Tag Archives: Doula & LCCE

How I Learned to Support A Mother’s Choice Not To Breastfeed

10 Feb

bottle fed baby

It was a blazing summer evening two years ago and our weekly childbirth class was filled to the brim with parents laughing and talking over their meal. The last session of our six-week birth education course had arrived – it was graduation night (everyone could go have their babies now, we always joked). In celebration we all brought food and shared a meal together before the onset of class.

While all the expectant couples were enjoying their BBQ, lost in conversation and anticipation over how their lives would change, the midwives pulled the other instructor and me aside. They had something they needed to share with us.

There was one expectant mother in our group who was choosing not to breastfeed. The CNMs urged us to keep this mother’s choice in mind as we approached our teaching session on breastfeeding and the nutritional needs of a newborn. We were asked to use the phrase “feeding your baby” when we could instead of “breastfeeding” to help this mother, who already felt guilty and ostracized for her unusual choice in this natural birthing environment, feel included in the conversation.

I bristled at the idea that we were coddling a mother’s poor decision. I thought it was irresponsible of us to not speak openly and directly as we always did on the amazing and overwhelming evidence-based benefits of breastfeeding. Besides, if she’s going to make a choice to deny her newborn the very best nutrients he needs then she should at least face it full-on. My job isn’t to white-wash anything. Breast is best.

But she knew that, I was told, rather sharply. She was well-informed on the benefits of breastfeeding, even so, she had personal reasons not to breastfeed her son. (None of which they shared with me, by the way.) Besides, no one was asking me to shelter her from breastfeeding benefits, only to make room in my conversations for formula use.

I was reminded that my job in that moment was to offer the best education I could to this mother to fit her needs and choices, without judgment. After all, do I support birthing mothers, or do I only support mothers who birth the way I see fit?

After all, do I support birthing mothers, or do I only support mothers who birth the way I see fit?

As we taught our class and covered our material, Sarah (I’ll call her Sarah, but that is not her real name) sat quietly through it all. I tried not to give her eye-contact as I went over warning signs of things that she wouldn’t ever deal with, things like thrush, clogged milk ducts, and mastitis. (Or would she?)

That night, as couples said good-bye and we hugged each round-bellied mother, offering hopeful hearts that the seeds we’d sown would blossom into beautiful birth stories for each family, Sarah stayed behind.

The midwives suggested we spend some personal time after class explaining to Sarah how to dry up her milk and offer further resources to her on bottle-feeding. Sarah and her husband sat in the living room waiting sweetly for us to talk her through it all.

Knowing she could not control birth, knowing she could not control motherhood, but knowing she could control this: the choice to breastfeed.

Hot tea was poured into our mugs and we all sat cross-legged on the floor and began to discuss the best technique for drying up her milk. At some point, after everything had been said, Sarah looked up at us, a circle of women gathered around her, and with an open heart, shared her story.

With brief and sharp details, Sarah explained how she was a survivor of sexual abuse and that it was a dark line that cast a shadow over her body. For this reason, she could not bring herself to breastfeed her baby. The emotional memories connected to certain parts of her body were still all too real.

She loved her son, and she wanted the very best for him, and in her case, she knew the best for him was to allow these memories – which were deeply rooted into her body – to stay quiet. She could do this by keeping (some of) her body to herself.

Knowing she could not control birth, knowing she could not control motherhood, but knowing she could at least control this: the choice to breastfeed. Sarah understood that by making the choice to bottle-feed, she would be in a better place to bond with her son, giving him a love untouched by resentment.

I knew her name, but I did not know her story

I realized something that evening that I feel indebted to always remember in my work with women: after six weeks of classes with Sarah, I knew her name, I knew her due date, I knew the gender of her child, but I did not know her story.

We can never fully know the stories of the mothers we serve. As a doula and a birth educator, I’m privileged only to what a woman shares with me, and often it is simply a picture of her present life, not her past.

And if a woman shares her past with me, it is by comparison, only a tiny glimpse into the story that really occurred – a condensed version that she feels comfortable expressing on that day, at that particular time – there is much left unsaid.

The words left unspoken tell a deeper story than the words that are spoken. And because of this, I must trust that when a woman makes an informed choice not to breastfeed she’s doing so because she knows ultimately what is best for her and her baby.

In return, I must offer the best support I can give without judgement or assumptions – something that every mother is deserving of.

Our birth prejudices get in the way

Too often in the natural childbirth community we reward a woman with our support when she births like we do and breastfeeds like we do. And if she does not birth or breastfeed in ways we feel are best, we turn our back on her with our judgment, proving that we hold our birth ideologies in higher regard than the women we are committed to serving. We allow our birth prejudices to get in the way of our care.

(I hope you’ll read that statement again.)

I understand and support the unequivocal benefits of breastfeeding. I want to see breastfeeding normalized and embraced in our culture. I hope to see access to breastfeeding resources become more readily available. I happily celebrate that milk-banks are becoming slowly more common in the US. I’m a breastfeeding advocate to the core.

But first and foremost, I’m an advocate for women.

When a mother feels fully cared for – equipped with confidence and security in her abilities and choices – she is then enabled to offer better care to her baby.

I see no outcasts. I see no second-class mothers with bottles in hand. I only see mothers with babies who are in need of support and love.

And maybe when I offer her care that is free of judgment or pretense, she’ll tell me her story.

I hope so, because I’m listening.

………………………………………………………….

Something to think about:

How to Give Up Breastfeeding And Not Feel Guilty About It – Porch Philosophy

Links to explore for Bottle-Feeding Support and Education:

Baby-led Bottle Feeding

Bottle Babies

Fearless Formula Feeder

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Yoga: In Which Zumba Might Have Some Competition

31 Aug

I’ve really been sinking my teeth into my new gym membership at Oasis. The classes are knocking my socks off. The last two weeks I’ve attended classes at least once a day, sometimes even twice – especially when the classes line up back to back. (Totally want to give a huge thumbs up to the fantastic childcare Oasis offers. Such a plus!)

Last Friday I hit up my first Yoga class. The instructor was a roundish through the middle, tiny older woman, who had legs like a teenager. She walked around the class room and just chatted with us like we were her kids. At one point, I thought for sure she was going to offer me some chicken soup and ask if I married a good Jewish boy. If Dr. Ruth was a yoga instructor from Chicago … well, you get the picture.

I’ve only taken a couple of yoga classes – in my life. Twice in Jerusalem at the local YMCA, early in my pregnancy with my daughter, Zoe. And then again, when I was pregnant with my son, Noah – I bought a prenatal yoga DVD (that I loved, but didn’t do often enough).

Simply said, I’m a novice. But a little pat on the back for me, I kept up pretty well with the others in the room. Downward dog is fantastic – and my new favorite resting position: head upside down, staring right through my thighs, focusing on my breath. Dr. Chicago-Ruth-Yoga-Genius even had us attempt the Crow pose. I gave it my best shot. I got both my feet off the ground for about two milliseconds.

Crow Pose

I liked that class so much that on Saturday I took another Yoga class. This one was faster paced and we moved seamlessly from one pose to another. Our instructor was a younger woman with a lovely Spanish accent. At the end of our class, while we all laid on our mats – the music soft, the lights low – our instructor came by to each of us in the room and gently massaged our feet, our ankles and our calves.

I was so moved by this gesture. I felt a little vulnerable, too. The instructor’s presence and touch reminded me of my work as a doula. Except I was on the receiving end for a change. For some reason, at the end of that class I wanted to cry.

On Tuesday night I took my third Yoga class of the week, Vinyasa flow. Holy smokes! I had no idea what I was in for with this class. The instructor, a peaceful, short-haired, muscled woman, really had us breathing, moving our bodies, and “connecting with the Divine” she said. She asked us to center our focus on what we needed from our session and for the week. Strength? Peace? Love? She encouraged us to take it in with our breath.

Honestly, I haven’t plugged in to God like that in a long time. Vinyasa flow was compelling and moving. It brought in the physical element of worship/meditation in a way that you can’t often experience in a church sanctuary. This connection of mastering your body (of engaging your core – both physically and emotionally), while you master your breath and your mind offered me a holistic, healing, and spiritual experience.

At the end of our class, our instructor came to each one of us and gently touched us, just like the last class I attended. (Is this a Yoga thing?) This instructor massaged my shoulders and neck. Surprised with myself, I was fighting tears, again. That tenderness of a woman with a gentle spirit reaching out – breaking the social ‘no touch’ norm among strangers, and connecting with me was beautiful and soulful.

I had a doula client who told me I reminded her of her Yoga mentor. I never quite understood her connection. How could being a doula be anything like teaching Yoga? But in the moment, while I laid on my mat, at the end of an hour-long session where I pushed my body to the far reach of its abilities, in that quiet and tender space of softening my body and connecting to my breath, I understood what she meant. Suddenly, my client’s compliment made perfect sense.

All in all, folks, it looks like Zumba’s got some competition with Yoga. I liked trusting in the strength of my body – something required of you as you commit to each pose. I loved how strong my body felt after each session. I enjoyed how each instructor brought her own charm to the class. I appreciated how connected I felt to my faith while practicing something physical and demanding.

I’m not sure which one will be my new favorite six weeks from now … I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

While doing a little reading this evening (ah, I have so much more space for that now that I’m not spending time on Facebook) I came across this cool couple. He’s a musician and she’s a yoga instructor, and he plays live while she leads a class. What they’re doing is really special and hip, so check them out: Go W/The Flow

The Birth Interview Project | Michelle’s First Birth Center Birth

24 Jun

The Birth Interview Project consists of 17 simple questions designed to help mothers process their birth story & share it with others. All mothers are invited to take part in this project. Born out of Joy’s desire to help women discover, process and express the  feelings surrounding their birth experiences, The Birth Interview Project strives to offer a platform for mothers and readers alike to share and be heard, to search and to discover, to identify and to heal, and to exhort and remember. The views and opinions expressed here are unique to each woman who takes part in the Birth Interview Project and may not always reflect the values of the blog author.

Please give a brief description of yourself, and what number baby/birth you’re sharing with us.

Hi! I am Michelle, mother of Laurel who is currently my only child. Although we are expecting another one at the end of May! My birth experience empowered me so much that I became a doula and currently I am a birth assistant at a local birth center.

What was your due date, and what was your baby’s birth date?

Due date: July 4th. Birth Date: June 27th

What is your baby’s name, and what was their weight and length?

Laurel Katharine,  8lbs 9oz and 18.5 inches long.

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The Birth Interview Project | Heidi’s 3rd VBAC – home waterbirth

8 Apr

The Birth Interview Project consists of 17 simple questions designed to help mothers process their birth story & share it with others. All mothers are invited to take part in this project. Born out of Joy’s desire to help women discover, process and express the  feelings surrounding their birth experiences, The Birth Interview Project strives to offer a platform for mothers and readers alike to share and be heard, to search and to discover, to identify and to heal, and to exhort and remember. The views and opinions expressed here are unique to each woman who takes part in the Birth Interview Project and may not reflect the values of the blog author.


Please give a brief description of yourself, and what number baby/birth you’re sharing with us.

I’m Heidi, wife to Kit and mom to six little ones.   We are homeschoolers and I’m a doula in my spare time.  :)  I’m sharing the birth story of our sixth baby, which was our third VBAC (2HBAC, first in the water.  Would that be WBAC?) :) .  We’ve alternated boys & girls and after our fifth baby was born the kids announced we had one spot left in our van and one empty chair at our dining table and we needed to fill it.  My husband said we really needed to balance out the boy-girl ratio, too.  

What was your due date, and what was your baby’s birth date?

I was due mid-October, but we’ve never gotten to our due date and my husband really wanted her to arrive on 10/2/10.  Our daughter cooperated.  Such a sweet baby!  :)

What was Miss O’s weight and length?

7lbs 7ozs and 21″ long.
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