Gust Blog Post - Bridget Muir
Supporting LGBTQIA+ families and their lactation journeys
Kia ora everyone!
I am a volunteer trained and accredited breastfeeding/chestfeeding/human milk feeling counsellor (which we call a Leader) with La Leche League International. La Leche League is an international volunteer non-for-profit organisation that is the leading organization in peer-to-peer support in human lactation and gentle parenting.
As part of my role I recently attended the 2018 La Leche League NZ Conference held in Christchurch Aotearoa/New Zealand. The aim of the conference is to bring counsellors together to connect and learn. I was also invited to do a talk on how individuals within lactation support can better support LGBTQIA+ (Rainbow) families. This topic is an area of passion for me, and the aim of my talk was to create impact and start conversations.
I felt intense emotion delivering this speech as I spoke with tears flowing down my cheeks infront of a room of 100 or so individuals. This was a message that needed to get out. Here’s a breakdown of what I spoke of:
The impact of gendered language
The talk opened up describing an experience some members of our community might feel when entering a space considered “woman’s only” and the impact of gendered language. In such spaces there is open language and assumptions made that all who attend are “mothers” and have “husbands” for support. It can often feel very exhausting and suffocating for some members of our community who are constantly hit by “the gender binary”: societies expectations and assumptions that you are either male or female. A lot of groups are called “mums and bubs” groups, but how does this impact someone who might not identify with the word “mum”, or someone who might feel both fluid. As an example. We know the gender spectrum is a wonderful kaleidoscope of experiences and identities, which is why it is important we listen to a variety of stories. I am merely 1 voice and by no means represent an entire spectrum!
Our LGBTQIA+ community and challenges faced
As well as explaining the meaning of the LGBTIQA+ acronym including the importance of the “plus” (which means all other identities) I spoke about the general challenges our communities face and how these might create barriers to access support:
Mental health challenges, higher suicide rates
Isolation and exclusion
Higher drug, alcohol and smoking rates
Poverty and Homelessness
Abuse of all kinds
Work discrimination, lower income and education outcomes
Breast and cervical cancer
This is to name a few, we know there are more!
Lactation specific challenges
I then spoke about specific lactation issues that many rainbow families may face in their journeys, including:
Chest feeding and how this might look to some families
And some individuals may also experience gender dysphoria
I explained that it has been found that language can be a huge barrier to accessing support and feeling part of a community in particular within the lactation world. It is important to remember that language evolves just as we humans have. Language is reflective of our diverse communities. Language creates impact. I then discussed the use of inclusive language.
What is inclusive language?
Inclusive language includes all and does not erase anyone. It is also about removing assumptions we make about people and getting to know each other at a deeper level.
“Good morning Ladies” - “Good morning everyone”
“Mothers group” - “Parents group” or (understanding that ALL identities are important) “Mothers, fathers, and parents group”
“Husbands and wives” - “partners” ….or I use “supports” a lot because this also takes away the assumption that everyone has a partner!
Sometimes the best way to use inclusive language is to add more words to what we usually say.
“Breastfeeding” - “human milk feeding” or “breastfeeding, chestfeeding, co nursing, nursing, exclusive pumping, use of supplemental nursing systems, mixed feeding, using donor milk”
Take home messages:
Finally, I spoke about some things that can done to support fellow rainbow families in their human milk feeding journeys: listening to their stories and acknowledging that their family is valid, thinking about the impact of language, the importance of education and having conversations, and being a true ally.
“And lastly…. Approaching with open hearts and open minds is always a good start. Humans are complex beings and we are storytellers by nature. We need our stories heard and be validated as living truths, to be proud and mostly importantly supported in life’s journey.”
*Please note some of the resource links I have provided may contain gendered language