Taking Back the Village

Last year, I wrote a post about being kicked out of a so-called breastfeeding support group on Facebook for asking for advice on gently weaning my 13-month-old daughter. It was a sad experience – one that really depressed me about the state of the breastfeeding wars, and about how even our attempts to re-create the village of maternal support can go horribly wrong.

Well, fast-forward almost a year (my baby girl is turning TWO next month!). I discovered this weird spam-esque inbox on my personal facebook account. (If you’re curious, go to your Facebook inbox and look for a tab called “Other”. That’s where messages from people who are not your FB friends end up.) It was a year-old message from a stranger, all about the Great Getting My Ass Kicked Out of a Breastfeeding Group on Facebook. And this message made me SO happy, I just had to share it. This total stranger came and found me on the internet to tell me she supported me and had my back and is part of my village. Oh my God, yes. THIS IS MOTHERHOOD. THIS IS SISTERHOOD. You have to read it.

I won’t post the whole thing…and where you see (italics in parentheses), that’s me commenting. But here is the bulk of it:

“Hi Jessica! You don’t know me, and I hope this isn’t weird- I just had to send you a message. I belonged to this breastfeeding support group on Facebook…(here she shares some frustrations with breastfeeding, and says she recently weaned her son, who was about the same age as my daughter). I wanted to ask questions, to ask for guidance on the Facebook support site, but I hesitated…I was worried that if I asked for guidance, people would tell me it was just a strike, that I needed to take fenugreek, drink tea, nurse and pump every spare moment because ‘breast is best’…so I kept silent and worked through it on my own. I saw that your blog post had been posted to the group by someone else… When I read it, not only could I relate to it completely, but my heart skipped a beat at one point when I read what others had said to you when you asked for help- I remembered reading those comments on the Facebook group’s site. I distinctly remember reading, ‘I never forced mine to wean, that’s crazy to me, mine both self-weaned at 28 months’ or something to that effect…and I remember my heart aching when I read that, because it came across as so self-righteous and judgmental. I have loved being a member of a support group like this…it felt good to be a part of that ‘village’ of women who were going through the same experiences. I had noticed some pushiness and judgment here and there, but usually tried to brush it off because the positive comments typically seemed to outweigh the bad. When I read your blog and realized I was part of the group that responded to you that way, I decided I had to leave the group….I wish I had the guts to say to people, ‘You may not agree with me or do it the way I’m doing it, but please respect me. This journey is emotional and these decisions are difficult, but respect me enough to support me, rather than tell me I’m doing it wrong.’ I’m not even sure if you’ll get this message…but please know that there may be vocal ‘supporters’ in our village who break you down, but for every critic there is a silent supporter, reading your blog, browsing through comments, silently cheering you on and supporting your decisions. You don’t even know who I am and yet I am a part of your village, and I have your back. Thank you for inspiring others and for being the amazing mother that I know you are!”

I mean, REALLY. Talk about having your faith in humanity restored. I don’t know this woman…but she reached out to me, shared painful details of her own story (which I redacted from the above), and spent time just reminding me that there are a lot of good people out there. THANK YOU, LADY WHOM I SHALL KEEP ANONYMOUS BECAUSE THAT SEEMS LIKE THE RIGHT THING TO DO! YOU. ARE. AWESOME.

All of this was a real wake-up call to me. What am I doing over here in my corner of the interweb, bitching and moaning about the Mommy Wars? Am I helping to make anything better? Can I do more? I don’t flipping know. It’s the end of a long work week and I have to go pick up my kids. So my best idea right now is, simply, this: If bullies and meanies take over our villages, it’s our fault for staying silent. When I got booted from that group, the only thing that really, truly bothered me was that I didn’t see a single mom on that group coming to my defense. Turns out, one did, and it was just technology’s fault (THANKS A LOT, ZUCKERBERG) that I didn’t know it.

It only FEELS like all moms are judgy and bitchy and horrible because THOSE PEOPLE ARE LOUD.  If we want to smash the Mommy Wars to smithereens, it’s time to speak up and show ourselves who the majority REALLY is: exhausted, normal, non-judgmental, desperate-for-a-village-that-won’t-turn-on-them women.

In the interest of speaking up, I’ve written a little pledge, and I’m asking you to take it with me. I’m calling it the “It’s MY Village” Pledge. And it goes a little something like this:

Women have always needed villages – virtual or real – to survive motherhood. These villages, and these fellow mothers, aren’t *optional*. They are a precious natural resource. So, in my villages, real and virtual, I pledge:

– to loudly give kindness, empathy, and humor

– to be helpful, but never assume I know everything

– to ask for help

– to say it out loud when I feel judged or shamed

– to never let bullying slide, just because I’m scared to speak up, and to say something when I see someone else being shamed or judged – never by adding meanness or judgment, but by swiftly and lovingly having other mothers’ backs.

 

Wanna take this pledge with me? Say “I’M IN!” in the comments. Share it with friends. Post it on Facebook.  Next time I see something, I’m gonna say something. That goes for the good somethings and the bad somethings. Because there really aren’t that many mean girls out there, and it’s time for the majority to be LOUD. (In a nice way. But loud.)

And, by the way…you? YOU ARE AWESOME.

 

xo

Jessica.

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17 thoughts on “Taking Back the Village

  1. Ugh. I got accused of “perpetuating the mommy wars” once in a BF group, because I lamented that one of my friend’s doctor told her that her milk wasn’t nutritious enough. Suddenly, all these women were telling me that I was an awful friend, I’m judgmental, that I contribute to mommy wars, etc. I was stunned. I was more or less trying to discuss misinformed old school doctors, & the next minute I’m a rotten person. Ugh, watch what you say in a group of hormonal women where the intent behind the text cannot always be discerned!

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  2. I love this!! I’m so in. We need all the positive support we can get from awesome people like yourself and the lovely lady who sent you that message.

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  3. Thank you for this post, it is very timely. I have a new babycare blog and wrote a post about transitioning from breast to bottle which was shared by Fearless Formula Feeder so I got quite a few shares and tweets and 1 nice comment which made me happy……until ‘They’ found me, and by They, I mean the lactivists! Several comments basically trashing me, the mums, bottles, spouting all the usual clichés about nipple confusion, lazy babies, the threats of diminished milk supply, dire warnings about harming the baby/bonding by using bottles, lots of statistics etc etc etc. Now, I am used to this as I have been a maternity nurse for 22yrs and all too often have to support my Mums after having been on the receiving end of all this, but it’s the first time I have actually FELT it myself. Maybe because I have put so much of myself into my post, I was vulnerable. I felt misunderstood, hurt, angry, frustrated, confused and intimidated, and if I felt all that, how much worse must it be for an anxious, hormonal, sleep deprived new mother??? I love your pledge and already do the 1st three, but need to do more about the last 2. I was going to just ignore the nasty comments but you are right, that is just perpetuating the situation so I am going to add to this post, and every other post, a rider to say I will NOT approve any comment that equates to judging, trashing, dismissing or belittling anyone else’s parenting choices, and that bullying and intimidation will NOT be tolerated. You are right, ‘They’ are loud, so we must be louder, and more vigilant, and challenge their domination at every turn! I will also be more active in supporting the good guys and leave more supportive comments so they know their efforts are being appreciated. Thanks again for this positive and timely post,
    Sarah (Babyfriend.net) xxx

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    1. Thanks, Sarah. I’m sorry that happened to you! It is especially painful when you make yourself vulnerable in a post. I’ve been there, for sure (I’ve been called selfish, narcissitic, etc…one woman implied that natural selection would take care of DNA like mine since I didn’t breastfeed my babies beyond 1 year). That last part of the pledge is crucial – if you see something, say something – but always NICELY. We’re goingt o fight fire with honey 🙂 xx

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    2. I was one of those “lactivists” Sarah. From what I saw it was experienced breastfeeding support workers disagreeing with some of your conclusions. The was no”trash talking” of you and mothers….just respectful disagreement.

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    3. I was one of those “lactivists” as well, and I agree with Katie that it was experienced breastfeeding professionals disagreeing with the information you were providing. As a professional who is also writing information for parents, it is really important to keep in mind the audience you’re writing for and how your writing may be interpreted. It is essential, in my opinion, to write clearly and dispense accurate information that is not only informed by our personal experience but the evidence we are able to draw from. We also need to be humble enough to keep our minds open to the information given by people who may have different kinds and levels of experience.

      What you describe as what was said is absolutely NOT what was said by anyone, and I’m not sure how you got the impression that you did. Absolutely nothing that any commenter said was “shaming” you – and it especially was not shaming parents.

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      1. Aaand I’m stepping in! Oof. I want to clarify what I am advocating for here: a form of calling out bullying and shaming that is itself neither bullying or shaming. Showing other women love when we see them getting a bit beaten down by a conversation. And always showing each other respect. So far this thread of comments doesn’t cross a single one of those lines, but I can tell that we are all starting to feel feelings. And it might soon cross the line of everybody assuming they have a monopoly on the “right” information. I don’t want to host a war of who has more or better experience or who said what in what way, so I’ll plan to cut off any conversation (not just this one) that heads in that direction. If you pros want to debate accuracy of information, let’s not rehash that in this space when it’s already been hashed out on the original post, ok? Love you all.

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      2. Hi Jessica, I couldn’t reply to your comment below so I have added it here. It is commendable that you are campaigning against bullying behaviour. We just have to be careful that it is indeed bullying, shaming behaviour. I have noticed that any sharing of breastfeeding information is construed as bullying by some. We really need to maintain perspective about all this.
        I had added another comment to Sarah’s blog but it has sat there for sometime awaiting moderation. My final comment was this “I just want you to know we are all on the same side, trying to help mothers to reach their feeding and parenting goals. I have been trying to explain why breastfeeding workers advise against bottles at various times. We are not anti bottle…..we are simply aware that they can interfere with a mother’s wish to continue to breastfeed.
        All the best with your work helping mothers.”.

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      3. I totally agree that it’s possible to over-apply the “I’m being bullied” thing. I will say that sometimes “just sharing breastfeeding info” can indeed be a shaming activity (although that certainly doesn’t seem true about what you’ve pasted here)…example: a woman asks for advice on which formula to supplement with, having already decided to do so. An advocate responds by giving her “breast is best” information and suggest numerous ways she should try to avoid moving to combination feeding. Might be “just information”, but it ignores the woman’s autonomy as well as how the information will be received at this moment. No amount of “I was just trying to educate her” will change that. It’s information-as-weapon, and it’s condescending and meddling. Just a random example. BUT your “unapproved” comment sounds lovely and not at all like that. And there is a big difference at work: the post you’re talking about was written by a new baby professional, and you and the other commenter are breastfeeding professionals. So the conversation feels more like a debate among passionate professionals, and so is actually quite different in nature from an exhausted, overwhelmed, hormonal, vulnerable first-time mom vs. a minority of the lact-stablishment (just made that up) and layperson moms who feel the need to force their breastfeeding ideals on other mothers because they can’t possibly envision a world in which their path might not work for someone else, if that someone else would “just try harder.”

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  4. When I had my first daughter, I had no idea what a tribe was, or any information from online sources. Fast forward seven years, and I’m coming into the new mommy world again (Seven years between kids makes one forget a LOT), and all I found was the ‘This way is the RIGHT way’ posts and blogs.
    I haven’t seen much in the way of Facebook Groups, but I’m glad for those of us out there that respect moms, their decisions, and love them for it.

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    1. We exist! I promise. I’ll plug my own page – http://www.facebook.com/jessicashortallwrites 🙂 There are many others. The Momivist, Fearless Formula Feeder, and lots of homegrown Facebook groups that can answer Qs about breastfeeding and other stuff. Just keep an eye out for when someone veers from “the norm”. How group members respond and what is and isn’t tolerated will tip you off quickly as to whether it’s the right kind of group for you.

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