Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday with Megz - An Internal Struggle or External Bullying?

I want to share with you what it is like to be a breastfeeding supporter and activist in a community that is so full of passionate, intelligent, and opinionated women, and how this has impacted my nursing relationship with both of my sons.

If you have followed our blog for any amount of time you know a few things about me...My first son, Aiden, was only nursed for 8 months, for a variety of reasons. You know that I am not a tandem nurser, that it just is not for me and you know why! You also probably know that I am a doula, and that my general perspective on all things parenting is moderation...that mothers need to meet their needs AND their child's needs and that when these things are in conflict, mother and child need to reach a compromise. You also probably know that while I am an avid breastfeeding advocate, educator, supporter, etc...I believe, in the end, we all love our babies and try to do what we feel is best.

When Aiden was a baby I was immersed in the birthing community and had many connections but no true friends who nursed beyond "infanthood." My one close stay at home mom friend was an avid bottle feeder, early solids feeder, sleep trainer, etc. I respected her parenting choices although I mostly disagreed with them. It's OK to disagree, and we can be friends with folks we disagree with.However, we do what we feel is "normal" as humans, we mostly want to fit in, and when we start to approach things that are far beyond what is normal in our community, we need points of reference...and my point of reference was my family history, and my friend J. It put me in a position where I felt compelled to both be an attached and breastfeeding mother, and to be a moderate and "normal" mother for the community I was in. I did not spend much time with my birth community women outside of a professional setting, so that was not my "normal" community. This put me in a weird spot where I felt like I "knew better" but became SO uncomfortable about nursing for "so long" that I weaned but felt IMMENSE shame about it.I existed in a no-mom's-land between the extended, exclusive, and tandem breastfeeding moms, and the bottle moms. I felt "weird" and ashamed when nursing around J, but felt "weird" and ashamed when bottle feeding around my birthing community.

I think that experience gives me a unique perspective on the bottle vs breast debate and the bottle vs breast culture that has developed in the mom world. Because I have been in both situations. No one ever said anything to me. No one put me down for either choice (J didn't put me down for breastfeeding directly, but I knew how she felt about it because she had talked about it before my son was born and her daughter was tiny, to her it was "gross," I'll come back to that), no one gave me dirty looks or attempted to make me feel uncomfortable. My shame, weirdness, and discomfort was an internal struggle based on a perceived "dialogue" between the two camps. I think this happens on both sides. Breastfeeding mothers often feel defensive. By the same token, bottle feeding mothers feel defensive because there are some vocal, aggressive breastfeeding advocates out there who are flat out abrasive, and borderline abusive. There is a silent dialogue happening in public when  breastfeeding mom and a bottle feeding mom are feeding their babies...the breastfeeding mom thinks many things:

  • "if she says something to me about this I'm going to go all lactivist on her and tell her what's what"
  • "I hope I'm not making her feel guilty or pressured, and that she doesn't think I'm judging her just by sitting here. I don't want to make her feel ashamed of her choice."
  • "I wonder if she wanted to breastfeed and didn't ask for or get the help and support she needed?"
  • "of course I'm the only one here breastfeeding, this is so awkward."
  • The list goes on and on...have you been in this situation? What crosses your mind? Really, think about it!
The bottle feeding mom may also think many things
  • "I just know this woman is judging me."
  • "this bottle is just as good as that breast." (yes, I know this is a false message, but this is what is taught)
  • "I bet she thinks she is better than me."
  • "I breastfed for ____ weeks/months, I wish people knew that."
  • "I was unable to breastfeed, I wish I could have, and this is making me feel regret/shame"
  • "This was my choice, I'm sure she wouldn't understand."
  • There are many more thoughts, many. I've thought them, because I bottle fed for a while. Have you been the bottle feeding mother in a similar situation? What did you think? 
I truly believe half of this debate, and MOST of the fall-outs about it in online forums, are about an internal struggle. Bottle feeding moms taking it personally when breastfeeding advocates quote FACTS about the differences between bottle and breast, and breastfeeding moms taking it personally when bottle feeding moms react negatively, and thus we have Boob Wars. 

Here on The Good Letdown, we  respect a mother's decision on how she feeds her baby. However, we want to put an end to the posturing, the lies, the mis-information, and the lack of support so that mothers who DO want to breastfeed can succeed. That is our goal here, our job, and our passion. When a mother tells another mother "i just couldn't make enough milk for my 10lb baby" (or any other observation about why she "couldn't" brestfeed) she is instilling doubt in that mother. This impacts her nursing relationship. The truth is, MOST WOMEN CAN MAKE ENOUGH MILK! There is only a VERY small percentage of women who cannot. I won't say that there are no resources available, that support does not exist. I won't do it. Because that is untrue

The problem is no longer a lack of resources, it's a fear of asking for help and a refusal to demand change. The resources are available but we are afraid to use them. Women seem to think that asking for help with ANYTHING (housework, kid care, getting a shower, parenting topics, BREASTFEEDING) is a sign of weakness, and that if we can't get it right on our own or with limited help, it's not worth the blow to our ego to continue seeking answers. I don't know how women got this way...it has something to do with the women's rights movements I'm sure...our growing independence in our ever shrinking world...who knows. It doesn't matter. I am a firm believer that in most communities, a woman who is having trouble breastfeeding and who needs help, can find it. If she does not get the help she needs to be successful from one source, she can move on to others. Sadly women wait a long time to ask for help when they are having trouble so that once they do finally seek help, the problem is so great that it becomes very difficult (please note I did not say impossible) to fix. The way I see it, there are three types of moms:

  •  Moms who will bottle feed, hands down, that's what they'll do and they aren't even going to consider breastfeeding. 
  • Moms who will breastfeed, tell others they will be "trying" to breastfeed but if a speed bump or roadblock appears, they will not be the moms giving it their all. 
  • Mom who will breastfeed if it kills them. These moms tell people they will breastfeed (they do not say "try"), they go to extremes to ensure the best possible start, they research the hell out of it, often lining up resources and help before baby is born, surround themselves with information, often attend support meetings before baby is born, the works. When bumps and blocks appear, they find help, if that help doesn't solve the issue, they find more help. They really give it their all. 
Personally I think the mothers in the above groups are all equals, they are all peers. They are all mothers (although I won't lie to my readers here...if a mom doesn't do ANY research on breastfeeding and makes a decision from there...I can't say that I think she is being a very responsible mother...because making a decision based on societal myths and zero research is just plain irresponsible...no matter what that decision is...breastfeeding, car seats, making babies, selecting your child's schools, circumcision, etc. It's not an informed and responsible decision unless you've done some research into the topic). They are all trying to take care of their families in the best way they know how. My problem arises when a mom who thinks breastfeeding is "gross" or "nasty" or "disgusting" and chooses not to breastfeed based on this opinion, goes around telling other moms, other women that she feels that way about breastfeeding. Spouting this opinion biases other mothers. It makes them feel shame and insecurity about breastfeeding around you and anyone else who has this opinion. If it's your personal reason, fine. Keep it to yourself, don't go poisoning other moms' minds with this kind of ignorance. I respect your opinion, and your right to have it, but you should respect the impact it has on OTHER mothers as much as I respect your right to choose how you feed your baby. 

I also have a HUGE issue with mothers who say they "tried" to breastfeed...but due to whatever circumstances be they perceived, created, or real "just couldn't" even though they didn't give it their all. I'm not going to say that it's easy to breastfeed in our society. There are so many reasons it isn't as easy as it should be in our society. We'll talk about it another day. But I will say that if you get the help you need...chances are it won't be hard, and you will be able to breastfeed. I'm not going to discount the situations where a mother repeatedly bumps into issues and does not get adequate support and recieves awful advice that eventually buries their nursing relationship despite their best efforts. I'm not talking about these moms. These are the 3rd group of moms who are dedicated but faulted by the system. I'm talking about the 2nd group of moms, the portion of them who hits a speed-bump and immediately throw in the towel. Sadly, many of these women use their speed-bump as justification for not breastfeeding. They blame milk supply, sore nipples, the baby, the doctor, telling others it was just too hard when in fact...they threw in the towel before they left the hospital even and really just didn't want to breastfeed. It's ok to not want to breastfeed. But if you didn't REALLY try when you had trouble, then you shouldn't tell people you "couldn't" just tell them you chose not to. There are so many women in this category, telling this story, that it's impossible to dispell the immense myths mounting about breastfeeding! There are more, noisy women telling people it's "SO HARD!" that we just can't debunk the myths fast enough! Own your decision, be proud of what you chose to do as a mother, just be OK with that! You don't have to justify yourself at all. This makes me batty! 

But Wait a minute. Why does the above mentioned group 2 mom feel the need to justify herself? To provide explanations in the first place? It comes down to that internal struggle again. Where we are in a society so conflicted that we assume everyone wants to know why we are or are not doing something. A society where breastfeeding moms are so ostracized that a noisy, abrasive, obnoxious minority has made themselves SO prominent in the breast vs bottle debate that they overshadow all the respectful, moderate breastfeeding supporters and advocates...their "noise" and nonsense, their online bullying and shaming of mothers and their choices makes the group 2 moms feel like the only reason they can give for not breastfeeding...is some kind of mechanical or systemic failure. She feels the need to say she tried so hard, even if she didn't. So in trying to get the bullies off her back, she tells everyone how hard it was...even if it wasn't...and something happens. People believe this...because moms are trying to preemptively defend themselves, we hear it ALL the time. So even though no one has necessarily called this mom out, made her feel shame...she is already afraid of it! 

What a complicated world we are in where this is even a debate at all, but also within that debate...bully moms exist.  So is there really a battle being fought here? Or do the bully moms just need to calm their S*** down and back off? Maybe then there could be some clarity and fewer moms telling stories, feeling ashamed and unsupported.

Listen up mom bully lactivists. Formula...it's not poison. it's MILK. And while it's not perfect and doesn't begin to touch breastmilk in terms of health benefits, it's just milk. For what it's worth, while generations of women successfully breastfed and are responsible for the perpetuation of the human race before the development of milk substitutes...at least a couple of generations have continued to thrive...even though the majority of us were formula fed. Just sayin!


1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I am not going to lie, when I had my first baby (boy) I was in group 2. I was uneducated & my mom formula fed me. I was nervous about figuring it out before I returned to work, so I gave in to formula quickly. I felt ashamed a lot of times, but it worked well for our family at the time. With my 2nd baby (this time a girl) I was a group 3 for sure. I was able to be a stay-at-home mom now & I could dedicate myself to getting it right & working through the bumps. I am so glad I did. I nursed till my baby girl was 13 months old & I weaned her, because I was done, but I loved our nursing experience together. I wish moms would just own up to their choices as well. It is just milk, but it is so true that whether I was formula feeding or nursing, you wonder who you are going to offend. It's crazy ridiculous. Oh well.

    ReplyDelete