“The human voice is the organ of the soul,” –Henry Wandsworth Longfellow
A few weeks ago, I spoke publicly about something in my life that I have never really discussed at length. That is, when I was young, I struggled with a speech impediment. For many of you, who have seen me speak on multiple stages and receive standing ovations, you may be surprised to learn this, but it’s true. There was a time in my life when my spoken words failed me. Speaking was a weakness–I was often teased and mocked. I will always remember the tears.
And the fear—I was afraid of speaking words. This was particularly painful because I loved words–I loved pretty much anything with words on, in or around them–so to be challenged by something you love so deeply is even more painful.
Now, any therapist worth her co-pay would tell you that is most likely why I took to writing—when my spoken words failed me, I turned to the written word. I found my power with my pen. Written words became my solace. On the page, they were my friend, off the page–my worse enemy. But I studied them meticulously. Thankfully, my parents got me speech therapy help at an early age but I distinctly recall how I actively worked against this weakness. I was determined to learn a lot of words because I figured that if I knew a lot of words, I could avoid the ones that I knew might cause a stutter or a mispronouncing. I trained my mind to be quick to anticipate my word choice so I could formulate sentences based on words I knew I could deliver.
Even as a child, I was a fighter and always determined to find a way. And eventually I did—I found my way.
One of the things I am proud of is that by focusing on being powerful with my pen, that ultimately became my gateway to finding my strength and confidence again verbally. Finding a strength begets strength. You conquer a fear, there is another one you can surely defeat. I believe that because I lived that.
I share this story with you because recently I have been involved in a very important effort to combat misinformation and fear mongering about exclusive breastfeeding. I have joined with my respected comrades at 1,000 Days to ask others in the breastfeeding space to raise their voices collectively to stand against a fast-moving threat to our work. In April, we kicked off a coordinated effort to set the record straight on breastfeeding in response to the disinformation campaign organized by the Fed Is Best Foundation.
Raising that voice is not without fears.
I get that many breastfeeding supportive organizations and individuals may not feel strong enough, big enough, media-savvy enough to exercise their voice in this way. It may require stepping out of a comfort zone and into an unknown area of communications or advocacy.
I also get that many infant health advocates see me as a strong voice for our cause (and I am honored to serve as I can) but I want to tell you today that this was not always the case. And in sharing my truth, I also want to share three important lessons:
- Defeat Fear. For years I feared words—some I ran completely away from—there are probably still a few that I won’t touch. But I didn’t let that fear stop me, I worked at developing another strength. You don’t have to be fear-free to move past fear and act anyway.
- Play to your strength. Find your workaround.
- Silence is never an option. Even when I was afraid to speak out, silence was never an option for me. I knew I had something important to say—I just needed to figure out how to say it. If I couldn’t speak it, I would write it.
- Never, never give up. One of my greatest joys with my children is having them in the audience when I speak or sharing with them that I received a standing ovation because they know that I once struggled with words and I take great pride for them to see that I overcame a weakness and actually turned it into my strength. Every time I present to a crowd I view it as a triumph because I know what it feels like to be laughed at when you try to speak. As my children deal with their own weaknesses, battle insecurities or deal with teasing, I remind them everyday that if they work hard and don’t give up, they too, can triumph over any fear or any perceived flaws. The victory may not be immediate, but it will come.
Fittingly, today, with 1,000 Days we are launching the #FactsNotFear campaign to highlight that mothers and families deserve FACTS, not fear-mongering. Together with 1,000 Days I have posted a new blog: “Facts Not Fear: Protecting the One Place Where Fear Does Not Belong.” We have also developed some suggested social media posts and graphics for both Facebook and Twitter.
Here are two ways to promote #FactsNotFear starting today:
- Post the blog to your website and/or share it on Facebook and Twitter
- Use the social graphics provided in the links above to get the message out that moms and families deserve #FactsNotFear
With your support, we continue to take a stand for the truth, push past any fear and raise our collective voice to find a way–any way– to say something that is really important.
Silence is not an option. Please join us.