Tag Archives: mothers

An Open Letter to the LDS Church on Breastfeeding

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This letter was written on behalf of an acquaintance who was facing challenges from church leadership to her decision breastfeed “in public” at church (meaning that she did not excuse herself to the Mother’s Room). I spoke at length with her about the situation before I wrote my letter. Out of respect for her request that this situation not become public, I have held this letter for many months. Now, I feel comfortable sharing it.

Given that today is the first day of World Breastfeeding Week and a breastfeeding in church situation just came up again, I feel like now is an especially appropriate time to share this.

While it is addressed to the members and leaders of my faith, the same principles apply to members and leaders of all religious congregations and to members and leaders of the community at large.

Our Little Miss is now 22 months old and still breastfeeding. I still nurse her in public if she needs to. My hope is to encourage people everywhere to support women who breastfeed so that they and their babies can have the benefits of  breastfeeding until the physiologically normal age of weaning.

Dear members and leaders of the church,

I am an LDS mother. I have a beautiful almost-5-month old girl. From long before she was born, my husband and I have been making decisions with her best interests at heart. We have had long, intense conversations about the choices we are making.

It is important to us to give Monkey everything she needs to grow up healthy and strong and smart, with a conversion to the gospel and reliance on Heavenly Father.

One of those keys for us is breastfeeding her.

My husband and I have had long conversations about breastfeeding “in public”, which means anywhere from an intimate dinner with friends to during a trip to the mall. Somewhere between these two is attending church.

After those conversations, we have decided that not only is it appropriate for me to breastfeed M in church – in the chapel, during Sunday School or Relief Society (or during Young Women’s if I got called to serve our young sisters) – it is valuable to more than just M and me.

When Little Miss was born, breastfeeding was not easy for me. Like many modern women, I had not been exposed to it the way my grandmothers were. I had to learn how and I nearly gave up. I wish I had known someone in my ward who could help as my family is all far away. I wish I had grown up more exposed to breastfeeding (and since I am the oldest of four and my mother breastfed all of us, I was exposed to it some and it was still not enough). I wish that it had not been so foreign to me.

Ultimately though, when I breastfeed Monkey in public, my goal is not to offend. It is not to make a statement. It is not to educate others. It is simply to feed or comfort my baby.

When I do not “excuse myself” to another room, I do it not to throw my beliefs in someone else’s face. I do not wish to make others uncomfortable. I simply want to be a part of whatever else is happening or be blessed through participation in church and still do what is best for my baby.

We live in a world that is increasingly sexualized and our exposure to human bodies increases while our comfort level with our own bodies decreases. This is especially new of women and new mothers.

Like me, few women instinctively know how to breastfeed and there are many, many barriers to doing it. Unfortunately, one of these for LDS women is a culture that discourages us from any sort of familiarity with our own bodies. In an effort to stay “morally pure” we are not given the skills we need to be good mothers. This is tragic.

It has long-reaching consequences for the young men in the church as well. They are taught (as girls are as well), that “sex is bad, until you get married”. At the same time, they see semi-nude images almost everywhere they go.

For many, the taboo nature of a woman’s body in the LDS faith coupled with the sexualization of her in modern culture leads our young men to be curious. Some of them turn to parents or church leaders for answers while others, sadly, turn to friends and peers and the internet. This natural curiosity leads some of them down dark paths of addiction to pornography that takes excruciating work to overcome.

When leaders of the church ask women to cover up while breastfeeding their babies at church (or worse, go to another room), they reinforce these world-created narratives of a woman’s body and add barriers to something that is already not easy. They create secrecy or shame where there is none and they alienate women who often need the church interaction the very most.

Church leaders and other members would do woman an incredible service to every member of the church if they actively supported breastfeeding moms who care for their children (sometimes despite personal discomfort or inconvenience and public, cultural and familial disapproval) in the way their children most need. Sometimes this means uncovered at an unclothed breast.

A woman’s body is sacred and should be honored and respected, especially when it is being used to do exactly what our Heavenly Father purposed it to do: provide bodies for His spirit children and nourish and rear them.

Thank you so much for your support of us as breastfeeding mothers.

Lacey

P.S. This little package – a nursing cover – was delivered to an acquaintance of mine this week. It came from the Young Women of her ward. I am beyond horrified that this lesson is being taught to the Young Women by their leaders. Breasts, like nearly every part of the body, have both a utilitarian and a sexual purpose. This attitude creates shame, fear and unfamiliarity with breastfeeding. It should never, ever happen. Let’s work together to normalize breastfeeding, end the modesty debate and support mothers and babies everywhere!

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Traits of a Mother

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In my last post, I talked about asking the question “What is a ‘Mother’?“. I shared some of why I have asked that question. You will want to read that post for background to be able to understand this one.

As I said in that post, I understand “motherhood” is an incredibly sensitive topic. I hope to heal broken hearts, lift others up and shed light on a topic I have come to care deeply about. If you find this topic painful, you may want to come back to the blog another day. The Savior can heal all wounds, but His time is not ours and sometimes the balm of Gilead is slow to heal. This post is not about culturally accepted motherhood, but about a richer, deeper calling that is available to any woman who wants it.

I promised to share some of the traits I felt defined what a Mother is. You might not agree with everything on my list, but don’t dismiss it out of hand. Ponder it and pray about it. Then, consider making your own list. I’d love to hear it.

The traits that make a mother are wide and rich. This list is far from inclusive, but it does cover the critical basics. Here are a few of my thoughts:

 

1. A Mother is a Life-giver or Life-bringer. This is probably the single-most defining factor of what a Mother is. The most obvious example of this is childbearing. Women who sacrifice their bodies, their health and their sanity to give mortal life to a child are prime examples of the life giving role of a Mother. This is what we typically define motherhood to be. I call it “little-m motherhood”. However, there is so much more to this. Mothers bring life to their homes, to gardens and yards, to communities, to businesses, to ideas, to governments and to the world. Women who write books often compare the process to their experience with childbirth – hard work, sometimes painful, and so, so worth it in the end. To me, there are very few things as wonderful as seeing a seedling pop through the earth and then later to be able to harvest the bounty of a garden. It’s wonderful to know that I am responsible for that life. I’ve seen others give life to businesses. It’s amazing to see their business grow and blossom. I’m doing the same thing right now, watching my own company begin to take life, with the same sort of anticipation as I have had watching others do the same. Giving life extends to every aspect of the world in which we walk and Mothers are the people who bring that life into being.

2. A Mother is a circle maker. Just as Mothers bring life, they also usher in death. Death is simply a necessary step in our growth process and Eve’s choice was key to both. By partaking of the fruit, Eve brought both mortal life and mortal death. Women’s bodies cycle through life and death in a monthly microcosmic way (the book The Healing Power of the Sacred Woman talks about this concept in really powerful ways). We have lost the ability to honor the natural cycle of womanhood the way that many more “primitive” cultures do, but the circular nature of a woman’s life force can be seen in ripples throughout her world.

One example of this cyclical nature of womanhood in the seasons of a woman’s life. First she is a maiden and then the maiden dies as she becomes a mother (little m). For a time the mother lives and then she dies as a woman becomes a crone. Simultaneously, a woman may live through another type of seasons. Many women, especially in Mormonism, have careers or paying jobs prior to and in the early years of their marriage. Then when children are born, they retire from that season of their live to be “stay at home” parents. When their children begin attending school or grow up and leave home, many go back to school to complete degrees (or get new ones) and then enter the workforce again. While men often do all these things at the same time, many women live their lives in stages, closing one circle before drawing the next. Intentional or not, these seasons of life which open with a birth and close with a death of sorts speak testament of the cycle of mortality and the dual role of Eve as life giver and death bringer.

Mothers make circles in other ways. We encircle each other, children, our spouses, our goals and our dreams in the embrace of round arms and warm hearts and we create protective circles around those who have been attacked or injured. Which brings me to my third trait.

3. A Mother is a protector and a warrior. So often we refer to men as the protectors. The protection of a father is wonderful, but no one protects like a Mother. When it comes to childbirth, a woman’s body literally responds to external stimuli in labor to protect her child. In the wild, no one protects like a mama. I was once within a few hundred yards of a mother grizzly bear and her cub. I was too naive to be scared, but I realize today how extremely dangerous the situation was. When faced with danger, a Mother fiercely protects whatever is hers. Mothers will cross oceans, walk through broken glass, take down grown men and governments and ruthlessly remove any obstacle between her and her “child” – be that an actual human child or an adult she loves or a cause she feels called to protect. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will stop a protective Mother.

4. A Mother is a counselor, a wise woman and a healer. I suppose I could’ve broken these three up, but I feel like they are inseparable. Mothers have incredible intuition. I watched my own mother invite people into our home to treat general family illnesses. Her area of expertise – or at least the thing I remember her treating most – was ear infections. So often, she just knew what to do. Some of this was training and some of it was intuition. In nearly all “primitive” cultures, women have a place among the “medicine elders”. These women are not only physical healers, but spiritual healers as well. They conduct rituals for rain, good fortune and protection. They often direct the spiritual affairs of a tribe or community. They provide counseling. They attend births and deaths – the two places where the mortal and spiritual world collide most clearly. It doesn’t matter if there is a male hierarchy or a male chief at the head of the tribe. When the witch doctor says to do something everybody listens.

Even in our “modern” society, we see this. Our culture so often treats women in a derogatory way, referring to men in relationships as “whipped” and their (female) significant others as “the old ball and chain”. Culture tries to diminish the powerful role of a Wise Woman. But any man, woman or child worth their salt will listen to that guiding voice of a Grandmother or a Mother. Any husband with true respect for his wife knows to listen to the Mother inside his wife when she speaks.

Mothers hold space in times of trial, rejoice in times of gladness, find clarity in times of confusion and speak words of praise in times of clarity. They do all of this with the combined wisdom of generations of Mothers and Grandmothers handed down in their genetic and energetic code.

5. Mothers honor their calling and others’. Because they have strong intuition and because they know to follow that intuition, Mothers are often very confident in their callings. Whatever that calling is, a Mother does not get easily pulled down into the weeds or trapped in the false promises of Ego. They also have no problem allowing others to follow their own path. Honoring their calling gives them a place of confidence and self-assurance from which to operate from. They know that God doesn’t give us all the same path and that each child has to find their own way.

6. A Mother brings light. You know those people who just light up a room? Women who make you feel good about yourself? Those women reflect what a Mother is. Light is the single most essential element for growth. Even plants that grow in the dark (think mushrooms) need light as part of their growth chain. Light provides energy. Energy creates the ability to grow. Some women claim they are not the nurturing type, but I’ve yet to meet a Mother who doesn’t bring light in some form. Even if you don’t light up a room, that does not mean you do not bring light. Some of us have gentle, filtered light. Others light is bright and shiny. Still others of us have light that is harsh and cleansing. All of these forms of light nourish growth if we let them.

7. A Mother crosses generations. Mothers are simultaneously Eve and modern woman tied up together. They are daughters and mothers, granddaughters and grandmothers. They reflect the past while gazing into the future. Their stories resonate through generations, inspiring their sons and daughters to move forward by looking backwards. They hold the secrets of the past and the promise of the future all in the cup of their hands.

8. A Mother is a teacher. Mothers are naturally teachers. They lead the way when they are called to. They sit back when they know we need to learn on our own. Whoever their “children” are, they show us the way, teach us correct principles and let us walk in the Light. They teach us to value ourselves by caring for themselves. One of the most selfless things a Mother does is to care for herself, teaching us that we can best help others by keeping our own cups filled. She show us that Living Water is the best way to fill our cups and that a critical part of “self care” building a relationship with Deity.

 

This is my “short list”. I am sure that as I keep chasing this topic, I will gain more understanding of what Motherhood is. Those who restrict Motherhood to childbearing and rearing have a limited understanding of what it truly is. Motherhood is a calling that every woman is invited to take part in. Not every woman will. The conflation of childbearing with Motherhood, the pain of not being able to have a “traditional family” in mortality, the pull of other callings will all lead some to different paths. Choosing otherwise, wanting otherwise does not mean there is something “wrong” with you. But every woman who wants it is welcome to take part in Motherhood. As women, as daughters of Eve, this is our birthright.

The Modesty Question

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The single biggest question I see when nursing in public is discussed is modesty. There is an attitude that when we talk about nursing without a cover we are going to “just flop out” a breast and let it all hang out while we nurse.

In my experience, most women are discreet (whatever that means) when they nurse their babies and those of us who don’t cover up or remove ourselves to a secluded place believe we can be so without those stipulations.

The modesty question is interesting, especially in the LDS faith. More than almost any other faith, especially any other sect of Christianity, we have a strict code of modesty. Adult members who have gone through our temples commit to wearing clothing that covers the shoulders and legs to the knee and nearly everywhere in between. When discussing the modesty question in the context of the LDS faith, we cannot compare to others who might find it acceptable to wear sleeveless shirts and short skirts – an easy argument to make in favor of breastfeeding for the rest of the world. In this, I do not mean to offend those who are not LDS, just to point out we have a much stricter standard of modesty than others may.

Unfortunately, this standard of dress sometimes is seen as the only aspect necessary to be modest and modesty is taught to many young women that “We need to dress modestly so that we don’t make young men think bad thoughts.” That actually makes less sense to me now then when I was in Young Women’s, though it’s a topic for another post.

Since having a baby and deciding to breastfeed her in public without covering up, I’ve had to decide whether or not I believe it is modest and, more importantly, if I believe that God believes I’m behaving modestly.

To that end, I started in my favorite place: the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

It states that Modesty is:

1 : freedom from conceit or vanity

2 : propriety in dress, speech, or conduct

While most of the words there are commonly understood, I would suggest you look up each defining word separately for a fuller understanding. The one that really caught my attention was “propriety”.

The first two definitions of propriety are obsolete, but I still feel they still have value in this discussion:

1 obsolete: true nature

2 obsolete: a special characteristic : peculiarity

3: the quality or state of being proper or suitable : appropriateness

4a: conformity to what is socially acceptable in conduct or speech

4b: fear of offending against conventional rules of behavior especially between the sexes

4cplural: the customs and manners of polite society

Clearly, my behavior lacks propriety when defined as conformity to what is socially acceptable. However, in many ways and may places my behavior does not conform to what is socially acceptable. Additionally, just because the culture dictates that a behavior is appropriate or inappropriate does not make it so in the eyes of God.

Additionally, when defined as “true nature” or appropriateness, then my behavior of nursing my baby whenever, wherever has propriety.

Please do not mistake me as dismissing the value of social norms or polite society. They are both necessary and extremely valuable when they are correct. However, when they are incorrect they become stumbling stones that can have long-reaching negative effects on individuals, families and societies.

Left with this failure of clarity, my next step was to refer to material published by the LDS church. In the Gospel Topics section of the church’s website, modesty has it’s own section. It states in part:

Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to “glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also 1 Corinthians 6:19).

I also referred to the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. There is no section on modesty, but under Dress and Appearance it says:

Your body is God’s sacred creation. Respect it as a gift from God… Prophets of God have always counseled His children to dress modestly. The way you dress is a reflection of what you are on the inside. Your dress and grooming send messages about you to others and influence the way you and others act. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you.

So then I must question, do my actions accurately reflect who I am? Moreover, do they invite the companionship of the Spirit and are they respectful of my body? If all are true, then I can infer that my actions are modest as well as my dress and grooming.

The section further counsels:

Ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?”

This is the ultimate question. Would I feel comfortable nursing my baby in front of my Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ without a nursing cover? The answer to that is absolutely, unequivocally yes. It is unfortunate that others are made uncomfortable by something that would not make Heavenly Father uncomfortable.

Finally, I found this statement in A Parent’s Guide:

The scriptures often refer respectfully but plainly to the body and its parts. There is no embarrassment and often there is sacred symbolism. It is the world that makes the divinely created body an object of carnal lust. For example, it makes the female breasts primarily into sexual enticements, while the truth is that they were intended to nourish and comfort children…

Teach your children that they will find joy in their bodies when they use them virtuously after the manner taught by Christ (emphasis added).

This confirms to me the answer to the previous question, would I feel comfortable with my [behavior] in the presence of the Lord? Note that it clearly draws a line between the world’s view of breasts (sex) and God’s view of breasts (childcare).

The foregoing is not a comprehensive answer to the modesty question. It does not include all the doctrine on modesty and on breastfeeding. It does not include a discussion on cultural differences over time and geography, LDS breastfeeding art or historical context.

However, it is my answer to breastfeeding and the modesty question. Not everyone will answer the questions the way I did. That’s ok. Some of modesty standardized. The rest is personal, between God and man.

I do not believe breastfeeding a baby in public uncovered is immodest. I know it challenges cultural norms, but I think that’s a good thing. Change is coming on our attitudes about women and sexuality and breastfeeding. Someday this debate won’t even happen.

In the mean time, there’s more to come from me on this subject, so stay tuned and send me your feedback. I’m dying to hear your thoughts.

A few points of clairifcation

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I’m overwhelmed by the traffic I’ve gotten after my last post and the feedback I’ve received. This blog is very new, but I’m not new to blogging and so this much traffic in the first few months is really amazing to me. Thank you!

Before my next official post, I wanted to make a couple of points of clarification after the feedback I’ve gotten on my last.

First, I’m not anti-mothers’ room. I am thankful that there is a mother’s room at my church. I do not condemn the mothers who want to use it. It can be an escape from the world, a safe place to deal with a worked up baby, a quiet place to help a baby sleep and a place to gather with other moms. I wish that more mother’s rooms were more like the one in my church building: not in a bathroom, in a more quiet place in the building and comfortably furnished. I am certainly not anti-moms using the mother’s room.

Second, I’m not anti-nursing cover. Moreover, I think that there are circumstances where using a cover might be called for. I know that some moms would never be comfortable nursing in public without a cover. Since milk from the breast is the very best (not merely pumped and fed from a bottle) and traveling anywhere with pumped milk is a hassle, I would sooner encourage women to use a cover than not nurse in public at all or to bottle feed breast milk or formula. Also, if nursing without a cover might risk or strain a relationship, it might be worth it to use a cover to preserve that relationship. It is up to each woman to decide that.

What I do oppose is the cultural attitude that forces women to be embarrassed by breast feeding. I am anti-hiding and anti-culture that shames and forces nursing moms into hiding. I’m anti-telling women breastfeeding is normal and natural but don’t do it where I can see. I am anti-making it mom’s responsibility to make sure you aren’t offended. I am anti-moms being told they are contributing to someone’s pornography addiction by breastfeeding openly. I am anti-women never being exposed to breastfeeding until they try to do it. I am anti-failure because we don’t give women the tools to succeed. I am anti-moms not getting the help they need because it’s about their (whisper) breasts.

Above all, I am anti-the objectification of breasts that put them in a box that is inconsistent with God’s will.

I see the cover-clad moms in the mothers’ room in general as a symptom of that. I feel the same about the babies being bottle fed in church meetings. I recognize that on an individual basis, each case is different. I’m speaking in generalities.

I am for normalizing breastfeeding. I am for supporting breastfeeding moms and babies. I am for making it easier to succeed. I am for de-shaming women’s bodies. I am for helping women trust their intuition. I am for teaching men that breasts are primarily for feeding babies. I am for teaching women that breasts are primarily for feeding babies. I am for teaching them how to do it before they need that skill. I believe this will help increase success.

Above all, I am for honoring the sacredness of women, of mothers and of the relationship between nursing mother and nursing baby.

Despite all the hype, breastfeeding is still foreign to us. That makes me sad. I can’t ignore the symptoms because they are everywhere and in the end both mother and baby suffer.

We need to change. My voice is just one calling for it. We will have change. And maybe someday every mom and every baby will have the breastfeeding support they deserve.

Why the Mothers’ Room makes me sad

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Our church building, like many church buildings, has a “mothers’ room” in it. It has a small carpet-covered counter top, a garbage can for baby diapers and two easy chairs. Unlike many of the mothers’ rooms in the LDS church houses, it is not in a bathroom.

In the five months since we started attending church in this building, I’ve been to the mothers’ room only a handful of times. Mostly dear, sweet Husband does diaper changes at church and I never use the mothers’ room to nurse (dang hippie).

When I occasionally do change a diaper at church, there are often other moms sitting there, nursing their babies. Often, these women have their backs turned to the door and a nursing cover draped over themselves and their babies. It makes me sad.

Now, I understand sometimes a nursing cover is helpful. I do own one and use it on occasion, mostly when Monkey is too squirmy and distracted to pay attention to eating. I also realize that I am kind of a hippie. I am swimming against the current, rejecting and challenging cultural norms. Not every woman is going to ever be comfortable nursing a baby in Sunday School (truthfully, while I am more comfortable than I was six months ago, I’m not totally comfortable doing it).

However, if there is any place women should feel comfortable nursing openly it should be the mothers’ room at church!

Good heavens, if a woman cannot feel comfortable nursing her baby – doing one of the things her body was designed by God to do – surrounded only by other women who also believe in the sanctity of motherhood, is there any place that nursing will be acceptable?

This may not seem to matter (who cares if you can’t nurse openly, in public or without a cover?). However, this attitude has long-reaching effects.

Breastfeeding has been stigmatized over the years. When I was born, formula was “the way to go” if you could afford it. Thankfully, my mom could not. However, this past preference towards formula – funded by a nearly $8 billion industry – has resulted in a generation of women who do not know how to breastfeed.

It is not always innate or instinctual for mom or baby in the beginning. Anecdotally, almost all of the women I’ve talked to who have had their first babies in the last two years have had issues with breastfeeding. We have not been exposed to it and it is not easy in the beginning. Many give up. By creating a culture supportive of breastfeeding, we support women, teach that it is normal to breastfeed, raise healthier babies and, possibly most importantly of all, help change the cultural attitudes about women’s bodies and help them trust those bodies.

American culture glorifies a woman’s body (as long as it is “perfect”) as sexual, using it to sell everything from cheeseburgers to tires. Simultaneously, it reinforces messages like “birth is dangerous” and “breastfeeding is natural, but so is pooping.” We are taught be exposure that if we have an airbrushed, supermodel body we are valuable as a sex object and otherwise we should not trust our bodies. They are imperfect, broken and dangerous. It is no wonder women hate their bodies!

God’s message is much different. In Genesis, we are told that we are made in His image. In the LDS church, we believe that this is literal, that God does in fact have a body and our bodies are made in the likeness of His. There are very few areas where we are fulfilling a divine role nearly as much as when we are succoring and sustaining our little babies. And yet women hide away in a little room and tuck themselves under a cover as though what they are doing is shameful.

It is tragic and has long-reaching consequences, including breastfeeding “failure” and a twisted view of women’s bodies.

I don’t blame the women who I see in the mothers’ room. I wish they knew to think differently and then had the courage to act differently. I wish we didn’t live in a culture that objectified and shamed women. I wish we didn’t live in a culture that didn’t teach us to disconnect from and hate our own bodies while we envy other women’s. I wish we didn’t live in a society that had a messed up view of modesty and sexuality.

I am not condemning the mothers’ room or women who cover while nursing. To me, they are just symptoms. And it makes me incredibly sad.

That is why I will continue to nurse my baby wherever and whenever she wants to eat, generally without a nursing cover. Hopefully I will be a part – however small – of changing attitudes about what it means to be a woman and how sacred our bodies are, especially nursing mothers!