I've been having tons of fun reading and posting everyone's pieces for World Milksharing Week's Blog Carnival. After musing on it forever, I finally wrote my own today, about finding my place in the milksharing community.
I am a transgender man. I am in a gay relationship. I breastfeed my kiddo.
And I can tell you right now that I feel a deeper connection to our Mormon and Mennonite milk donors than I do to many of my other friends and community.
My past experiences as an LGBT person encountering religious folk have generally not been pleasant. Among many other comments, a Muslim friend once told me that being gay is worse than committing murder (I hadn't yet transitioned at the time), and a Christian noted that queer people burn in hell forever. My partner and I posted on Human Milk 4 Human Babies that we were a gay couple looking for milk for our baby, and assumed that LGBT-friendly donors would self select. We hoped that others would remain silent.
When I first realized that one of our milk donors, we'll call her Sherry, was Mormon, I was totally shocked that she would want anything to do with us. We had received her milk through a friend, and I thought that perhaps the original donor just didn't know much about us. We met for the first time a few days later, and Sherry gushed over our ten day old boy. In fact, I believe she said to him something like, "You make my uterus ache! Holding you makes me want another baby."
At that moment, I realized that Sherry and I had much in common. We both love holding babies, we are both attachment-minded parents, and we both really care about the health of babies – all babies. Sherry's milk maintained my son's normal gut flora on his fifth day of life, while a feeding of formula would have altered it, for the worse, for weeks to come.
Some Christian donors have told us that they don't understand everything about who we are, but they are open to learning, and they have a whole lot of respect for our commitment to breastfeeding and human milk. I am learning that there is great variety amongst individuals' religious paths. Not every Christian I meet is like the woman who once hurled the phrase "Jesus loves you" at me as if it was some kind of insult.
Outside the milksharing community, I often get comments like, "You're sure letting the baby run the show, aren't you? You know he would be fine. Formula isn't evil. It's ok to cry." I am simply responding to my son's needs – to be picked up, to nurse, to have human milk. I feel misunderstood, defensive and embarrassed when someone criticizes my parenting in this way. I know that I have done my own reading about everything from the risks of formula feeding to the effect of excessive cortisol in the brain of a baby who is left to cry. It's not that I lose confidence in what I'm doing when I listen to such remarks, but I very quickly feel that I am an unwelcome, "other" kind of person ("other" being a word I had previously associated only with being transgender in a cisgender world.)
A few years ago, I would never have guessed that my family's strongest, most supportive parenting community would include people who are aligned with religions that have deeply conservative threads. The milksharing community is incredibly diverse in terms of ethnicity, family structure, sexual orientation, financial status, religion, and language – it is expanding rapidly all over the world.
When one parent goes to the trouble to express and store her milk, and she posts on a social network to find someone to give it to so it won't go to waste, we know that she values human milk. When another parent responds to her post and drives across the city to pick up that milk rather than buying a can of formula from the corner store, we know that he or she prioritizes normal infant nutrition. Donors and recipients meet on the common ground of good health. It is that simple.