Or at least we can help out!
The other night I called my dear, sweet friend to wish her a very happy birthday and shoot the breeze for a few. Towards the end of the conversation I mentioned I was going to school to become a certified lactation consultant, and without missing too much of a beat she started saying that it is almost impossible to instruct someone on breastfeeding if I have never done it myself. My friend is a mother of two, whom she always proudly boasts of having breastfed, which of course, is awesome. But she said something along the lines of me "trying to instruct and educate someone on breastfeeding it is like trying to teach someone art with an instructor who has never made one piece."
I get it. I've heard it before, and I know I'll hear it again, and I don't think it's unreasonable for someone to ask how I plan to successfully encourage mothers to breastfeed having never done it myself. I actually think it's a pretty fair criticism, and I'm glad it comes up because it gives me the opportunity to explain why it is that my participation is possible, and even necessary.
I have always held the notion that there are definite areas one needs understanding through lived experience in order to be most effective. For example, when I was in school I knew a 21-22 year old psychology major who was on her way to becoming a marriage counselor. Not only had she never been married and had only the life lessons any 22 year old would have, but I don't believe she had ever been in a relationship for more than just a few weeks. When asked how she felt she could relate to clients who, for one, would more than likely be older, and whose relationships were troubled from adultery, commitment issues, family and other pressures to stay or to go, assets, children, conflicting moral and religious views, and a slew of other categories from a lengthy list of issues that would draw these unions to a counselor, she explained experience was not necessary in order to help and understand. What do you think?
Is breastfeeding any different?
Of course there are things I don't understand about breastfeeding, but then there are things I do, and believe these reasons require participation. I do understand that breastfeeding as we know it is a tradition that dates back to the beginning of time, but because of human intervention, including synthetic infant formula, is a reason many are not using breast milk to nurture their children. I do understand the sordid history because of the legacy of slavery where slavers bought and sold my sisters to provide their milk to other children, and from this many have theorized is the reason we are not breastfeeding our children. I understand there are disparities in society where our infants are disproportionately affected with childhood diseases, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), asthma, and other illnesses, and breastfeeding is able to help thwart these. I understand there has been a lack of trust among Blacks and healthcare workers and in order to help counter this it is beneficial to have someone that is culturally compassionate. I understand the benefits of breastfeeding can last a lifetime for mother and baby, which inevitably benefits the entire community. And I also understand that showing someone how to breastfeed and encouraging this tradition in order to help end these disparities does not necessitate me having a baby and putting it to my breast.
I understand no amount of book reading, people watching, question asking, assignment writing, note-taking, video watching, group discussion, or even showing someone how to breastfeed takes the place of an actual instance where a baby latches onto its mother's breast -- for survival, for comfort, for bonding. I don't know what it's like to have engorged breasts and sore nipples, or to have to lift my blouse and feed another human being. It would be foolish to even pretend I knew what that is like.
What I can do is sympathize and empathize, and continue to understand that there is a need for more awareness surrounding the positive impact mother's milk has on our group. There is also a need to stray from those traditional divisive beliefs that are just too pervasive and hinder our understanding that creating a healthy community and working towards positive change can start with us -- sometimes in places it may seem we do not belong. Understanding this, it is especially important for those 'non-traditional' people like myself to become equipped with any knowledge and understanding available to practice this form of 'breast activism', and spread its message far and wide.