the courage of those who did not breastfeed

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.

did not breastfeed

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.





8 Replies to “the courage of those who did not breastfeed”

  1. That is true! I so regret I didn’t manage to breastfeed my twins. Now with my third child I see I could have, if I had known a little more. And I so much enjoy breastfeeding my little one!!!!

  2. I agree completely. My single biggest regret is exclusively pumping for only 6 months with my first. Once I screwed up my baby’s latch thanks to so much bad advice, and my own fears that my baby wasn’t getting enough, pumping was my only option. Now that I am still breastfeeding my 16 mo toddler, I realize how much I missed out on the first time around. I know it could be worse, though. If I had boys, they would probably have been circumcised – since I didn’t know better. I am thankful for pages like yours. I think we could be friends if you lived close by!

  3. Wow Jennifer, you write so powerfully! Thank you. I’m a mother who managed 4 months of painful breastfeeding because I didn’t know my baby was not latched on properly. When she got her first teeth and started biting me I could take no more. She then proceeded to spew each bottle dramatically because she was sensitive to the formula.

    I’ve been thinking about holding free online workshops to help mothers overcome their powerful negative feelings brought on by their inability to breastfeed. I also plan to do others on regret concerning circumcision and cry-it-out. When we’re bogged down in our own regret, guilt, shame or whatever other emotion, we cannot be free to be the loving and calm person we want to be.

    Your post has spurred me on to organising them. I’ll hold them live but I’ll do a few for the different timezones. If anyone wants to be in the loop and find out details then you can sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be able to let you know then.

  4. I am not to sure how I feel about this post. As a mother of a one year old I was informed and had great support to breast feed, however, it just did not work. There are medical issues that prevented me from breast feeding (I know the whole medical issues that inhibit breast feeding are very controversial). However, this post just seemed like judgy like those that did not breast feed have things that others can learn almost like we made mistakes that others should not have to make.
    Really all mothers need support…there is a movement called I support you…and its about supporting people no matter what choice they make. Really at the end of the day we are all just trying to feed our babies, have them be happy little people and its not easy and with judgement its even harder.

    • Hi Allison,

      Medical issues surrounding breastfeeding are not controversial. What is, in fact happening, is that new mothers are booby trapped. This seems like a light, and silly term, but it is very real. We are told that medical issues prevent us from breastfeeding, but really, it is lack of knowledge on the part of the caregiver. There are of course cases where real medical issues prevent breastfeeding, but it is an extremely small percentage. The mothers that I have met who are genuinely prevented from breastfeeding tend to feel comfortable with this, because they know there was nothing more they could do.

      It is the mothers who I describe in this piece that we advocate for. The brand new moms who were sabotaged (this is nearly every mother who believed she was unable to breastfeed). This is never the mother’s fault, but a system and society that wants to see the fail.

      It is the babies of these mothers who we advocate for, too. All babies have a basic right to breastmilk. If proper information about breastmilk surrounded us, every. single. mother. would choose it. Formula would be use as it was intended, as a prescription for the tiny percentage of women who are medically unable to breastfeed.

      I know the movement of which you speak, and I believe it too sabotages mothers and babies. As I have said before, we can support mothers without supporting formula.

      To be clear, there are loads of parents on this blog who use and have used formula. We support every one of them. Out of all of them, not one has ever asked us to stop sharing information. Quite the opposite. They ask us to keep speaking up– so that the next family has more information and support than they did.

      This is a beautiful thing, because there is no judgment, no name calling, no blame on mothers. Instead, we all work together to make things better for mothers, for families, and for babies. This is all any parent really wants.

      • In the end babies need to be fed and loved by their families. This can and does happen a number of ways

  5. this is so well written and could also apply for the c-section mom about natural (at least vaginal) birth …