Category Archives: Empathy Toolkit

Empathy Week: A Long Journey to Breastfeeding

One of the things that pulled me out of the mommy wars was all of the stories. This week I’m sharing the stories of other moms that have touched me through their experiences. If you have an experience you would like to share, please email me at and I’ll publish it here this week. (All names will be changed to initials to keep them anonymous unless you give me permission to use your name.)

Tabitha’s Story:

I am the mom of soon to be 5 boys, my nursing relationships with each one have been very different. I am very passionate about breastfeeding and the main reason is because of the nursing relationships(or lack thereof) with my older 2 kids. I truly understand and have empathy for the mom who turns to formula when she feels there is no other choice.

My oldest will be 11 in a few days. I knew from day 1 I wanted to breastfeed. I got a manual pump because I worked and went to school fulltime. He never had a bottle until I went back to work, never even had a pacifier until he was 12 weeks. I had a huge oversupply and I was told my sons miserable cries of pain at night was colic, first bad info, I could’ve solved this easily with blockfeeding. We made it through 2 bouts of mastitis and thrush all back to back. At 12 weeks I had an appointment with my midwife, she talked me into birth control. It was a new pill that she said was “safe” when breastfeeding. I jumped at the chance to take something safe. This was the second bad piece of advice I was given for sure. She gave me Yaz, an estrogen based pill. That night was the last drop of breastmilk my son ever got. Within the next 24 hours my son had NO wet diapers, was screaming and starving. I called my doctor, his doctor and everyone said give formula you are starving him. I felt like a failure but no one told me I could get the milk back, that there were herbs to raise supply or that the pill caused this. There was no local lactation consultant; I trusted my doctor and his doctor to give me the information I needed. The internet didn’t have the resources like it does now. My nursing relationship was over at only 12 weeks.

My second hated being touched, hated being held, but I made him nurse, gave him no choice. By 2 weeks old I had to go back to school, pumping was such a pain before I decided I would combo feed. Everyone including WIC and my pediatrician told me that was a great idea. For 3 weeks this worked fine for both of us. Then my oldest got Rotavirus, he was hospitalized and almost died. My then 5 week old was not allowed at the hospital. My mother in law kept my newborn and made a point of feeding him a bottle of formula on the way to meet me so I could nurse atleast once or twice a day. Great support huh? THEN came the kicker, Child protective services was called by my pediatrician and the hospital social workers. They informed me that the virus would pass in my milk and I could stop breastfeeding or they would take custody of my child. I have one on his deathbed and they are threatening to take the other. There seemed to be no choice. I stopped breastfeeding cold turkey that day.

While pregnant with my third son I learned that I had been lied to both times, that the pill dried me up, that I could’ve gotten my milk back, that the Rotavirus doesn’t pass into breastmilk. I fired my midwife, OB and pediatrician and switched offices totally for all of them. I found a pediatrician with a lactation consultant on staff and an OB who was a breastfeeding mom herself. This made all the difference in the world. I didn’t have WIC to stand over me offering formula and when I started WIC at 8 months they were shocked that he didn’t get even a drop of it! I found cafemom and found a group of women who gave me good, correct, evidence based info. Finally I had a nursing relationship and it lasted through a pregnancy and until he weaned at 3.5 years old all on his own.

Cafemom has become my outlet to help women avoid the issues I had with nursing. If a mom chooses to formula feed, that is her option, but I never want a mom to feel she has no choice. I never want her to feel that she was betrayed by her doctors, family, friends, trusted people in her life. I look forward to

nursing my fifth child, my 4th is now just over three and still nursing a few times a day. I want moms to have this choice.

I feel for moms who have been misled. I see moms with their babies, often giving bottles and I wonder to myself was she misled, did she want to breastfeed but didn’t have the info, didn’t know who to trust, who to get help from? I understand more than most that sometimes moms choose formula because they feel it wasn’t a choice, like it wasn’t for me.

Empathy Week: Whole and Complete

One of the things that pulled me out of the mommy wars was all of the stories. This week I’m sharing the stories of other moms that have touched me through their experiences. If you have an experience you would like to share, please email me at and I’ll publish it here this week. (All names will be changed to initials to keep them anonymous unless you give me permission to use your name.)


H had air continuously pumped into his airways for a day after he was born. He was jaundiced and could not eat on his own. He was tethered by cords and wires to a monitor that told us whether his heart rate was too high or too low, whether his breathing had stopped, and how much oxygen was reaching his lungs at all times. And he was perfect. He was, without a doubt, whole and complete. I knew it right from the start. I knew that he didn’t need to be anything other than himself, that he didn’t need to do anything at all, that he was whole and complete just the way he was.

At 11 months, H cannot yet crawl, he makes a monumental mess when he eats, and he wakes often during the night. We have been through three rounds of biting while breastfeeding, each worse than the last. And he is perfect. He is, without a doubt, whole and complete. He doesn’t need to be anything other than himself, he doesn’t need to do anything at all, he is whole and complete just the way he is.

I thought about this a lot at the hospital, sitting with H in my arms or watching over him as he slept in his isolette. I wondered then, as I wonder now, about when we stop seeing ourselves and each other this way. Why do we feel we need to do something or be something different in order to be good? Why do we forget, or cover up, or ignore our essential goodness? Why do we become blind to it in others?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but H serves as a good reminder to me to be gentle with myself and others. When I’m hardening toward myself, when I find judgment about someone else rising up in my mind, I think of H and how he is whole and complete just the way he is. And I am reminded to let go of the harshness and the judgement and instead be open to seeing each of us as we are, whole and complete.

A Week of Empathy: Alone in the NICU

One of the things that pulled me out of the mommy wars was all of the stories. This week I’m sharing the stories of other moms that have touched me through their experiences. If you have an experience you would like to share, please email me at and I’ll publish it here this week. (All names will be changed to initials to keep them anonymous.)

This is the story of M’s Mom:

I sit here trying to come up with a story from my own experiences, and realized I have one from my very first days and months in this world…

My mom was turning 18 when I was born. She didn’t have a car. She lived in a tiny house with her boyfriend that routinely didn’t have water or electricity. She worked at a fish restaurant and had dropped out of school already.

I was born in April instead of July 1978. My mom wanted to breastfeed but I was too tiny, they said. She tried to pump but for many reasons she had to stop.

She didn’t want to leave the hospital. But she had to. No one was paying the bills but her. So she left the hospital and didn’t come back. When it was time to be brought home, the hospital couldn’t find her. She had no phone. She not once visited me after the first week. By all accounts, she abandoned me and they tracked down my aunt saying they were going to call authorities if my aunt didn’t want to take me.

My mom confessed this to me some 34 years later. Throughout my life, I had this fantasy that she spent her days or nights with me, stroking my tiny hands, singing to me (those things came much much later). I was shell shocked to discover I was alone for two months. Does it hurt? Yes.

But the full story is this… no one was supporting her. She had been supporting herself, a boyfriend, and now me.

She didn’t come back to visit me because she didn’t want to let me go. She wanted to run away with me, drop these other responsibilities and never look back. But I was too small. The demands were too great. Her love was too big.

She sat with me and waited for my reaction to her story.

“I can’t imagine how terrible that was for you. I love you.”

I am so glad to know this story now that my son is born. I understand now the heartbreak and confusion she faced.

I understand.

Empathy Week: Rush Hour with a Preschooler and a Newborn

One of the things that pulled me out of the mommy wars was all of the stories. This week I’m sharing the stories of other moms that have touched me through their experiences. If you have an experience you would like to share, please email me at and I’ll publish it here this week. (All names will be changed to initials to keep them anonymous.)

My story from 2010: 

July heat. On a train. Rush hour into New York City. A newborn in a sling. A preschooler holding my hand. No seats. People staring right through us. I pull off my backpack and place it on the floor next to me and squat with my back against the wall. My preschooler sits on my leg and I balance us all to the sway of the train.

Why am I on a train with a two week old baby in the grotesque heat? Why am I dragging my preschooler on a train into New York City during rush hour? Why not one hour later when rush hour passed? Why am I clogging the stairs? Taking up room in the elevator? Why is my baby crying? Why am I changing a diaper squatting on the floor near the stairs in the subway?

Why am I subjecting my children to this? BAD MOM. BAD BAD MOM.

Balancing on a bus. Three week old baby in a sling. No seats. No one offers. An older woman peeks at my baby. “I was never brave enough to take a baby out like that when they were that young.”

Oh but neither am I.

I have no choice.

I’m not here because I want to be.

I’m here because a court order says that I have to have my older child at a certain place at a certain time. Because the court order doesn’t say that someone else has to do this during my recovery time. I don’t WANT to risk hemmorhage. I don’t WANT to drag my kids out in the heat. I don’t WANT to be on this bus, this train, this subway, this street right now in rush hour. I don’t want to be here.

I am here because if I was not here I would lose my child. I have been told that I have to do this. I have no one else in my life to do this for me. I do not have a driver’s license. I am picking the options that will get me there on time, that let my children get the most sleep. That will allow me to travel with the least amount of stuff. That will let me climb the stairs when the elevator is out. That will let me get there as fast as I can so that no one can say that I was late.

I do this every week because I have no other choice. I was given no choice. It is be strong or lose my child.

So I do it with a smile. I dance in the subways and I make up funny rhymes. I tell my children stories. I nurse on the go. I become stronger. Not because I WANT.. But because I have no other choice.

I know you don’t understand that. So when you roll your eyes when my baby cries.. I don’t judge you. When you sit all comfortable and snug in your seat smug with the satisfaction of knowing that if I really wanted to I could just take a later train with more seats.. I don’t get upset.

I’d feel the exact same way if I were in your shoes.

I just really wish that more of you would smile instead of looking at me as though this is something that I chose. It’s hard enough to do this without being judged.

The one thing I’m profoundly grateful for is that this experience taught me that I cannot know the circumstances surrounding another parents “choices” when I’m just witnessing a moment of two of their lives or hearing a tiny story.

A Week of Empathy: The Little Things Sometimes Save Us

One of the things that pulled me out of the mommy wars was all of the stories. This week I’m sharing the stories of other moms that have touched me through their experiences. If you have an experience you would like to share, please email me at and I’ll publish it here this week. (All names will be changed to initials to keep them anonymous.)

E’s Mom’s Story:

I was born in 1980, my sister was 4 and my brother was 2. the night after i was born my mom slept for the first time in 2 years! my brother would cry all night and a good part of the day. he had rashes on his face and arms that he would scratch until he bled. my dad was working 2 or 3 jobs and my grandfather on my mom’s side had just died from cancer and had been in the hospital for a long time. my other grandparents lived far away. so my mom had 3 little ones and not a lot of help. it later turned out my poor brother had severe allergies to tons of things, food, wool, dust and all kinds of everything… luckily there was an old lady in the apartment building that would come and take care of us every now and then so my mom could shower and get a min to herself. my mom claims it saved her life.

i remember when i was like 12 i was watching the news with my mom and there was a horrible story about a mom that ended her life and her infant’s life. i commented on how evil she must have been and my mom looked at me and said: no mother would ever want to harm her own child and we have no idea what she was going through. – this has always stuck with me, my mom came from a good, loving home and had learned how to cope with difficult things in life, so somehow she managed to love us all through it all, my dad is great too 😉 but she always has a compassion for moms – because she’s been there… on the edge, about to loose it but made it through….

i am so blessed that my little one is healthy and a great sleeper, but i have compassion and try to have understanding for moms that deal with different things. we are all doing the best we can. we all make mistakes and we have not walked in each others shoes… so please, when you see/hear a mom that is not sleeping, that has a child that is not feeling well. give her a hug, take her kid for half an hour so she can shower…

A Week of Empathy: I Let My Daughter CIO and I Regret That Choice

One of the things that pulled me out of the mommy wars was all of the stories. This week I’m sharing the stories of other moms that have touched me through their experiences. If you have an experience you would like to share, please email me at and I’ll publish it here this week. (All names will be changed to initials to keep them anonymous.)

This is L’s story:

I am going to share a difficult story. My name is L. and I have a 19 month old daughter. I let my daughter CIO. My daughter had reflux, I had a hard time breastfeeding, I had PPD, I was so so exhausted, I slept in a recliner for months, I was constantly getting advice, my husband and I were fighting, and THIS KIDS JUST WOULD NOT SLEEP! I COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE! NOTHING WORKED!

So one night in the midst of terrible crying from all of us, I stuck her in the crib and shut the door. I then sat in our room and listened to her cry for probably an hour. And it wasn’t just crying, it was full on screaming and sobbing and yelling. AND I WAS PISSED. WHY COULDN’T SHE JUST FALL ASLEEP?

I didn’t know what to do. We let her cry. She fell asleep from the sheer exhaustion of it. And then her breathing was that type of breathing where your breath catches after you have cried really hard. And my heart broke. And I knew it wasn’t worth it. And my heart was broken.

We limped along exhausted and waking hourly for a few more weeks/months – I don’t know – its all a blur at this point. And we were at our wits end again. So we tried again. And the same thing happened. She screamed and cried and then she puked. And I felt like SHIT. I never wanted to CIO. I was desperate. I was so very tired. I was broken. My husband was desperate. He was tired. We were hearing all of this advice to CIO. That we were doing it wrong.

The night she puked was a turning point for both of us. I never let her CIO again. While I only did it on those two nights they were the worst two nights of my life. I will regret them always. The reason I tell this story is to say we don’t know what other mothers are going through. We don’t know how they feel about their choices when they are alone in the dark with their thoughts. We are all human just trying to do the best we can.

Why Your Toddler isn’t Misbehaving (Understanding Age Appropriate Behavior)

I don’t view the repetitive testing behavior of a young child or toddler as “misbehavior”. If I don’t call it “Misbehaving” then what do I call it when my toddler keeps doing things that she knows she shouldn’t do?

“Learning boundaries”.

How do you learn that red is red? By repeat exposure to the idea of red. “This little bit of red among a ton of other colors is red. This ball is red. Wine is a shade of red. Strawberries are a shade of red. Some roses are red but not all roses are red. Pink looks like red but it’s not red. Orange is not red. Green is not red. Blue is not red.

How much exposure do we need in order to fully understand the concept of red? Red is passive. Red is a tiny concept. Red is not human behavior. Red does not have subtle human emotions and patterns of acceptable behavior. Red does not involve self control. Red does not require listening. Red does not require the ability to put another’s wants ahead of your desires or the ability to understand why we should do so.

There are a TON of rules for small human beings. Rules have to be tested to be understood fully. “Does mommy mean no hitting the dog” (this ball is red) or does mommy mean no hitting the dog hard? (this ball is a shade of red) Does mommy mean no hitting the dog with my hands or does it also mean I can’t hit the dog with this toy? (this ball has red on it)

Then once they learn the rules and understand when and how they apply they still have to master the emotional maturity of self control and the empathy to fully understand why not to hit the dog. (Color theory 101).

It’s age appropriate inappropriate behavior. You can respond to it consistently and lovingly by reinforcing the rules without feeling wronged, ignored or disrespected. A toddler is not being disrespectful. A toddler is learning.

Why My Son is Crying (Two Year Olds and Empathy)

My two year old cries for the most ridiculous reasons. Or so it might be easy to think.

He wants to climb the ladder that I told him is “dangerous” but won’t climb on the swing set instead even though there’s a slide going down the other side. You know. The swingset that cost a few grand. The swing set that is child-safe. The swing set cushioned by soft grass. The swing set that isn’t rusty and possibly dangerous like this ladder balancing in the middle of the deck as we try to fix it.

He’s not crying because of that silly thing. He’s crying because he lacks the words to tell me WHY it is important to him to climb the ladder. He can’t tell me that his imagination is so full of these vivid wordless thoughts about what it would be like, how tall it is, and how it is yellow instead of green, and how yellow makes him smile.

He’s not crying because he’s being silly. He’s crying because I’m using those intangible words again and saying “no. danger.” and he can’t figure out the words to ask me HOW is it dangerous? Couldn’t I hold his hand and keep him safe? Why am I being so STUBBORN and using those words again instead of helping him do what he wants the way I help him with other things?

He is screaming his head off because he wants to bring a dirty snow shovel inside. I just let him play with it outside for a half hour and he put it down and didn’t want anything to do with it anymore. But NOW he wants to BRING IT INSIDE? And he’s yelling at me because I said no?

He’s not crying because he’s determined to track dirt and snow inside. He’s wondering what it will sound like bumping across the tiles in the kitchen and swishing across the carpet in the library. What it will sound like sliding over the wooden floor. How it’s different from the way it sounds on the gravely driveway or the soft grass, or the crunch of the snow.

And he can’t tell us these things that he wonders because his words number far too few. He can cry with disappointment, and with sadness and upset about the fact that you cannot understand and he cannot make you understand these things he sees so vividly inside of his imagination.

Yes. Sometimes it’s cute how deeply they feel these things and it’s tempting to smile or laugh. Just like it’s tempting to smile or laugh when they put on their shoes backwards and their coat upside down. This tantrum is as much a part of “small human being” as chubby cheeks and teetering first steps.

Yes. Sometimes it feels manipulative. And being manipulated makes us feel ANGRY and FIRM. And WHY CAN’T THIS CHILD UNDERSTAND WHAT I WANT AND WHAT I FEEL?

Of course they can’t. They don’t have the years of experience and knowledge that we do. They’re babies still. How can we expect them to understand what we feel and empathize with us?

We aren’t understanding and empathizing with them. And we have fully developed adult brains capable of doing all of these things and capable of all this logic. Plus. We’ve BEEN THERE. We’ve been children. Our children have never been adults.

The only illogical thing happening here is our expectation that our child understand the incomprehensible words that we are using as an explanation for our “no”. And that we are getting angry at them or laughing at them when they get upset about what they cannot understand.

Oh buddy. I said “NO DANGEROUS! And you got SO upset because you don’t see why it’s dangerous. But.. Look! Look. See? Wobble wobble, the ladder goes side to side. Look. Alexander walks up the ladder. Step one… Wobble wobble.. Step two.. Wobble wobble. OH NO! Alexander wobbles and falls. And falls and falls BOOM! That’s like falling off the couch onto the floor but HIGHER! More ouch. More boom. Oh no. Poor Alexander. That would hurt SO MUCH! Big ouch. But.. Shh.. Alexander says “Mommy can you help me do it safe?” OF COURSE! Let’s see.. I can hold you and you can go up one step! Up two steps! Up three! And jump back down like that. Three steps can be safe if you hold my hand, okay Alexander?

This way he learns to ask “Mommy can you help me do it safe?” instead of sneaking over to do it by  himself when I’m not looking. And he learns to use those words when I say “no dangerous” instead of flipping out. That’s what his tantrum means, so those are the words that I teach him.

Sometimes the answer will be “no”. There are some things that you cannot do safe. You cannot touch boiling water. But a lot of the times when we say “no dangerous” we mean that we can’t be bothered or we just want to wall that thing off completely rather than letting them touch it for fear that they will touch it when they are alone.