Ten years ago, I was teaching writing classes at the University of San Francisco and doing the final copyedits on my first novel. The written word was my world, and I was getting paid for my art. I was an artist. It was pretty awesome.
I continued my writing endeavors after my first baby arrived, but I found that I was spending at least as much time reading about breastfeeding and parenting. When my novel hit the shelves in 2009, I was working on a second manuscript and had also applied to become a La Leche League Leader. I eventually ditched the manuscript to make more head space for learning about breastfeeding, and I welcomed a second baby. At that point, I told myself that I could go back to writing novels whenever I felt called to do so. I expected I would also return to teaching writing.
The families that I have supported through La Leche League have been some of my greatest teachers, and they have changed me in ways I never could have imagined. I learned the art of listening (REALLY listening) and keeping the conversation focused on the family’s situation rather than sharing something personal. No one needed to tell me that word choice matters, and I learned language for the art of reflective communication. I learned the art of praising new parents without being overly flowery or giving false hope. Most of all, I learned the art of holding space for people in times of need.
What really came as a surprise was that I was also learning A LOT of science. I had never considered myself a “science person.” Math was always fun for me, but science just wasn’t. I did okay in the science classes I took in high school and college and paid a bit more attention when learning about human sexuality. Ultimately, though, science was not my jam. Not yet, anyway.
La Leche League changed all of that. Without even realizing it, I became a science person very quickly. I read stacks of breastfeeding books, research articles, and blogs written by lactation consultants. I attended breastfeeding conferences. I geeked out about breastfeeding with pretty much anyone who was willing to talk about it.
I enjoyed every second of my coursework when I decided to become a lactation consultant. Anatomy and physiology was particularly life-altering for me in that it got me thinking about how all of our body systems work together. And of course, I adored my 90 hours of lactation classes, which were chock-full of information on my favorite topic.
There are a lot of aspects of my lactation practice that remind me that I’m now officially a science person. I have a pediatric scale accurate to 2 grams, and I use a calculator to make sense of infant weight loss and gain. I write medical reports to share with my clients’ other health care providers. I’m constantly reading and learning about the impact of medical practices, maternal health, and cultural norms that impact breastfeeding. I’m carefully inspecting diapers full of newborn poop. I’m examining moms and babies’ bodies and figuring out how they fit together for breastfeeding.
The art of listening and responding with empathy continues. So does the art of finessing breastfeeding so that mom and baby are comfortable and content. But now the science is there, constantly pushing me to learn more, ask questions, examine my practice, and reflect on what I can do to better support breastfeeding families. It’s a beautiful merging of art and science, and it is exactly what I want to be doing.