In the past few days, some have mentioned they are concerned that women would not feel comfortable seeking breastfeeding advice from a man, or even attending a meeting when a man is present. Fortunately, I have not personally encountered anything like this at my local La Leche League meetings. I have attended a number of meetings together with brand-new, first-time moms, and these moms have shared openly at meetings and returned to meetings. I believe that a man who breastfeeds is perceived very differently from a man who does not.
What those of us who attend meetings have in common is that we want to breastfeed our kids. Early in my pregnancy, I did tons of reading about breastfeeding, and one thing that came up over and over again was this: a huge predictor of whether or not you will succeed in breastfeeding as long as you want to is if you have good community, peer support. I used to read that and say to myself, "Except for me. I don't count." When I did in fact get to go to an LLL meeting before my baby was born, I was incredibly grateful. I walked into the meeting shaking with nerves. I could barely speak when it was my turn to introduce myself and I explained my unique situation. I was terrified of what people would think of me and how they would react. I looked up at a certain point and realized that the women there were smiling at me and nodding their heads as they listened to me.
When we talk about experiences of oppression and fear, I feel that I have those in common with breastfeeding women. I was yelled at by a WOMAN for breastfeeding my baby in public – she said I was ruining my child. I spoke calmly to her at the time but cried for quite a while after it was over, feeling terrible. I get stared at when I breastfeed. There are some places where I don't breastfeed because it simply isn't safe. As a transgender guy nursing in public, I am not exactly in a position of power over others. I believe that any woman who learns in 30 seconds or so that I breastfeed my baby (and of course, having breastfed is a requirement for being a volunteer leader) will know that I have been through the same grief as any other breastfeeding person.
Men who have never breastfed have not experienced firsthand what breastfeeding parents have. Similarly, if a bunch of judgemental female OB's showed up at an LLL meeting, the breastfeeding women would probably not feel comfortable. In our chapter, when a non-breastfeeding medical professional wants to attend a meeting, she must gain special permission and she is asked not to contribute to discussion. I believe this whole issue is not simply about sex or gender, but about the common experience of breastfeeding, which in our society seems unfortunately to have a lot to do with oppression.
I try to keep my attitude in life, as well as my writing, positive. On the whole, our family has received FAR more support and well-wishes than any other kind of comment (I'm talking about personal emails, Facebook messages, and blog comments – I never read comments on news articles). However, I don't think that anyone breastfeeding in public in North America today can do so without at least a hint of fear or doubt, and I am certainly no exception. This is why we need La Leche League – a safe space to share accurate, science-based information about breastfeeding without judgement.