As a young college student, I took a trip one Spring Break to New York City. I had grown up in a small, mid-western town and while I had enjoyed a long stream of missionaries sharing their stories in church services as a child, my personal multi-cultural experiences were few. I watched out the window of the van and this amazing city spread before me, populated with people who didn’t look like or do things like me. We spent the week working side by side with members of a Jamaican church, painting, cleaning, working.
More than once that week, I observed one of my fellow workers and thought of how they simply didn’t know what they were doing, that they were naive and not well versed in the “American Way”…that my ways were always better than what they were doing. And that week, I was given what might be the wisest advice of my life. A local pastor reminded us that, when we observed something that was out of our realm of understanding, we should think “My, that’s different. I wonder why they do it that way?”
My journey in cross-cultural ministry took me to many more cities and to many more encounters that challenged my way of thinking. That phrase would pop into my head, arresting the all-too-frequent self-centered thoughts I was having. It came to represent for me a compassion for those around me…that I wouldn’t just automatically assume that my way was the best way but rather, think critically about the reasons behind other’s actions and motivations.
Just the other day, while out driving with my children, we saw a woman with a large basket balanced upon her head. A common site in many parts of the world, but an odd one in our little corner of the world. My son excitedly took notice and said “That’s weird.” Realizing the opportunity for a “teachable moment”, I taught them the phrase I had learned so long ago. We brainstormed about how she balanced her load, why it was on her head, where she might be from and what was in her basket. They all agreed that being able to do such a thing was “way cool”.
Many times, I encounter mothers whose choices don’t look like mine. I fight the urge to tell their they are wrong. I fight the urge to tell them that I know better. I fight the urge to remind them that I’ve been on the journey longer, read more books, devoured more research, follow more blogs.
But let’s talk about the reality. Every mother is unique. Every baby is unique. Every experience is unique. Every culture is unique. Every home is unique. Every experience is unique.
And that is exactly as it should be.
As a breastfeeding advocate, teacher, supporter, and expert, it is essential that I understand that breastfeeding is not a cookie-cutter experience. It doesn’t ever look just like the books say it will. It will always be full of challenges and joys that we never expect. It will always look different than my experience.
And my experience was awesome..and terrible. I leaped over hurdles and also landed flat on my face sometimes. All too often I hear blanket advice given like “If you have thrush, the only thing that will work is gentian violet” or “If your nipples are sore, it means that your latch is wrong.” Great advice IF your thrush resolves with gentian violet or your pain is from a shallow latch…but if not? Time to realize we are unique and different. Time to realize that everyone’s experience informs the experience of all of us.
Failing to recognize that we don’t have a corner on the knowledge and understanding of breastfeeding is a great barrier in being able to reach a large audience with our support. It is something that I must remind myself of everyday.
“My, that’s different. I wonder why she does it that way?”