I had a little epiphany while we were at the zoo the other day (and not just about how important mama instincts are). As we were taking a quiet moment in a shady part of the zoo, watching some birds hanging out in the sun, another family joined us and sat a little way away. After a few minutes we decided to keep on trekking. As we passed this little family of four I noticed the mother was breastfeeding. She looked completely relaxed and at peace with the world. It was a lovely sight. I gave her a smile as I went by and she smiled back; two mothers just acknowledging each other. But it made me stop and think. A great way to encourage other mothers, especially those who may feel uncomfortable about public breastfeeding, is to just offer a simple smile. That may be all it takes to relax somebody and put at them at ease in a sometimes challenging world. The mother breastfeeding for the first time. The mother whose children are killing each other in the breakfast aisle. The mother with the loud toddler. The mother whose baby won’t stop crying. A smile can really help. I realised that the best way we can show our support to other mothers is just showing we get it. We either have been there or we can understand what they are feeling.
I read an interesting article in Empire magazine this morning about a new film coming out called ‘Loving’. It deals with interracial marriage in 1950s America. The director, Jeff Nichols, made an intriguing point. He said “I don’t like things that preach. I don’t think that’s how you further the conversation. You further the issue through showing people the humanity at the base of the issues – which we so often forget.” This statement really had an impact on me. Perhaps this is what has happened with infant feeding. It has become a highly charged debate with everyone from politicians to celebrities weighing in on both sides and we can sometimes forget that behind every decision is an actual human being making a choice out of love; whatever that choice may be. So what can we do? Well as mothers we can take a step back, stop and think. Why do we fuel the Mummy Wars? We all keep adding energy to these heated debates; infant feeding, early potty training, ideal age to start school. I’ve judged (and been judged I’m sure) but I am now trying my best to see the bigger picture and not just leap to assumptions (they make an ass out of you and me, don’t ya know). We can start by showing other mothers some solidarity. So the next time you see a woman struggling with a toddler who is having the mother (pardon the pun) of all tantrums, catch her eye and share a little sympathy. It might just make her day a lot easier…and it will definitely make you feel great.
This week is World Breastfeeding Week. As regular readers will know I didn’t breastfeed my daughter. My reasons were varied and probably only make sense to me. It is something, however, I have often wondered about…after the fact. I wonder if it would have been something I could have come to love and cherish. I don’t regret my decision as I made it after a lot of thought and anguish. I have a lovely bond with my tiny lady. But there is still that sense of curiousity.
Personally I think breastfeeding mamas are awesome. It sounds like a tough gig as you are the sole repository of your child’s nutrional needs. There is also the fact that you feel judged for simply feeding your baby in a restaurant or shop or sitting in the park. Just for feeding your child. This is so crazy in a world where modesty has become less and less of an issue…unless of course you are breastfeeding. Than of course you must cover up! This makes no sense to me. A baby feeding is a much lovelier sight than some of the topless men I’ve been treated to during our last mini heatwave.
The point of having initiatives like World Breastfeeding Week is to attempt to normalise breastfeeding. But I think until we really allow women a choice when it comes to feeding their baby there will always be a battleground when it comes to infant feeding.Women who breastfeed feel judged and women who bottlefeed feel judged and so the battle goes on. We are simply defending our choice and our right to make that choice but it all ends up in a muddle of harsh words and mud slinging.
I am now a toddler mama so the whole debate is beginning to be lost in a haze of new concerns – what age to potty-train etc. But today I just want to applaud those mamas still in the early days. No matter how you choose to feed you rock. And for all you breastfeeding mamas out there don’t let the negativity stop you. If you are out and your baby needs a feed don’t let the small minded opinions of a very small group of people stop you or embarrass you.
This week I celebrate all you newborn mummies. You are doing great!
I found an interesting article yesterday on the Huffington Post about how hospitals in America have to ascribe to a certain set of guidelines in order to be registered as Baby-Friendly. One of these guidelines was a rooming-in policy; mothers and babies stay in the same room from birth. This is to promote bonding and increase the levels of breastfeeding in the country. All very positive you would think but then you read on. The real life experiences of mothers were less than ‘friendly’ with some women having to beg to be allowed a few hours of sleep. Nurses now have to ask why the baby is being brought to the nursery and then record the mother’s answers. They are also required to then tell the mother about the benefits of rooming-in. I am not debating a system that encourages bonding and mother/child time but I would very much question a system that does not take into account a mother’s need to rest and recharge after the demands of labour or surgery.
I, once again, made the mistake of reading the three hundred plus comments; not all of them – I don’t have that much time on my hands – but a selection. Some were quite moderate, spoke of their own experiences and said they believed it should be a matter of choice. Most women appreciated time with their child but would have liked the option of sleep (free from new mum anxiety) just to help with recovery. Then came the shamers. Why, oh why, are there always women out there who seek to shame the choices made by other women? They didn’t believe that a woman should be allowed the option of a rest, after all as the mother of a newborn they wouldn’t get much sleep at home would they?
The problem with their argument is that a hospital does not represent a realistic home environment. Your baby isn’t sleeping in a plastic cot for one thing. You are not attached to monitors. You have friends, family and a partner around you to help. You can sleep while someone else watches the baby. One particularly scathing woman wrote that women need to adjust to bringing their newborns everywhere – settle them and then go have your shower. This woman does not take into account the levels of anxiety many new mums feel when leaving their infant. She clearly expects us all just to get up and get on with it – pull up your bootstraps new mums, you have a job to do! Ignore that new anxiety weaving its way through your stomach and just put on a brave face.
Some mothers may find it easy to adjust, some women cope better with pain and with a lack of sleep. But some mothers don’t. That is why we need to be given a choice. It is neither fair nor realistic to judge each other by our own experiences. I had a fairly easy elective section; should I then judge another woman who found her elective section tough? No because that was her experience; just because we went through a similar procedure it does not mean that we will cope with it in the same way. Our bodies are different, our mentalities are different and our life histories are different. All of these combine to make our overall experience of the same event poles apart.
I believe (or I would like to believe) that the impetus behind the Baby Friendly policies in America has to do with empowering women in their new roles as mothers (I will ignore, for now, the fact that the rooming-in policy does help with staff shortages). However, if we are to feel empowered this can only come about through choice. Choice to make the right decision for ourselves and our child. And that choice should not be ridiculed or criticised or shamed. Nobody is a bad mother for needing some time to adjust to life as a new parent and nobody has a right to shame you for needing this.Respecting others choices is surely the best way of empowering women.
Respect and choice: two words that seem to have been forgotten in this new era of mummy-shaming. Let’s try to put them back where they belong.