Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Apologies, Retractions, Clarifications, and Sweeping Generalizations

Just some quick updates to the great breastfeeding debate of '14. I think the most noteworthy thing about the hundred or so comments it inspired was how friendly and respectful all the disagreers were. I didn't have to delete a single comment.

I love that about you guys. That we can disagree, passionately, about important things. And not get mean.

Thank you so much for that.

When I write a content-type post, I almost always sit on it for a day or two. I reread it. I ask the husband to look at it. I want it to say what I mean, and be free from spelling and grammatical errors, and be funny if at all possible, and not be hurtful or offensive. 

I did that with this post. But, unfortunately, I have heard from multiple people whose opinion I respect that I came across to some folks as judgmental and unkind and that my stance might be damaging to women who are struggling with body image or are having a difficult time nursing. That I was shaming women.


That was certainly not my intent. My intent was to describe my own personal journey. I am an advocate for breastfeeding. I am an advocate for public breastfeeding. And yet, I'm not comfortable with "top-down" nursing. Even though I think nursing is good and normal. As I tried to process why that was, I realized that I have a standard of modesty for myself and I prefer to and am able to maintain that standard even while nursing. So I do. And I wanted to tell you why and how.

Do I think everyone should agree with me? Sure. Absolutely I do. That's why I have a blog. But I don't have an expectation that everyone will. And I won't love you less if you don't.

The comment section was overwhelmingly a discussion of whether breasts are rightly considered sexual. I was involved in that discussion. It was an interesting exercise. But, really, the more I've thought about it, the more it really doesn't have anything at all to do with what I'm talking about.

I certainly don't cover while nursing because I fear that anyone will think it's sexy. I just do it to try to be polite. I think that's the word I was searching for. Not dignity, which, of course, every mother has. Not even really modesty, although that is part of my personal motivation. But modesty is predominantly concerned with intent, and while some women do appear to be breastfeeding in an attention seeking way, I doubt that that applies to anyone who reads my blog or that I know in my Catholic homeschool mama circles.

It's just me trying to be polite. I know that I don't even always do a perfect job. Sometimes I forget a cover or scarf and have to make do. Sometimes my baby is wiggly and a scarf is no match for her. But I make the attempt because I think it's good manners. That's why I do it.

Also brought to my attention was the fact that I was flippant about the fact that nursing is easy for me, but it isn't easy for everyone, and that my post could be potentially very discouraging for mothers who are having a hard time.

I do not want this blog to be a discouraging place. I do have an easy time. Now. And, while I had a hard time for the first few weeks with my first baby and a surprisingly rough start to nursing this go round, I've probably had an easier time than most women. I've also been very fortunate to be literally surrounded by other nursing moms at the park every Friday. Nursing, and public nursing, has seemed very normal to me since I've been a part of this particular community.

I wish every mom could have the same type of support system. If you don't, I encourage you to try to find it. It makes a huge difference.

If you are struggling, I'm so sorry. Probably it will get better. But maybe it won't, and that will be okay too. If you were offended or discouraged by what I wrote, I'm sorry.


Anyway, I've decided not to edit the original post, except for the title, because while I may have stated it clumsily, it's still what I think. I hope this clears up my intent.

And, if I may, I would like to state for the record that if it ever appears to you that I have meant to shame or humiliate or be condescending toward you . . . it was not intentional. I meant to be supportive and encouraging and funny. And that last one is probably what did me in.

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26 comments:

  1. You seem like the sweetest, most well meaning person! Thanks for being so wonderfully humble about this whole discussion.

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    1. Absolutely agree with Jessica.

      I am very impressed by your modesty and should say once more that Catholic Church must be so proud of you.
      Polite? I think people (me too) tend to forget this very often, so thanks for reminding.

      You are funny and witty indeed. :0) and a real lady like your dad taught you, right?

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    2. Thanks ladies! And yes Sophie, absolutely.

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  2. Thank you for the follow up!
    Both of my children had severe food allergies and although I was able to nurse my daughter, I had to stop nursing my son at 3 months because he had failure to thrive and could not digest any food proteins. Intellectually I understood why I needed to stop nursing and start feeding him an absolutely foul smelling prescription formula, but emotionally it took me a lot longer to accept that this was best for him.

    I realized after reading your post that I might still not be over it. When you mentioned that all your babies were exclusively breastfed and had never been fed a bottle it briefly brought up those feelings of guilt - that I somehow failed my little boy.
    Being familiar with your blog, I know that it wasn't your intention, of course! (or even the point of the post), but I appreciate the follow up.
    Thank you!

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    1. Thanks Ali. I'd do just the same thing if I were in your circumstances. It's easy for those of us who can do it to take nursing for granted. But reading about Nella from Is There McDonalds in Heaven, who bottle fed her most recent baby because of her own cancer treatments, and being a part of a family member's unsuccessful struggle to nurse both really changed my outlook. Thanks for reading!

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  3. This post has such a ring of sincerity to it. The overall tone and message between the lines conveys your intention. I teach communication and was thinking this post would be a good example of sincere tone to show my students. The only problem is that I doubt my 18-19 YO students would get what all the fuss is about.

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  4. Oh my gosh, how I love your cans of worms and the vigorous debates that ensue when you crack them wide open.

    Your use of the words "dignified" and "undignified" had me seeing red from the get go, I'll admit, and colored the entire debate, I think. Thusly, I really, really appreciate just that one small change in title- the lens of the argument. It really is more about manners, isn't it? A common courtesy, I guess you might call it? I can toooootally agree with you on that.

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    1. I'm so glad Sarah. And while I enjoyed the debate, I wish I had been more careful with my language to begin with!

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  5. This is what I love about the internet. When I say I don't understand something, it really does mean that I don't understand it but I'd like to try. I have started to realize though that because it's not a face to face conversation, people read "I don't understand why someone would…" and they hear in their heads a tone so far removed from what I'm intending. Like there is some sassy spark to it which there really isn't. If there is one thing that I am so thankful to the Catholic Mommy Blogging World for, it's that it has helped me come out of my little bubble and understand people better. It's taught me that people's circumstances can be very different from mine and people's faith journeys are theirs and theirs alone, each one unique. I know that sounds simple minded, but it has been and still is a process of learning and something I'm discovering new all over again…quite frequently amongst the new bloggers I'm finding.

    Anyway, I think you are showing great charity with this post and since our favorite Cistercian priest loves to remind us that charity is the currency of Heaven, I will say that for my part, I am sorry if I offended anyone by any of my comments. I'm sorry if anyone felt like I was "looking down" on those women who for whatever reason (fashion, convenience, or necessity) choose to nurse with their entire breast exposed. I really don't. Just because I say I don't always understand the choices that lead to that situation, doesn't mean that I condemn them as exhibitionists. I realize that my use of the term "militant" to describe some breastfeeding philosophies might have been offensive to some women. Like Ali above, I guess I have some lingering "issues" with the women I knew who best fit that description. The ones who made me feel like a failure as a mother for allowing my oldest son to *gasp* use a pacifier occasionally so that I could get a shower even though I was still nursing him every two hours all day and all night long until he was a year old. The ones I felt I had to pump in secret around when my youngest son bit me at 3 months old with his brand new bottom teeth and damaged my breast so badly that I had to pump and bottle feed him for a month to allow it to heal properly. (I still consider him exclusively breastfed because thankfully it was only a month and my supply was sufficient enough that we didn't need to supplement.) The ones who told me I was a prude and was ashamed of my body when really I was just private and had my own personal standards of modesty. Yeah… there might still be some issues there! Thanks for the great conversation, Kendra.

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    1. Just to clarify… what I love about the internet is the opportunity for me to learn more about other people and try to understand them better.

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    2. Charlotte, I appreciated your input on the first post and on this one. I feel the same way about this community. It really does challenge me to consider other perspective and really figure out what I think about things. I love that.

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  6. I hope you aren't upset that I am upset that some people got upset. I didn't weigh in on the other discussion. Why? Well, for starters, I don't nurse my kids. I had reasons. Too many lactivists have shamed me for not trying harder, for not giving my baby the best, for setting a bad example and for being ashamed of my body. Oy vey! The husband of a friend who is a big lactivist just commented to me the other day when my 4mo was hungry and I whipped out a bottle to feed her, "look, [his 11 month old's name]! That baby takes a bottle so well." I smiled and said, "yeah, if she wants to live, she needs to drink from a bottle."

    I love to see nursing moms nursing their babies. I don't love seeing someone's nipple when their 2 year old pulls off their breast and walks away and the mom doesn't notice and cover up. I keep my eyes on her eyes, but peripheral vision and all. I am not asking her to cover all but her eyes, but rather to be polite and not make those around her uncomfortable.

    No, don't be ashamed of covering yourself in a way that makes you comfortable or not covering yourself in a way that makes you comfortable. But don't be surprised when those of us who don't want to view your uncovered breast walk away or look away.

    Not ashamed of your body and it's normal functions is the way to go. Also letting your toddler run around your friend's house bare-butted because you are using elimination communication for her natural body functions and telling your friend to get over it and not think it is weird will keep your friend from inviting you over again for the foreseeable future. Just sayin'.

    Flame away 💩

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  7. You have just given me lots to think about and I never thought there was shaming. But thanks for being so open to talking to the community.

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  8. I've been blogging for 9 and a half years and over time have developed a bit of a self-censor about not necessarily what I blog about but how I blog about things. It's not that I'm afraid of what people will think about what I think... it's that I don't want the message to be blurred by a contentious phrase or statement that is offensive. If people get focused on that one offensive statement, they don't hear anything else you are saying. I think you do an amazing job with kindly expressing your thoughts and even on points where we might not be exactly in sync, I feel enlightened rather than enraged by hearing your viewpoint. *hugs*

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  9. I loved the previous article and didn't comment or read the comments - now I'll have to go back!

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  10. Quite a few of our young moms at Birthline have nursing issues and come to us for formula. We have two certified lactate consultants and one has given several of the volunteers a short course in how to help. It's amazing how much success we do have in getting the breast feeding going again. Formula is very expensive so the longer we can help these moms to nurse their babies the better it is for both of them. Some babies have special needs and it doesn't work but with support and free scarves we do find a good degree of success

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  11. So admittedly, I did not read any of the comments on your last post. But, this post reminded me of this brilliant post on modesty and it's relation with cultural trends. I thought you might enjoy her take :)
    http://carrotduchy.blogspot.com/2014/05/closet-philosophy.html

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  12. I appreciate the thoughtful commentary. I just wanted to chime in that I found that community of nursing women through the La Leche League, in case others find it helpful. Some people might not like the "organization" but at the grassroots level it's a just a local place where you can get together with other moms and see nursing moms in action and get help with struggles. At least where I am, very few of the moms in the group were in it for political reasons, just to chat with other moms about whatever comes up. And my midwife suggested that I go the first meeting while pregnant, so that in those first few days after birth, the support system was already there--that was very helpful.

    I wouldn't call my nursing experience "easy" (especially for the first few weeks with both kids) but it certainly was relative to others I know. Part of that, like you said, was having a community of nursing moms to help. I have lots of friends who stopped breastfeeding because it was difficult and didn't feel natural (I'm absolutely not talking about medical issues, allergies or anything of that sort), but they were also missing a place to be where nursing was the norm rather than the exception.

    (And just so people don't think I'm not encouraging or shaming, those friends who stopped nursing for non-medical reasons? Still awesome (in the non-slang sense of the word) moms, doing what it takes to feed their child the best they can--that's what I would hope for children everywhere.)

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  13. I loved your post Kendra! So much! Ironically though, that same day, another blogger wrote a very popular post that I mostly agreed with but that kinda rubbed me wrong a bit because my own circumstances had made it difficult for me to please everyone in that area. I'm not a blogger, but as one who reads bogs I guess I just need to learn to think charitably of others and assume they are thinking the same of others.

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  14. Well done, sweetie pie. You're one of my favorite people to disagree with (mostly because we agree on so many things that it spices things up) and I love you bunches. This is such a gracious, humble, and thoughtful follow-up.

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  15. I should have commented on your other post right when I read it. It was PERFECTLY done, and hit the nail on the head for me, a breastfeeding mom, who prefers to cover up while nursing. I knew you would have some serious discussions in your comments, and I wanted to tell you that I LOVED your post. I get frustrated that women get up at arms over something like this, and take it out on your because you feel you need to speak your mind. You SHOULD NOT take anything back, or change your post (I'm so glad you aren't) because this is your blog, and you, as a modest, respectful Catholic mom has said something so eloquently that applies to all of us, and we should listen!
    Thank you!!

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  16. Thanks, Kendra. I was one of your readers who did read your post and feel a little sorry for myself that my own breastfeeding experience was so miserable I quit after three months. I was happy that it's gone well for you; just felt a little sad that because my baby was formula fed, he won't become president, like the lactation consultant promised all our babies would be if we breastfed them a full 12 months.

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  17. Put on your supergirl costume, Kendra. Humility makes you a writer worth reading in my book.

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  18. Very graciously done, Kendra. I think your very confidence can be threatening, because we all take this motherhood thing so seriously, and fear and self doubt are always looming! And it is so, so hard to be as careful with our words as some women need us to be. I wrote a post on June 3 about clothing and breastfeeding! I would love it if you and any of your readers wanted to look and comment.
    http://clairesacrificeofpraise.blogspot.com/2014/06/five-fave-nursing-fashions.html
    Claire

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  19. For what it's worth, I don't think you overstepped in your first post. But then, that could be because I agree with you :) It certainly is hard to put an opinion out there in the age of the internet when there are many situations that could color your words for your readers. But I think you handled the whole thing with class, as usual.

    It's interesting that you bring up politeness, because I definitely mentioned "courtesy" to my husband the other night while discussing the whole thing. I don't think it sets back the breastfeeding cause to think of other people's sensibilities if we are able.

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  20. I'm commenting again on this topic because of the rabbit trail of your modesty post (somewhat recent) and another one of your breastfeeding posts. I do appreciate your balanced approach. I do not find you in the least bit offensive (maybe because I agree with your viewpoint). Perhaps because of my "worldly" background, I do take umbrage at one statement you made: "I certainly don't cover while nursing because I fear that anyone will think it's sexy." This is my problem with those who don't cover while nursing. It may not seem "sexy" to you, but suffice it to say, that it is that way to some. That's why I appreciate the covered approach to breastfeeding. NOT that women are responsible for the thoughts of men, but that we should try not to scandalize. Breastfeeding is not sexual, but it involves breasts, which are sexual.

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