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Shame-Based Culture and Silenced Losses

World Breastfeeding Week 2020 – A Different Spin

August 3, 2020

Written by Hannah Chism


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).


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.


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 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.



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.


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.


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!

Authentic Grief

I believe everyone has had their grief or pain minimized at some point during their lives. In most instances, this is not a result of others’ poor intentions or a sense of maliciousness but stems from the fact that no other person can truly understand your unique experience. We are each different people with different personalities and different experiences. Even if someone has undergone an almost identical experience as you, it will impact each of us differently. For instance, if both you and a sibling underwent verbal abuse from one of your parents growing up, it will affect each of you in varying ways. Or, if you and a friend were both in the same car accident, each of you will be impacted differently by the accident. While you may be able to empathize with one another, the other person cannot truly understand the way in which the experience impacted the other because they are different people with different personalities and different backgrounds.

Meaning, do not feel that you have to experience the same emotions, thoughts, types of relationships, desires for reconciliation, impact on your self-esteem, etc. as someone else with a similar experience. Be honest (at a minimum with yourself) with your feelings, beliefs, and views, rather than trying to conform to those of another because they feel more righteous or seem like the way you should feel. Freedom to experience your experience authentically. This is a difficult task, as it means no guide map exists for how your grief or emotional process should look. The reality is there is no right or perfect way to grieve or heal, as it will be entirely unique to your personality, background, hurts, and so on. This may feel overwhelming, lonely, and scary. However, if you do not grieve in a way that is authentic to you, you will not truly heal.

So, how to approach grieving authentically? First, throw off the expectations of others of what your response should be. Then… Journal. Run. Paint. Talk to a safe friend. Get counseling. Write letters but do not send them. In other words, express those emotions – let ‘em fly. Otherwise, they will be trapped. And you will likely feel stifled, inauthentic, sensitive, irritable, and claustrophobic.

Now, how to respond to the minimization of your experience or grief? Your response likely depends on the intent of the person it is coming from. In instances of others being well-intentioned yet ignorant, an extra dose of grace must be bestowed. While they meant well, they fell short. Regardless of one’s intent, create a metaphorical “dump bucket” (Humphrey, 2009), where others’ minimizing comments may be tossed . This removes the power of such words, separates them from your experience, and restores power to you. No one else has the authority to tell you how you should feel. Only you get to decide whether you authentically experience your grief.

Written by Hannah Chism

Sources: Humphrey, K. M. (2009). Counseling strategies for loss and grief. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Life Transitions

The harsh and hopeful reality is that life works in seasons. We do not remain in the exact same situation our entire lives – relationships change, jobs change, we change, and so on. We are constantly being asked to adapt to life’s changing circumstances. If we fight to adapt, we end up lost, discombobulated, and distraught. In the midst of adapting, we experience anxiety, confusion, insecurity, and grief. In order to accept life’s changes, we must grieve the lost season. What I mean by this is that we cannot move ‘forward’ or adjust until we have grieved what the previous season has offered us.

Grieving Positive Changes

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; NIV).


The harsh and hopeful reality is that life works in seasons. We do not remain in the exact same situation our entire lives – relationships change, jobs change, we change, and so on. We are constantly being asked to adapt to life’s changing circumstances. If we fight to adapt, we end up lost, discombobulated, and distraught. In the midst of adapting, we experience anxiety, confusion, insecurity, and grief. In order to accept life’s changes, we must grieve the lost season. What I mean by this is that we cannot move ‘forward’ or adjust until we have grieved what the previous season has offered us. Yes, this even applies to very positive life changes, such as, marriage, birth of a new child, retirement, and so on.


We lose loved ones, our friendships grow apart, we lose jobs, we get married, we have children, and so on. The times we are moving from richness to richness require grieving. And obviously, as we transition from richness to poorer, grief is inevitable. This also means moving from poorer to richer involves grief. This may seem contradicting and confusing, but there are losses we experience as we move between seasons.

Let’s start with a few tangible examples. For instance, when one has gone from being single the first thirty years of life to married, there is a loss of independence that occurs. This loss of independence needs to be grieved in order to embrace the companionship the marriage offers. Within this, a change of identity and interests may also occur. Thus, the individual needs to also accept who they are becoming and the activities they partake in that also may come to define them. Another example occurs with adoption. If due to infertility, it requires one grieving the losses associated with being unable to have a child via natural means. This could also mean grieving lost dreams and expectations. In order for one to fully embrace the adopted child, they must go through the process of grieving what their hopes had been in order to rejoice and celebrate in what could be with their adopted child. Another example is when one goes from being married to divorced. This may bring a whole host of emotions, including relief, loneliness, sadness, joy, freedom, and so on. One will likely grieve the loss of companionship, no matter how dysfunctional it may have been. One will likely also experience identity changes, where they may have been more submissive and flexible, but become more rigid and independent. All changes leave room for grief in some form or fashion, and many have space for joy.


One may grieve these losses through a variety of forms, depending on what works best for the individual. Some individuals are verbal processors and need to share their experience with a friend over coffee. While other individuals are internal processors and need to journal about their experience and feelings. Yet others, are kinesthetic processors and need movement in order to process their emotions, either via running, walking, biking or some other active medium. Regardless, one needs permission to experience the full range of emotions attached to the loss of one season and movement into the next. This requires reflecting on both the benefits and drawbacks of what the previous season afforded, then looking at what the next season affords. This honest reflection requires humility, courage, and self-awareness. It is difficult to hold the dichotomous feelings of change, albeit happy and sad, as they appear to contradict one another. However, when one allows themselves the opportunity to experience the full range of their emotions attached to their season, liberation, rest, and peace follow. The process one goes through within and outside of a season is what truly gives life meaning and purpose. If we do not allow ourselves to be transformed through life’s seasons then we risk becoming stagnant, bitter, and lost. Being transformed requires openness, vulnerability, and flexibility. As we transition into each new season, we change as people. We are shaped by our response to life’s ever-changing circumstances.


Often times, in the midst of changing circumstances, we isolate ourselves from others or internalize our feelings because they feel messy or invalid. However, we are not meant to transition alone. Considering we experience life changes from birth until death, adversity in the midst of change is a universal experience. While each person’s response to such changes may vary, we can find common ground in understanding change as difficult and muddled. Even though you may struggle to articulate your feelings while in the midst of change, does not mean you cannot share and invite others into your experience. However, be selective about the people you choose to share the inmost spaces of your heart with. Identify those ‘safe’ people in your life, who accept you exactly as you are and validate your feelings. If you cannot locate ‘those’ people, then grow your support system by getting more involved in your local community and being more intentional about developing healthy relationships. Life is tough and we are not meant to walk this journey alone.


Thus, you have permission to be bewildered in the process of transition. Within this, you are never too befuddled for others to handle. You will be more incomprehensible and less effective in your life if you do not share with others. You will be a much more refined person if you allow others into your process and allow yourself to be changed in response to life’s circumstances, as opposed to fighting them. Therefore, freedom to be raw and real. Your process matters – regardless of how invalid and messy it may feel. Grief enables us to embrace the joys and hardships of life. Grief creates space in our hearts to love and live more fully. We cannot fully accept the richness of life without also accepting the hardships. You have permission to grieve both the good and bad of life. Allow space to grow. Give yourself permission to authentically experience your emotions, even if rejoicing feels inappropriate or grief feels invalid. Be you. You will be far freer by doing so.


Written by Hannah Chism

Feel free to reach out to me if you would like to discuss this topic further or to schedule a free consultation: [email protected] or (719) 204-1664.