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Episode 11 - Lactation Practice Without Fear Starts With Your Story

Hi and welcome to the Lactation Training Lab Podcast. I’m Christine, an IBCLC and trained childbirth educator based in the United States. I help lactation care providers optimize their lactation practice through resources, information, and mindset shifts that help them to clarify and reclaim their purpose and mission in lactation work. I've been in the lactation field for 20 years now and this podcast is my way of sharing with you what I've learned and what the future holds for those of us supporting families and babies. Whether you’re seasoned or studying, I hope this show will make you think and inspire you to act! Let's get started.

Welcome back! Today is going to be a little bit of an audio “how it started and how it's going” that meme that is going around on the internet right now where you show what's happening before and then compares it to what's happening now. As I've mentioned a few times I’m celebrating my 20th year in lactation work, and so we're going to talk a little bit about some of the beginning stories.

Way, way, way back, and when I say way back I’m talking about the year 1999, the year 2000, but starting in 1999 a friend and I were attending a breastfeeding support group together. Our babies were about three months apart, although for her it was her first baby and for me it was my second. My older child was about 3 and I had a 5- month old, and my friend had a 2-month old the first time that I went. She had actually already been to the group two times by then. We went to this breastfeeding support group and it was a new world for me. We ended up attending this group for the next several years, through the birth of additional babies for both of us, and through the course of this very supportive group where we learned, we made friends that we still have today.

We really got to know the leader, and that leader would ultimately become our mentor. She ultimately recruited us to enter into the lactation field. She did that because we had knowledge and wisdom that she had seen through the support group - that as we gained wisdom and started talking with other people, she could see that we both had a passion for this. She invited us to an opportunity that would help us to enter the field, and she did this not because we were people who had the classic story of having a terrible lactation experience or having a terrible lactation experience with getting support or anything like that, but simply because she could see that we had some knowledge and that we would really thrive from having additional knowledge. We had some practical wisdom and we were really interested - we were just really fascinated with everything that was happening and with how we could see other people going through their lactation journey, how all of that was tying together for them how their stories were unfolding.

She needed help. She was the only IBCLC in a busy hospital and the hospital was giving her signs that they were willing to get some more people on board to help her but she didn't know any trained people that could do that. Our community needed more help. She knew that because she was involved in everything that was happening around lactation in our community. She could see that adding more people was really the way to go and an opportunity arose.

She got us into it and it really allowed us to see how throughout her group and the things that we learn there, we had been shown by her through the way that she taught, in the way that she spoke about breastfeeding and lactation and healthcare, she was showing us where the gaps were. She was actually showing us the structural barriers before they were a well-known thing. She was demonstrating to us how marketing was impacting people's decisions and where they landed on their infant feeding journeys. As she was giving people options - she was one of the only people in our community at the time - there were some; there was a very small group of people who were teaching parents about childbirth, about labor, about supportive labor practices, about lactation, about gentle parenting, and it was really an opportunity for us to see that that was a rare thing and a unique thing that was happening in our community. We could see again how interested and fascinated we were with this whole concept.

For the two of us, we did not enter into the field of lactation by having a horrifying experience of how our lactation journeys unfolded - we did not struggle to find support - obviously; we were in a group and we had amazing support and we could see what a difference it made for people to have that kind of support. We did know people who were not accessing support and we could see how different their experiences were.

As we began attending those trainings and gaining knowledge we still found that even though we hadn't had terrible emotional experiences around lactation, we still found that we both had vulnerabilities and places in our stories were emotion and pain were interfering - where it was difficult to figure out exactly what had happened for us and to put that aside to be able to set that where it needed to be and really manage it so that it wasn't coming out all the time, so that it wasn't leaking when we were trying to share with other people.

Fortunately for us, we had a mentor who helped us through all of that. As everything about our training unfolded, and ultimately when she hired us to work with her in the hospital, she remained our mentor. She remained a person with whom we were gaining information and knowledge and experience about helping other people but also about reframing our own stories.

That's what today's episode is really about: it is about how valuable your personal experiences and story about lactation are. Your lactation story matters. It is so valuable to you and your family. It also can be valuable to your clients and even the whole world if you learn to use it wisely. The real issue here, the real question is how do you hold space for your own experiences without allowing them to bias your practice or cause you to practice scared? Because ultimately in this work of lactation care your own story should inform and inspire, not scar your practice style. I think that there's so much that we can each learn individually about our own story and how to use it. That's something I've been reflecting on so much lately that I've been putting together something new.

Let’s start by thinking about how we are looking at what our personal story is and what does it mean. I've said that it matters and that it's valuable to you, very valuable to your family and also your friends, your network of people that you know, because when they hear your story and when they've seen it and watched it unfold, when they've experienced it with you, it impacts how they feel about lactation and about what lactation support can do for people. When they hear that you are interested in getting into this field, it impacts them. It changes how they think about it because now they have to take everything that they think about what lactation support is and they have to weave that together with what they know about you. If their concept of lactation support does not match up with what they know about you, then they're going to go on a journey with you. They are going to watch you learn, they're going to watch you impact others’ lives, and it's going to change how they think of lactation support as you show them what it truly can be as you work from a place of true compassion, caring for other people.

I think that you have to begin by accepting this truth: “my story is not the story of how lactation works.” Whatever happened to me when I was breastfeeding, when I was expressing milk, when I was feeding my babies is my story and it is not the story of human lactation. It is not the story of how lactation works. In a way that is going to be useful for other people in every situation. Dealing with your own baggage, so to speak, dealing with your own story is a necessary step and it's necessary not only in the beginning of your career, you might need to revisit it as well throughout your career.

Additionally, it depends on how far removed you are from the experience of lactation. We know that today a lot of people begin to enter the field when they are still in the very throes of their lactation experiences, and that’s not saying anything positive or negative about that, but it is something that needs to be considered. As their lactation experience continues to unfold in the context of them learning about all the knowledge, all the science of human lactation and watching other people's stories unfold, your own story can really evolve during that time. It may be possible later on for you to look back and reframe that story again as you gain additional knowledge and experience in your career.

Keeping your story from scarring your practice, from changing or impacting your practice style is a really important thing. It's part of your package of counseling skills, part of your counseling toolkit. You don't need your story to be part of every interaction that you have with other parents because without context, your story can be very unhelpful. It may not be heard in the way you are needing it to be heard and it’s really important to accept that a consult cannot be an opportunity for you to be getting therapy on what you have experienced. You cannot share your story in a way that comes from a need that you have to be acknowledged or to be related to. All of what you do as a helper must come from your need to help the other person. It can't come from your personal needs. Your consult cannot be an opportunity for you to gain something out of it in a way that is drawing away from the other person. What you say, what you share cannot be upsetting or distressing to the person that you're trying to help.

Especially as you gain knowledge throughout your career and you gain experience recognizing trauma and shock in other people and you find that you have those situations where your client is probably experiencing some shock from their experiences during birth and and early postpartum - you really will need in those situations to button things up very well in order to be able to help them in a way that does not add to their trauma or shock.

You also need to avoid ways of sharing your story that are going to cause information overload for your client because even the most relaxed and the most well-transitioning new parent can experience information overload. If your style is to come in and empty out every piece of information that you have about how lactation works and how it went for you and how it went for your cousin, unfortunately those things don't always help. Making sure that you're not overloading people with information or stories or things that they then need to process.

Finally, understanding why your story matters to your overall purpose and your career and how your story can help to break stereotypes, can help to rekindle traditions, you can help to retell the story of what lactation means to people who are like you - your community, your people. That is a really important part of what we must carefully work to construct here.

This is not in any way saying that your story has no place in the work that you do. This is really about defining the ways that your story can be used in a helpful and valuable way. To share with other people, to influence other people, to impact them in ways that they didn't expect - it's a very intentional process. There's a way of approaching this that will allow you to use specific techniques and skills to explore things about your personal lactation story and then learn the skills that will allow you to use it in a valuable way so that it informs and inspires what you do rather than scars your practice style.

The biggest reasons that this matters: it matters because not being okay with your own experiences can interfere with your counseling skills and what that plays out as is that it interferes with your ability to hear what the client is wanting to do. It can really block you from hearing their intentions, their desires, their plans. Your role is supposed to be to be an objective advisor to them, providing them the information, the techniques, the guidance that they need to meet their own goals. If your own story and emotions are scarring this opportunity, you can really miss some very important signs. It also can leave some people down the path of trying to be a savior, trying to save people from outcomes, trying to lead people where you want them to be rather than where they want to be.

Ultimately for you outcomes of not having processed your own story can lead you to having these unprocessed, raw emotions that you don't manage well, and that can lead you into frustration, fear and, unfortunately, poor counseling outcomes.

You cannot become the story in your consult. You cannot become the story of your client's lactation support experience. You do not want to be the star. You want to give them the information, the knowledge, the techniques and guidance that they need to meet their own goals so that what they remember about you is how you treated them, how you cared for them, how you gave them everything that they needed and supported them - not that you are that person who cried sharing their own story during their consultation.

I'm not saying that there's no place for showing emotion or that there's no place for sharing your stories or relating to your clients or building rapport. That's not what I'm saying at all. What I am saying is that there are times and places where those are appropriate and there are times and places where they are not. Learning to distinguish between the two is a very important part of what you do. It can really impact how you feel about how effective you are and how effective you actually ultimately are.

There are some things that you can do to work through this process. What I've developed is a coaching program that's going to give you those opportunities to work through your stories and ultimately come out with a way of using your story - your re-framed story that is true for you - and helpful and valuable to others because you know exactly how and where to use it on a day-to-day and overall basis in your career.

You'll explore your origin story - what is your lactation journey, what did it look like, in a couple of different ways. You’ll look at that. You'll have the opportunity to appreciate those experiences in your work that have also impacted what you think and feel about lactation - those could be things like something that you missed with a client where the outcome was negative or positive; it could be simply a negative outcome that happened for a client where you learned a lot but maybe you're still carrying some emotion about that experience; it could be about a client who complained about you and while you've moved on perhaps you're still holding on to something about that and that makes how you treat other people a little bit different.

It's time to really mine those experiences and learn to appreciate them for what they are and get value from that and be able to learn from them in a way that allows you to grow. You'll think about and explore where you actually diverge from everyone else - what makes you special in this work - and that comes from your story but it also comes from other things about you and your background.

It is going to allow you to explore things like common messages that you hear that you don't necessarily agree with in the work that we do. You'll have the opportunity to name your own vulnerabilities and that's a really deep thing. That can feel very private, so that's why this is a coaching program that allows for space for people to explore these things privately as they need to or with a very small group of people or even just one or two other people.

It involves looking for those places in your belief system about lactation where there may be some spots that always seem to trip you up, times where your vision of what things are supposed to be like don't always match up with what your clients are looking for. You can see immediately right there where if you can name those things, if you know those things are coming, when you hear a client share with you that what they're intending to do does not match up with what you deep down think people should be doing, you will know that you will have that flag go off for yourself and be able to use specific techniques to help you remain the objective, useful, effective advisor that you need to be in order to meet that client’s needs.

You get the opportunity to sort of filter where those spots are, where those tough spots are, where emotions come up for you in the work that you do, what stresses you out about this work, what is most frustrating on a day-to-day and an overall basis, where you are practicing right now that maybe does not align well with your ultimate vision for how your story needs to be shared.

What you'll come out the end of this is with is an adaptation of your story - how it is valuable, something that is really meaningful for you that can now be shared using specific knowledge that you've gained throughout the program that will allow you to use it in great places and really appropriate places, in places where you can have a lot of impact.

What I'm hoping for this is that this coaching strategy, which I am calling Lactation Practice Without Fear, is something that will transform how you work. It will transform how you think about your own stories and how valuable they are because there are people in this field who don't appreciate how valuable their own stories are, and instead of being able to use those in a way that is helpful for others they've chosen to simply put their stories in a box or they've chosen to really minimize their own experiences so that they could move forward. I personally would rather see people able to manage those stories and reframe them in a way that is helpful for them and inspiring for them because your story - your personal lactation story - should inform and inspire, not scar your practice style.

You should be able to be you in all of the ways that you are you as you practice lactation. That's what makes you genuine. That's what helps people relate to you. That's what helps people remember you.

I hope you've heard something that really touched you today. If you did, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to send me a direct message on Instagram or join the free Facebook group Lactation Training Lab. I would love to hear from you there and I look forward to speaking with you again very soon. Thanks for listening! Bye for now.


Listen to Episode 11 here!

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