When I applied to write the BellaOnline Breastfeeding site, my second daughter was a nearly 10 months old. I had relatively few challenges nursing her, and as we approached a year, breastfeeding was going strong. With my first daughter, it had taken nearly 4 months of exhausting, painful and confidence-trying intervention before breastfeeding was firmly established.
I was so grateful to have had doctors and breastfeeding educators who encouraged and assisted me, never forced formula, always pointed me towards breastfeeding success and gave a gentle push when needed to get me through the worst of it. They made some mistakes, and we had setbacks, but their complete confidence in my innate ability to feed my baby and overcome our challenges never wavered and gave me the encouragement that it would be worth it.
BellaOnline provided me with a way to try to offer this same sort of service to other exhausted new mothers. But after nearly 5 years of writing for the site, my energy can start to wane from week to week and I have to work harder to find topics that inspire me. There is so much breastfeeding education available online, and (I’m happy to say) increasingly in communities and hospitals, that I sometimes wonder if anyone really needs to hear what I have to contribute.
Then I get an email like this (printed with permission):
I am just writing to give you an enormous thanks. When my daughter was born, she had immense trouble latching on, mostly suckling against the nipple and not getting any milk. Many of the midwives, including the hospital's specific breastfeeding midwife, tried to assist, but it was tough work. Eventually the breastfeeding midwife suggested nipple shields, and my partner ran out and got some and they worked a miracle.
Due to the amount of traffic in the hospital and the demand on the breastfeeding midwife, I had very little interaction with her and she was not able to give me any more information on nipple shields and I found myself lost in a sea of negative nipple shield articles and literature. I tried constantly to wean my little one, but she refused, and she had already lost an above average amount of weight after birth and we were talked into putting her on supplemental formula.
At around 10-11 weeks I found your articles on feeding with nipple shields and they gave me a renewed sense of hope that I could still wean and that our breastfeeding relationship could not only continue on, but without the use of those wretched silicone shields and the constant sterilizing. In the past few weeks, my daughter has had a few successful feeds without the shields, only failing when she became tired and fussy.
Today she not only fell asleep while nursing without the shield, but she continued to dream nurse without it. I don't know if I can say goodbye to the shields forever just yet, but I am very optimistic that such a day is very near in the future and for that I am incredibly grateful to you for sharing your story, your advice and your optimism when so many others are dismissive.
[Mother] to [Daughter], 21 weeks old.”
My articles on nipple shields are one of a few series of articles that I have written that tend to get periodic responses of this sort from mothers. I am so incredibly grateful to these tired mothers who take the time to reach out to me to tell me that my words and my experiences helped them to continue, enjoy or succeed at breastfeeding. It’s not about ego, or about credit. It’s about connecting back with the feeling of wanting to help and finding incredible fulfillment in knowing that I was able to pay forward the gift that I was given.
Recently a friend that blogs on motherhood related how she was attacked by a commenter on her site who berated her for spending time focusing on such a “non-issue” as breastfeeding. Is helping women breastfeed solving world hunger, ending wars, healing the environment, fixing the world economy? Maybe not. Actually, now that I think about it, I actually might be able to make a pretty solid argument for breastfeeding supporting each of these! But either way, what breastfeeding education does provide is the facilitation of a gift a mother wants to give to her baby. It may or may not be a worldwide “issue,” depending on your politics, but it is an intensely personal one.
Any mother who wants help breastfeeding deserves to find an encouraging voice and evidence-based (or at least positive-experience-based) assistance. Though I have since gotten my CLEC certification, when I began writing for BellaOnline my voice was simply one of thousands talking about breastfeeding, sharing my particular angle and story. Each person has a different story to tell – so breastfeeding mothers, tell your story. You never know when your words, like mine, will resonate with just the person who needs to hear them (and sometimes doesn’t know how or what to ask). One mother, to another, can be a shining light in the darkness when challenges seem insurmountable.
I am so grateful to BellaOnline and its incredible owner, Lisa, and the volunteer leadership team for giving me a means to shine my tiny light out into the world and have impacted women and their babies all over the world – the ones who share their stories back with me, and the ones who don’t. It is worth mentioning that the Breastfeeding site is one of hundreds of sites on BellaOnline written by women (and some men, too) who are passionate about their topics and about helping others who share their passion or need their help. The available topics page changes as writers join and leave our community, and may have a topic that offers you the same chance to share a passion that I have enjoyed.
If you are reading this, thank you for letting my words be a part of your day (or if you are a new mother, possibly your late, late night or early, early morning). If you have a moment, drop me a note through the button on the right of this article (or on Facebook) and let me know how I can help you, or simply share with me your story. Thank you for the inspiration that keeps me writing and reminds me that breastfeeding help matters.