What I Want My Daughters To Know About Motherhood- Feeding Babies

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Recently I was reflecting on why I started Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference and I thought back on my different feeding journeys with my daughters, looking back and wishing there were things I knew when I first started out that I know now. I considered writing a post to my young self but then I realized that the ones I really want to know now what I wish I knew then about infant feeding are my daughters. Before they embark on their own motherhood journey, before they begin feeding their own babies (yes, I’m assuming that out of 6 girls at least one of them will have children and I will get to be a grandparent), there are so many things I want them to know, I could write a book and not just on infant feeding. Respecting that their journey will be their own, not some version or extension of mine, what I want to share isn’t a how to nor is it a manual, it is more just… my heart. Why am I starting an infant feeding conference? My daughters are why.

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Dear Daughter,

From time to time I reflect on the days when you were new to the world, newer than you are now, which is still pretty new. Those days when you were tiny and fit snuggled on my chest with your arms and legs tucked under you, my hand supporting your little bum. I think about the smell of your head, the feel of your skin, the depth of your eyes. I smile as I remember arguing with your father and sometimes others that it wasn’t gas, you were actually really smiling in your sleep. Like precious family heirlooms, from time to time I reverently unpack the memories of your daddy gently swinging you on his arm during fussy periods of the day, how one of your big sisters would interact with you, the way you calmed when I held you, the seriousness with which you would watch light dancing on the wall, and other fragments of the time when you were the smallest big thing in my world.

Some of those cherished mental keepsakes have little barbs on them. They sting when I unpack them, no matter how careful I am. How you were taken away from me just after I had the first chance to hold you because I was hemorrhaging, the time I screwed up and dropped you due to careless use of an infant carrier (Oh sweetie, I tried to call Child Protective Services on myself), hours and hours of screaming that nothing would soothe and the obvious pain you were in (heads up, colic is hell), the stint in the hospital with RSV, and so many more. I could keep these painful memories locked up and forgotten but I don’t, though I don’t linger over them too long, they are an important part of the story we share.

A good number of those treasured memories so carefully packed in my mind are around feeding you. You, as babies do, ate often. Satiated is but a temporary state of being and babies stay there only for brief moment of visitation. Some of these memory gems are truly sublime, shining moments that reflect the light of my love, your beauty, and our connection in sparkling bursts of color from ever angel and with every turn. Some of them are more like clunky chunks of rough rock, the weight and texture of which can make me raw. There is beauty there, beauty only appreciated when the whole topography is viewed. I cherish them all.

My baby feeding story journey isn’t isolated to just feeding you. All 6 of my children have impacted me and feeding each of them has had a hand in shaping me as a mother and directly impacting how I parented. And so, there are a few things I really want you to know about feeding babies. This won’t give you everything you need to know but these, my strong, intelligent, and courageous daughter, are the things what I want you to know from my heart about feeding babies and I hope sharing this now feeds you in a new way.

Feeding is important. Very important. Feeding our babies is the most basic, most essential, most immediate, and most elemental aspect of parenting. It can be said, without fail, that not feeding your baby is parenting failure. Neglect. Abuse. This may seem obvious and it is, but it is also important in ways you wouldn’t first see.  In my experience, how our children come to us is a journey that shapes us much like rushing water can shape rock. Babies aren’t the only ones birthed, mothers are birthed through the arrival of their children into their lives. Likewise, how we feed our babies can lay a foundation for how we parent. Feeding can shore up our confidence as parents and it can tear it down.

But not that important. For as deeply as it can impact us, you’ll feed your babies so many times each day that it can become mundane. That’s ok. You don’t have to experience each moment feeding your baby as a super special time of bonding. That would be like expecting every meal with your significant other to be a candlelight dinner that you poured yourself into preparing and spent looking deeply into each other’s eyes. In the end, as long as the feeding happens, the important part is done. And because it has to be done so frequently, letting go of expectations as to how it happens can be freeing to enjoy each experience as much as possible without the stress.

You matter too. Before baby comes, everyone is all about the mother-to-be. After baby comes, everyone is all about the baby and the mom is little more than the easel holding up the masterpiece. With that comes all the opinions on how to care for, and certainly how to feed, the masterpiece. But you matter too. According to many, you’ll be doing it wrong. Even those who support the method you are using will find ways to tell you are doing it wrong. Everything is subject to such “support” when it comes to feeding your baby. Bottle feeding? You’re holding that bottle wrong, using the wrong bottle, giving a bottle at all… all wrong. Breastfeeding? You’re using the wrong position, the wrong pillows, the wrong place, the wrong timing, doing it at all… all wrong. Pumping? You’re using the wrong pump, the wrong setting, the wrong method, doing it at all… all wrong. With everyone focused on the adorable masterpiece, they will want to “help” you care for it “right.” In the process, some will forget about caring for you. Mothering may change how you see your body and how you feel about it, aspects you may not love may be the most wonderful to your child. Mothering will change your heart and how you feel about it, aspects you may not love about yourself may be the most wonderful to your child. Take care of you, your children will need you to, they need and love you. It may feel selfish but taking care of you is important in taking care of your baby. You matter. Find those that can genuinely support you and your goals in caring for your baby. Those who believe you matter too.

The system is broken. It is improving and I hope by the time you are embarking on this journey, the system will be in a much better place. Right now though, it’s broken. From uninformed health care providers to uninformed store managers, from predatory marketing to pushy breastfeeding supporters, from poor insurance coverage to poor maternity leave, from ignorant judgmental strangers on the internet to ignorant judgmental friends in person, the system of infant feeding support in our society is failing moms. It is imbedded in our culture and it is hurting people. That can change but only by addressing the system rather than individual parents. They, you, just need someone willing to support them as a person, not a conquest. There is a lot of hurt, anger, guilt, shame, fear, arrogance, and hope surrounding this and you will hear it but it isn’t really about you.

Science is cool. There’s a lot of it and you’ll want to take the time to be familiar with it before you head into feeding your babies. Not everyone agrees on the science, it’s worth hearing the various view points. Being informed and personally conscientious can help you tap into your own powerful confidence. Decide what makes sense to you, what works for you according to the information, resources, and support available to you within your personal context and individual circumstances.

But feeding babies isn’t science, it’s a relationship. At some point, all the information in the world, all the evidence, all the support, all the goals aren’t important any more. Because it is a relationship. You and your baby. You are the one who knows what that relationship needs, you are the expert, you are the one most qualified. Even when you feel like you aren’t. You taught me that what a baby really needs is a fully invested parent who lovingly cares for them. Listen to yourself and your baby and don’t let anyone else define your relationship, feeding or otherwise.

There is more, so much more about feeding I want to tell you but for now I’ll stop here. Except for this:

I believe in you. I support you. Whatever you need, I am here for you and plan to be there for you. Unless you ask me not to. But most of all, I love you. You’ve got this.

Love,

Mom

____________________

What would you say to your children about infant feeding? How will you tell them the story of feeding them? What do you want them to know?

Milk BLO event graphic

I started Milk with MommyCon founder, Xza Higgins, with the goal to bring together health care providers, parenting advocates, infant feeding influencers, and parents for workshops, seminars, and connecting centered around conversation supporting feeding our babies.

Founded on the belief that infant feeding support makes a difference and can directly influence confidence levels in parents, MiLK focuses on information sharing and mindful support that builds parents up without tearing down, respecting the unique journey of each of us. MiLK aims to actively educate and support infant feeding by connecting health care providers and the families they care for discussing breastfeeding, formula feeding, breastmilk pumping, at the breast supplementing, bottle feeding, cup feeding, spoon feeding… FEEDING. This is not, to be clear, a breastfeeding conference. It is an infant feeding conference with a goal of bringing together health care providers and parents where we can learn from each other.

Most importantly, I hope we learn how to really listen and what support can really looks like.

I hope you can me join me in Los Angeles, California, July 31st and August 1st. The speakers and panelists are all people I greatly respect, people that inspire me not only in my infant feeding journeys but in supporting others in their journeys as well. Offering 9.25 CERPs (IBCLC) and 11.1 Contact Hours (BRN), MiLK is for the lay parent and the health care professional.

I would love to see you there.

__________________

We have a MiLK giveaway!
3 prizes:

Grand prize: 2 tickets for one winner with the VIP option and a set of general admission to the local breastfeeding support group of their choice, 1 Arm’s Reach Mini-CoSleeper in Santa Fe, 1 tekhni Nymphai wrap, 1 Ergobaby nursing pillow, 1 Ameda Purely Yours Breast Pump, 1 Eat@Moms shirt, 1 box Earth Mama Angel Baby Organic Milkmaid Tea, 1 Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter, 1 pair Earth Mama Angel Baby Booby Tubes.
Prize pack 1: 2 general admission tickets to milk, 1 tekhni Nymphai wrap, 1 Ergobaby nursing pillow, 1 manual pump, 1 Ameda nursing tank, 1 Eat@moms shirt.

Prize pack 2: 2 general admission tickets to milk, 1 tekhni Nymphai ring sling, 1 Ergobaby nursing pillow, 1 Eat@Moms shirt.

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Open to USA residents only.

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The Real Problem With Breastfeeding is How We Are Talking About Breastfeeding.

By Kimberly Seals Allers

Spoiler Alert: We are Losing the Story War

The Story War Changing the Narrative and Winning the Story War on Breastfeeding

Lately, when my Google alerts on “Breastfeeding” appears in my Inbox, I literally hold my breath as I click to open the email and glance at its contents. If it’s not another mother being kicked out of a public place where she was breastfeeding, there are mothers staging nurse-ins in protests, or twitter wars in response to mistreatment of a nursing mother—words like “banned” “fight back” “lashes out”, “demand” “forced to apologize” are everywhere in the breastfeeding media narrative. Increasingly the language of breastfeeding is the language of battle. Sides are taken. Fights ensue. Women resort to resistance protest measures on social media and in real life. And so it has me thinking, whether the real problem of our continued embarrassingly low-for-a-world-leader breastfeeding rates is not about breastfeeding at all. After all no one can deny its immunological benefits and unparalleled preventative health properties. But perhaps, the problem of lackluster duration rates is directly related to how we are talking about breastfeeding. There is no question that we are in a story war when it comes infant feeding norms, but the language of the war we are in is all about fighting.

In this environment, everyone loses.

Perhaps in our zealousness to “defend” breastfeeding we are actually turning people away, creating more divisions and essentially shooting ourselves in the foot. After all, who wants to take up an activity that requires battle techniques or civil rights era tactics? Or may cause you to be kicked out of a public place and in the middle of a media maelstrom? And so I’m forced to ask, whether the language of breastfeeding which includes scientific terms like “evidence-based” and overly simplistic slogans like “breast is best” combined with a protest background is actually inflicting more harm than good. Is this how we win? And by win, I mean, increase breastfeeding initiation and duration rates and thereby improve the health outcomes of mothers and babies.

In the breastfeeding world we often see the “enemy” as the deep-pocketed infant formula marketers who peddle misinformation and insidious ideas masquerading as mother empowerment. With such a formidable competitor we see no way to battle such a behemoth and actually be victorious, and our frustration with their deceptive tactics often leads to anger. And rightly so. And while this may be a valid human response, it may not be the best tactical response. The biblical story of David and Goliath comes to mind. David did not attempt to battle Goliath on his strengths, but he exploited his weakness and his arrogance.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Truth is, we can win the breastfeeding story war without engaging in the language of battle. We have a more powerful tool at our disposal and historically it has won wars time after time. I know you’re asking yourself right now, well, what is it? That brings me to my excitement over the July 13th debut of my dynamic, new live stream presentation, Be The Shift: Changing the Narrative & Winning the Story War in Breastfeeding and my not-to-be-missed keynote at the upcoming MILK: An Infant Feeding Conference in Los Angeles on July 31 & August 1. In both presentations, I will be drawing on my decades of experience as a media professional, expert story teller and communications strategist and applying that knowledge to one of the greatest public health issues of our time—breastfeeding. For months, I’ve been intrigued by this topic and I have been studying the art of war, the phenomenon of story wars and combining it with what I know as a media professional and a big ideas person with a passion for breastfeeding. One thing is clear, today’s story wars are not the story wars of yore because frankly our oral tradition has changed—today it is more digitally powered. And that can’t be ignored. But winning the war means the strategy needs to work on the policy, professional and people level—I’ll detail how.

On July 13th, I’ll be streaming live from the uber chic Neuehouse NYC and it is going to be an eye-opening game changer for anyone who cares about infant health. I can’t wait to share these new learnings with you. You can get more information and register here. And then on July 31 and August 1st, I’ll bring the essence of that presentation to the west coast, along with exclusive worksheets and interactive exercises to the MILK conference. I hope to see you there where we can work IRL and one-on-one in shifting your personal or organizational story to improve our breastfeeding outcomes.

Aristotle said “It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.” By shifting our language and understanding the elements of a winning story narrative we can organize and maintain the kind of peace that improves maternal and infant health outcomes for generations.

Now, there’s a battle, I’m willing to get behind. Please join me.

In motherhood,

Kimberly Seals Allers

Changing the narrative and winning the story war on breastfeeding

__________________________

 

KSA Hi resKimberly Seals Allers is an award-winning journalist, author and a nationally recognized media commentator, consultant and advocate for breastfeeding and infant health. A former writer at FORTUNE and senior editor at Essence magazine, Kimberly is widely considered a leading voice in the counterculture movement in infant feeding. Last year, her online commentaries on the social, structural and racial complexities of maternal and child health issues received over 2 million page views. Kimberly’s fifth book, a groundbreaking analysis of the social, political and economic influences on the American breastfeeding landscape will be published by St. Martin’s Press next year.
 As a consultant, Kimberly has led innovative community-based projects in the southeast and Philadelphia that explore the impact of “first food deserts”—communities that severely lack or have inaccessible resources to support mothers who choose to breastfeed—and examining how to transform these areas into more breastfeeding supportive environments. Kimberly is currently the project director of the First Food Friendly Community Initiative (3FCI), an innovative pilot project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, designed to understand the impact of “place” as a social determinant of breastfeeding success and to create multi-pronged community support for breastfeeding. Her advocacy work has also centered on connecting breast milk as the most healthful first food to the broader “good food” movement and rethinking childhood nutrition and preventative health as beginning at birth.   
In addition, Kimberly specializes in issues related to African American motherhood and breastfeeding and is the former editorial director of The Black Maternal Health Project of Women’s eNews. In 2011, Kimberly was named an IATP Food and Community Fellow, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and works to increase awareness of the first food—breast milk, in vulnerable communities. She currently leads nationwide workshops for health care professionals on cultural competency and breastfeeding and is a prominent speaker on community-based strategies to reduce the racial disparities in breastfeeding and infant mortality rates. 
 Kimberly has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, Anderson Cooper, the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Fox News and featured in various international and national media outlets, including The Guardian (U.K.), U.S. News & World Report, Essence, Black Enterprise, Pregnancy and in various online media properties.
Kimberly is a graduate of New York University and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. A divorced mother of two, she lives in Queens, New York, with her children and two turtles. Follow her on Twitter @iamKSealsAllers
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Get Your Move On- Family Style #TLBmoves with Tula Baby Carriers

Active family, babywearing, Tula Baby Carriers

Hey Leakies, let’s get moving!

We’re not going anywhere in particular but we are journeying toward health, activity, and awareness. Not as isolated individuals, but as a family, a community. With each other and with our kids, we’re taking steps to get more movement in our lives. That movement may be a dance party in the living room, a daily walk at the park, hitting the gym, including more veggies, setting up the blender for more healthy homemade smoothies, you name it, you define what #TLBmoves looks like for you.

It all began in August 2014 with the first ever #TLBmoves and it took off. Some of us got a little more movement in our lives, others got a whole lot more. We cheered on some working on (and succeeding) quitting smoking, others had step goals to hit, there were those that started yoga or crossfit or pilates every day, and others started having salads every day. Getting moving together brought us closer together and we discovered that thanks to the global village of the internet, we could cheer each other on and have fun in the process. When we found ourselves stuck, we could be honest about the challenges we were facing and there would be no judgment, just support and encouragement. It was inspiring and we all wanted to keep moving.

Many of us did, though our interactions weren’t as frequent with the start of school and as colder weather rolled in, many of us found ways to keep going. And here we are, nearly a year later, and we’re still moving. The push we all got from the month of #TLBmoves was motivating and we felt it was time to do it again and invite more to join us.

As parents, we have every reason in the world to be physically active; heart health, longevity, reduced health problems, strength, endurance, lower blood pressure, stronger bones, joint health, mental clarity, better sleep, and decrease in depression and anxiety to name a few. With having children though, juggling family, home, and for some, work, getting to exercise is often an overwhelming challenge. Between the media, “experts,” bloggers, friends, family, health care providers, and yes, even myself saying what is so important for children, there are just so many other aspects of a child’s development that require my attention. There is every reason in the world to not be physically active; reading to our children, providing quality meals, addressing their social needs, researching all medications/foods/education, shopping to have the “best” deals on the highest quality, spending quality play time with our children, limiting screen time, grooming them, keeping house, bonding, learning and executing proper child passenger safety (installing that perfect car seat that took 3 weeks of research and a small loan to purchase), and being sure every minute of their every day is filled with only the best developmentally appropriate activities. With all that’s on our plates, how do we find time to be physically active?

We have perfectly legit reasons to not be moving and perfectly inspiring reasons to get moving.  It’s not easy sometimes but it’s definitely worth it.

My motivation is my kids. I want to be around for a long time to be with my children and eventually my grandchildren and I can’t afford to wait to get started. They inspire me and not only for my own health, but for the health of my whole family. And now they’ve inspired me to share that motivation with you!

It’s time for #TLBmoves!

And I hope you’ll get moving with me for your own reasons.

Are you a runner? Walker? Cross-fit fan?  Couch potato looking to change? Or maybe you just want to be screen-free a little more often.

Whatever your goal, you can join us for #TLBmoves!  This is all about embracing an active lifestyle and making healthier choices, no matter where you’re starting from and we’re here to support each other completely free of judgment each step of the way.

We have a team to help provide some inspiration, not with before and after pictures, #TLBmoves isn’t about acquiring a certain body aesthetic, but with honest sharing of the journey. Kids in tow and personal goals put out there, our team isn’t to glamorize the journey, simply to share together one step at a time.

#TeamTLBmoves! Meet the five mamas who will be sharing their #TLBmoves journeys during the month of July:

Jessica: Founder, owner, and author of The Leaky Boob Facebook group and website; mother of six girls, ages 3, 5, 7, 12, 14, and 16.

Jeanna: guidance counselor and mom to a 6 month old little girl.

Kileah: Member of TLB’s editorial team; mother of four children, ages 7, 5, 3 and 19 months. Kileah loves canning, cooking, and being with her family.

Iola: Mom of Cadden, Lyam,and Eli all under 5 living in Minnesota but visiting Wisconsin regularly. Iola works out of her home, blogs here, and is a doula and advocate for improving breastfeeding rates in the black community.

Brianne: work from home mom of 3 children, ages 11, 6, and 3 years old. Brianne is married to a fitness enthusiast but has struggled to find time for herself to do the same.

Meet our partners:

#TLBmoves is a big undertaking and we are so thrilled to be working with brands we believe in to bring you this event. Our partners really want to see moms getting active and enjoying a healthy lifestyle with their families! We’ll be sharing tons of photos of #TeamTLBmoves using gear from the following brands:

#TLBmoves Title sponsor Tula Baby carriers, woven wrap and soft structured carriers

 

Tula Baby Carriers. Tula believes in supporting us all being close to our little ones AND getting moving toward a healthier way of living so much that they are our title sponsors. We aren’t just pushing our little ones in the strollers – we’re going to wear them, too! Whether it’s in the uber comfortable Standard or Toddler carrier, or in one of Tula’s amazingly gorgeous woven wraps, we’ll be wearing our babies throughout the month as we get out and move! Where will the #TULAlove turn up next? Stay tuned…

 

Maternity and breastfeeding fitness apparel

 

Bellabumbum. Committed to high quality and comfortable apparel that provides support and room to move for the pregnant or breastfeeding mom, Belabumbum creates mindful activewear for moms. With fabrics that stretch and breathe, Belabumbum clothing is designed to last with comfortable fit that suits your level of activity for many years to come. Created by moms for moms, Belabumbum knows that moms want to look good whether they’re running a race, running to the grocery store, or running after a toddler. Perfect for Boob Out Fashion and room for growing bellies, you can’t better comfort as you get moving. Through out #TLBmoves you’ll see the convertible capri pant, nursing cami, and a new sports bra that’s not yet released.

#TLBmoves sponsoring brand

Eyla’s.  A reliable source for most of your parenting needs (they don’t sell sleep, sorry), Eyla’s will keep the whole family safely hydrated with their Eco Vessel bottles in your choice of glass or stainless steel. All Eco Vessel products are BPA and phthalate free, recyclable and environmentally friendly and come in a wide variety of styles and sizes including a line perfect for toddler hands. Drink up

 

thinkbaby thinksport

Thinkbaby and ThinksportIt’s July, so the weather is hot. A big part of #TLBmoves is getting active outdoors (work that natural vitamin D!). A good, safe sunscreen is a necessity. Thinkbaby and Thinksport care as much as we do when it comes to keeping our families safe from harmful chemicals. We’re keeping sunburns at bay, minus the endocrine disruptors!

When?
#TLBmoves will run from July 1st-31st, 2015, but we hope you’ll keep moving long after the end of the month! (We may have something up our sleeves to that end, too!)

How?
Participation is on the honor system. Counting steps can be fun, but the point isn’t a number (on a pedometer, scale, or otherwise) – it’s making healthy choices and becoming more active in general. It’s all about feeling good! Moms can track their activity via whatever means they choose. (You can use a FitBit, another pedometer, you can time three five-minute songs for a dance party in your living room – it’s up to you!)

Where?
Anyone, anywhere can participate! We’ll be announcing some fun prizes from our brand partners, and those are limited to the United States at this time, but the world is your oyster if you want to get active with us!

JOIN OUR PRIVATE FACEBOOK GROUP (Please note: this is a co-ed community where you’ll find support as we get active and make healthy choices together. Judgement free! Come as you are, this group is your #TLBmoves tribe!)

Who?
You, your friends, your kids, your partner, your boss, your mom, your dad… anyone!  Though The Leaky Boob is focused on encouraging families primarily through breastfeeding, we support breastfeeding moms and everyone that supports them.  Breastfeeding isn’t a requirement to participate with TLB and #TLBmoves.

We’ll have more updates soon – in the meantime, please follow TLB on Instagram to keep up with #TLBmoves. Use the hashtag #TLBmoves on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to share your pics. We want to see what you’re doing to MOVE, mamas!

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TLB Comic- Feeding Flexibility

by Jennie Bernstein

Breastfeeding humor

 

 

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TLB Comic- Necklines

TLB Comic breastfeeding shirt and stretched out neckline

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TLB Comic- How Was Your Day?

 

by Jennie Bernstein

Parenting how was your day mom and dad with baby

 

We love our babies and sometimes we love a shower in peace and quiet.

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The Tapestry of Guilt- The Truth About Guilt and Parenting

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Trigger warning- sexual abuse mentioned.

Blooming amongst the hard places

This post is talking about guilt, settle in, it’s a long one because… guilt.

If I had a dollar for every time I hear a mother share her infant feeding story under a thick layer of guilt, I would be a wealthy woman. If I had a dime for every time I hear a mother share her pregnancy story, her birth story, her postpartum/newborn story, her parenting decisions and realities under that stifling wet blanket of guilt that turns so many beautiful stories into a dark, twisted confusing drama, I would be an incredibly wealthy woman. Lots and lots of companies are getting wealthy capitalizing on mothering guilt, it’s big business. Be it for the length of time they breastfed, how involved their partner could be with them breastfeeding, their child’s health issues, how many bottles their child received, if they used formula, how well pumping went for them, or how she feels about breastfeeding, often guilt is a regular theme in these stories. Permeating the pregnancy journey, birth experience, first days, recovery, relationships, the learning curve, sleep experiences, solids, purchases, you name it, guilt underlies even many of the joys. Guilt, regret, and grief. Bittersweetness. Through their tears or defensive tone, guilt and sometime shame underlie their words, a framework on which to hang their tapestry of fear that in reality they are inadequate.

And it hurts.

This guilt upon which their story is spread causes many of them deep yet inescapable pain. For some that pain has made them feel vulnerable to the attacks of others or even what they simply perceive as attacks from others when they share. For some that pain has made them harden, putting up their defenses and adding caveats to the stories of others. For some that pain threatens their very confidence, adding a sinister voice to the question so many find nagging within: am I enough?

I know guilt well. Far too well.

This emotion is triggered when we’ve done something wrong or wonder if we have done something wrong. It can be a very good thing, alerting us when we’ve gone off course or ignored our moral compass, inspiring education to learn how to do better. I’ve been grateful for guilt at times, it has helped me be a better person, a better friend, better worker, better partner, and a better mother. With an important purpose, guilt can help us keep our actions in line with our values. Brene Brown explains that guilt is about what we’ve done whereas shame is about who we believe we are. That’s where things get blurry. Sometimes guilt grows into shame and we question not only our actions but our very worth as a person as a result of those actions. Usually starting with “what kind of person/mother/partner/friend/daughter would DO that?”

Sometimes guilt is legitimate, we’ve done or not done something that doesn’t aline with our values. Sometimes we bring guilt on ourselves unjustly. Either because of the importance we’ve placed on something (i.e. I must have this kind of birth because it is the best and science says my child will have a better life if they are born this way) or because we punish ourselves for what we didn’t know. Sometimes guilt is a result of privilege, easily missed as being artificially manufactured from a culture of expected norms based in privilege. Sometimes guilt is triggered by someone else wanting us to feel guilty in an attempt to control us or make themselves feel superior. Some of us have mothers that are particularly skilled in this manipulation. True, nobody can make you feel anything without your permission but we are social beings who need community and our feelings are a part of that dynamic and they matter. Why else would we even want to be with other people and take that risk?

Guilt has woven in an out of my own mothering stories, still does. I have felt guilt over a great many choices, accidents, ignorances, and situations entirely out of my control in caring for my children; from how I ate during my pregnancies, how their births went, what I have fed them at meal times, car seat mistakes, educational choices, health care decisions, discipline choices, the mess of my house, you name it. In 16.5 years of parenting, my mothering guilt has built up quite a rap sheet. But it all pales in comparison to my greatest grief as a mother. In the shadow of this one thing, I see these other areas for what they really are: mistakes or insignificant variations from my plan that are nothing more than blips on the radar.

I may have wept when breastfeeding my 2nd daughter ended at 4.5 months, 8 months shy of my goal. Guilt accompanied me for a time that I wasn’t strong enough to push through excruciating pain, couldn’t manage her screams from reflux, and wasn’t able to find the bonding promised in breastfeeding and instead found each feeding session a blow to my already fragile mental health in the midst of fighting postpartum depression. It felt real and devastating at the time and I won’t minimize anyone’s struggle through such an experience, it isn’t easy. A few years later though, for me that seemed as small as guilt in having to throw away a ruined meal due to forgetting to set the timer.

No, the guilt I hold and have gone to therapy for years over stems from when I failed to identify someone who would hurt my children and failed to notice they were experiencing ongoing sexual abuse at the hands of someone I loved and trusted. That two of my children were used, their bodies abused and their spirits crushed because of a person, a 13 year old boy I brought into their lives and I couldn’t tell it was happening… that is a guilt and grief I have lacked the words to explain for 10 years. How could any good mother miss that? How could I have missed the warning signs that the perpetrator was a risk? How could I not have known? How could I have failed them and allowed them to experience so much pain?

Maybe I didn’t deserve to be a mother. Maybe my children weren’t safe in my care. Maybe… maybe I wasn’t enough.

I haven’t been alone with this guilt, my husband, their daddy, has battled it too. It has brought out in both of us at times protectiveness, aggressive fury, self loathing, depression, and fear. Oh so much fear. And shame. For a long time that’s really all there was, guilt, fear, and shame.

That was a terrible place to parent from. No confidence, nothing healthy. Nothing to help our children heal and recover. We were trying but it wasn’t working.

The abuse wasn’t really our fault but it kind of was too. Our therapist and friends would try to encourage us by reminding us that the one responsible was the one who did it. That’s true, he is responsible but then, we’re the ones responsible for our children. It could happen to anyone, they would say, and that’s true too, but it happened to our children and we were supposed to stop it. We did as soon as we found out and we fought hard for them, demanding justice, accountability, and help for their abuser. But it still happened. As our eldest fractured before our eyes, splintering into little shards of herself losing her kindergarten year to nightmares, outbursts, and locking herself in the bathroom to cry wracking sobs or worse, sit curled up in the corner without a sound as she picked at her skin, we could only blame the one that did this to a point. When you point one finger out, there are 3 pointing back at you.

Guilt sucks. Shame is an asshole. Fear is crippling.

Our daughters were hurting and they needed us. As much as I didn’t feel like I was the right mother for them, as much as my confidence was shattered, as much as I had already failed them, I was the mother they had. After CPS had investigated and cleared us, our children were stuck with us, failures and all, we were the only parents they had. It became time for guilt to do something positive, it was time for course correcting, time to educate ourselves and learn how to do better, time to grow. We had little confidence in our abilities as parents, just enough to believe that maybe our love for our daughters would be enough and we could learn and grow.

We did. The approach to parenting we had taken was ditched and we started over from scratch after careful analyses of what we had believed and practiced as parents. Not only did we want to change our parenting because we felt our approach had failed our daughters and enabled abuse, we also were creating mindful changes to support their healing. With a critical eye we dismantled it all. Reading sources on child development and parenting that took a different approach than what we had tried before and intensely scrutinizing our parenting that may have contributed to the abuse or made our children more vulnerable, we gradually developed a parenting philosophy we could put into practice that was drastically different. Proactive in getting our daughters help and altering how we parented led to healing and over time, confidence building for all of us.

Guilt, whether it was rightfully placed or not, helped us get to that place. Guilt that broke us.

We could have stayed in that place of guilt, eventually embracing and internalizing shame as parents but that would have been an even greater failure of our daughters. Moving on wasn’t the answer, getting over it, letting it go, wasn’t what helped us, it was moving into and through it that made the real difference. With the help of therapy and the sharing of a few other bold individuals, our family found our way to healing that led to thriving, strength, and confidence.

Guilt hasn’t disappeared from my life, I still make mistakes, still am disappointed with myself from time to time, still hurt when I can’t manage to be the “best” parent I have idolized in my head. From worry and guilt about what I did before I learned differently (car seat safety, sleeping arrangements, etc.) to guilt that we sometimes find ourselves short of the resources to help our children reach their goals (such as our eldest’s dance training- still so far from the funds she needs). It’s still there, still pushing me to learn and grow and sometimes to change and figure out how to do better. But it doesn’t get to stay around for long, my children need me too much to sleep with guilt. Now, as our eldest is 16, she’s taking her sexual abuse experience and turning it into something powerful. From my guilt has come this overwhelming pride confusingly mixed with humility. (Read her story here and listen to her share in her own voice here.) And I’m done wasting time feeling guilty about things like formula feeding my 2nd (never had much guilt there actually, it was necessary and right for us), over guilt for things I didn’t know, past guilt issues out of my control, and moved on from guilt that I am human and make mistakes. Now when guilt pops up, I sit and examine it, question the source, and assess if it is genuine or artificially manufactured. Then I determine what I need to learn from it and dismiss it from my life so I can get on with the growing and learning. There are those that want me to wallow in it and try to throw it in my face from time to time, those that attempt to feel better about themselves by attempting to provoke guilt in me, and even those that try to turn it into shame so I question my very worth. They are powerless over me now because I’m no longer afraid of guilt, I can use it to grow. In the big picture, so much of the guilt we hold onto is for mistakes, wrong-doing, ignorance, or bad choices that are not lasting issues. I’ve survived true guilt for something so terrible, I already know the truth.

Even with my mistakes, even with my failures, I am enough.

And I don’t judge other parents or wish guilt or shame on them. Because now, I know it can happen to anyone. Even accidentally leaving a child in the car on a hot day.

I am a rich woman today, not in material possessions or my bank account. The wealth I treasure today is the intricate tapestry of experience in my family. Guilt has a place but it doesn’t own me or define me and it is my hope that every parent that truly loves their child and is willing to grow and learn as they parent will take the inevitable guilt they will encounter as they care for their children and turn it into something beautiful and enriching. Because when we know we are enough, our children can believe it for themselves too.

 _________________

My eldest, 16 year old Ophélia talks openly about her experience healing from sexual abuse, you can learn more about how she is now working to help others even as she continues to grow and heal by going here. To support her in that journey, see her fundraising video (she’s still a long way from her goal) here.

_________________

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Six Ways To Support Someone With Postpartum Depression/Postpartum Anxiety

by Jessica Martin-Weber, illustration by Jennie Bernstein

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I can’t tell you the number of times each day we receive messages or have posts in the community group or on The Leaky Boob Facebook page wall from women just beginning to wade into the waters of acknowledging their struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety. The numbers, if we tracked them, would be staggering.

But they aren’t surprising.

According to the American Psychological Association, it is estimated that 9-16 percent of women who have had a baby will experience postpartum depression. Of those, 41% will go on to have it again after subsequent babies.

Which means chances are strong you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression or has dealt with it in the past.

The American Psychological Association describes the symptoms of PPD thus:

For mothers, PPD can:

  • affect ability to function in everyday life and increase risk for anxiety, cognitive impairment, guilt, self blame, and fear;
  • lead to difficulty in providing developmentally appropriate care to infants;
  • lead to a loss of pleasure or interest in life, sleep disturbance, feelings of irritability or anxiety, withdrawal from family and friends, crying, and thoughts of hurting oneself or one’s child;
  • be particularly problematic because of the social role adjustments expected of new mothers, which include immediate and constant infant care, redefining spousal and familial relationships, and work role.

The day I knew something was wrong with me was when my second baby was 5 weeks old and I was standing at my kitchen counter, staring blankly into the chocolate milk I was stirring, wishing I could get caught in the whirlpool swirling in my glass. I realized that I was fantasizing about committing suicide in my chocolate milk. That’s nor normal and that’s probably not good, I thought, then I took a drink of the chocolate milk I had just imagined drowning in and numbly turned back to my two children. They needed me, I was the one that was so weak of a person in character that I couldn’t handle it and wanted to die. My thoughts were that I needed to buck up, develop stronger character, and just be a good mom who loved being a good mom.

But I couldn’t try my way out of it. I was certain I was inadequate in every way possible.

The day my husband knew I needed help (he knew something was wrong before then) was when he came home to find me hiding in our closet while the toddler was crying downstairs and the baby was screaming in her bassinet. I had put myself there because I was afraid I was going to hurt my children. Standing above my baby’s bassinet where she was once again screaming, I hadn’t felt sympathy or concern for her, all I had felt was overwhelmed, failure, and the desire to throw her against the wall. Feelings that were so foreign to me and so strong that I became afraid for my children, afraid of what I could be capable of. I hadn’t even known I was capable of feeling that way in the first place. My husband called my midwife and appointment was set that would lead to other appointments and some medications.

Coming through that time was like being caught in a whirlpool, fighting a rushing current that threatened to suck me down. Sometimes I didn’t have the fight for it. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I didn’t but found the fight inspired by my children, my husband, and my friends. In the beginning, that was often the only way I found the fight.

Telling the people around us was a game changer. We were in a transitional time of our life, having just started being a part of a new community a few months before. Our previous community had splintered, we had just moved, and we felt disconnected from friends and never had been very close with our families and I just lost one of the closest family members I had to dementia then death the very day my daughter was born. My family, so far away, was already dealing with a hurt and loss so big I didn’t want to be responsible for adding to it. Hundreds, even thousands of miles and relational fractures separated us from the people in our life that previously had been our people. We were just starting to find that again and I was terrified that this depression, this overwhelming, all consuming inner oppression would drive them away and destroy my family’s chance at having a place to belong and people who cared.

Then something amazing happened. Those people cared anyway.

A small group of friends who we played in a band with and did shared faith with dared to care. Without us even telling them at first, they began to push into our lives a bit, even when I pushed them away. Eventually, we opened up and shared our struggle.

It was then they all grabbed an oar and began paddling my lifeboat against the current of that whirlpool even when I couldn’t. They helped save me. They also helped me find my own paddle not only for myself but to jump in and help when I have friends in the same boat.

As a society we don’t talk enough about mental health and postpartum depression gets little more than a checklist run through with our care providers. So much shame, stigma, and fear comes with admitting struggles with mental health even when we know that it isn’t an issue of good vs bad character. For those of us in the midst depression it can be difficult to express what we need, we may not even know ourselves. For those of us loving someone in the midst of depression it can be difficult to know what our loved ones need, how to be there, or how to help. For those of us with friends and acquaintances we suspect may be floundering, it can be difficult to know. I’m still learning but here is what my friends have taught me in truly supporting someone dealing with mental illness:

  1. Acceptance. Don’t argue that they don’t feel the way they feel, don’t point out they seem to be ok. Accepting what I admitted was what I was experiencing helped me accept it as well. That is the first step for getting better.
  2. Listen. Even if they don’t have anything to say. Even if they do and it takes them a while to figure out how to get it out.
  3. Wait. You may think you know exactly what they need but jumping in with all your suggestions to fix it can be crippling for the one who is not well. Wait with them, along side them but don’t tell them every idea you have for how they can better. Please be quiet about your oils, the diet suggestions, your faith belief promises, your books, your conviction that if they just count their blessings everything will be better, your recommendations for fresh air, and to get moving. Just wait with them. Be with them.
  4. Be there. One of the many sucky parts of depression and anxiety is that it often tells the sufferer they aren’t worthy, aren’t good enough for love. Messages of inadequacy may flood their spirit and in attempting to avoid that pain, they may attempt to avoid the people that want to be there through it and beyond. Be there anyway. Gently, patiently, persistently. Respect your boundaries while you be there and don’t tolerate abuse, but if you can continue being there even when you are pushed away, you may very well help them anchor themselves enough to fight against the current of depression and anxiety that tells them they aren’t good enough.
  5. Share. Knowing others have gone and are going through similar struggles can help. Comfort that maybe they aren’t alone, that others may understand, and that they are not a freak can help those suffering with mental health issues find their own inner power. And to know that others have gone through and emerged able to talk about it and having found a path that worked for them is a message of hope.
  6. Help. Oh this one is hard. How do you help without being pushy? How do you help without trying to fix them? My husband explains it this way: fight along side them, not in front of them (they don’t need a knight in shinning armor), not against them (distracts from the real battle), not behind them (makes them feel they need to watch their back), along side them. My friends helped me most by coming over and playing with my children, holding my baby even when she was screaming (she had reflux, she was often screaming), by sharing their personal experiences with depression and anxiety, by asking me and really wanting to know how I was doing, and by celebrating my good moments when I wanted to celebrate them.

Have a friend or partner you are concerned about? You can help her and by helping her you are helping her children as well. The road to healing isn’t always easy but it’s better when we’re not alone.

Not sure if you or someone you love is experiencing normal baby blues or postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety? This list may help put things in perspective.

 

 

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Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: When No One Knows

by Kileah McIlvain

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains experiences of depression and anxiety and loss and may be triggering to certain individuals. Please read with care.

postpartum depression postpartum anxiety, monster within.

photo: urban bay photography

I sat there. On the park bench in the middle of Laurelhurst a year ago today. He sat on the other end. I felt like a NOTHING. A Void. A Black hole from which and out of which nothing good could come. I wanted to hurl myself into the quiet duckpond while the local shakespeare players were acting out a scene from Macbeth on the other side of the trees. The feelings of exploding, of darkness, of drowning, of feeling like nothing but a walking corpse never felt more present. What was the point? Why the hell was I put on this earth if God was going to play russian roulette with my life? What the hell was I supposed to do with this gnawing grief of  a past miscarriage and the overwhelming demands of  trying to meet my family’s needs? Why couldn’t I just be kind? Why couldn’t I be strong and be good and just BE who my kids and my husband needed me to be? The questions that had taken root in the dark and walled-up places of my heart began to erupt. The rotten rags that I’d used to stuff up all of the leaks and holes riddling my soul began to surface from these murky depths. I was thrashing around in the gaping maw of my own personal monster. I couldn’t move anymore. I was going to sink. I wanted to sink…and be nothing. It was terrifying.

I. Wanted. To. Die. 

The strange thing is. No one tells you. Either because they don’t know what to say or they don’t even KNOW. It’s easy to smile and nod, and pretend you’ve got it together. Because that’s what you do. It’s invisible, this monster. It chews at your mind and sucks your soul until you feel hulled out…like a painted eggshell that looks great to everyone around you…but you’re hollow and fragile. And no one has a clue. They don’t know that you want to run away. They don’t know that it terrifies you to say anything because you’re sure that if you do, someone will call CPS or SPCC and take your children away. You’re convinced you’re a bad mom. That you aren’t capable of caring for these little humans you gave birth to. The yelling, the blackouts where 15 minutes later you don’t know what was done or what was said. The deeply-ridden shame and anxiety and the panic attacks triggered by the hot water in the shower. I remember the earliest days of my darkness when I laid my son down two weeks after becoming a new mother and cringing because the thought of touching him repulsed me. Because I didn’t want him to touch me. His crying and my exhaustion and me feeling like I couldn’t do anything right (including breastfeeding challenges)…it was overwhelming. And it didn’t stop. With each new life I birthed into this world, my darkness found new depths and more desolate places to dwell. This happened to me. This silent inner monster had blackened everything…and it didn’t go away.

I reached that breaking point a year ago today. I realized that I was unwell. That it wasn’t normal to want to die. That it wasn’t normal to be experiencing panic attacks and blackouts and physical pain because you didn’t want to move or deal or face anyone or anything. That running away from bonding emotionally through touch wasn’t normal.

I’ll tell you what didn’t help.

  • The very cautious ventures into the world of mental health and community before my breaking point had so far amounted to bible verses being shoved down my raw throat (If you just do ABC, God will make it all better!) and people frustrated with my questions because “How could you think this about God? It just isn’t true, and you have to figure that out!”
  • I was told “You’re breastfeeding! There should be tons of lovey warm hormones flowing through you. That isn’t possible!”
  • I was told “Well I got over it, I just had to make up my mind to pull myself up out of this funk.” To which I said “Really? Because I’ve been trying for 5 years and 3 more kids now…and it isn’t working.”
  • I was told “It’s just the baby blues. You just need  YOU-time.” And while that may be the healing ticket someone needs to start getting better…it wasn’t mine. It was only a small number in the equation that was my situation.

What did I do? Well, nothing huge to start with. But talking to someone about it helped. (for me, that was my partner.) No, he wasn’t perfect, but he sat there. And listened. I told him that I was terrified. All the time. I was angry. Angry that God allowed my life to experience what I have. That it wasn’t necessary. That everyone’s life would be better off without me in it. That I wasn’t what anyone needed and I wasn’t healthy for anyone to deal with. I was scared of repeating the harm and emotional and relational damage that was done to me in my own childhood. That started my own journey to health. Reaching out, finding resources, wanting better.

I found a few resources online to point me in the right direction. I was currently breastfeeding my 4th little one and didn’t even know if there were medication options available for me. I didn’t know WHAT I needed, exactly. I just knew that up to that point? Nothing was working. And it needed to change. This had been going on for 5 years. FIVE. YEARS. I didn’t even know what normal meant for me anymore…I only knew THIS. I found a therapist through my state’s mental health resources. I was connected with people that didn’t look down on me like I was some unfit mother…but as a valuable human being who had a condition and in need of help navigating through my depression and anxiety so that I could be healthy again.

Postpartum depression and anxiety isn’t just in your head. It isn’t imagined or something you can just will away or pretend it doesn’t exist.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS real.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS a monster.

But it’s a monster you DON’T have to try slaying on your own.

photo: urban bay photography

photo: urban bay photography

Am I there yet? No. But some days I am better.

Sometimes I can look up now and notice that the way the wind moves through the trees is beautiful. I can catch glimpses of hope in my eyes when I look in the mirror. Some days are dark. Really dark. But they are not ALL dark, now. I am not alone. I know now that it’s ok to reach out to the people in my life who are helping me through this. My husband. My therapist. My councilor.  My mind…is better. Medication,therapy, counseling, therapeutic touch, acupuncture, babywearing, herbal supplements, meals…those are a few things that are helping me.  The biggest catalyst for me? Speaking up. Spreading awareness of just what postpartum depression and anxiety feels like and what it can do and resources that are out there to help mothers struggling. Because I am there. WE are there. And things CAN get better. WE are not alone.

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Speak. Don’t stay silent.

Your voice may shake. Your knees may buckle. The monster inside may scream at you. But know you are enough. There IS help. The world IS more beautiful because you are in it. Courage, dear heart. You are enough. And this heart of yours is being forged into a masterpiece. You. Are. LOVED.

Some resources that helped me understand my postpartum depression and anxiety:

-Artistic infographics on what it feels like to live with depression and anxiety. Good for people who want to help but don’t know what to do.

-A helpful collection of comic strips because a different perspective and sense of humor can help.

-A great checklist and resource page that helped me in recognizing PPD and PPA.

 

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“The One Where We Nurture The Nurturer <3” The Leaky Times Newsletter, Vol. 4

Welcome to The Leaky Boob’s latest newsletter: “Weaning and Beyond!”

Some of the formatting didn’t adjust to our website just right; to see it in a new window the way it was meant to look, click here!

Tell us what you think in a comment below! How do you like it? What feature would you include in future newsletters? What is your favorite feature?

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The following is a little preview of what’s included in this week’s newsletter:

Hey there, Leaky! This week we’re talking about Nurturing the Nurturer. YOU. Taking care of yourself so that you can thrive in this season of your life! We have some fantastic interactive links and articles designed to encourage you in self-care and celebrate in anticipation of Mother’s Day on May 10th! Keep scrolling for some YUMMY recipes, new Leaky Comic, our upcoming MILK conference, and our LAST giveaway for TLB’s Birthday celebration. You don’t want to miss out! 

In The One Where We Nurture The Nurturer you will find:

Newsletter exclusive: letter to the Leakies from TLB founder, Jessica Martin-Weber.

Our BEST articles and advice on taking care of YOU.

Information on MiLK: An Infant Feeding Conference.

Ask The CPST Feature.

Boobs and Bottles Around the Web.

Leaky to Leaky Tips for Self-nurturing.

Leaky Chronicles.

A special recipe from Our Stable Table.

Highlights from our sister sites.

TLB Comics.

To access all this and more, read the newsletter here and be sure to sign up to have it delivered directly to your inbox.

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