Can I Celebrate Breastfeeding Without People Thinking I'm Shaming Formula-Feeding Moms?
Every time I say something or share something positive about breastfeeding in general, or even my own breastfeeding experience, within minutes I'm enduring comments ranging from mildly admonishing to defensive to unabashedly offended. "You know, not everyone can breastfeed" or, "Formula feeding mom and proud of it!" There are times when I've even been taken aside and told I'm being insensitive by "glorifying" breastfeeding. I wish I could celebrate breastfeeding without people thinking I'm shaming formula-feeding moms, you guys. Because I'm not.
Knowing these reactions are almost a foregone conclusion when discussing breastfeeding, I try very, very hard to remain as neutral as possible in my positivity. I also try to speak as personally as possible, just to make it very clear I'm speaking only for myself. I go to great lengths to sound measured because, obviously, I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings! But I wish I didn't have to be so trepidatious. I wish people just understood exactly what I meant by paying attention to exactly what I'm saying — that I love and celebrate breastfeeding and I think it should be supported — without any implications being added on, like assuming I think everyone should have to nurse no matter what (no way!) or that I judge people who don't nurse for whatever reason (of course I don't!).
Of course, on the other hand, I get it: women in general and perhaps mothers in particular have grown used to being viciously pitted against one another to the point that many of us take for granted that these dichotomies exist, even if we personally don't believe in them. So we see competition and chastisement even when it may not actually exist. We're told there's a "right way" to parent and anyone who falls short of that isn't worthy of the title of "mother." And to make matters worse, even if you "pick a side" the goal posts are constantly moving, depending on whom you're talking to and when. It's like "Breast is best... but not in the following locations, or under the following circumstances, and certainly not past the following age, and, oh yeah, we're going to give you precisely zero support in this endeavor but we will make up for that by unabashedly shaming you if you fail!"
But I think, deep down, some of us — lots of us, maybe even most of us — recognize that this black and white view of parenting is total crap. We don't really buy into the whole mom-shaming thing because we're too busy doing our own thing to actually care what anyone else is doing to raise a happy, healthy child. But I think most of us worry others are judging and shaming us. This may, in turn, make us overly defensive, which makes others think we're judging them and it's this whole vicious and completely unintended cycle.
No matter what you do, there's no winning because the game is designed that way. So, the way I see it, the only way to win is not to play, and we can do that by making our decisions freely and celebrating them however we want.
So, yes, I celebrate breastfeeding, both my experience and in general. I absolutely loved it, and to the point that I nursed my kids until they were almost 2. And even though I loved it, it was often challenging, trying, and difficult, so I consider it to be an accomplishment to have done it at all, let alone for as long as I did. In other words, I'm proud of myself and I think I should be. Hell, I think more women need to be proud in declaring their achievements.
And while there is, no doubt, a tremendous, potentially damaging amount of pressure to breastfeed, there is little support out there for breastfeeding moms. (Incidentally "pressure without support" may be the most accurate description of being a woman I've ever heard in my life.) Many of us who would like to nurse our babies are not given the physical or emotional resources we need to reach our nursing goals, so I want to do whatever I can to let people who'd like to breastfeed to know that I'm a "safe space" where they can talk, vent, brainstorm, and, yes, celebrate.
My choices are not an indictment of yours. My happiness does not invalidate your alternate path to happiness. My positive experience with breastfeeding does not negate your negative one.
Imagine you have a friend who has just told you that they ran a marathon. They enjoy running and are proud of their accomplishment. Is this in and of itself a negative judgement of the fact that you haven't run a marathon? Of course not! They're doing something they have a passion for and are taking pride in the work it took to do it. And, yeah, if you'd like to run a marathon but can't (maybe you're like me and have asthma or something), then it might be bittersweet to hear your friend celebrating (and, of course, they should be sensitive) but it's still not shaming you for not running 26.2 miles. The fact that they've taken joy in something you have't chosen and/or physically cannot do has nothing to do with you.
Well, the same goes for that one mom who is proud of her breastfeeding accomplishments and wants to share them with her community, online or otherwise.
Neither breastfeeding nor motherhood is a contest and, as such, there are no winners or losers. We need to stop thinking of perfectly valid, morally neutral choices as a zero-sum game against other moms; that my positive must mean something negative for you or vice-versa. My choices are not an indictment of yours. My happiness does not invalidate your alternate path to happiness. My positive experience with breastfeeding does not negate your negative one. We can all have our own experiences without having to compete for a finite amount of truth or compassion. Simultaneous truths can exist and compassion is boundless and fathomless. Parenting is so full of demoralizing challenges, so we really should not be anxious in our joy.
Let's all agree, each of us, that we're all doing out best and finding what works for us. And when we find something that works we should cheer ourselves on.