It’s the end of world breastfeeding week. I’ve had some discussions this week that have been frustrating to say the least. On social media I’ve been accused of “forcing the issue” and “alienating women” when expressing a desire to have breastfeeding taught in schools. I’ve been asked where “world formula feeding week” is. I trawled through a facebook thread about a woman being asked to cover up in a museum, and was so upset by some of the remarks that I couldn’t even bring myself to comment.
This is what happens every year on World Breastfeeding Week. The media and formula industry jump at the chance to start wars between vulnerable women. They set us against each other and convince both sides that they are out to get one another.
I would write a blog about how my celebration of breastfeeding is not a targeted attack on the reader who chose to bottle feed her baby. How my calls for better support for women during the postpartum phase, are not sneers at the effort some women put into feeding but ultimately it just didn’t work out. I could write about how I have sat with women and held their hand as they fed their baby their first bottle of formula. How I admire ALL WOMEN and support them whatever. But I’ve said all that. I’ve said it again and again.
This year the focus was on “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together”. I think with all the squabbling that got lost somewhere. It’s about coming together. So I want to tell a story about breastfeeding and collaboration.
In 2009 I was living at my parents house with my seven month-old baby. My partner was seventy miles away finishing the final year of his undergraduate degree and I only saw him at weekends. I was lonely, exhausted, isolated, had no friends with babies and had moved back to my hometown after nearly a decade away. I didn’t sleep and I barely had the energy or confidence to go out and meet people.
Facebook had just started to be ‘a thing’ and scrolling through it, I stumbled across a group called “Hey Facebook Breastfeeding Is Not Obscene”. The title prompted me to have a look. Turns out Facebook had been removing people’s breastfeeding photographs for “obscenity” In 2009!!!
Anyway as a breastfeeding mum I became quite passionate about this issue. Here was a group with thousands of members standing up for women. It was heartening. This was back in the day where facebook groups had a discussions forum within them. Somewhere in the archives will be lengthy debates about issues from nappies to abortion, from baby food to circumcision. I came across breastfeeding counsellors, women who called themselves “doulas”, midwives, and women and men from different walks of life. This protest group became more than a campaign. It was a place to connect with others around the world. It was a sanctuary, a forum and a support group. It was my first village.
The group made a difference too. I’m not saying the removal of breastfeeding photos doesn’t still happen. I’m almost certain it does, but things have changed a great deal. They changed because we didn’t back down. We came together and challenged the discrimination. I am proud to be part of that.
I met some amazing women in that group. Many of them I am still in touch with now. I have been lucky enough to meet two or three of them in the flesh! There are now thousands of support groups on facebook for parents and they are probably much more sophisticated and helpful than ever. But being in that group gave me confidence with breastfeeding, it gave me confidence in the decisions I made and ultimately it led me to becoming a doula.
So I’m seeing in the last day of World Breastfeeding Week by raising a glass to my virtual village. Saying thank you to all of you in cyberspace who had my back in those early days. Thanks for being there and getting your boobs out for the babies. You changed my life. No really, you did.