I wasn’t going to get involved in this, as I certainly have no intention of getting stuck in the feeding debate. But yesterday I read this post from Fiona over at A Mum Track Mind, and I loved it. However, I was left feeling like I had a little something to add and couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Let me start by saying that I think Fiona is right:
“What I am not ok with is the breast v bottle bandwagon that has since been resurrected and jumped all over. Debates are once again raging left, right and centre on social media about how breastfeeding is amazing (true), how bottle feeding mums are being made to feel bad (also true) and everything in between.”
“So just feed your kids. Love them. Cuddle them. Keep them alive. But please stop harping on about the rights and wrongs of it and move on people”.
It sums it up, right?
Her question is why are we still talking about this and getting involved in the ‘how to feed your baby’ debate?! Why does every little attempt at talking about or showing breastfeeding mothers bring this up?
Can’t we just let everyone get on and be happy with their own thing (whatever that is) parenting-wise and just let them be??
To me, there are 3 more things left to be said about the Tree of Life photos that are going round on the internet.
1. These photos are beautiful
Let’s stop for a second and look at these photos.
You may or may not like them. You may or may not think they’re arty. Or you may or may not care!
But to the mum who has downloaded the app and made one of herself with her baby or babies, these are absolutely beautiful and precious.
To ALL mums who have made them, they are precious.
To the mum who exclusively breastfeeds, to the mum who bottle feeds and to the mum who combine feeds. If you’ve got one, you love it! If you’ve got two, you love them both. And you get the gist, I’m sure.
Each one of those photos is precious to someone, INCLUDING the ones that show the tree rooting into a bottle.
And I’m sure they’re beautiful in the eyes of a lot of other people too, me included. I loved going through lots of them, seeing my friends’, and recognising how different they all are – some of them have even made me quite emotional too!
So for once, can we not just look at them and be happy for those mums who have them and can treasure them for years to come? And then can we just move on?
2. They were never made with the intention to make anyone feel bad – they can actually help!
It is really really sad that so many mums who WANT to breastfeed struggle to or can’t breastfeed at all. We have all heard tons of stories of mums who didn’t get the right support they needed at the beginning of their journey into motherhood and had to stop breastfeeding before they were ready to.
And you know what?
Having a choice – something that you feel so passionate about, something that you really badly want to do, something SO important to you and your family – taken away from you, sucks. It hurts. And it can leave feelings behind for a long long time.
Of course, to the mother who couldn’t breastfeed, seeing these photos plastered everywhere she looks isn’t going to be good. And if she feels the need to justify herself once again for bottle feeding, it means we’ve all failed her. Because she simply shouldn’t.
But the photos weren’t meant to hurt her.
And this mum’s story is EXACTLY why these photos can help.
Because breastfeeding needs to be normalised. For all the mums in that situation.
Because generations and generations ago we lost that big support network that once existed where new mums used to learn how to breastfeed by watching their own mothers, aunts, cousins and sisters do it.
We don’t have that anymore. We don’t all live in the same place or next door to each other. And we don’t live in the same town or city as our ‘tribe of women’, and often we don’t even live in the same country anymore.
Today we have a support model that keeps failing new mums, and it’s not my place to get into this, so I won’t.
But the point is that breastfeeding is no longer ‘the norm’. It’s no longer what you see all around you growing up.
And you know what else we have today?
We have social media.
Social media who don’t welcome ‘breastfeeding scenes’, because those are not for the public eye to see. They are classed as nudity. They are offensive, apparently.
Unless they’re covered up in beautiful art.
These are a bunch of beautiful, artistic photos that allow us to share something we wouldn’t normally be able to share on social media. Something that your 13-year-old niece and her friends wouldn’t see otherwise. And probably the closest they are going to get to seeing a breastfeeding mother ‘in action’.
We DO need to normalise breastfeeding.
Breast IS best.
Fed IS best.
They are both true.
There shouldn’t be an argument here. There shouldn’t be a debate about the right’s and wrong’s of feeding your babies.
The only debate should be around why so many mums who would love to breastfeed are not enabled and supported to.
Normalising breastfeeding doesn’t mean: “Look at me – I’m breastfeeding, and you’re not, so I’m better than you”.
I’ve met many breastfeeding mums ‘in real life’, and NO ONE I know has ever gone up to someone else and tried to shame them for doing anything different. No one.
This is not what these photos were meant to do.
3. We can’t blame these photos for our feelings
I breastfed all my children for an average of 2 years each and a total of just under 6 years.
Do you know what I thought when I saw these photos: “These are BEAUTIFUL! But I’m just sad I can’t get one of these for each of my babies”.
I didn’t take brelfies (I’m pretty sure 8 years ago this word didn’t even exist) – it’s just not in my nature, and I never felt comfortable having those photos on my phone. Had they looked like this, I probably would have. But now I can’t recreate them. And I feel it’d be really lovely to have one for each one of my babies to treasure and to keep. If not for them, maybe just for me.
The one in this post is an old photo from 4 years ago, with my second child and is probably the only breastfeeding photo I have. Me. The person who breastfed for nearly 6 years of her life. For two thirds of her married life and life for the majority of her life as a mother. I don’t have photos.
I’ve seen some amazing images and felt a little sadness and a little envy over them.
But those are my feelings. My reactions to it. I don’t blame the breastfeeding mothers for it. Or the internet. No one woke up one day with the purpose to make me feel bad. And certainly not thousands of women I’ve never met.
I can choose to dwell on these feelings and let them ruin my day (or rather not, because honestly, there ARE much bigger problems in this world that we and our children live in at the moment).
Or I can choose to make someone else feel sad about them because I do, so others must too. Or rather not, because that just doesn’t achieve anything, and it’s not what I’m about at all.
I can choose to just move on.
Acknowledge that I have my own feelings about them, and perhaps try and focus on the reasons why. Because I might just find that it has nothing to do with the photos.
For me it’s the sadness of knowing all those years are gone.
Knowing that when I last fed my son I hadn’t planned for that feed to be the last, and so I couldn’t ‘celebrate it’ or ‘mark it’ in any way. And now I just wish I had something to ‘show for’ for all those years spent breastfeeding.
When actually, if I think about it, I do – I have my babies! And I have no reason to feel any envy or sadness really, so I’m choosing to move on, just be in awe of these beautiful photos and be happy for the mums who could make them.
These are my feelings. They are part of my story.
Are they triggered by these photos? Yes, they were, but they are not the photos.
The photos aren’t representatives of those feelings. The photos are not meant to trigger those feelings.
They are just beautiful.
And they are precious, amazing memories for the mums who have them.
They are important, because they show more women breastfeeding than you’d normally see, and because they show that breastfeeding can be beautiful.
And that’s important to a lot of women or young girls.
And it’s equally quite hurtful to a lot of women or young girls who had the choice taken away from them.
So let’s focus on the bigger issue, shall we? A lot of women who hope to and want to breastfeed don’t get to breastfeed. And we need to support them. Hug them and help them. This is the bit that needs to change. This is the bit we need to waste our breaths debating about.
So can we just let these women with the Tree of Life photos treasure and share their own beautiful memories for a week or so? Then the craze will be over, and you won’t hear anything about it again.
Until the next thing that’s going to spark the feeding debate up again.