Last year, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month, HuffPost Parents worked with Kim Simon, Suzanne Barston and Jamie Grumet to launch the I Support You campaign -- a movement that celebrates all moms and their feeding choices. This summer, we asked them to reflect on how their efforts have evolved over the past twelve months. Here, in their own words, are the criticisms they've met, the strides they've made -- and their hopes for the future.
I Support You, One Year Later
by Kim Simon, Suzanne Barston and Jamie Grumet
Some moms cry when they’re in the shower. It is the only quiet time they have all day.
Some moms cry in the car. It’s easier to hide your tears from the kids when they are staring out the window, and they can’t see your face.
Some moms feel overwhelmed. Some moms are exhausted from the act of loving their children with every ounce of energy that they have, yet they still lie awake at night and berate themselves for not doing enough. Some moms feel that they owe us an explanation for breastfeeding past one year, or for formula-feeding from birth. Some moms feel ostracized from the community that they had been counting on to lift them up after their baby arrived. Some moms are hurting, and lonely, and worried that they’re doing it wrong.
Not all moms, but some.
When we joined forces to launch I Support You last August, we hoped to reach some moms. Not all moms, but some. The three of us have shared our struggles with infant feeding on a public stage, each in our own ways. We did so because we wanted moms to see their own stories, their own courage, reflected in the eyes of someone else. We knew what it felt like to get lost in the fog of the "fourth trimester." We knew that there was a lack of objective, supportive information about infant feeding on both ends of the spectrum, but perhaps more importantly, we knew that regardless of what moms chose, they felt lonely. Not all moms, but some. The three of us, all mothers who had struggled with breastfeeding or formula-feeding in some way, were tired of watching women shame and hurt each other. We were tired of watching the sacred ways that we fed our children be used as kindling to fuel some bizarre parenting competition.
#ISupportYou started as a movement to try and help those who wanted to be airlifted out of this muck. Not all moms, but some. It was a scrappy little rescue mission, like those dogs on "Paw Patrol." But maybe we were barking up the wrong tree. When we began, we thought that a message of support would be simple. Who disagrees with support?
Not all moms, but some.
In the last year, we have heard from hundreds of parents who have shared their journeys with us. They have shared their desires to be seen as more than how they choose to feed. But we’ve also heard from moms who were angry that we were shining the spotlight on the "other side." That I Support You was giving too much attention to breastfeeding. Too much attention to formula-feeding. Too much attention to moms who didn’t deserve it. They claimed we were pandering, violating the WHO Code, working for formula companies, selling out, and perpetuating the bottle-breast divide by hurling blame at those concerned more about public health than individual well-being.
Not all moms, but some.
We’ve talked a lot this year about how too many formula-feeding moms are made to feel inferior. We’ve talked about nursing in public, and how too many breastfeeding moms feel like they have to defend themselves. We’ve talked about supporting the community around us, by reaching out to teen parenting programs, raising money to provide breast pumps for those in need, and donating breastfeeding and formula-feeding supplies and coupons to moms who are struggling to make ends meet. We’ve talked about adoptive parents and gay fathers and those who have felt like they weren’t welcome at the table when it came time to discuss how we feed our babies. Not all of these talks are public, although many have been. The three of us have spent many late nights talking and texting and wondering if our words were finding you. You, in the shower, crying because your milk finally came in, and you were so relieved. You, in the car, wondering how you were going to afford formula after you had tried so desperately to breastfeed. You, sitting in your social worker’s office, tearfully asking her if she knew of someone who could teach you how to induce lactation when the baby you were hoping to adopt finally arrived. I Support You has always been about you.
But what took up far too many of our private conversations were concerns over what our own communities would think. The shame and blame still found us, even as we joined together to fight it. We agonized over the criticism, gave careful consideration to whether this move would marginalize one group or that move might insult another. Instead of spending our time focusing on those who needed support, we worried about “stealing the thunder” of World Breastfeeding Week (ultimately deciding to move our own campaign week to later in the year). We tread carefully. We try to balance the need to let moms feel heard with the need to rally behind the most vulnerable in each of our communities.
And now, a year later, moms are still in pain. Not all moms, but some. And those moms deserve to know that we see them. That their journeys are more important than our fear that we will be ostracized from our respective communities. We realize that we’ve been putting out fires in the big branches, the ones that can stand up for themselves, the ones who often block out the sun from the smaller plants struggling to thrive. Those trees have plenty of firefighters concerned over their welfare. We’re here to throw some flame retardant on the forgotten foliage. I Support You is about those moms who are crying in the shower. The moms who want to be seen for more than how they feed their baby, for more than their lack of a nursing cover, for more than the bottle that they hold. We need to stop missing the forest for the trees.
So this year, we are asking you to look beyond how you feed, and instead talk about how you feel. To look past the bottle or the breast, and say to each other “Yes, and....” I Support You, and I will help you learn to breastfeed. I Support You, and I will wash your bottles when I come to visit you. I Support You, and I will try to ask you how you’re feeling instead of just talking about diapers and sleep deprivation. I Support You, and I realize that it’s none of my business how or when you feed your baby.
This is how we will move the conversation beyond breast vs. bottle: we will fight to make sure that everyone is able to use a breast or a bottle, and not punished or shamed for their choice. We will move beyond this ridiculous tension between the breastfeeding and formula-feeding camps by focusing our energies on those who want to move beyond it.
This year, we challenge you to look for the moms who need you. Look for the ones who are struggling. Tell the truth about how hard this journey can be. Remind yourself that how your neighbor feeds her baby is none of your business. Instead, make it your business to figure out how to help. Rather than focusing on our differences, we need to focus on why our struggles are the same. That is where we, as women, are falling short. It isn’t wrong to be proud of your choices, or lament about the things that you feel aren’t working out the way you wanted to, or had planned. It is wrong to allow mothers to feel shame brought on by societal pressure, or their own unattainable standards -- and to stand by, inactive, when the response of the community of mothers around us is apathetic at best. We could be doing so much better, and we will, because the feeling of hope throughout this campaign has been overwhelming, not from all mothers, but from many.
We are more than how we feed. We are vulnerable, and trying our best, and broken, and healing, and hoping to be heard. We need each other. We need you. We are counting on you, to reach out your hand and pull us through.
It doesn’t have to be all moms. Just some. Just enough.
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This article is part of HuffPost Parents' World Breastfeeding Week series. Read more here.