An Open Letter to the Client Who Didn’t Want to Breastfeed,
This story is a long time coming, because at the time I was a newly trained doula. I was only in your apartment two minutes for an interview, your toddler enjoying her nap, when you looked at me with worry, and said “I don’t want to try to breastfeed this baby. Is that OK?”
I’m sure the pause that followed was perceived as me struggling to answer, but in truth it was my mind reeling (selfishly, with unknowing) on my own journey, my own struggle of breastfeeding, the things that inspired me to do the work I was doing now, here. You didn’t know my goal was to one day become an IBCLC, that breastfeeding defined my birth journey. Nor did I want to give you a blanket statement. So I leaned towards you, met your eyes intently, and said what was in my heart, “Of course. It’s your decision.”
But the look on your face was unsettled . . .
So, perhaps too quickly, my mind racing ahead of my better judgement, I asked “Have people told you that’s not OK?” It came out incredulous; it was probably too much. And you cried. You told me of the multitude of providers and doulas you had interviewed, who all immediately tried to encourage you otherwise. You knew they meant well, but because of your own awful experience with your first child it was heartbreaking for you.
I never asked you why you didn’t want to, it honestly didn’t matter. In those moments, we switched from interviewer and birth professional to two moms, two women, devastated at a loss so simple – that of people respecting your decisions about your own body.
After hiring me, you went on to have such an incredible experience, and honestly, I can’t remember when it was that you told me of your reasons: a botched breast reduction as a young women in Europe, a complete restructuring of the breast, giving birth in another country years later where they said breastfeeding would be no problem, watching your baby lose weight for weeks as you pumped, and fed, and struggled, bouts of masitis as the milk was unable to leave your breast. It sounded horrific. It sounded like a physical barrier to breastfeeding.
But those reasons aren’t what mattered. They are irrelevant against a backdrop of personal experience, a loss of enjoying those weeks with your first newborn, the fear of not feeding the baby you loved, and of course, the judgement you already knew you’d face with this pregnancy.
To self: Exhale.
I see your face sometimes, in my work now.
It inspires me to remember that what you were truly asking for was real support – the kind that doesn’t ask why’s, or look for justifications. The kind of support that says – “OK. You’ve made a decision for you, OK.”
I see it when a lactation client calls and says she just can’t anymore, or when writing a care plan for a client, I’m reminded to make it realistic. I see when women feel guiltly for a choice they know is better for their family, but is one they already know they’ll be judged for.
So I just wanted to write you, and tell you thank you.
Thank you for such a wonderful lesson. Thank you for sharing your birth with me. Thank you for the years of photographs of your girls, who also remind me that one day they’ll need support too. Real support, the kind that doesn’t ask why’s or look for justifications.
The kind of support that says – “OK. You’ve made a decision for you, OK.”