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Jessica Shortall
Contributing Writer

'I Was Kicked Out Of My Breastfeeding Support Group'

Meet Jessica Shortall, a working mom with a career dedicated to the intersection of business and doing good. As the former Director of Giving for TOMS Shoes, she literally circumnavigated the globe with a breast pump.  Pre-order her upcoming book by Abrams, “Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom’s Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work,” out Sept. 8.

Last year, I wrote a blog post about being kicked out of a so-called breastfeeding support group on Facebook for asking for advice on gently weaning my 13-month-old daughter. It was a sad experience – one that really depressed me about the state of the breastfeeding wars, and about how even our attempts to recreate the village of maternal support can go horribly wrong.

Fast-forward more than a year, when I stumbled upon an email I'd missed from the Great Getting My Ass Kicked Out of a Breastfeeding Group on Facebook time of my life. This message made me so happy, I just had to share it. This total stranger came and found me online to tell me she supported me and had my back and is part of my village. Oh my God, yes. This is motherhood. This is sisterhood.

You have to read it.

I won’t post the whole thing, and where you see (italics in parentheses), that’s me commenting. But here is the bulk of it:

“Hi Jessica! You don’t know me, and I hope this isn’t weird — I just had to send you a message. I belonged to this breastfeeding support group on Facebook…(here she shares some frustrations with breastfeeding, and says she recently weaned her son, who was about the same age as my daughter). I wanted to ask for guidance on weaning on the Facebook group, but I hesitated…I was worried that people would tell me it was just a nursing strike, that I needed to take fenugreek, drink tea, nurse and pump every spare moment because ‘breast is best’…so I kept silent and worked through it on my own.

"When I read your post asking for help with weaning, my heart skipped a beat when I read what others had said to you. I remembered reading those comments, too. I distinctly remember reading, ‘I never forced mine to wean, that’s crazy to me, mine both self-weaned at 28 months’ or something to that effect…and I remember my heart aching when I read that, because it came across as so judgmental. I have loved being a member of a support group like this…it felt good to be a part of that ‘village’ of women who were going through the same experiences. I had noticed some pushiness and judgment here and there, but usually tried to brush it off because the positive comments typically seemed to outweigh the bad.

"When I read your blog and realized I was part of the group that responded to you that way, I decided I had to leave the group….I wish I had the guts to say to people, ‘You may not agree with me or do it the way I’m doing it, but please respect me. This journey is emotional and these decisions are difficult, but respect me enough to support me, rather than tell me I’m doing it wrong.’ I’m not even sure if you’ll get this message…but please know that there may be vocal ‘supporters’ in our village who break you down, but for every critic there is a silent supporter, reading your blog, browsing through comments, silently cheering you on and supporting your decisions. You don’t even know who I am and yet I am a part of your village, and I have your back. Thank you for inspiring others and for being the amazing mother that I know you are!”

Talk about having your faith in humanity restored. I don’t know this woman…but she reached out to me, shared painful details of her own story (which I redacted from the above), and spent time just reminding me that there are a lot of good people out there. Thank you, lady whom I shall keep anonymous because that seems like the right thing to do. You. Are. Awesome.

All of this was a real wakeup call to me. What am I doing over here in my corner of the interweb, moaning about the Mommy Wars? Am I helping to make anything better? Can I do more? I don’t know. It’s the end of a long work week and I have to go pick up my kids. So my best idea right now is, simply, this: If meanies take over our villages, it’s our fault for staying silent. When I got booted from that group, the only thing that really, truly bothered me was that I didn’t see a single mom on that group coming to my defense.

When I'm sane and rational (that's like 10 minutes a week lately), I realize that it only feels like all moms are judgy because those people are loud.  If we want to smash the Mommy Wars to smithereens, it’s time to speak up and show ourselves who the majority really is: exhausted, normal, non-judgmental, desperate-for-a-village-that-won’t-turn-on-them women.

In the interest of speaking up, I’ve written a little pledge, and I’m asking you to take it with me. I’m calling it the “It’s MY Village” Pledge. And it goes a little something like this:

Women have always needed villages – virtual or real – to survive motherhood. ** These villages, and these fellow mothers, aren’t optional. They are a precious natural resource. So, in my villages, real and virtual, I pledge:**

  • To loudly give kindness, empathy and humor
  •  To be helpful, but never assume I know everything
  •  To ask for help
  •  To say it out loud when I feel judged or shamed
  • To never let shaming or judging slide just because I’m scared to speak up
  •  To never add more meanness or judgment, but to swiftly have other mothers’ backs

Want to take this pledge with me? Say “I’M IN!” in the comments. Share it with friends. Post it on Facebook.  Next time I see something, I’m gonna say something. That goes for the good somethings and the bad somethings. Because there really aren’t that many mean girls out there, and it’s time for the majority to be loud. (In a nice way. But loud.)

PHOTO: Andreas Michaelou