When I talk with a mother who did not breastfeed, she does not rejoice. She does not tell me to mind my business and that I should keep my opinions to myself.
When I really listen, she tells me that she is heartbroken. Her eyes fill with tears as she shares the efforts she made to breastfeed. She asks me what more she could have done, what she could have done differently.
She speaks of the dark nights spent alone; everyone else in the world sleeping. She and her baby were awake she says, milk not flowing, nipples; red, sore, cracked, bleeding. She recounts the hours spent with a lactation consultant and desperately seeking answers.
They were never found of course, because the answers are buried. They are hidden under greed, power, and control.
I speak with the mother who did not know; what nutrients are in breastmilk, the size of a baby’s stomach, how quickly mama’s milk digests. She shares her anger, her confusion, her disgust, because now she knows. She is bewildered. Did money and corruption really keep her from her baby? On purpose?
She blames herself. We mothers always do. We should have known, we should have learned, how could we have fallen for it?
I speak with the mother whose family discouraged her, the ones who told her that breasts are gross and that using them for nourishing a baby is sexual. Over and over again they told her.
She understands; that her family did not know, that they said what they thought was right. Deep down though, she says, I could have breastfed if they had told me differently.
All of these mothers have something in common. It is bigger than the lies they were told, and more powerful than deceit. It is their desire for other families to receive more than they did- more support, more encouragement, more information.
“Please keep speaking up” they say. “It didn’t work for me, but if I had known more it could have been different.”
These mothers are facing truths that are painful, infuriating, and gross. They step outside of themselves so that others have a chance.
These are good women, loving mothers. Mothers who have been intentionally misled, and brought so deep down a contrived cultural belief, that there was nothing else to see. They have a right to hold space where they can speak honestly without being condemned.
It may be those who did not breastfeed who hold the key to affecting real change.
Each time a mother shares her truth, we should thank her and tell her that we appreciate her courage. We can tell her that we are working hard to make sure that the next family has more support. The gratitude in her eyes will confirm that we are creating change. Most importantly, when we really listen to the mother standing before us, we will understand that she deserves our respect, compassion, and encouragement, because it is she who is changing the world.