Saturday, September 15, 2012

Breastfeeding Support...exclusion or inclusion?

One would think (or at least hope) in 2012 that people would be accepted for who they are and respected for what they can offer and/or want to offer to help other people.  But clearly this is not the case and I find it very, very sad.  It is also not the case in the world of breastfeeding and I find that just as sad and disheartening.

In today’s world we are finding more diversity in people, cultures, belief systems and families.  People are freer now (but not in all areas) to be who they are and to express themselves in the way that feels best for them.  Gender roles and identity are becoming more blurred in many areas of the world.  We find ourselves with humans who identify with all sorts of various gender roles and identities including but not limited to: straight, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, pan-sexual, transgendered, queer, Cis-gendered (identifying with the body one was born into), androgynous, and many more.  There is acceptance in some areas and not in others.

We find such a diversity in families that is amazing to me.  We have the male/female couples, and same sex couples as well as a cis-females partnering with a transman, or a transman in a gay relationship – and with the wide range of gender identities the combinations are nearly endless, and beautiful.  People loving each other for who they are – I think that is amazing.  My own family is part of this diversity and I love that!

Along with those couples often come children.  With children come pregnancy, birthing, breastfeeding and parenting.  For opposite sex couples babies are for the most part easy to come by unless there are significant fertility issues.  Adoption for any couple can be a challenge, time consuming and costly financially.  For same-sex couples babies are not quite easy to come by.  Donor eggs or sperm is generally required depending on the couple, however a transman in a gay relationship may be able to carry his own child with his partner. 

Once the child is born, many parents want to breastfeed their baby if at all possible.  This is not always easy for a variety of reasons.  Many women nowadays are having milk supply issues due to Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT) or hormonal interference.  Transmen have likely had their breasts removed (top surgery) and have very little breast tissue left. And while for many of these people they will produce milk, they may very well not produce enough to meet their child's needs.  In these cases supplementation is required.  How that supplementation is managed can range from breast and bottle, pumping and bottle feeding, breastfeeding using an at-breast supplementer and many other combinations as well.  None of these are particularly easy and come with their own set of challenges; however they are very effective (and necessary) ways to feed the baby.  What the parents choose is a very personal and important matter.

Recently there has been a lot of publicity about a certain transman, named Trevor MacDonald, who birthed and is currently breastfeeding his son. You can read his story here.  Milk Junkies  Trevor is an amazing man, a leader in breastfeeding culture in his own right and is making a huge difference in the world right now opening the eyes of people who may or may not want their eyes opened.   He applied to La Leche League (LLL) to become a La Leche Leader (LLLL) with the support of the LLL group he was regularly attending.  His application was denied because Trevor identifies as a man and LLL states they are a woman to woman support organization.  Regardless of the fact that he is a breastfeeding parent, he is not welcome to be a LLL Leader; however he is welcome to be a LLL member (which he is).  

When this all came out I was surprised at the reactions that came along with it.  While there were many people who were disappointed in LLL International’s denial of Trevor’s application, and implored LLLI to ‘come into the 21st Century’, and be inclusive of all breastfeeding parents, there were many others who felt that not only was LLLI’s denial appropriate but they felt it with such righteousness and anger that it truly shocked me.  And that some of these people were NOT from the straight community really surprised me.  

Many of the comments I have read over the past couple weeks from people who vehemently stand by LLLI’s decision to deny Trevor (or any breastfeeding male) the opportunity to support other breastfeeding parents have been far short of  respectful.  They have been downright mean, insulting, and judgmental and have made statements about not only Trevor but anyone in his position.  The assumptions and misinformation was staggering.  People have made statements about Trevor and his situation that were quite inaccurate – and generally not nice.  With all of that I am left wondering: Why are people being so rude?

I truly believe it is far past the time for us to behave in this manner.  This is the 21st Century after all.  Where is the ‘accept and be accepted’ aspect we should have for each other as humans?  It does happen in bits and pieces here and there and that is wonderful.  But isn’t it time for this acceptance to be all encompassing?  Especially when we are talking about breastfeeding our children and raising our children to love and accept others for who they are?   Aren't we supposed to treat others with respect and common courtesy?  What are we teaching our children when we react with such anger and vitriol towards people who are not exactly like us?  How can we expect the world to be a better place if we don't teach our children through our example?

Parents of all genders, identities, nationalities NEED support whether it be pregnancy, breastfeeding or parenting…we ALL need that support!  Breastfeeding support can be difficult to come by in many areas, and finding people who have been through breastfeeding challenges that parents are going through, who are also breastfeeding counselors/consultants, can be challenging.  Understanding the blessings and difficulties that breastfeeding a baby brings is an important part (in my professional opinion) of being able to relate to and help other breastfeeding parents.  We need the many people who are in different but similar situations as much as we need your average everyday mom who has a breastfeeding challenge.  Why are we not begging these people to join with us in supporting breastfeeding Parents?  Not just breastfeeding moms...but also breastfeeding dads.

So, why is it OK to be exclusionary – You can be a leader/counselor for our organization but only if you are a woman.  This is NOT OK with me, personally, and I know many others who feel the same way.  Why can we not be inclusive?  Is it really so difficult to welcome any breastfeeding parent (male or female) into the 'group', give them the education and get them out there to support ALL breastfeeding Parents?  I don't think so.

I tell you what I really hope for - is that someday ANYONE of ANY gender who breastfeeds can apply for and become a breastfeeding counselor whether with LLLI or Breastfeeding USA. It is time to stop the segregation. Women and Men have glandular tissue. They both can and do breastfeed.  And maybe someday acceptance will be universal and those who counsel and support breastfeeding parents will not be limited to being specifically women...maybe we will find a way to be inclusive rather than exclusionary of those who don’t necessarily fit society's typical model of a breastfeeding parent.