Well, They should!
If you think this, or more importantly if you’ve said this, my post is addressed to you. I suppose I ought to warn you that I’m more than a little peeved with what you are doing because no matter your thought process, no matter what your intentions are, when you say this you make my job as an advocate harder! You create an environment where good people need to spend time thinking and writing about words and their power in reaction to words you used (the words of someone who is supposedly on their side). You create situations where other women write that these words are harmful and that they make us all look bad. You force me to spend extra time focused on my choice of words so I can, hopefully, avert a misunderstanding with a mother on the message board community where I moderate. You contribute to an environment where women feel attacked by ME when I share accurate breastfeeding information with them in an attempt to support them.
I do not thank you for that.
When you take aim and fire off “Well, they should feel guilty for not breastfeeding!” you might think you’re simply voicing your opinion about those “lazy, selfish moms that can’t be bothered to put their wants aside to meet their child’s needs.” You know, the ones you feel completely comfortable musing about out loud in public message board forums because you wonder “Why did they even bother to have kids if they can’t be bothered to put in the energy to actually care for them?” Yes, those mothers whom I have to assume, based on your words, you feel superior to. Unfortunately that’s not how I see things.
Messages from the fringe
Saying “Well, They should feel guilty for not breastfeeding!” on a blog like PhD in Parenting, on the KellyMom Facebook fan page or somewhere else where breastfeeding advocacy is taking place forces Annie, Kelly and others like them to divert attention from advocacy to damage control. They have to address conversations that they didn’t start and that negatively impact their goals. It’s either that or run the risk, a very real one based on some of the comments left on the KellyMom Facebook fan page, that people will believe that they endorse the sentiments of the commenter. Silence is assumed to be equivalent to assent. Ignoring these comments carries consequences.
Very few breastfeeding advocates want to stake out the ground on the outer fringes of breastfeeding advocacy which is exactly where you stand when you say “Well, they should feel guilty…”. You force advocates with a moderated voice, who are seriously searching for the words that best connect with the maximum number of women, to divert their time and energy to dealing with words that will distance and hurt the very people they are working to connect with and help.
Attempts to shame aren’t helpful
Shaming someone is not a useful tool for lasting change. Rather than swaying the person to your side you make them feel attacked and defensive. They are hardly likely to be open to other things you have to say when you are busy judging them as lacking and deserving of guilt. Instead they raise their mental draw bridge and get ready for a siege by those awful, pushy, rude, nasty breastfeeding monsters. So, you have just managed a double play. You’ve alienated someone whom you might have helped as well as reinforcing a fabulous (not) stereotype of breastfeeding supporters. ¡Go Team!
When you open your mouth and let loose these words meant for some demonized idea of a mother who decided she’d rather put her selfish wants first and to heck with the needs and best interest of her child you don’t hit the target. That woman, if she exists, could give a rat’s ass less about what some stranger on the internet thinks about her and her decisions. However, you do end up hitting a lot of other women who are more vulnerable to your message. I meet up with them within the safe space of my breastfeeding support community.
They are -
- Women who wanted desperately to breastfeed, who understand that formula is suboptimal and that their children are being exposed to all the risks associated with formula feeding.
- Women who are deeply mourning the loss of their breastfeeding relationship and whose undeserved feelings of guilt are magnified by your words.
- Women who were not supported when their child was born, who had multiple interventions that eventually impacted their breastfeeding relationship, and who were unable to access the support they needed to work their way through those problems.
- Women who have to return to work and cannot find a way to balance working and pumping and are forced to combination feed or switch to formula completely (don’t even begin to think about taking your privilege out for show-and-tell because I will not entertain ANY discussion that seeks to cast doubt on what is a fact for many women).
- Women who not only weren’t supported but had experts and close family and friends actively undermining their breastfeeding relationships.
- Women who are adoptive mothers who love their child with all their heart but cannot breastfeed them.
- Women who are struggling with serious health issues or the aftermath of those health issues and the impact that it has on their ability to breastfeed.
- Women who are sexual abuse survivors and who are triggered by the act of breastfeeding.
- Women who didn’t understand until they were in the thick of breastfeeding troubles that breastfeeding being natural didn’t mean it would come easy.
- Women who, if one more thing goes wrong, will quit breastfeeding.
But I don’t mean those women!
Your intent is irrelevant with regard to this statement. Your actions are hurtful. You are hearing this from all corners of the breastfeeding advocacy community if you are paying even the slightest bit of attention. Your words are hurting people and you need to acknowledge that and own your responsibility for the damage your words are causing. Your words are not a surgical airstrike that hits only the specific target you are aiming at. They are the verbal equivalent of buckshot and they hit much more than your intended target. In addition, Your voice is disproportionately loud. Just a whisper of “You should feel guilty…” overshadows and undoes the good of the caring and concerned voices of the rest of us. Our words are not remembered nearly as clearly as the pain of yours. “Well, they should feel guilty about not breastfeeding!” is the equivalent of ‘Two steps back.’ and there are many of us who do not wish to take those step with you or because of you.
Know the goals of the space in which you are spending time. Kelly at KellyMom.com has stated clearly and repeatedly that she is actively searching for ways to bring breastfeeding support to as many mothers as she can by meeting them where they are at and helping them with the goals they have defined for themselves. Her blog, Facebook fan page and forum are not the places to spit out a version of “Well, they should feel guilty for not breastfeeding!” because Kelly doesn’t feel this way. (Yes, Kelly knows I wrote that) You can reapply this advice to other blogs, internet communities and real life breastfeeding support groups.
Take a few moments to ponder some of the lessons you’ve learned about polite behavior. A lot of the damage done by the term “Well, They should feel guilty for not breastfeeding.” arises from it’s use in public areas (public internet forums, blogs, breastfeeding support groups and the like). If you really feel the need to say something like this take it to e-mail or private message or call up a friend and say it privately. The harm you do is immediate and personal for the person hearing your judgment of them in a breastfeeding support group. On message boards people encounter these conversations day and years after they occur. This is often a boon when the information is helpful but that ability to benefit someone is balanced by an equal opportunity to harm when the words are “Well, They should feel guilty..”.
Do. Not. Ever. say these words to someone who is a stranger to you. Talking drive-by smack to another woman who you don’t know and don’t have any type of relationship speaks VOLUMES. Those volumes? They are all about YOU and what they are saying isn’t pretty.
Sorta Crunchy – An Open Letter to My Fellow Breastfeeding Advocates
Accustomed to Chaos – Why We Should Be Mindful Of Our Language
PhD in Parenting – It’s not about picking on moms, it’s about breaking down societal barriers
By the way…
Moms who are feeling guilt about not meeting your breastfeeding goals – I’m going to encourage you release that monkey back into the wild. Embrace the fact that you did the best it was possible for you to do and know that being a mother is about so many more things than breastmilk. This one decision amongst thousands does not define you. Kelly has a post up at the KellyMom blog with lots of great links talking about guilt and Melissa Bartick wrote an interesting and important piece about breastfeeding that was published at HuffPo that will most likely speak to your heart.
ETA 4.27.10: two more examples of mothers I encounter as an advocate.