One of the many lactivists celebrating the occasion is Emma Kwasnica, a Montreal mother of three and founder of Human Milk 4 Human Babies, a worldwide breastmilk sharing network that connects lactating mothers with others in need.
From their site:
“We want milksharing and wet-nursing to be commonplace and babies to be fed at women’s breasts whenever and wherever they need it. We dream of a world where mothers from previous generations pass on the tradition of breastfeeding and are a wealth of knowledge and support. We can forsee a time when women protect each other and help one another feed their babies so that every mother feels whole and no mother feels broken or that her body is failing her. We imagine a world where family members, friends, lactation consultants, doctors, and midwives do not hesitate to recommend donor milk when it is needed. We envision a future where families come together to raise this generation, and the next, by nourishing human babies everywhere with human milk and unconditional love.”
I contacted Emma via text message to find out more about the milksharing community, how it has grown, and what obstacles it has faced.
Meet Emma, and read our Q&A, after the break.
OSOCIO: How did HM4HB begin? What was your inspiration?
Emma: In the 8 months leading up to the launch of the global milksharing network on October 27, 2010, I had been using my personal profile page to connect mothers who were in need of milk for their babies, with mums who had a surplus of milk. Because of the sheer size of my network of mothers on Facebook (mostly activists fighting for better birth and breastfeeding experiences for women), people came to me to connect them to others. They knew I had contacts all over the world, and one status update “shout-out” was often enough to connect the needy with a milk donor. The “milky matches” were happening more and more frequently via my page and I just knew there was a need for hyper-localized communities of women to be able to connect with one another to feed the babies—on a local level. I am but one woman in Montreal. The women needed to be looking after one another locally. The final kicker was when my pal in Indonesia (a single father to a baby boy there) asked me if there was anyone I knew in Indonesia who could help him source human milk for his child. I said I didn’t know, but that I would try. Sure enough, within a few hours, Henny (a breastfeeding counsellor in a neighbouring town in Indonesia) replied to the fateful status update, and she lined up eight lactating women to feed my friend’s infant! The little boy will be one year old next week and has never had anything but human milk (no formula whatsoever). I knew at that very moment that a global milksharing network of interconnected pages, all with the same goal, would work.
OSOCIO: How did you connect with other communities?
Emma: I had established a vast network of contacts from all over the globe, mostly “lactivists”, and I just knew they would step forward and answer my call to action in October to run a page in their community—and that they did! There are now 130 community pages up and running on Facebook!
OSOCIO: How did health authorities react to your milk sharing community?
Emma: Not well. The FDA, Health Canada, and the equivalent body in France all reacted strongly with the same message to the public: do not share milk from strangers over the internet. Here was my response to Health Canada.
OSOCIO: What other cities or countries are now involved?
Emma: Everything is divided by state, province or country, so… all the states have their own page (sometimes two per state), all the Canadian provinces and territories are covered, and currently we have 54 countries who are involved with HM4HB. Please see our community pages listing, for all 130 communities.
OSOCIO: How is the international network structured? Who is “in charge”?
Emma: HM4HB is a network of a little over 300 multicultural, hard-working, VOLUNTEER mothers from around the world. While I am the “organizer” for HM4HB, I am not “in charge”. We work in consensus fashion at HM4HB, so this means that as issues come up, ad hoc groups are opened to any and all admins who want (have the time) to participate in the decision-making process. There are about 15 “peer helpers” who have a support role and they work to help the rest of the 300 admins with the day-to-day running of the pages, as well as facilitate the discussion on the ad hoc groups and on the central global admins group (where all 300+ admins conglomerate). The most recent fruit of our consensus efforts was our mission, vision and values statements, where 60 admins worked together in consensus fashion, over the period of a few months, to draft them. We are very proud of our work together.:
OSOCIO: How do you coordinate your efforts and communications?
Emma: There is a main group on Facebook where all 300+ admins come together to converse.
OSOCIO: In sharing breastfeeding pictures on social networks, have you had problems with censorship?
Emma: Indeed, I have. I have had my entire Facebook account (personal profile page) deleted on FOUR separate occasions, all four times due to “obscene” breastfeeding photos (specifically, having had “too many” of them deleted by Facebook, and this will get your account shut down, eventually). They always brought my account back, but Facebook has never explained or apologized for the strife they have caused me. One of the times, Facebook took thirty days before returning my account to me. It always comes back just as I left it, by the way (well, minus the “obscene” photographs, of course).
OSOCIO: Have you been criticized by those who can’t or won’t breastfeed?
Emma: Not personally, though the sentiment is certainly out there. I think everyone knows I am a bit of a lost cause on this one, and so they don’t bother me.
OSOCIO: Why do you feel so strongly about the issue?
Emma: If no one SEES breastfeeding, women will continue to be shamed into thinking that feeding their child is not okay, not something that should be done or seen in public. How is this healthy for mothers or children? Posting breastfeeding photos on Facebook works much in the same way that nursing in public does. The more we see of it, the more NORMAL it becomes. Many people report by the time they finish looking through my album of BF pics, they don’t even notice the breasts any more and they just see lovely photos of a mother cuddling with her kids (whereas at the beginning, they definitely focused on the breasts). That is my hope for society; that so many people see women breastfeeding, all over the place, that they become desensitized to it and breastfeeding will finally be viewed as the wondrous, NORMAL, life-giving act that it is. This is my manifesto, regarding why SEEING breastfeeding is important: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=436431689914
OSOCIO: What is your ultimate goal with HM4HB?
Emma: It is already happening. I am seeing healthier babies everywhere as a result of families having access to donor milk for them. If HM4HB provides access for even ONE baby to have human milk (who would otherwise be getting powdered infant formula), then my goal is accomplished. The other end goal for me is seeing women come BACK together, working together to feed the babies. Just as it used to be. The camraderie and the community-building between families that is taking place as a result of the sharing of human milk is wonderful. I am so thrilled HM4HB is bringing families together like this!
Human Milk 4 Human Babies