For most of my life, I haven't been known to be quiet about my thoughts or feelings. I've always been pretty fiery and passionate about things that matter to me, and I can quickly formulate a spitfire response to just about anything I have an opinion on. For those that have known me more than a decade, they are nodding their heads in agreement. For those that have come into my life more recently, they might be surprised to learn this about me, because becoming a mother and a doula has changed this part of me, dramatically.
I'm still as passionate as ever. I always have a fire burning in my belly about the things I care deeply about, and I will often write pages and pages of unpublished literature on the things that feel pressing or important to me.
I've learned through the challenges and choices I've faced as a parent, that what I have to say isn't always important or relevant to everyone else, and that's okay.
Before my oldest son was born I had all kinds of ideas about what I'd look like as a parent, and one of the most important things to me as a new mother was to breastfeed my baby. I didn't have many reasons to believe I wouldn't be able to, nor did I have any real awareness of the obstacles that might present themselves.
Well, the obstacles - they presented themselves, fiercely. Just about everything that could go wrong went wrong, and I cried many tears over the pain and struggle of feeding my baby. I spent the first few months balancing painful, toe-curling breastfeeding sessions with expressed bottles of milk and some formula supplementing. I'll never forget bottle-feeding breastmilk to my baby in the corner of Starbucks, trying to integrate myself back into society as a new mom, and feeling like I'd failed to do the one thing that matter most to me; I was embarrassed and ashamed. I cringed at the thought that moms everywhere were judging me, and that nobody would know my struggle; nobody would know how hard I'd fought and the reasons why I was just about ready to give up on it. More experienced moms would ask me how breastfeeding was going, and I could only assume they'd have nothing but insensitive remarks about 'breast being best'. I couldn't even handle the thought of hearing or reading those words.
What I did need to hear was that I was enough, and that no matter the choices I made for myself and my baby, that I'd be unconditionally supported without judgement.
I didn't hear those words, though they may have been spoken. What was loudest above the noise were things I heard and read, like, "breast is best", and "don't worry, it'll get easier". But it didn't get easier, and meanwhile, no one was actually walking in my shoes, and I wasn't comfortable in them.
Recently a colleague shared her perspective on this subject; one I could have used 7 years ago when I was drenched in guilt on my breastfeeding journey:
"Our legs are made for walking and yet we invented cars. They both get us places but in different ways. Each with their own conveniences/inconveniences, pros/cons, safety/dangers. There is a fetishizing of 'natural' that runs counter to most of the ways we live our modern lives. Breast milk and formula are different ways to feed babies. I choose to avoid words like better or superior because they aren't necessary, they add judgment that isn't needed."
This idea that there is no best, there is only you and your unique journey and experience, is somewhat radical, but so incredibly essential. Non-judgmental support is an empowering and unique gift I can offer women; it's one that is scarcely offered in a sea of opinions and scrutiny we are drenched in, daily. This doesn't mean avoiding the uncomfortable and sensitive subjects, it means becoming a safe space for truth to be shared. It means listening and hearing what is both spoken and unspoken with acknowledgement and validation: no strings attached.
- Andrea Postal