It's been a busy week in breastfeeding news. On Monday, the journal Pediatrics published a study about breastfeeding, showing that over 900 American babies die each year and 13 billion dollars are spent due to low breastfeeding rates. Almost immediately, the internet seemed to explode with reactions. Gina from the Feminist Breeder took the information and wrote what I believe is one of the best analyses of breastfeeding in Western society that I have ever read. Articles popped up left and right discussing how to deal with the "guilt" that accompanies sharing information about breastfeeding. Matador Life published a well-written and comprehensive article detailing the ongoing Facebook vs. breastfeeding saga (featuring yours truly...). I read and I read, and then I read some more.
And now something is gnawing at me.
We have all of this information, all of these analyses, all of this movement. But I wonder how we will really move forward, how we will really succeed at changing things, when we have a sensitive, fragile, and bitter divide threatening to let us all continue to spin our wheels without ever actually going anywhere.
Here is the issue: Some mothers breastfeed. Some mothers do not. You knew that, I know. But hear me out.
The CDC reports that 75% of mothers leave the hospital having initiated breastfeeding. Six months later, that number drops down to 13.6% who are still exclusively breastfeeding.
Although I have a lot of thoughts about what happens to those 61.4% of women, it's not something I want to discuss right here and right now. It's been discussed - a lot in fact (okay fine. Quick summary: society bullies them out of continuing.) - and my concern this time lies elsewhere.
My concern is how we all learn to work together. How we heal the wounds of the mothers who desperately wanted to succeed at breastfeeding but did not. How we swallow our pride, set our noble principles down for a moment, and respond with empathy to the human experiences of one another. How we admit that perhaps we all need to do better together.
Here's what's so tricky about all of it. Although society as a collective whole is to blame for not providing mothers with the support, information, and education they need to succeed in breastfeeding, change happens in individual increments. Essentially, we are asking mothers to look society in the eye, punch it in the gut, and overcome all of the social barriers that stand in their way - with no more tools to succeed than they originally started with. It's a chicken and egg dilemma of epic proportions - with human lives and billions of dollars at stake. Society will not change until individuals change, yet demanding individual change within an unsupportive society is hardly simple. Hardly fair.
But it is where we are.
The study published in Pediatrics based its numbers on how things would be if we brought that 13.6% up to 90% of mothers still exclusively breastfeeding at six months.
76.4% of mothers is massive change.
We're not going to get there by fighting.
We're not going to get there by blaming one another.
We're not going to get there by standing on soapboxes, getting defensive, or indulging old wounds.
As with any battle, patriarchy has always benefited from the in-fighting of the oppressed. When mothers fight mothers, it is babies who lose.
I'm not suggesting we hedge. I'm not suggesting we tiptoe. I'm suggesting we suck it up, get over ourselves, and work together.
There are nine hundred and eleven babies who are counting on us to succeed.