Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mormon Lactivist Call to Action

UPDATE: More on the story at fMh.

EDITED: I had the wrong email address. It is correct now. meganhbishop19 at gmail dot com

Almost three years ago, I wrote a post called, "Keepin' On," about my experiences with breastfeeding in church in Provo. That's not the whole story about my lactivism and the church from those years. I'm going to share more now.

About three and a half years ago, a friend of mine called me about breastfeeding in church. She knew I had blogged about Modesty and Breastfeeding and thought I'd have an idea of what to do. You see, her ward and stake leadership had told her to cover up or find a new ward. Yes. It was awful.

And the sad part is that she's not the only one. I had other friends who had similar experiences. Some stopped going to church altogether. For a church that gives lip service to the importance of motherhood, we sure don't want to see it.

Because I didn't think a nurse-in would be a good response at the time, I thought that it would be a good idea to compile letters and comments from women about how breastfeeding was received in their wards. Some were positive, on the lines of, "I always felt welcome to nurse and it was wonderful to feel so supported by my ward!" And some were negative- threats of releases from callings, being brought in to talk to bishops, and my friend's story: being told to find a new ward.

Nothing says hypocrisy like going door to door to convert people, but then throwing them out of their wards for breastfeeding.

I kept it on the down-low because I didn't want to be accused of being against the Church. I'm not against the Church. I want to work with the Church to keep people from being discriminated against. I very much believe in both top-down and bottom-up revelation. After all, most of what we're studying this year in the Doctrine and Covenants is revelation given to people after asking the prophet questions and bringing issues to him. So yes, it's absolutely appropriate to bring issues to the attention of the First Presidency.

I gathered up those letters (about 20), put them all in a manilla folder. I included a cover letter explaining how breastfeeding works to ward off "why can't you just pump?" questions (if you don't regularly empty the breasts, you run the risk of mastitis and other breastfeeding issues) and that in some places in the world, the Church could face real legal issues if an unknowing bishop told someone to leave. I also included why a woman might not feel comfortable in a mother's lounge (if it even exists in a building). What I was hoping for was a couple of lines in the Church Handbook of Instruction that states breastfeeding is welcome in church meetings.

What I got was a packet of letters sent back to my stake president. Nothing happened. My stake president said he was even pro-breastfeeding, but that he didn't think the Church would include anything in the Handbook because they don't micromanage like that. Ha! The handbook tells you not to put your garments on the floor; I think they can micromanage a little bit to protect the rights of nursing mothers!

I think the worst part was that I really felt that God had a hand in putting all those letters together. I felt the time was right. I prayed and really thought it would go somewhere. And what really put the nail in the coffin was that a year later, the new Church Handbook was published. It really had been the perfect time for them to address this as an issue.

Since then, I've had friends run into the same thing again. Bishop's offices, calling releases, the whole shebang. Just this week a family member messaged me for help because a YW teacher in her ward was told not to nurse in YW. It's very possible she may be released. She's speaking with her stake president tonight.

But this time, the Mormon lactivist community is a little more connected and I think we'll get more stories. Also, after more than 3 years of other nursing-in-public incidents, the public is more aware of breastfeeding discrimination and so hopefully, the Brethren are, too.

If you have a story, good or bad, about breastfeeding in an LDS church, or a letter of support, you can email it to meganhbishop19 [at] gmail [dot] com. Megan is collecting the letters on behalf of the YW leader, to be shared with her bishop, stake president, and the First Presidency. If you are able to email her this afternoon (Thursday, February 21, 2013), it would be wonderful for her to have for her meeting this evening. If you don't have time today, still send them in. Thank you!

42 comments:

  1. Hooray!!! I'm emailing my letter to her right now. Keep up the good fight.

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  2. I sent an email!

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  3. I'll send mine as well. It was an unfortunate situation in my primary class. A girl took issue with it and her mother threw a fit. But rather than talk with me about it, she went to a member of the presidency and threatened to talk to the bishop, who happens to be a total hippie with a wife who started a very successful energy work business training others and who used to have his ear and belly button pierced. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for THAT conversation. :)

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  4. I can't wrap my broken brain around this. A young women's leader, a woman who is there to prepare our young women for...for...MOTHERHOOD, is NOT to be allowed to breastfeed while with...future MOTHERS? Have I gotten this straight?

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  5. Just reading it makes my face hot and my stomach hurt. Thanks Heather!

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    1. Hugs to you, Sonja. I know you've been in the trenches with this issue.

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  6. Me again. I just talked to my (amazing) husband. He reminded me of something that Elder Choi said at our stake conference on Sunday. Basic gist was, if talking to your bishop isn't working and talking to your stake president isn't working, take it to the very top--take it to Jesus. What would you think about organizing a pray(fast)--in?

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    1. I think it would be good. I'll see if Kimberly wants a fast-in or something like that.

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  7. Letter written.

    Blog shared with other Mormon mommies I know, and in an online church group in hopes others will add their support.

    Because I chose to follow the advice of Sister Beck and President Benson and did not delay having children (Mothers Who Know from General Conference Oct 2007), and then chose to breastfeed that child at Institute, I was asked to stop attending the Institute with my child. Of course, she was an infant, so if she wasn't welcome, I wasn't welcome. And my husband refused to go to a place where his wife was not welcome. This was most unfortunate since he was a recent convert and never got to attend seminary - Institute was giving him a wonderful education about the Church, but it all had to stop because we were making the YSAs uncomfortable. :( Our concerns were stopped from going any higher than our Stake President because he didn't feel it was worthy of being passed further up. We support our Priesthood leaders, so we didn't push any further, but I am glad to voice my support and hope that we are coming to a time where our concerns will be heard!

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    1. I was there with Elizabeth that year... There were four new families and we ended out accepting being quarantined in the gym (except when the gym was otherwise in use) so we could all continue our education.

      I'd like to hi-lite the steps we took to "fight" this. We brought the concerns to our direct leaders -- bishops and stake president. Then we supported their decision.

      I would suggest that the correct action isn't collecting letters to send together, but talking to our own respective leaders. And in the end following their advice. (On the flip side if you ever have the opportunity to talk to a general authority in person bring it up!... Any one flying through Salt Lake?)

      If your priesthood leader thinks it is worth sending this up the chain, great. If he thinks it's not a problem in your area, ok. If he asks you to please use the mothers lounge for every two minute feeding... have a good stash of dark chocolate in there and explain that you'll have to decline all callings for the next year or so. Even if you whole-heartedly disagree with him, you raised your arm to the square to support and sustain him and this is something you can do to keep that promise you made. You will be blessed for that obedience. Maybe that blessing will be a friend made in the lounge, or maybe it will be a more breastfeeding friendly world because the Lord softens some heart some where else. (Or maybe the blessing will be you getting to sit next to an apostle on your next 3 hour long plane trip.)

      For those who have been discriminated against. I'm sorry. Don't give up on the church. Don't give up on that leader. If it was your bishop, do talk to your stake president (and vice versa). It probably won't change anything, but help you get past the offence.

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    2. But if your husband is on the stand and you have to leave your other children in sacrament alone so you can nurse your baby because you were told to use the mother's lounge, what then?

      Or if your baby nurses for 10 seconds at a time every 5 minutes (this is the nursing pattern of all 3 of my babies), what then? Leave every 5 minutes?

      Or if your baby absolutely hates a cover or your 2 year old simple takes the cover off? What then?

      Sometimes a bishop's advice is just not feasible and I do support my leaders- by letting them know my family's needs so they can make room for that. They are always asking, "Is there anything we can do for you?" Why yes, supporting me while my child nurses for those few years of her life would be great!

      Of course, my leaders only asked me to pray about it, so I did. And the Spirit said to keep up the good work!

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    3. Stratton said "Even if you whole-heartedly disagree with him, you raised your arm to the square to support and sustain him and this is something you can do to keep that promise you made."

      I simply don't agree that we are required to automatically follow their decisions in order to sustain them.

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    4. I support my wife nursing in church and as for the "covering up" issue, I don't think it is an issue. My wife and I were talking about it and wile it may be common in other cultures to just drop the shirt and pop on the baby, I've never actually noticed it in church or anywhere else in the US. When my wife nurses, like a stealth fighter, you'd never know unless the baby keeps popping off to see what all the right hand raising is all about, but what does attract attention is if you feel you need to build a tent over your shirt to hide a nursing baby. As an elders quorum president I work with the Bishop weekly, and the stake presidency about every other month, and I would say normally making a change like this is on the periphery to the other problems that are weighing on their minds. But, when they initiate a change like telling you to stop nursing in public or find a new ward, then I guess they have solved all the other problems. Our culture is interesting, we are so "modest" that we are teaching the wrong thing; we are perpetuating the idea that breastfeeding is something to be ashamed of.

      As far as sustaining your leaders, that is a tough situation. There are many situations where we don't understand why something is so important. BUT... I feel like this is a situation where perhaps these leaders, (stake president, and bishop) are just uncomfortable with something that they are not familiar with, and perhaps are so far removed by age and the way things were when they had kids? The church's policy on chain of command is as was stated earlier to go to local leaders first, not to write a letter directly to the first presidency, but if you have talked to local leaders I think it is totally appropriate to continue up the chain, and to form groups of like minded people outside of the local unit.

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    5. I agree with Katie—just because you support and sustain your leaders doesn't mean you have to do exactly what they say all the time, particularly if you feel that something is wrong. Our leaders are not perfect and need feedback—obedient submission is not always the answer to tensions in the Church. We're under obligation to confirm direction from leaders with the Holy Ghost; and if something is amiss, we've got to hammer it out in a Christlike way. Women have tried the submission route for far too long when what we really needed to do was speak up. Disagreeing with leaders is NOT the same as "speaking evil of the Lord's annointed": as my mission president (Tad Callister) said, you can be analytical without being critical.

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  8. This is sad. It is unfortunate, but our society is this way. I don't think it will change overnight, but if we all do our part to make breastfeeding normal as a whole I believe one day it will make a difference. In Utah wards there are usually so many mothers needed to nurse that there isn't room! there are sometimes not enough chairs so then you have to wait. Not really breastfeeding friendly compared to 100 years ago when you could nurse in mixed company in sacrament. I feel so sorry for this woman (and other mothers) going through this. This really makes me mad.

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    1. Would you believe in my Provo stake center there wasn't even a mother's lounge?! That boggled my mind. I just assumed the buildings in Utah would at least have one!

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  9. I blogged about this too. It is hard for me not to get on a soap box about it!

    http://thegiftofgivinglife.com/breastfeeding-and-modesty/
    and this is more about the gospel symbolism, http://thegiftofgivinglife.com/the-book/read-excerpts/blood-breast-milk-and-living-water/

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  10. As long as you are covered there shouldn't be a problem, but if you;re not covered up then I think there is a problem. Just because you are a mother with a baby doesn't mean you can't take the extra second and cover up.

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    1. Don't worry, the baby's head covers everything!

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    2. cryss -
      I will never cover. Simply won't do it. I've nursed uncovered in stadium-style seating in engineering classes at BYU with male students packed around me on all sides. I've nursed uncovered in every church meeting there is. Like Heather said, the baby's head (and my shirt) cover everything. I don't care to advertise that I'm nursing with a blanket and draw attention to myself. I prefer to be stealthy.

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    3. I have nursed 4 babies - the first two till approx 6 months when i had to return to work, the third till he was 14 months and my milk dried up due to being pregant with number four who just now is 16months and still going strong with nursing. I have NEVER covered any of my babies - they simply wont tolerate it and whenever i tried it always caused far more fuss than just letting them be! My top and the baby's head covers everything - as far as i'm concerned - I AM COVERED without the need to put a blanket over my child's head!

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    4. My first struggled with nursing, I felt so pressured to "cover up" that despite how much harder it was I did. Feeling like I had to cover up greatly hindered success with my first, and made me feel isolated and self conscious. I was only able to nurse for three months. With my second I decided to forget the wrap and my experience with nursing has been wonderful, he is 16 months now and still going.

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  11. The new primary president kicked me out of sharing time for nursing. I hadn't even lifted my shirt before she pounced! I'm still mad thinking about it.

    I still nurse while teaching my class...heh heh.

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  12. Thank you. I emailed.

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  13. Isobelle10:26 AM

    How odd. I would never ever imagine that this would be a problem. I have breastfed without a cover all the time in my ward and noone has ever said or hinted anything. I have breastfed while teaching YW and during Mutual pretty much every week while my baby was under 6 months (after that my husband usually took him to make it less distracting for me, but on the odd occasion he has come in since he has fed). I feed in sacrament meeting too - my older one still has the odd feed, but not in public usually these days. I probably fed him up until about he was 2 in sacrament meeting. I remember was he was a brand new baby I fed him in nursery as that was my calling at the time, in a different ward to my current one. I'm moving in July so hopefully my new ward will be as fabulous!

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  14. I can't believe she is being release over this.. I personally always go to a mothers lounge or to an uncrowded place.. but that is my comfort level. Others have nursed in sacrament mtgs and other meetings. After my first was born I was called into the Nursery and was actually told my my bishop that it was ok to nurse while in Nursery with him so that I could still help with the kids while nursing..

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  15. I hated nursing in the mother's lounge because people would always come in there to change their toddlers' diapers. They would leave after a minute, but the smell would remain. Might as well nurse in the bathroom (actually I think the bathroom smelled better).

    Do you suppose it would help to point out that breastfeeding is God's design and plan for feeding babies?

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  16. Wow! This is so sad to hear about. I am glad to hear you have not gave up fighting for this. The Lord is on yours side - it's might just take some to get the other Men in our church to notice. Keep up the good work!

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  17. Isaiah 49:15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.

    Should we forget our sucking children? Christ does not forget us.

    If they don't want the help in a calling because of breastfeeding, then let them cast you out, for they do it against the Lord. I would consider it a relief and a blessing to not be among such.

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  18. This makes me so sad to read this. Brings back all the memories of my situation. My third child was 5months at the time. My Bishop broke the law in my country by asking me to stop breastfeeding in the chapel as well as destroying my confidence in breastfeeding DISCREETLY in public. That baby is now almost 3 years old. His younger sibling, my fourth child, is 16 months - he has only been in a Mormon chapel 3 times in his young life. I did not want to experience the discrimination and hate that i felt that day ever again. Its heartbreaking - my oldest son is almost 12 and was baptised, my daughter will be 7 this year, right now, i can see none of us being members for very much longer. My husband and i were threatened with revoking of our Temple Recommends at the time and he was later threatened with ex-communication for supporting me. Have no idea what the heck i'm supposed to do with that! :( Mo xxx (Motherwell, Scotland Ward).

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    1. We are trying. We have to raise our voices for mothers like you. God be with you. Don't give up yet!

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  19. Heavenly Father has a way of changing hearts and minds when it comes to certain points of friction from 'cultural norms.' I think that as long as you are doing things with an attitude of love and modesty, you should be able to nurse your baby. I think this is a US cultural issue. If you were in an African or Hawaiian LDS ward, it is likely that their cultural norm is to nurse their baby wherever they are and no one would bat an eye. I think that people need to remain positive in their message and do their best to follow the 13th article of faith. I am so sorry that some have been dealt with so harshly. I have experienced that for the first time in my life this last year. It DOES happen, but I have found SO much support in my situation. People are FAR from perfect, leaders included. We do have many other issues in wards that are likely making it difficult to lead the congregations. We need to press forward with love and conviction. I would LOVE to see the RS Presidency weigh in on this? They are wonderful and may actually get something DONE soon.

    Love to all the mamas feeding their babies!

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  20. what you activist people dont understand... what about the 13 year old boys that are watching you, especially in todays pornography era, you are all so wrapped up in your own pride and your just cause. i wonder if your opinion on the matter would change if you ever found out in a young boys mind, (In our society for all you people that say "in other countries"), that you could be used as an object of masturbation, the same classification as porn stars? its simple to cover up, if the babies dont like it, practice at home, if you dont like it, well remain in ignorant bliss and think everytime a decon says hello to you...what did he mean by that.

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    1. I'm raising a boy who I hope will be 13 someday. And he might see women breastfeeding, but I doubt he'll think about women breastfeeding while he masturbates because he'll have seen it his whole life and know that while breasts are being functional baby-feeding devices, they aren't being sexual.

      Also, I'm teaching him that he's the only one in charge of his thoughts and to not blame women and girls for them. I trust that our youth are smart enough to know how to be mature around breastfeeding. We don't need to coddle them and hide breasts away. They are strong and smart and can tell the difference between a sex and breastfeeding.

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    2. My oldest son is 13 years old and he has 4 siblings. I have nursed them all until two and I never cover up. He can differentiate between a sexual act and the tender mother's act of feeding her child. Breastfeeding has been around since Eve. It only took one generation of not doing it to make it something obscene. My hope is if we keep up the good fight that within 1-2 generations we can establish breastfeeding once again as the beautiful, nourishing act that it is. I understand you are a product of recent US culture, but when a culture is wrong about something, we shouldn't perpetuate it, but do our best to change it.

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  21. This is God provided nourishment for the infants and children. I have a nearly 17 year old boy. When I asked him about media depicting breastfeeding (Specifically the Time article) he wondered why anyone finds it a concern.He sees nothing wrong with breastfeeding in public. He was breastfed until he was 4. This is a top down generational issue. As long as North American culture remains a bottle feeding culture, then these problems will exist. The paradigm needs to shift.

    Frankly, I'm tired of the "What will others think and do based on what you do and by the way you are responsible for them " line of thinking. It's not in line with doctrine.

    I would remind of Article of Faith 1:2. "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression."

    If is were a sin to breastfeed in public(which I do not believe it is), that deacon is still accountable for his own thoughts, words, and deeds regarding his perception of the situation. Moses 6:56-57 Men are agents unto themselves.

    This obviously an emotionally charged issue, however, the judgment from others over it seems disconnected from a group who claims Christ, when Christ himself said "I came not to judge the world, but to save the world." John 12:47

    Are we really such great "saviors" that we get to judge how and where another feeds the child of their womb? Can we not look to our own lives instead of another's. Why can we not accept that children need to eat, and allow their mothers to do the best they can in caring for their children without judgment or censure? Where is the love? are we as a people such Pharisees as this? Are we as the Jews at Jersalem at the time of Christ with our rules and our hedges around the law judging who is clean?

    One wonders.

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  22. WOW! I'm so shocked at this story. I'm surprised that they didn't take your letters seriously. I really wish it was in the handbook, not just because it would help people at church (that's never been an issue for me), but it would help me at family reunions (which is an issue for me.)

    Your "Modesty and Breastfeeding" post inspired this blog post last year, which may benefit some: http://www.professional-mothering.com/2012/06/breastfeeding-in-church.html

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  23. Check out Latter Day Lactavist in FB. They are making a documentary and looking for photos of nursing moms.

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