She Speaks We Hear

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Giving up our independence: living life with vulnerability yet strength.

Have you decided that if you want the job done you had better do it yourself? Does this leave you feeling like you’re trying to juggle life by yourself? Do you only feel connected when you read slogans telling you ‘you can make it on your own’? Are you strong and independent and secretly disconnected and lonely? 

Here in the West we tell ourselves that independence is a more admirable trait than interdependence and that we can achieve our destinies on our own. We don’t have the patience to teach people how we like it done and yet we must have things the way we like them. We assume people around us are too busy to listen anyway and that we couldn’t possibly burden them with our problems or our conundrums. Managing careers, families, body image and shiny smiles whilst being upbeat and brimming with confidence all by ourselves can lead to a frustrating and lonely existence.

In the words of John Donne 

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.”

So what does that really mean?

It means that human beings need connection and intimacy. That we are not designed to exist being unknown and that we can use one another as resources to help one another grow. Despite the reveries of independence, research demonstrates that human beings are heavily influenced by and dependent upon positive social interactions. Our childhood experiences govern the quality of our future relationships and our ongoing exchanges shape our personalities. So despite the ‘make it on our own’ slogans we need meaningful positive interactions that feed our need for connection and intimacy and they are vital to our lives and well-being. 

Having people around you is not the same as being known by people around you and to be known we have to share of ourselves. Often we are stopped from opening up. It might leave us feeling vulnerable being fully known by someone else. However, we need to take comfort in the fact that we are all pretty much the same, we all have the same need to be heard and regarded. We are all struggling with something we need help with, joyous about something else and everyone has the same need to feel good about who they are. We can become resources for one another and support one another’s lives and choices.  

If being open, vulnerable and interdependent is synonymous with being hurt then consider what led to that conditioning. Consider also that who you are now is different and that you have a choice about who you would like to create meaningful connections with. Effective ways of doing this are to firstly decide that you would like to be close to other people and have them as a resource in your life and to be a resource in theirs. Give up controlling the outcomes of your interactions and enjoy the journey. Make authenticity a priority and share openly of yourself and listen intently to the person sharing with you. Allow them to sponsor your life and your growth and do the same for them.

Steven Covey, in his magisterial work, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ talks about an individual’s journey from dependence, to independence through to the highest realm – interdependence. Covey goes further to say that it is only with true interdependence that humans achieve their highest goals and ambitions. Interdependence relies upon us fulfilling the needs of others and, in turn, opening ourselves up enough to have our needs met by others. 

So before we decide to open ourselves up and be vulnerable it is useful to think about how and where we can do that and most importantly who with. 

Let us use this table to do that – 

Resources I have How they contribute to my life 





How can I access them When I will do that  






  1. List all the people who you would consider your resources, those who make you feel good when you engage with them. They might be partners, family members, friends, colleagues.
  2. Identify how each of them contribute to your life in a positive way. Really think about this task as it might not be in ways that you expect so be really honest. 
  3. Now consider if there are any obstacles to you accessing them and if so what they might be and how you will overcome them i.e. my partner is busy at work so to connect I will invite him/her on a date where we can talk. 
  4. To give yourself the best chance of it happening set a clear date in your mind when you will aim to do that. 

So take off the armour and open up the channels for meaningful connections, use and be used by others as a resource to love and be loved, support and be supported and to nurture and be nourished. No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

By Aamna Khokhar

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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5 reasons why Copenhagen should be your next family holiday

Nyhavn
Candy-coloured houses in Nyhavn

If you’re a parent of young children, you know the struggle is real when looking for a great holiday destination. It has to be easy to get to; it has to be child-friendly; most importantly, it has to have a good selection of halal food. While Denmark might not be the most obvious destination for Muslim families, I’m here to tell you that you’ll be surprised, but Copenhagen ticks all the boxes when it comes to a great child-friendly city break.

Here are 5 reasons why you need to make Copenhagen your next destination for a fantastic, family trip that both adults and children will love, and will create magical memories that last a lifetime.

1. You don’t have to worry about entertaining the kids.

As a family with two young children, entertaining the kids is the number one priority when looking for a holiday. After all, happy kids = happy parents. Copenhagen has a huge amount of sights that will keep both kids and parents happy. Here’s a list of places we managed to visit in our short (six day) break:

Tivoli Gardens. Copenhagen is home to the second oldest amusement park in the world, the world-famous Tivoli Gardens. Rides, entertainment, gardens, lights; Tivoli has it all and more.

The Experimentarium – probably one of the most fun places on Earth.

The Experimentarium. This is a world-class science centre with four floors of hands-on science experiments for kids. This was honestly one of the most fun museums I’ve ever been to, and you could easily spend five to six hours just here alone.

Den Blå Planet. Denmark’s national aquarium, and one of the largest in Europe with interactive exhibits and touch pools, which kids will love.

The Children’s Museum at the National Museum. I loved this and so did the kids, as the museum had a whole room dedicated to Pakistani heritage and culture. Nothing is off bounds at the Children’s Museum; there are no “Do Not Touch Signs”, and lots for little ones and older children to explore and play with.

Exploring early paintings.

Copenhagen Zoo. This was one of the best zoos I’ve been to, with all the “fun” animals (and let’s be honest – none of the boring ones – haha).

Tycho Brahe Planetarium. With lots of interactive exhibits exploring our fascination with the stars, there’s lots to learn here for young and older children.

If we had more time, we could have also gone a little further out of Copenhagen and visited the Viking Ship Museum as my eldest is currently fascinated by the Vikings. In any case, there’s lots to see and do, and plenty of indoor activities too in case of the occasional rain shower.

2. It’s only a 2 hour flight from London.

The Children’s Museum has an entire room dedicated to Pakistani culture.

The short flight time is definitely a plus point when you have young children in tow, although notably, on short-haul European flights, you won’t get in-flight entertainment. But it is hard to believe there is so much on our doorstep, only a couple of hours away from London. Can someone remind me why we’re doing that Brexit thing again??

3. There is halal food everywhere (and not just kebab shops).

Once we started doing a little research, we found that there is good-quality halal food to be found in every street corner in Copenhagen. Even in the Tivoli Gardens, we ate delicious shawarma, and as you walk around the city, you easily spot halal restaurants. More than that, you’re simply spoilt for choice. Here are some of the (halal) restaurants we ate at:

  • Burgerklubben (Fredriksberg) – this is 100% halal, no alcohol served gourmet burger restaurant, with a choice of different buns and sauces, so you can eat your burger customised to your taste-buds. Separate kids menu, and colouring pencils provided. And, there’s even a Muslim shower in the toilets… I mean if you know, you know!
  • Original Shawarma (Tivoli Gardens) – I was surprised to find halal food even available in touristy spots such as the Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli has at least four halal restaurants as well as other street food such as pastries, churros and ice-cream, so plenty of choice.
  • Stefanos Pizza (Nørrebro) – a good gourmet pizza place is definitely something London is missing, and this was simply one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. We had the pollo pizza, which is loaded with pulled chicken, and the bresaola, or salted beef pizza. Again, 100% halal, no alcohol served. The line was out of the door, and it’s not hard to see why.
  • Restaurant Zafran (Nørrebro) – delicious Persian food. This was a spontaneous visit as we were walking along the road, and it definitely wasn’t the only halal restaurant on our way. Again easy food for the kids, friendly staff and pens provided to draw on paper table cloths.
  • Shawarma Grill House (Strøget) – super fast service, delicious shawarmas, (scores of people waiting outside) and you know it’s got to be good if Dubai-based paper, The National calls it “The World’s Best Shawarma“.
  • Cafe le Perr (Kastrup) – a good tip at every restaurant is to ask if the food is halal or not. Although I didn’t expect food at this cafe to be halal, it turns out it was, even though it wasn’t advertised as such. My other half had an amazing club sandwich with juicy chicken and steak and homemade chips, while I had a classic Danish smørrebrød or open sandwich, one with salmon / avo, and one with egg / avo.

Apart from all the delicious halal food, let’s not forget Denmark is the home of some of the world’s best bakeries and pastries. Delicious rye bread, warm chocolate cinnamon rolls and freshly-baked cakes and desserts are just some of the sweet treats waiting for you in this foodies’ dream city.

4. Copenhagen houses an amazing collection of Islamic art and history.

The David Collection is a museum of fine and applied art. The Islamic art collection is one of the most awe-inspiring I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. It explores Islamic history from its inception, starting with the life of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and then looks at how Islam expanded across the world.

From Moorish Spain, to India and China, as well as the history of the Mamluks, this is one of the most fascinating in-depth explorations of Islam in Europe and definitely not to be missed. Even if you have to resort to a bit of Netflix to keep your children entertained while you explore the collection (as we did!), it’s definitely worth it.

5. The culture is completely child-friendly.

The Danes love children. Not only are the locals super-friendly, it’s easy to get around because the culture is really centred around family values.

Every Metro station has a lift (or elevator), so taking a pushchair will not be a problem; you can also easily get around on buses. One good tip is to avoid taxis; not only are they hard to find, but they are also very expensive (around £30 or 250 DKK for a 15 minute journey).

Most of the restaurants also had a separate children’s menu, but in general, with good quality pizzas, burgers and sandwiches on offer, food will not be a problem for families with young children. Beware of the tunas sandwiches if your kids don’t like chilli though; it seems the Danes enjoy tuna with tabasco, which means your kids might be in for a spicy surprise at lunchtime.

I also have to mention the weather: it’s all well and good in theory visiting a tropical location, until your children are hot and bothered, and complaining about the intense heat. Give me the Scandi climate any day; sunny, warm with a strong Nordic breeze. You might have to battle the occasional rain shower, but there are plenty of fun, indoor activities you can do on the days that the skies decide to open up.

6. It has one of Europe’s most beautiful mosques.

Minaret of the Imam Ali Mosque, Copenhagen

Okay, so I said five reasons, but I couldn’t leave this post without mentioning that we visited one of the most beautiful mosques, in one of the most unexpected locations.

The Imam Ali Mosque in the Nordvest district is designed with neo-Iranian architecture, and was opened to the public in 2015.

As we approached, we were greeted by the sight of beautiful turquoise-blue minarets towering over the city, and a gorgeous dome. It truly has to be seen to be believed.

What else do you need to know?

In general, Copenhagen is an expensive city, but then again, as it’s close to London, the flights and hotel may not be as expensive as other locations. We stayed at the Tivoli Hotel (close to Central Copenhagen station). As the hotel is themed around Tivoli Gardens, it’s really fun and quirky for children. Did I also mention the chicken and turkey is halal? Be sure to check, as we did.

If you’re planning to visit a number of locations, it is absolutely essential to buy a Copenhagen Card, which is a no-brainer. This is a city pass that includes entry to most of the key sites (bear in mind, entry to each attraction means once only) and free travel on all buses, trains and Metro.

We got a card for 120 hours, which covered the five days we were in Copenhagen, and it’s well worth it as it means you can travel around without thinking too much.

If you want to see more of my holiday snaps, check out my Copenhagen highlights on Instagram.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Even Superheroes Are Mums First.

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I am watching the film The Incredibles II with my kids and more kids and more other kids, yes it is the summer holidays and credit to my sister-in-law who was able to organise and orchestrate the entire trip to the cinema, sorting all the snacks, seating, and tickets, for which I am eternally grateful. As we had all settled into our assigned seating the opening few scenes of the film commenced. The first thought for Elastigirl was who will be able to take care of the children? She had been offered an opportunity of a lifetime, a course of action that would change superhero history for all time, and her foremost thought was? Who will take care of the children.

Elastigirl then went onto name each child and their particular issue or concern. The eldest girl was about to meet a boy that she liked, the second child needed to work on his Maths, and the baby, well he was a baby that needed his mother. The deliberation that consumed her was overwhelming but not shocking. Every mother in that audience completely understood. Especially the working mothers. The constant all-consuming inherent guilt which constantly accompanies the territory; like a relentless albatross looming over every thought, every action every reaction. ‘Should I apply for that job? That new role? The promotion? The qualification? The next step in my career? Every step counter weighed by ‘But what about the kids?’

‘Who will collect the kids today?’ This one question determines and underpins every task, action, meeting in a given day. If I know that the pick-up is taken care of then I can consider longer projects, arrange and attend certain meetings, make those work phone calls, plan ahead, clear some administrative tasks. However, if I need to collect the kids. The day is cut short. I leave abruptly. Whatever I am doing, wherever I am, regardless of the necessity – when time is up. It is up. I leave.

“‘Who will collect the kids today?’ This one question determines and underpins every task, action, meeting in a given day.“

I collect the offspring and my other job resumes from where I left off in the morning. The unpaid and often unappreciated job. There are no promotions, there is no salary, there is limited training, there is a great deal of self-learning. Yet this job is the essential, the crucial one – I am raising citizens of the world, the next generation, the future. Often this ever demanding role is slotted in and around the day job. Yet the ongoing impact of this one isn’t evaluated, or measured. There isn’t a Needs Analysis which is conducted every year, and there isn’t a performance related pay schedule either. Yet the contribution we make as mums is exponential. There are no words. My realisation that even Superheroes Are Mums First, and watching Elastigirl in Incredibles II yesterday reminded me, that I am clearly not alone.

by Anjum Peerbacos

Anjum Perrbacos is a mother writer living, teaching and learning, in 21st century London. Of Asian origin (beige- ish), wearing a hijab – not a terrorist! A Londoner through and through and proud to be so. Currently Vice Chair of local Constituency Labour Party. Promoting Political engagement within diverse communities. You can follow her on Twitter @Mammaanji or Facebook

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author

 

 


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What I’ve Learned From My Miscarriage

In mid-May I shared Hadley Freeman‘s heart-breaking account of her miscarriage, with the plea that we talk more openly about women’s health, miscarriage, infertility. I had no idea that two days later, I would suffer a miscarriage myself at 11 weeks.

In the Jewish youth movement world, we have a concept called ‘dugma ishit’ – leading by personal example, or acting in such a way that allows others to follow your lead. It’s a core principle by which I lead my life to this day. After thinking long and hard, I have decided to be open about this because after the experience, I can categorically say that a culture of silence still exists around this common, natural but traumatic side of fertility. As a friend of mine wisely said, ‘It’s sad, but it shouldn’t be shameful.’ So, in the spirit of ‘dugma ishit’, ‘talking about miscarriage more openly’ and giving the finger to out-of-date taboos, here are three things I’ve learned from my experience.

NB Of course I can’t speak for Eyal, or other women, or their partners who have been through this grief. These are my own personal reflections…

1) I wasn’t prepared for the physical rollercoaster of miscarriage.

While the grief, sadness and anger were devastating, it was the physical symptoms and aftermath that floored me most. With various complications, it took me 8 weeks to make a full recovery and receive the all clear. That’s two months of fear, pain and medical uncertainty. (I should say that the care we received at St Thomas’ Early Pregnancy and Acute Gynaecology Unit was mostly excellent.)

I have never felt so exhausted, drained and imbalanced as during my recovery period. It tested my self-care practice to its limits. My biggest lifeline (hard to achieve in practice) was surrendering to whatever was happening at that moment, whether it was fear, pain, grief, tears, laughter or rage. I did a lot of art and crafting from my sofa, a physical practice which I could thankfully do even while I ached everywhere. I spent much of this time off work or working from home. While all experiences are different, I honestly don’t know how women who go through this can ‘push through’, go back to work and act normal. I know that not all workplaces are as understanding as mine was. It’s not right that women should feel they have to ‘keep calm and carry on.’ We need more understanding around the physical aspects of miscarriage and recovery, as well as the emotional ones.

2) No-one should have to go through this alone.

We had told a few close friends that we were pregnant, breaking with the common ‘wisdom’ that you shouldn’t tell until 12 weeks
– because heaven forfend you have to burden them with the news of a miscarriage! It’s always struck me that this was more for other people’s benefit than the expectant parents, who would need support if ‘the worst’ were to happen. When we went for that first scan and they told us I would miscarry, I decided from the beginning that I was going to be open with friends about what we were going through. As we shared our heartbreak, our friends and family rallied to support us. The visits, texts, calls, meals, flowers, sweet treats and words of support came thick and fast to remind us that we were not alone in this dark place. You wonderful people, you know who you are. I love you so much, and am forever grateful. Special mention should go to Eyal who supported me staunchly even as he grieved and struggled himself, and our family, my mum, brother and Eyal’s auntie in particular, who supported me amazingly with an apparent inability to be phased by even the goriest aspects of the process. I described the feeling at the time as being like crowd-surfing when I couldn’t walk. I also told people in a work/voluntary context where I felt it appropriate. It felt wrong to lie and say I had the flu, like being complicit in perpetuating the taboo.

Yes, sometimes people said things they hoped would be helpful which actually hurt. People often don’t know what to say to those grieving and in pain, and try to ‘make it better’ with platitudes and clichés, instead of just listening, being there and admitting things are shit. I know most of it came from a place of love and care.

I know that some of my friends have struggled with toxic narratives of blame and shame – even the idea that they should stay away from pregnant women in case miscarriage is ‘catching.’ Some of these narratives come from misguided individuals, some are deeply embedded in traditions and cultures. Of course, despite growing up in Turkish culture where the evil eye or ‘nazar’ is constantly referenced and feared, I know that my experience can’t be ‘transmitted’ to someone else. My nurses reiterated time and again that miscarriage is no-one’s fault, and nothing I had done had caused this. It makes me so sad that women are having to suffer this salt being rubbed into their open wounds. No-one needs that added guilt and humiliation.

Personally, I still don’t regret sharing while I was going through it. The result was definitely net positive – on us as a couple, and on the wider conversation about miscarriage. I recognize too that’s also a testament to the amazing, loving people Eyal and I have in our lives.

3) As a society, we are NOT talking about miscarriage.

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People tell you repeatedly, presumably as an attempt at comfort, that 1/4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. I couldn’t name more than three people in my network who I knew had had one before this. I felt so alone and singled out in those early days. ‘Why is this happening to me when everyone around me has had healthy pregnancies and children?’ And then, as I shared what was happening to me, slowly slowly, the friends to whom it had happened came forward in a multitude. Some with children, some still trying. Many of them I had seen soon after their miscarriages, and I had no idea what they’d been through until I now. With silence and shame comes the risk that women, even close friends, never find out about and share their common experience of miscarriage, that can serve to deepen support, friendship and solidarity.

Of course, it’s every woman’s right to choose how they deal with their loss. But I would argue that in our culture, the choice is heavily weighted towards the default of ‘keep quiet, move on, try again’ (as if trying to conceive again is on your mind when you’re in the depths of that grief!). There are still lots of unspoken associations with miscarriage – shame, guilt, a sense of failure as a woman. I felt all these things in the darkest hours, but by bringing them into the light, I see them for what they are. A mixture of the natural emotions of grief, and some serious patriarchal bullshit around women’s value being associated with a) fertility, and b) outward perfection. Some of the specious beliefs that prevent people asking for the support they need in all kinds of grief come to mind- ‘I don’t want to burden people’, ‘I don’t want people to see me in this state’, ‘What will they think of me?’ When we say these things out loud, it’s clear what bullshit they are. I don’t know how I personally would have got through this ordeal without talking about it with people I loved and trusted.

I am deeply grateful to all the friends who opened up to me about their experiences, helping me gain perspective and retain hope when it felt like the ordeal would never end. I hope that if friends in my network are suffering with miscarriage and its aftermath, they know that there’s one more person they can reach out to who’s been there and can support them – not with platitudes, but with a listening ear, advice if they want it, holding a light for them in the darkness. I hope I’ve opened the way for others to be open about miscarriage in future, to the extent that they want to.

A word about partners, be they male, female or non-binary. They are going through the immense grief of losing a pregnancy/child, while watching their partner suffer devastating physical pain and grueling recovery. While it’s understandable that much attention is on the partner who physically miscarries, the supporting partner also has their own grief and struggle that needs to be allowed to air. A word to the wise – when enquiring how someone is doing after a miscarriage, do ask how their partner is too.

How am I now? Physically, finally back to myself more or less, thanks especially to my body’s amazing ability to heal and a wonderful holiday. Emotionally up and down, sometimes especially tender with news of pregnancies and births. But I have hope now, where I didn’t before. I’ll get there, with a little help from my friends.

Here’s Hadley Freeman’s article, still heartbreaking and affirming to read…

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/may/13/hadley-freeman-miscarriage-silence-around-it

The Miscarriage Association offers advice, resources and counselling:

https://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/

And I found this graphic artist’s story of her miscarriage very moving:

http://www.charipere.com/blog/miscarried

Post Script:

I put this post on Facebook, on 31st July. Although I expected (and hoped!) people would be kind, I was blown away by the stream of loving and supportive responses I received. And my PM box brimmed with yet more stories from friends… Some recent losses being mourned today; some which happened 20+ years ago or more and still left their mark.

The same themes emerged again and again from friends’ testimonies… isolation; shame; not knowing how to be around pregnant friends and babies; well-meaning sympathy gone wrong; discovering new bodily intuition through and after the process; handling the anxiety of ‘trying again.’ There are clear parallels with grief and bereavement – one friend told of how hurt she was when people crossed the street to avoid her, as they didn’t know what to say. Reading response after response, I thought to myself 1) It’s not just me, I’m not alone, and 2) How awful that this still happens! We have such a long way to go.

This has confirmed to me how needed communities like ‘She Speaks, We Hear’ are, which help women share their lived experiences and find support and solidarity at these difficult times – especially if they are living in a culture where miscarriage is silenced, misunderstood or maligned. Sisters, I see you and hear you. We’ll get through this together.

By Debbie Danon

Debbie is a freelance facilitator, trainer and leadership development expert, with life-long passion for building community and creating brave spaces for transformative conversations. After her degree at Cambridge University in Theology and Religious Studies in 2007, Debbie joined intercultural NGO 3FF (Three Faiths Forum), where she designed and delivered interfaith learning experiences for single-faith and community schools, and subsequently for other professional sectors. The programmes she designed grew to reach 10,000 young people and 800 educators a year, and won a UN Alliance of Civilizations Award. Debbie spent two years with award-winning immersive learning consultancy The Smarty Train, where clients included The Bank of England and Accenture. Until recently, she served as Director of Education for two youth leadership organisations, The Unreasonables and Blue Chip Leaders. Debbie volunteers with the Grassroots Jews community, and youth charity The Advocacy Academy. Her passions include arts & crafts, hosting (meals, discussions, games nights), meditation and dancing.

Image Credit: Debbie Danon
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Breastfeeding shaming needs to stop

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Last week was World Breastfeeding Week, and yet again there are reports that the UK has the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world. Breastfeeding is one of those topics that any blogger should be terrified to write about. It is so controversial, so politicised, yet it really shouldn’t have to be so complicated.

It’s controversial because mothers are routinely shamed for “not trying hard enough”. But the reality is, women are just not supported enough. There is so much pressure to breastfeed without an adequate support structure in place. Breastfeeding seems to be about NHS quotas and targets these days; but, you can’t expect more women to breastfeed without supporting them properly.

I’m writing this as a woman, who has one child who was formula-fed after two weeks and the second who went from combination feeding to eventually being exclusively breastfed. I don’t feel shame for how I fed my children because I know I tried my best both times around, and I don’t care about judgment from others because nobody knows my experience apart from me. But my experience of being a first-time mother was so different from doing it the second time around.

The guilt and shame started during pregnancy, when in an NHS ante-natal class, a group of nervous first-timers were fed the mind-numbingly stupid idea formula was akin to giving your baby McDonald’s. This is the last thing a first-time mother needs to hear; it is not helpful and most women know the benefits of breast milk versus formula.

The nightmare continues after birth: the midwife (who in some cases, has no real personal experience of her own) expecting you to feed, feed, feed all night without a break, and that’s after you’ve just spent a good few hours, maybe even days, bringing a human being into the world. It’s relentless.

Breastfeeding is hard. Let’s not pretend otherwise. When we are pregnant, we are often told that breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural experience that will come easily to us, that we were made to do this, and made to feel that it is our God-given purpose as women. We imagine ourselves as glamorous as the super-model, Gisele; feeding while glowing like a Goddess, while simultaneously being pampered by a team of hovering beauty experts. And then, our babies are born, and reality hits home. I’m not going to go into the gory details, but you all know what I’m talking about. We persist, and sometimes it works; other times, we try and try and it doesn’t. And that’s okay.

When I couldn’t breastfeed my first child, I went through a period of mourning because for a long time, I did wonder if I could have done more, even though I knew deep-down that I had made the right decision. I took time to read Suzanne Barston’s book, “Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t.” Barston is the writer behind the formula-centric blog, Fearless Formula Feeder. The book explains that for various reasons, not everyone can breastfeed, and women shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about it.

Like it or not, formula isn’t poison. Formula fed a generation, and many of us are here (healthy and happy!) because of formula. Let’s not forget that many women also had wet nurses, so clearly, not everyone was miraculously able to breastfeed a hundred years ago.

If women weren’t made to feel that feeding their baby was an exclusive choice between pure poison or nature’s golden milk, then maybe they wouldn’t put so much pressure on themselves to feed.

Breastfeeding is tied to hormones and stress. When you are anxious, you produce adrenalin, which can affect your production of prolactin, the hormone that is trying to help you to produce milk. Nursing can help to reduce stress, but there are also some studies which show that physical and mental stress can cut the flow of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for stimulation of milk ejection (milk letdown) . If oxytocin is low, this can affect your supply of milk.

In simple terms, relaxation is really important for a breastfeeding mother. So maybe, just maybe, if formula was presented as an option to fall back on, more women would be able to relax and try hard to breastfeed, without the psychological fear of not filling up their baby’s tummy.

Because many women want to breastfeed. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just that they are human. Motherhood is bloody difficult. You have to do whatever it takes to survive, to get through one day after the next, to keep going, and pick yourself up every time your child doesn’t eat, or refuses to sleep, or throws the mother of all tantrums in public. If that means giving some formula to help you survive, so be it. If women don’t want to breastfeed, or want to mix-feed, let’s not shame them for their choices.

I truly believe that if a happy mum means a happy child. Motherhood is messy and complicated, and the happiness and intelligence of your child rests on far more than just the milk you feed them in the early years of their life.

But the real crux of this post is to ask why more women don’t breastfeed, and I think part of the reason is the overtly sexualised culture in the UK. We seem to have forgotten somewhere down the line, that breasts are intended for feeding babies and that is their primary function.

Why, in the 21st century, is there so much controversy about public breastfeeding? A couple of years ago, the luxury hotel Claridge’s came under fire for insisting that a baby breastfed at afternoon tea was covered up with a napkin. Yet, this is the same country where up to 2015, newspapers would routinely publish totally uncovered breasts on Page 3. The practice was only dropped two years ago. Lingerie models are on display in every public shopping centre that sells underwear, but God forbid, that we see a tiny bit of skin for a millisecond while a baby latches on. And you could always, you know, not look.

https://twitter.com/vaguechera/status/893793544221143040

https://twitter.com/vaguechera/status/893793544221143040

We need to remove the stigma around public breastfeeding, because this is partly the reason why women stop.  Because our society doesn’t prioritise the baby’s needs, and because there are some who would give more importance to their discomfort over the sight of a woman nurturing her infant. It is not always easy to find a private space, and although, legally you can breastfeed anywhere, women are often made to feel uncomfortable with public feeding.

As a society, we need to give more importance to the needs of the child and to increase the importance of the family. Not only are breastfeeding rates low, but England also has some of the unhappiest children in the world. Across the pond in Europe, the culture is centred much more around family life and the needs of children in particular. It’s something the UK could certainly learn from.

Breastfeeding has a whole host of additional health and social benefits for babies, and it would be somewhat naïve to deny this. But rather than judgment, shame and pressure, let’s make it easier, not harder. The culture needs to change to boost women’s confidence and give them the support they so vitally need to achieve successful breastfeeding.

Image credit: Breastfed graffiti, https://flic.kr/p/5uGfo8 – Eli Duke via Flickr
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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From The Mother of The Child Who Broke Your Concentration During Tarawih Tonight

Muslim women beginning prayer

Muslim women beginning prayer

Thank you! To all those people in the mosque who bore with us tonight as my son tried – and failed miserably – to learn the art of serenity in prayer; as he lost his balance multiple times and bumped into you trying to stand on one foot while you were trying so hard to focus on the recitation; as he loudly whispered ‘Shhh!’ to his friend – who until then was perfectly quiet; as he half-whispered, half-sang out loud the chorus of Harris J’s Salam Alaikum; as he pretended he was a dinosaur and roared at his friend before both of them broke out in muffled laughter, thank you!

Thank you, for understanding that your kindness and consideration for his young age will be a building block that will lay the foundation of the relationship he will have with this place that is, unfortunately, being increasingly perceived as alien and unwelcoming by young people. Thank you, for your empathy towards me as a mother who is struggling to balance between teaching her child to respect this as a place of worship and helping him form a positive bond with this space. Thank you for smiling kindly at us after you offer your Salaam at the end of every pair of Rak’ahs instead of facing us with a frown on your face. Thank you.

Because of you, my son will likely not resist the idea of joining me to the ‘long prayers that go on for-EVER!!!’ – as he tends to call the Tarawih. I will not second-guess my decision to bring him along to the mosque every step of the way as he scurries along ahead of me singing about how ‘The bare necessities of life will come to you.’ Because of you, every mistake he makes will feel less like a failure on my part as a mother, but as an opportunity for me to teach him about the etiquette of being in the mosque.

We promise we will try our best to behave better tomorrow night. We will bring along some more interesting quiet things we can do to keep us busy when the prayers get too long for us to stay put. But we will still probably make some noise. By the end of Ramadan, we would have likely stretched you to your limits and forced you to move your spot in the prayer room a couple of times. We apologise of that in advance.

And thank you, once again, so very much!

By Aisha Hussain Rasheed
www.facebook.com/i.sha.hr

Aisha Hussain Rasheed is a Maldivian Muslim woman, who believes our Islamic heritage is the key to the future, if only we know how to use it. She is a student of Islamic jurisprudence and a political and social activist.
Image credit: Muslim women in prayer by Glenn Halog
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.