’My reluctant soapbox’

Saturday July 27, 2013

I do not want to be an activist. I do not want to fight. I do not want to cause a controversy.

I just want to feed my child.

The first week in August is national breastfeeding week. One week out of the year dedicated to educating folks about and normalizing breastfeeding. Typically, my husband and I would be running around putting the final touches on our annual "Nursing is Normal" show and video.

Not this year.

Through a series of lost gallery spaces and missed deadlines the project got put on hold. Honestly, I am relieved. While I am passionate about how healthy and normal breastfeeding is, I have grown weary from the fight.

I never wanted to be an activist.

I don’t remember making the decision to breastfeed. To me, it seemed like the obvious choice. I believed that formula feeding was for moms who couldn’t produce adequate milk. I didn’t make my choice to make a statement. I made the choice because I wanted what was best for my child. Just like any other mother.

I never wanted to fight.

Like most first time nursing mothers I struggled in those early weeks. It sometimes hurt, my nipples cracked and I battled thrush. Eventually, it got better. I became a pro. I could leave the house. Or, so I thought. I found that there are people who are very, very against seeing mothers feeding their child. So against it that they will say rude comments to you, ask you to leave, or accuse you of terrible things. They will shame you into sitting in a filthy restroom, afraid to touch anything. I learned that I couldn’t leave the house without a fight.

I never wanted to cause a controversy.

I just wanted people to understand that how I chose to feed my daughter was normal. My husband and I were asked to take part in the Nursing is Normal project; Take portraits of mothers and their children breastfeeding. The purpose of this project was to help the general population see that what these women are doing is normal. That it can be beautiful, even. These photos would help to normalize something that is so incredible basic and simple. I was also asked to write a piece for this very newspaper. I wrote about the normalization of breastfeeding, changing our collective thoughts to make it socially accepted. Before I could prepare myself the controversy began.

I was called an exobitionist.

I was told that I was shameful. That I was exploiting something that should be private. That I was being selfish and not thinking about my daughter and how she may feel when she was old enough to understand. I was confused. I was hurt. This had never been about me. I would rather not be a role model. I would rather not be an activist. This was, and always will be, bigger than me. It is about my daughter and all the other babies. This is about the moms who are trying so damn hard to do the best they can for their children. This is about fighting back against years of misleading information from formula companies. This is about allowing women to take back their confidence in themselves, in their bodies. This is about the health of mothers and children. This is about breaking down the belief that breastfeeding is less-than or sexual or gross. This is about sharing the truth.

I became exhausted.

I have been trying to educate folks for nearly three years. I have helped numerous women have successful nursing relationships with their children. I have supported struggling mothers and mothers who could not breastfeed. I have posed for portraits and taken photos. I have given presentations and had intimate conversations. I have disagreed and I have empathized. I have signed petitions and I have written articles. It has been exhausting. But, every time I see the comfort nursing brings to my child, it makes it all worth it. When I see a new mom confidently soothe her crying baby by offering her breast, it makes it all worth it. When I see a happy, healthy baby, it is all worth it.

I have done my best.

There is still a long way to go before our current society accepts breastfeeding as normal. It is a much bigger job than this reluctant activist can take on but I have faith that there are enough women like me. Together we will ensure that no new mom, trying to feed her baby gets called names or banished to a bathroom. Instead, she will get the love and support she deserves, regardless of how she chooses to feed her child.

All I wanted to do was feed my child.

Michelle Stephens writes from her tiny house that she shares with the loves of her life. Her only reference for time is the seasons and the growth of her child. She wanders with a purpose and day dreams frequently. Her writing can be found on her parent-oriented blog: www.JuiceboxConfession.com, her personal musings: www.MichelleElizabeth.wordpress.com, and on her writer’s collective: www.LiteraryTraces.com. Her photos can also be seen on www.LuminousTraces.wordpress.com every Thursday.


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