com for a list of interview questions.  On  Sunday, August 4th, we will ask you to share your story with us, by adding your link to the I Support You blog hop. If you don’t know anyone who feeds in a different way,  send me an email and I’ll try and connect you to someone.

 

Join us for a Twitter Party on August 7th, at 5pm PST/8pm EST.  We’ll be asking you to share your truths about your feeding choices, and connecting you to other parents who might be feeding their children the same way.  You can find us with the hashtag #ISupportYou.

 

Create your own meme or message of support. If you’re tech savvy, feel free to create a meme or shareable video that honors the “I Support You” message, and share it on the FFF Facebook page.

 

Check out Kim’s incredible, spine-tingling post on the “I Support You” movement, here.

 

The best way to counteract hate is by drowning it in a sea of change. The tide is rising, and we can float above the negativity and fear; push down the us-versus-them bullshit and let it sink to the bottom, where it belongs; lure it to its death with a siren song of I support you, sung far and wide.

 

Start swimming, fearless ones. I support you.

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