Monday, May 30, 2011

"You want to be where you can see, our troubles are all the same." (Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo)

I've recently become involved with the fantastic new online presence for Baby Friendly Newfoundland and Labrador via their Facebook and Twitter pages. Being able to connect with breastfeeding moms from my home province, and practically in real-time, has been a refreshing outlet for my passion. I'm excited to see the online communities grow and to participate in a very important and long overdue conversation.

Even more important to me is the impact that this conversation has had on my own nursing identity. In fact, I'm willing to admit that I've experienced some of the same personal growth that I also realized when I lived in Toronto alone for a full summer. As a small town girl in a great big city, I learned a lot about myself as I blended into the crowds. It's hard to ignore emerging facets of yourself when you're faced with major challenges (and for someone who didn't grow up with subway systems, let me tell you, standing upright on a fast-moving, crowded subway car is no easy feat!).

In the past week, I have come face-to-face with an aspect of my identity as a breastfeeding mom that I can no longer ignore. A few days ago, @ReadilyAParent (Dara Squires), progressive Blogger, writer, and parenting columnist, directly asked me for my opinons on the top places to breastfeed in my town. I chose to remain silent since I could not truthfully and sincerely answer her question. This was not because I hadn't had a good public breastfeeding experience here, or because I hadn't yet had the chance to breastfeed in public since moving back last year. I couldn't answer because I have never nursed in public. So I hid what I saw as my shameful lactivist secret.

Just yesterday, I openly admitted it for the first time when a very different question was posed on the Baby Friendly NL Facebook page. The "biggest breastfeeding challenge" for which it asked, one that I interpreted as a potential barrier, was interpreted by a fellow group member as an insurmountable hurdle: nursing in public. She had never done it. And since she is a very dear friend of mine, I decided to admit the same. Hitting the "Enter" key to post my comment was a difficult decision, but one I'm glad I made.

Why do I feel shame about having never nursed in public? I immediately think of myself as a hypocrite. That word is thrown around so often. In the heat of the moment, I think: How am I any different from the meat eater who would never kill an animal? Or the self-professed devout Christian who never goes to Church? Or the homophobe who swears to "love thy neighbour"? I am the lactivist who has never practiced what I view as one of main tenets of lactivism: nursing one's child anywhere, anytime.

I feel like I have a split personality when it comes to nursing in public. I have breastfed my child outside of my own home. I have nursed him in a parking lot in my car, in a change-room-doubling-as-a-nursing-room at a Wal-Mart, and in the private residences of family and friends. I have simply never mustered the courage to breastfeed my child while out and about. However, I will fight for any woman's right to nurse their child in public, and I will also fight for any child's right to breastfeed when they are hungry, no matter where they might be. I also advocate for the refusal to use a nursing cover, and I support women who would prefer to use one. I agree completely with PhD in Parenting, who writes "I don’t think it is the place of anyone other than the breastfeeding mother to decide whether or how much to cover."

Thus, while I now define my personal lactivism as supporting the decisions of breastfeeding moms everywhere, I did find it difficult to confess my nursing-in-public virginity. And for good reason. There's been a bit of a stir in the online breastfeeding community this past week with two controversial posts from Just West of Crunchy, one which warns what breastfeeding advocates should stop saying, and one which details what they should say. The truth is, breastfeeding advocates can sometimes be each other's worst enemies. To make such an admission as mine in a pro-breastfeeding community is not an easy task, especially for fear that one may be taken to task by those holier-than-thous that seem to lie in wait to pounce at the scent of a potential breastfeeding failure.

I am very thankful that the same virtual space where I came face-to-face with my perceived shame was the same place where I found acceptance and resolution. The voice behind Baby Friendly NL's Facebook page did not chastise us, berate us, or even openly challenge us. She simply said, "Ladies, there's no need to feel ashamed of not breastfeeding in public! You do what YOU are comfortable with." As a breastfeeding advocate who's actively working to become an integral part of both the virtual and local breastfeeding communities, nothing makes my split lactivist personality happier than knowing that there is a place where I can go and own up to my own breastfeeding challenges and pitfalls. In moments like these, what we truly need is support, not information. There is a difference. 

To see the difference in action, feel free to drop by Baby Friendly NL's Facebook page or Twitter page! We'll be glad you came.

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