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On July 28, 2011, Grand Rapids welcomed the big pink Milk for Thought bus that has traveled across the nation in support of women everywhere gaining support to breastfeed their children. A large group of supporters gathered in Rosa Parks Circle to welcome the bus and Milk for Thought founder and CEO Ryan Comfort. The purpose of such an event was to help local mothers feel supported in breastfeeding through local organizations, and as Comfort states, “empowering women to be successful and reach their personal goals.”
Initially, Grand Rapids was not included on the nationwide tour’s roster, but Grand Rapidians pulled together to prove to Comfort that it was a city worth stopping at. “The energy and excitement here made it so we had to come.” Comfort, who had never heard of Grand Rapids prior to the city’s push to get him here, has been to major cities such as San Diego, Seattle, Salt Lake City. He will later go to New York, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia. In his video to Grand Rapids, Comfort did something different than for any other city. Milk for Thought worked with all other cities to plan and schedule the events and speakers of the day. For the visit to Grand Rapids, however, Comfort left it up to the community in Grand Rapids to organize the entire event from start to finish. “I told them to surprise me, and they did.”
Lead by Pat Tucker, the event was ran and organized by a group of volunteers. Of those volunteers was Alice Christensen, a lactation specialist in Grand Rapids. Christensen hopes that this event as well as future events help society encourage mothers to breastfeed, even when it may be difficult for the mother to do so. “There are many things that get in the way of mothers meeting their breastfeeding goals. The Best For Babes Foundation calls them ‘booby traps’. And these traps are culturally and institutional based.” Christensen believes the struggle for a mother to breastfeed presents society with a challenging task. “There needs to be collaboration on many fronts in our society to help us see that human babies need human milk and we need to keep asking how we can make this happen.”
Many volunteers and members of the committee were personally connected to the cause. Kristin Revere, another main component of the event, said “I feel very personally connected to the movement as I am a new mom who has been exclusively breastfeeding for six months now. I had struggles with it in the beginning, but understand the health benefits for [my daughter] Abbey.” Revere wants one message to shine through. “Personally I hope that we are able to convince people of our theme: that breastfeeding is normal, natural and healthy.”
Comfort hopes to empower women and help other people show their support as well. To Comfort, this should not be that hard to accomplish with a little awareness. “Show me a single person who doesn’t want to help a mother be successful for her and her baby.” In addition to wanting to support and guide breastfeeding moms, breastfeeding will be more successful if it is considered the normal way to provide nutrients for a baby. “Breastfeeding should be the norm, not the exception,” stated Stan Bien, WIC Division Director at Michigan Department of Community Health, during his speech at the event.
Many different local organizations came out to offer guidance to mothers and show support for the event. Kathy Oaks of Friends of Michigan Midwives stated, “I am an avid breastfeeding supporter. The more people see people breastfeeding, the more normal it will be.” Friends of Michigan Midwives is a foundation trying to get licensure for midwives so the cost will be covered by insurance companies resulting in home births being cheaper for mothers than hospital births. Oaks wants women to feel more comfortable nursing, in public or at home, but feels “our society views breastfeeding as taboo [and] often times it’s negative feelings.”
Another event volunteer was Juliea Paige, a doula for women in Grand Rapids. Paige has shared her story regarding her struggles with breastfeeding and hopes for a more understanding and accepting approach to mothers who breastfeed, whether in public or at home. “We give life and then we sustain it. It is an amazing gift that we should treasure and encourage. At the very least, we should support, respect and encourage the women who do choose to do it."
I am a graduate of Grand Valley State University, holding a degree in English Language and Literature with a minor in History. I love writing stories that share the special or creative moments of our city. I am a mentor to other reporters as well. I am inspired by author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. for his words, sarcasm, perspective and legacy.