Wednesday, February 20, 2013

You Just Haven't Tried Hard Enough

"Women who can't or who choose not to breastfeed 
are treated in much the same way as gay people."

Thus commented Cynthia, my counselor after I had told her about an experience I had had in Vancouver during my recent visit to my married daughter, Hannah, and her family.

As I have described in previous posts, my daughter gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in early November (which Mark and I have dubbed "Nutella"). She anticipated nursing her little girl. Hannah's mother was and is a huge breastfeeding advocate, and Hannah had been told her entire life, both by word and example (with her younger siblings), that nursing is good and bottle-feeding is bad. Numerous were the times that she heard that women who can't breastfeed simply haven't tried hard enough or they choose not to be bothered with it.

So Hannah was pre-programmed to breastfeed. But, when it came time to nurse her little baby, Nutella would have none of it. Hannah described these early days in a post on her blog, found here.

The experience was devastating for Hannah. She told me that one of the worst days of her life was on a day that she would have liked to have been visiting with her siblings and her mother, who had come up for the funeral of my former mother-in-law; instead, she was crying her heart out in her room, desperately trying to make nursing work.

But it didn't. For the next two months, Hannah struggled with this, as she described here on her blog. She eventually gave up trying to actually nurse Nutella and instead started expressing her milk. But this took a horrible toll on Hannah and on Nutella.

What was more important? Nursing or Nutella? And Hannah? What about her? She had been so programmed and felt such a failure. But she knew that what was "supposed" to be could not be. It has been said that suffering is the result of trying to pretend reality is not really reality, that it can be changed. Hannah suffered. Nutella suffered. Hannah's husband, Cary, suffered.

Finally, they accepted reality. In a heart-rending post, Hannah described this moment. What clinched it was a visit to Nutella's doctor, who summed up the situation, and their choice, like this: "Breast-milk is ideal, but life is not ideal." They switched to formula, and both Hannah and Nutella are thriving.

Hannah was describing this experience as we were driving into Vancouver a couple of weeks ago. She had been hurt because she felt like she hadn't been supported. Breastfeeding was treated as more important than her and Nutella's happiness. The principle was more important than the person. She felt that she had been treated like a failure and told, in effect, "You just haven't tried hard enough. Any baby can nurse if the mother just tries hard enough. There's no such thing as a baby 'not getting it.' The fault is with you, the mother, and not the baby."

As Hannah told me this, I couldn't help but draw an analogy to gay boys and men, particularly within a conservative religious environment like the LDS Church. Like Hannah and other women who are treated as defective if they, for one reason or another, are unable or choose not to nurse, these boys and men are castigated and told, "If you tried harder, you could overcome your homosexuality; you just haven't tried hard enough." They go through the hell of trying to be someone and something they are not. They try to ignore reality, and the result is suffering. Not the least of this suffering is the bitter disappointment and hurt of being treated, by those who are supposed to love them, as secondary: the principle is more important than the person. Denying your sexuality to support a belief system is more important than you are.

Thankfully, Hannah is in a much better "place" right now, having accepted reality. So is her gay father.

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