The value of exploration

When Gill Rapley invited my husband, daughters and I to join her for dinner one night during the International Breastfeeding Conference, I nearly exploded with excitement. Dinner with Gill Rapley! What a dream!

Of course I was nervous, too. Would my children behave? Would I embarrass myself with food stuck in my teeth? Would I bore her with my conversation?

It turns out Gill is one of the most kind, easy-going people I’ve ever met which made for a very pleasant evening. Iris entertained us by skewering an entire chicken breast and gnawing on it. Very appropriate for a night out with a Baby-led Weaning (BLW) scholar. Willow bragged about her bike and I had an “Aha!” moment during our conversation about birth, skin to skin, and infant feeding (naturally.)SAMSUNG CSC

I can’t remember exactly what sparked the comment, but Gill made this analogy with respect to the breast crawl:

Imagine someone blindfolds you while in Milwaukee then sends you in a helicopter to Chicago. You’re taken back to Milwaukee. This time you’re expected to find your way from Milwaukee to Chicago unblindfolded. In this scenario, finding your way would be close to impossible.

In the second scenario, you’re unblindfolded from the get-go and given the opportunity to explore the streets and scenery on the way from Milwaukee to Chicago. Most likely, you’ll have a better chance of finding your way.

Since learning about skin to skin immediately after birth, I have touted the benefits of allowing babies to crawl and self attach to the breast, never truly understanding just how important this early exploration is. After having dinner with Gill, it all clicked.

Her analogy has helped me finally understand and appreciate the worth of questing, a term Skin-to-Skin Queen Kajsa Brimdyr, PhD, CLC often uses. One of Kajsa’s films, The Lost Secret of the Throne, depicts a quest “of intellectual self exploration and social awakening for the girls as they uncover the mysteries of icons representing female power and strength.”

Questing occurs at all life stages. When one quests, one is not necessarily sure of his or her goal. Nonetheless, a lot of learning happens along the way.

As an NPR junkie, most recently hooked on the new podcast Invisibilia, I learned a bit about what life is like for people who are blind in the episode How To Become Batman. Like Gill’s analogy, the episode helped put into perspective the value of questing.

One man’s story featured in the show is of particular interest. His name is Daniel Kish. He is blind, and he can ride a bike.

Much of Kish’s ability is attributed to his mother’s hands off parenting. Kish was given the space to explore and learn and fall and fail– to quest– a much different experience than many others who are blind.

Today Kish advocates for the “self-directed achievement of people with all forms of blindness”  through his organization World Access for the Blind.

As I listened to the show, I sympathized so deeply with Kish’s mother. I am the mother of an extremely independent three year old, my threenager. It can be such a struggle to create space for exploration. Sometimes it’s my own micromanaging that gets in the way, sometimes it’s our schedule, and quite often, it’s the unending love I have for my children. It’s hard to let go.

What I’ve found though, is that when exploration is allowed, failure is often avoided.

This takes me back to the earliest quests we endure as humans. The birth quest and the quest to our very first suckle at the breast.

Sarah Buckley writes about the Ecstatic Birth where an “exquisite hormonal orchestration unfolds optimally when birth is undisturbed, enhancing safety for both mother and baby.”

This undisturbed quest is vital as it influences and shapes much of our future.

“…Our way of birth affects us life-long, mother and child, and that an ecstatic birth, a birth that takes us beyond our Self, is the gift of a lifetime,” Buckley writes.

When I think about a quest, a journey, exploration, no matter what the kind– a mother’s quest birthing her baby, her baby’s quest into the world, the baby’s quest to the breast, a threenager’s quest navigating a Thursday morning– I remind myself that although the destination isn’t always clear, there is most definitely purpose. This is something healthcare providers and lactation professionals must remember, and to always be conscious about the imprint we may be leaving on another’s journey.

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