World Breastfeeding Week 2020 – A Different Spin
August 3, 2020
Written by Hannah Chism
SHAME-BASED CULTURE AND SILENCED LOSSES
This week is considered World Breastfeeding Week by the WABA, WHO, and UNICEF. While I am a proponent of breastfeeding, I am also sensitive to those who may feel marginalized or deep pain during the celebration and promotion of this week or breastfeeding in general. There are those who are unable to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, albeit age, anatomy, sickness, and so on. This often creates great shame or stigma in a society that expects mothers to breastfeed (e.g: shame-based culture) – where it has become a should. Similar to Mother’s Day or certain holidays, some may also feel a deep sense of sadness due to infertility, infant loss, stillbirth, loss of a child, loss of a child due to suicide, previous abortions, and so on (e.g.: silenced losses).
THE DANGER OF IMPOSING VALUES ON OTHERS
My point in this article is not to say that this week should not exist nor that breastfeeding should not be encouraged nor celebrated. Instead, I am recommending to be sensitive to others and the process they may be experiencing. When we assign our values, goals, and agendas to others, we lose sight of the other person and become more self-centered and self-righteous. Although millennials have been criticized for not living with conviction nor truth due to possessing more relativistic views of ‘let your truth be your truth,’ there is something to be said about respecting others’ beliefs and values. We are far less impactful as people when we impose our values on others (e.g.: shame-based culture). The manner in which you live your life holds more weight than your words or judgments on others.
TO THOSE WHO HAVE FELT SUCCESSFUL
If you have been able to successfully breastfeed, then congratulations! That is a big accomplishment and something to be celebrated, as it is a marathon. Within this, if you hold strong convictions about the benefits and necessity for breastfeeding then that is awesome for your determination and journey in your personal breastfeeding journey. That also comes in handy when educating others on the benefits of breastfeeding and helping support new mothers with breastfeeding. However, there is a fine line between encouraging, educating, and supporting others versus imposing, judging, and shaming others (e.g.: shame-based culture).
If it is difficult to develop empathy for those who do not share the same determination to breastfeed as you… I ask you to pause. Consider a time that you failed at something or there was something that you just could not do no matter how hard you tried – e.g.: first place in a 50-yard sprint, getting bread to rise, or passing an exam on the first try. Consider how you felt failing at that experience. Recall others’ responses to such failure. What did you need to hear at the time? What did you need at the time? Now, transfer those learnings to considering your response to others in their opinions or experiences in regard to breastfeeding. It may be important to gauge your audience before spouting your strong convictions. Remember to be compassionate as each person’s story is unique.
TO THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN SHAMED OR FELT EMBARRASSED
To those who have been shamed or felt embarrassed for not breastfeeding for whatever reason, I offer my sincerest condolences. I want to encourage you to look at the other ways you have succeeded as a mother or a person. Do you make breakfast for your kids every morning? Or, brush their teeth in spite of the tears? Do you support others in their unique decisions when they differ from your own because you know how it feels to be shamed? Well done for the ways that make you a great parent and person! Because the reality is that breastfeeding is not everything! There are so many other facets of being a parent where you have an opportunity to nurture your children well.
TO THE SILENCED & DISENFRANCHISED
And to those who experience sadness, disenfranchisement, grief, or anger on holidays such as these (e.g.: due to silenced losses)… Let me extend my warmest empathies and sympathies for any and all of the emotions you are experiencing. While you may desire to be happy for others on these occasions, it may be a very difficult, or nearly impossible, feat. You may be wallowing in your own sadness or anger. And, that is okay for a season or on such holidays – you have permission to be human and feel sadness or emptiness for your loss(es). There is a great loneliness that can come with loss. Having your losses silenced only accentuates that sense of isolation.
YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR LOSS
I want to encourage you that even though at times it may feel that you are defined by your losses, you are not. Your identity is not found in being barren or infertile. Your identity is not found in your shame. You are a multi-faceted person with more to offer the world than one facet of yourself that appears to be insubordinate with your hopes. While these hopes and disappointments may dominate your focus in life for this season, it is not the full picture.
At some point, you will either be surprised by your hopes being answered either directly or indirectly, or grieve the loss where it becomes fainter and more integrated into your whole self and story. While grieving the loss does not remove the pain nor the sorrow, it does allow you to live a more present and wholehearted life. I want to encourage you to create some kind of ritual on days or weeks like these, where you give yourself permission to mourn the loss. A ritual could be lighting a candle, making chocolate chip pancakes, playing a certain song, and so on, that honors your unique loss. Also, find a support network or at least one person who can empathize with the type of loss you are experiencing. While no one can understand the exact depth of your pain, they can sit with you in it.
ZEAL VERSUS DISSONANCE
Thus, this is a call to celebrate, but not at the expense of others feeling marginalized, silenced, or stigmatized. This also serves as a reminder to be sensitive to others on holidays such as these, who may be experiencing the antithesis of your experience. Within this, remember that living with conviction is part of living a zealous life. However, be wary of imposing your convictions on others as this can create dissonance, isolation, and rejection. Freedom to grieve or celebrate this week!