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and the Distress with BREASTS

by Susan Moore Daniels

I have been a midwife and a mother for more than 3 decades now. I guess maybe that makes me kind of an old-bird. So here are some random shared experiences from this old-bird in consideration of things such as recent requests for more “inclusive language.” Like many of my age, or frankly any age in the current circumstances, I sometimes find myself in uncomfortable situations with so many obligations of engaging with our computers/phones/TECH, or when there are strong pushes for increased social media participation and cyber expansion.  I am not gonna lie, I really dislike that this on-screen world is where we live a lot now. But when we have to participate, putting your preferred pronouns forth is now recommended to be a very basic step to help in what defines us all in the social cyber world and also in things like in the EMR (Electronic Medical Record). Except, could the preferred pronouns always just default to be “They/Them”?? For common and general purpose??? Just askin’ for the sake of conversation. The truth is I love “They/Them” pronouns. 

We have some younger and some newer midwives in our practice who have brought really remarkable information to the table at our Dar a Luz staff meetings regarding upgrading our website, our classes, and our health records, to edit in more inclusive language for all human beings, as a welcoming for ALL those who might wish to birth at Dar a Luz. Some of the younger midwives are really just a smidge older than my own daughters (I have been ok’d to use the “daughter” noun referring to them). My daughters are so loving, supportive, and passionately involved in activism with all of our beloved people in the LGBTQI+ community. And, just so you know, so have their parents, as they learned a lot of this from us, me and their dad. As an old-bird, inclusivity is certainly not new in my life. My husband and I have so many LGBTQI+ family members, LGBTQI+ friends. It has been a normalcy in raising our daughters, helping them in finding their own human essence, and in finding their tribe of beloved humans. So, I may be an old-bird, but this is a timeless song that goes on and on. 

Ok, yet here’s a thing, I am pretty sure I have messed up with pronouns on social media trying too hard to be inclusive. For example, it’s been a few years ago, as in all honestly I don’t really participate much in social medial anymore, and the story is that I ran into a dearly loved young adult human, quite fluid and brilliant on so many spectrums, such as creativity, business acumen, fashion, gender expression, social influencing, so much more……a human who had essentially grown up in my home through their teen years, best friends with one of my daughters, and was now enjoying strong success as an adult. My husband took a photo of me and this person together at this random public meeting moment, and I was so happy and delighted beyond measure. I don’t have words to describe my happiness. When I proudly posted the photo I referred to this person as THEY/THEM in the post, trying to be all inclusive and progressive in the language of the moment. And yeah, I am pretty sure this was not the pronoun situation preferred. This is, and was, and seems likely to continue to be, kind of uncomfortable to navigate sometimes. I guess I should have asked?  Actually, I now know I should have asked. Yet, I wish we could just all be “They/Them” sometimes. The non-binary. I resonate with this so deeply. Simple humans. Life forces. Beings. But, I continue to grow and learn, and I know I really should have asked this person, because for many individuals there can be a strong preference for the use of the traditional binary pronouns. 

When my husband and I had our first child, we didn’t want any binary or gendered gifts for the baby. We are seeing this request a little more with some of our Dar a Luz families lately. But for me, this was back in the 1990s, so please respect that this isn’t just a trendy new thing happening for the NOW generation. At the time, what we asked for in the gifting from others was that all be “androgynous” gifting. This wasn’t really due so much to our wanting to avoid the harsh sexual/gender codes back then, but more so that we simply wanted our child (whomever they might be) to know from early on that they could aspire to be almost anything. That they could wear any color that pleased, they could create, could explore and investigate, they could face whatever inspired them. So, in an effort here of more transparency, as some of you might know, my husband and I are creative, musical, artistic, theatre people – these aspects are a big part of our human community. And, a little less known publicly, we also live among some of the strongest intellectual, genius and introspective, science nerds – another faction. In accordance, there was another aspect in the 1990s in that our request back then was somewhat strongly based in my own growing feminist perspectives of the day (especially after our child was born female), because there was still so much oppression of women at that time, (oh, and my husband had quite the strong influence of 5 older sisters, with a wide spectrum of feminist display, and so there’s that). Simply put, we didn’t want the traditional pink or blue stuff, the stereotypic toys of the time for each sex, too much art influence, too much science/tech, or anything of the like. Whether we had a female child or male child, we were trying so hard to help forge a very open and wondrous path ahead. It is what we wanted to offer to THEM, to become whomever THEY might be.

That all being said, once I personally experienced pregnancy and went through labor and gave birth, I became impassioned by a very biologically female driven surge, especially during the many years that I breastfed our children. Feeding another human through my breasts changed me in my physiological sense, changed me in my science mind, in my creative spirit.  And, let me say that this wasn’t the most supportive of timelines for people breastfeeding back then. Especially not supportive regarding breastfeeding in public. But, I sat many a time with a wide open display of myself so proudly exposed in breastfeeding, in situations to further help slowly normalize the public feeding of human infants at the human breast. This was such beautiful work. It was hard work. And, now current day, considering all the inclusive language requests, asking me to not use the word “breast” in describing the biological feeding of human babies is frankly a rather harsh and at times a seemingly somewhat disrespectful request. It is unnatural to my brain and biology, and to my poetic nature. As a practice at Dar a Luz we are trying out the suggested more inclusive terms “chest feeding” and “nursing” and in honesty, these are not working well for me! Sorry. I will apologize in advance right here for when I might mess this up in your visits with me, when I simply say “breastfeeding” in the setting that this word might trigger for you some feelings of exclusion.

Humans are MAMMALS and mammals are defined by having mammary tissue which produces milk. That is the simple basic science of it. So, I am trying out the use of “mammary-gland-feeding” in my charting and counseling, because the other words suggested, such as chest-feeding (seeming oppressively masculine) and nursing (historically of subservience and slavery), are both hard suggestions for me. Simply put, human beings have breasts, the anatomical structure that houses the glandular mammary tissue, so “breast” seems like a non-binary word to me. I have been aware of breasts on males all my life in that my father only has one and that was unusual. He had one breast removed for a medical condition before I was born. When we traveled and would stay in hotels with pools and swim together, he wore his swim trunks and displayed his bare chest just like all the other men with two breasts. We would say our dad had one breast, never that he only had half a chest. So, the word breast seems an important anatomical descriptor. But this view isn’t so for everyone. The word breast is very sexually charged for some people. Yet, for me it is a word I carry forth in pride. I am so proud of breastfeeding. Back in the day, I came out for all to see my breastfeeding power, I came out from under the shrouded past of the history of shame in exposing breasts for feeding our young. This is a part of pride in me I thought all should know. I own it. But, I sometimes can feel shamed now by the judgement of others when I use the word breastfeeding. It was once a word that helped me feel so empowered. 

But, I digress. Inclusive language can be complicated. Words certainly have a lot of power sometimes. So, back to They/Them pronouns and our current day at Dar a Luz. I will be honest, I love it when the sex of the baby coming forth is going to be a “surprise” at birth. More families are opting for this lately. No offense intended to those who want to find out ahead what sex organs are on the expected baby human coming, and no offence to those who have had rather amazing and spectacular parties, or to those who have had some brilliantly beyond measure theatrical displays, all for gender-reveal event situations. I have witnessed the trends over 3 decades, the changes in technology and in cultural ritual, and for those wanting to know the sex of a baby before birth, things are certainly much better in current times. There are simple blood tests now instead of risky amniotic fluid tests, and there is more precise ultrasound imaging information. You might not know this, but a couple of decades ago we actually used to say ‘GENDER of baby’ on the results of ultrasound and amnio or other tests. This use of the word “gender” in such medical reports is now considered by some to be inappropriate. But, back then saying ‘SEX of baby” was thought to be too presumptive and therefore also inappropriate.

So, things keep changing, there is the ongoing redefining of words, the understanding of new meaning, etc, etc . . .  Oh, and back when genetic testing was NOT done easily, and when the sex/gender of the babe was almost always going to be a surprise at birth, we used to call the fetuses “It” during prenatal visits. YUCK!. This never felt right to me. For example, we would ask or say  “Where does ‘It’  kick you? Do you feel ‘It’ is moving? Oh, ‘Its’ head seems lower today.” 

Now, being able to refer to these little beings as THEM/THEY resonates for me so profoundly. I so prefer calling these babies “They/Them” instead of “It.” 

So, please know, if you will let me know, I will use whatever pronoun (or noun) you prefer for your baby. And, this is also true for you, for your partner, anyone. Anytime. Always. And if you don’t tell me, and if I don’t remember to ask, please know it’s possible I might just refer to anyone as “They/Them” because as I have said, I am an old-bird and I have more than 30 years of babies and families to keep in my mind, and truth be told, I do really like They/Them pronouns for general purpose!!  The ease, the simplicity, and the respectful sound all seem very nice.

But, another truth be told, I will probably still keep saying the word breastfeeding. UNTIL I DIE. Sorry if this offends as that would never be my intent. We need to be gentle with each other. Inclusivity of the latest “new” trend does not necessarily mean having to exclude all of the older. It seems to me it’s really just about growing, expanding in our understanding and acceptance, to simply be able to include more.

Susan Moore Daniels, CNM, MSN

Through her hands, Susan has greeted, or has welcomed, or caught, or helped-in-the-coming-forth-to-safe-passage-of many human babies. Thousands of babies. She has been at Dar a Luz since 2014. The clinical influences of music on our health, the emotional and psychological transformations that happen through birthing and parenthood, and the vast importance of simple things such as stargazing or the crafting of culinary salad pleasures are things of interest she brings forth to share with those who might be curious.

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