Blurring the binary

Maybe you’ve had the experience of walking down a familiar street listening to the typical, native sounds of that area, but when you walk down that same street accompanied by a great song, the experience is somehow profound.

While chatting with a presenter at the International Breastfeeding Conference a few weeks ago, she told me “It’s not either/or, it’s both/and…” Surely I’ve heard this phrase before, but within the context of the Breastfeeding Conference, it felt mind-blowing.

Its simplicity summed up what I took away from the conference this year; an overarching theme of line blurring.

Interestingly, I became fixated on this concept right before the conference during my flight while reading an article in the airline’s magazine about a fellow named Chip Conley and multidirectional learning.

The idea of multidirectional learning weaved its way through some of the presenters’ topics, specifically Brenda Reyes’s about the efforts of HealthConnect One and their community-based doula and peer counselor programming.

Conference speakers like Fiona Jardine and Alice Farrow shared experiences that do not fit into how we often generalize the infant feeding experience: breast or bottle feeding.

Jardine’s work follows those who exclusively pump human milk.

Farrow, too, shared about pumping milk for their child born with cleft complications, while they went on to directly chestfeed their baby.

In their presentation, Farrow presented a Venn diagram of feeding methods.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

They explained: “Feeding methods are not mutually exclusive. There are always windows and doors.”

The diagram’s lines represent those windows and doors, not just blurring them, but opening them entirely.

Farrow also presented ‘All Families Welcome’: What Do We Mean By That? Creating a Culture of Support for Diverse Families; a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our own understanding of non-binary identities that don’t necessarily conform to our society’s normativity.

The Genderbread Person infographic and this definition sheet might be of interest if you’re looking for more information.

Like other body parts, breasts/chests are multifunctional, and the milk they produce is multifunctional too. This concept may be less new to you than gender identity, but it’s worth mentioning especially in light of Dr. Katie Hinde’s presentation and her work exploring how human milk investigation intersects life and social sciences.

Cadwell dons a special hair piece for the 25th anniversary of the International Breastfeeding Conference.

As the conference closed out, Healthy Children Project’s Cindy Turner-Maffei and Karin Cadwell (jokingly?) questioned the consensus boundaries of the mammalian class when they presented the Toxeus magnus, a jumping spider that provides milk for its young. The existence of cockroach milk further blur taxonomic lines.

Here’s the thing: if you’re part of the Euro-American ethnic group, our logic system/ ontology (the nature of reality) is guided by standardization, codification and uniformity; it is fundamentally binary, as laid out in Ed Nichols’ Model for the Philosophical Aspects of Culture, a hand out provided by conference presenter Robert A. Lee.

This is different from African American, Native American, Hispanic, and Asian American values and logic systems.

Confining ourselves to a worldview shaped by the binary makes it exceedingly difficult to embrace “It’s not either/or, it’s both/and…”. Let’s challenge ourselves to blur some lines, crack some windows, open some doors, and maybe try some cockroach milk.

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