Tree of Life brelfies took over the internet for a while there. My social media feeds were filled with images from all over the world as mothers shared their breastfeeding art and hashtagged #normalisebreastfeeding. And of course there were the usual online scuffles insisting that the trend was a guilt trip for bottle feeding mothers because shaming.
I appreciated the images… but I didn’t make one. First, because I’m too lazy to go through the process of deleting files from my phone to make space to download the app. But second, it got me thinking about social media campaigns to normalise breastfeeding, and what I might be contributing to.
As beautiful as they are, and as truly happy as I am that women are sharing their breastfeeding stories and imagery in online spaces, I wonder sometimes if in our efforts to normalise breastfeeding we run the risk of normalising the absolute best moments of breastfeeding at the expense of normalising the other moments. Breastfeeding can be beautiful, but it’s not all moments of peace and joy.
For most women, establishing breastfeeding is hard work – it often takes many weeks or months before a mum and her baby find their rhythm. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes there are worries about supply, sometimes the need to supplement feels disappointing, sometimes a baby cries a lot. Mothers may experience D-MER, feel overwhelmed, need a lot of hands-on support, or just don’t enjoy breastfeeding, and these things are normal too.
When it comes to breastfeeding, expectations matter – if we expect oxytocin-drenched mountaintop highs, we may feel shocked and cheated at having to spend time trudging through the rocky valley. But if we expect that we may need help, or that we may have to dig deep into our reserves to be able to persevere, we are more likely to be able to endure the moments of motherhood where taking a selfie is the furthest thing from our mind.
If we are to imagine breastfeeding as a tree of life, let us also imagine the conditions that tree needs in order to flourish: Information. Support. Strong relationships. Encouragement. So if I were to create my own image of a breastfeeding tree of life – I would be the trunk, and my children birds in the branches, but the roots would be my family and community and especially the women who have encouraged and supported me in my four very different breastfeeding journeys.