Whether or not you breastfeed/fed your children, you have a role to play in the breastfeeding relationship of your friends and family. This is true for men and women, old and young. We, as relational human beings, are influenced by the thoughts, words, and actions of others – for better or worse.
While I was expecting Aidan, I read everything I could get my hands on about pregnancy, birth, nursing, and those first days at home. I knew I was in no way prepared for what was coming, but felt pretty confident than I had done all that was possible on my end. I was one of the first of my friends to have children. I was *the* first of all of my local friends, and had never seen any of what I was reading about in action.
By the time my baby showers came along, I had set quite a few goals for our growing family – and breastfeeding was near the top of the list. For the most part, no one commented or advised me either way regarding infant feeding. Unfortunately, the one time someone was really vocal about it, it wasn’t handled well.
At one of my baby showers, everyone made a point to explain why they had chosen their particular gift for us. Sometimes it was as simple as, “you registered for it!” and other times there were specific things about the gift that made the person think of us. One guest gave me disposable diapers and powdered formula. Her explanation was “I know you THINK you are going to breastfeed and cloth diaper, but you don’t know how much work it is going to be. It doesn’t usually work out.” She laughed as she talked and looked around the room, trying to get others to confirm her assertions with her eyes.
I tried so hard to be gracious. I wish I could say I laughed it off. Honestly, I felt a little sick to my stomach and emotional for the rest of the shower (as if that isn’t common enough in pregnancy). As much as I objectively understood her motives and wanted to accept her gift as her looking out for me, it just felt like sabotage.
My guest could have simply been speaking from her experience and wishing to spare me the frustration of having to buy those things myself. Or, she could have been betraying a secret desire to see others struggle as much as she did so she didn’t feel so guilty. I can’t pretend to know her heart or motives. What matters is that she presented her advice and “gifts” in a way that belittled my desires and goals.
I have always been frustrated with the mentality that it is acceptable – or even good – to warn others on the brink of a new life phase about all of the possible pitfalls and scary outcomes as if they were destined to encounter them. Education is important. Being informed about risks and dangers is essential for making good decisions. But I have a hard time seeing the benefit of planting negative seeds in a person’s mind to keep them from idealism.
This doesn’t only – or even primarily – happen with breastfeeding. When I was engaged people told me to “beware” of trusting him too much – he is male after all and most likely won’t be faithful. When I respond to questions about the number of children we desire, I’m often met with a sarcastic,”good luck!”
I was personally convicted of my guilt in this and in my bondage to the expectations of others a few years ago. I was struggling with fear of the future of our marriage – frustrated that we weren’t changing and growing in the ways I felt like we should be. Specifically, I felt like Rob wasn’t changing (of course!). I decided to re-read through 1 Corinthians 13. It is the “love chapter” after all, right? Verse 4 says,
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I had to ask myself if I was loving my husband by always hoping – or hoping “all things” for him. Did I hope that he would grow – did I genuinely want him to succeed and look forward to it in faith?
Do you hope for your friends? Do you wish for their best and ask God to grant them their desires in his will? When you offer advice is it to build them up (Ephesians 4:29) or to keep them from surpassing you? Do you hope for God to do even greater things in their life than He’s yet done in yours? Or do you hope that they won’t end up doing anything that makes you feel bad about your own decisions and experiences?
If the woman at my baby shower would have given those things to me discreetly and explained that she felt it was important to be prepared, I would most likely have still felt a little insulted – but that would have been the fault of my own pride in thinking I was somehow so much wiser than she that I would avoid all of the trouble she’d experienced.
If she was acting out of love and honestly wanted me to succeed, but also felt burdened to help me give myself grace if all didn’t go as planned, she could have contacted me after Aidan was born to follow up and offered discerning advice if she felt so led. She could have made an effort to let me know that she was available to support me if I needed it.
Again, I can’t know her heart, but I can say that the best gift she could have given me (and possibly did) was prayer for my well-being and for God’s hand to be on us as we started our new life. And if that new life involved breastfeeding struggles, she could have come alongside us as a support – and even hoped and prayed that we would be able to continue despite the struggles and have a different outcome than she did.
I am blessed with many amazingly supportive friends, and my breastfeeding journey has been largely a sweet and wonderful one. I don’t think that those two things are a coincidence. Without encouragement and love from the people in my life, the hard work of parenting would be much harder. Thank you to all who have “hoped” for me!
I am linking this post up to World Breastfeeding Week at Natural Parents Network. If you’ve written about breastfeeding this week, link yours up below. And be sure to visit all of the other wonderful posts. Also see my previous post for more ways to get involved in WBW.