ac-tiv-ist (ak-tuh-vist) nounan especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause
educationist (ej-oo-key-shuh-nist) noun a specialist in the theory and methods of education
By the time I got home from the hospital with my son, I felt betrayed by my body in more ways than I could count: a metabolic disorder making getting pregnant difficult, a high-risk pregnancy, a 26-hour delivery, and to top it all off… a pair of flat nipples which a nurse handily “fixed” with nipple shields. I had been practicing for motherhood all my life, and there I was, devastated, frustrated and exhausted.
Eight weeks later, I was an under-nourished, overly-tired, emotionally-distraught mother who has grown to loath the physical act of breastfeeding. The nipple shield made public nursing impossible, so I began to express milk and bottlefeed my little man. I never gave up on my ideal of motherhood; I wanted to breastfeed my baby. I found a Friday-night breastfeeding support group at Cygnus Lactation led by Nancy Mohrbacher (IBCLC; co-author of Breastfeeding Made Simple and author of Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple). Inspired by the wonderful women present, I shared my experience. They referred me to an IBCLC who came in to see me Sunday morning. Within 10 minutes, my son was latched and sucking away. My postpartum depression quickly passed. I felt totally empowered, and I was ready to tell the world that if I could do it, anyone could!
My motive was pure, but my approach, well, it needed a lot of help.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. As I think back, I cannot think of one single time that I spoke, lectured, or preached about breastfeeding with the wrong attitude, but they all seem to flood together into a montage of Oops! moments. The usual response to my effusions was a glazed-over look that screamed Leave me alone!
I started to think about my own response to others telling me what was best for me and my family. My first instinct is the same as theirs. How dare you tell me what to do!?! Then a flurry of justifications for my choice would flood my mind, clouding everything. Moms don’t like to be told what to do. Period.
I decided I needed to change my strategy. I found that detaching from the other person’s choices and beliefs (I even have a mantra, if you want to hear it) made me more open and thus more approachable.
When sharing my experience, I started to pay attention to the other person’s body language. I started asking questions and really listening to the answers. I found that people were more inclined to listen when they felt like they were being heard. Moral of the story: When you show respect, people allow you in. So began my career as an educationist.
Timing. On March 2, 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a church group that chose to picket funerals of fallen soldiers, protesting gays in the military. The Washington Post commented: “The court’s most liberal and most conservative justices joined in a decision likely to define the term. It writes a new chapter in the court’s findings that freedom of speech is so central to the nation that it protects cruel and unpopular protests – even, in this case, at the moment of a family’s most profound grief.” Regardless of our opinion of a person’s sexual preference or involvement in war and military combat, our hearts grieved for those families.
There is a powerful lesson in this experience: Whether the subject is protected by law or not, when we choose to approach a topic will directly affect how it is received. Timing is everything. In discussing “taboo” topics like breastfeeding, it is so important to consider the listener and those present. For example, never offer breastfeeding or parenting advice when the mother-in-law is present. More than likely, mommy already feels inadequate when MIL is around.
Consider her feelings. With a long history of sexual abuse, I have a lot of baggage. I have grown close to many other mommies who can relate personally, so when someone says that she will never breastfeed, I know that she is most likely also a survivor.
When a mom pushes back against my offers of advice or help, I always consider several factors. Mom may have a history of physical or sexual abuse. She may have been taught that there is no difference between breastfeeding and supplementation. She may have been booby trapped by scary stories and misinformation from medical professionals, celebrities, or other parents. She may suffer from a medical condition that honestly requires medication not compatible with breastfeeding. Even if none of these is the case, she still has the right to her choice. Again, step back, offer your help, and if she says no, let it go.
Be Prepared. Prepare your approach to pregnant friends. Instead of barraging them with the fine details of how breastfeeding will save the world, use phrases like, “I’m here to help if you’re interested in learning more about breastfeeeding,” or, “There are lots of pregnant women at my breastfeeding support group, so you know you’re always welcome.” For shower gifts, I buy a gift certificate for personal help from an IBCLC that can be used for long-term assistance. I know that mine included as many follow-ups as necessary, which were giant confidence boosters.
After you’ve figured out what she is inclined to hear, share a personal, positive experience. My favorite story was when my 2 year old needed to have a catheter inserted, and I informed the nurses that I would nurse him during the procedure. They were apprehensive, but I explained that breastfeeding would reduce the pain. Besides a few whimpers, he laid still enough for them to complete the procedure. The nurses had never seen anything like it before.
Prepare to react to unfriendly comments while nursing in public. I highly recommend rehearsing this with a friend in advance. The manager approaches to ask you to cover up or to go to the bathroom. Instead of berating the manager (who is likely unfamiliar with the law or has been pressured by the customers), kindly explain that you will be done shortly. Let them leave. When you have finished, take a deep breath, and politely ask to speak to the manager. Explain that you understand their concern, but you were not intending to create a scene, simply to nourish your child. Ask, “Do you know why I choose to breastfeed, even when I know that others may become uncomfortable?” Then share a few easy-to-remember reasons, and give them a copy of the Illinois breastfeeding law. If the manager is irate, request that they call the police. In the unlikely event the police are called, they are very familiar with the laws protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed in public.
By being prepared with thought-out answers and acting in a considerate manner, our not-yet-breastfeeding-allies will become more compliant and supportive. After all, if they knew how awesome breastfeeding is, they wouldn’t dare attack it!
I’m coining a new term: Breastucation (breastfeeding + education). We can change the breastfeeding culture in Chicago with a little listening, empathy and gentle education.
Corry has been contentedly married for 8 years and is mother to an almost 3-year-old son who was breastfed for the first 28 months of his life, despite flat nipples, food allergies and two rare medical conditions. She owns and operates Clean Green Nappy diaper service in Ingleside, IL, manages the accounting department of her husband’s business, plays with Thomas & Friends, loves to scrapbook, and is a volunteer minister who occasionally sleeps through the night.