“The number of women who cannot really breastfeed is so insignificant. Almost everyone can breastfeed. You just have to want to.”
Those words, spoken to me by a ‘passionate’ lactivist midwife as she stood over me encouraging my 1 day old baby to stay awake by placing a cold facecloth on his naked body as I desperately tried to shove another handful of breast in his screaming mouth and catch my tears on my shoulder at the same time, ran through my mind again. It had been almost 8 months since this amazing bundle of life I had the privileged to call my son, had consumed his first bottle of formula but still, those words just kept gnawing away at my sense of worth.
“you just have to want to”
Boy did I want to. Beyond that – I just presumed I would. Breastfeeding, for me, was normal. It was what my mother did, what her mother did. It was my culture, what I grew up seeing, how I thought babies were fed. I didn’t know anyone who bottle fed their baby and I wasn’t going to. Why would I? I had breasts and everyone knows ‘breast is best’ – my baby wasn’t going to miss out on the best! I was going to be the best mum ever. The breastfeeding books had been devoured, the classes attended and the organisations joined. I was so prepared to be a breastfeeding mum. Pity someone didn’t tell me not all women can breastfeed.
“women who cannot really breastfeed”
Yep. That’s me. No – really. I don’t think I can’t make enough milk to adequately nourish my child. I know I can’t. I wasn’t ‘booby-trapped’. I didn’t fall for the ‘evil ways of the formula companies’ nor am I ‘uneducated’, ‘lazy’ or any of the other things that seem to be used as an explanation by many as to why women don’t breastfeed. I just can’t. Physically I can’t breastfeed. It’s not my fault, it’s just a part of my body which doesn’t work. I wear glasses to read too. Yet I don’t feel guilty that my eyes don’t work naturally, the way they should, the way nature intended. You won’t see my crying because I feel less of a human being due to wearing glasses, yet still, as my child was reaching his first birth day, the feelings of inadequacy, because my breasts did not function as I wanted them to, haunted me. Why? Did the way I fed my baby change the type of mother I was to my child? No. I was a great mother because the love I had for him didn’t come from breasts or bottles, that came from my heart. Was he showing any signs of being disadvantaged by my inability to feed him from my breasts? Not that I could see. He was happy, healthy, beautiful and too smart for his own good. I couldn’t be more proud. So why was I feeling so alone, so…… insignificant?
It made me wonder how many other women may be part of this ‘insignificant’ group. How many other woman had breasts who were more ornamental than practical? Were we really insignificant? No. Not really. I found out that while there isn’t any really solid scientifically back number, most health care professionals estimated that around 5% of woman physically cannot breastfeed. 5%. Is that really ‘insignificant’?12% of women are diagnosed with breast cancer. 9% of children have asthma. About 5% of 40-year-old men have erection problems. Between 2% and 5% of expectant mothers develop gestational diabetes. 0.1% of the world’s population has Down Syndrome. Somewhere between 1.1% and 4.2% of females suffer from bulimia nervosa in their lifetime. About 1.5% of people though out the world have autism. About 0.1% of Australia’s population has HIV. 1% to 2% of deaths throughout the world each year are by suicide. 0.3% of babies are born with hearing loss. In 2009 around 0.09% of the US population were hospitalized with the H1N1 (swine) flu. 0.030% of babies die of SIDS. 0.005% of women in the UK die from cervical cancer.
Please don’t tell me that the 5% of women who physically can’t breastfeed is an ‘insignificant’ number. It is more ‘significant’ then HIV, H1N1, Autism, SIDS, cervical cancer, suicide and Down Syndrome put together if you really want to look at it that way. People don’t say ‘most babies live so let’s not discourage people by taking about SIDS.’ People don’t say ‘only around 5% of mothers develop gestational diabetes, it’s such a small number so don’t worry about it’ or that they just didn’t try hard enough to overcome it.
For the mother who wants to breastfeed but can’t it is usually, at the time, the most significant hardship she feels she is facing. It may not be the most significant hardship faced in the world, but in her world it is.
So next time you want to throw around ‘insignificant’ numbers maybe think about how ‘insignificant’ you are making that mother feel.