Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Breast Debate Ever

I have written about mommy wars before. I swear I have. I cannot find the post to add a link, which means that I gave it some really cute quipy title that doesn't mean anything to me. So, you can look for it or take my word. I wrote about it. I think they are bad.

There are so many things that mother's fight about. So very many things. Co-sleeping, mattress wrapping, babywearing, CIO, SAHM vs. WAFH mom. The list goes on and on. Mostly, these debates do not concern me. I used to bulletin board and when I was a member of various mommy communities, I was constantly attacked for something. Once, I participated in a game of sorts on one of my bulletin boards. There was a list of questions: will you mattress wrap, will you babywear, etc. etc. Each participant told their number of yes answers and then their "friends" guessed at which questions they had a yes for. I thought it was good harmless fun. Until someone posted in response to my 4 post that she couldn't believe that there were 4 things I would do for the health and safety of my baby. That was when I realized how biased the "game" was, and really how biased the entire forum was.

But, now. I don't know. I usually don't get my feathers ruffled. I have given up the bulletin board community entirely and now when I need commiseration or advice from other moms, I look to the blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter. I find people to be much less insulting in these forums, although I don't quite understand why.

The exception to this is feeding. I still get uptight about the feeding debate. One of my favorite bloggers, Her Bad Mother, posted today about breastfeeding advocacy. The post is largely about "lactivists" trying to fight for respect for breastfeeding mothers without demonizing bottle feeding mothers. I have an answer, but I don't think she'll like it.

You can't. You can't preach over and over and louder and louder that "breast is best," without implying that formula is somehow less than the best a mother can do. You can't fill the world with billboards and pro-breastfeeding rhetoric without telling those of us who made a different choice that we are wrong. Not different, but wrong.

I have a friend, whose daughter is a few years younger than I am. She breastfed and tells about how she had to fight in the 1970's. How no one understood, no one supported her. Her mother thought she was crazy. I fought the same fight.

Okay, my mother didn't think I was crazy, but she was it. My doctors thought I was lazy, my in-laws thought I was weak, my friends thought I was insane. Everyone, everwhere told me I was wrong. That I was making the wrong choice. Strangers told me that I was feeding my child poison. I had a number of women tell me that formula should only be available by prescription. My boss, told me that I would regret the decision not to breastfeed for the rest of my life. I haven't started regretting it yet, and I've made the same choice for two children, so let's just assume she is wrong. I do, however, regret continuing to work for a judgemental twit like her.

My point, here, is that I'm not sure who "lactivist" are fighting. I don't see it. I don't see the other side of the battlefield. I see mothers nursing all the time, in public, without fear or shame. Okay, I don't see bare breasts, but really, I don't think the battle is about not using a blankie. I see the entire baby industry telling you to breastfeed. Pumps, nipple shields, nipple cream, containers to store and even freeze breastmilk, bottle systems built to attach to your pump. And I see formula companies refusing to give out coupons because it "encourages" formula feeding. I see books that come from the formula industry that spend 40 pages on breastfeeding and 2 pages on formula feeding. I see a lack of thoughtful information on comparing formulas, which formula is the best, how to mix and store formula.

I see mothers who formula feed called child abusers and murderers. I see people attacking the mothers of SIDS babies and telling them that it was probably the formula that caused it. I see hatred and lies and hurt and anguish.

And I see breastfeeding mothers called hippies. That's it. The absolute worst of what I have seen. Hippies.

Now, maybe I don't see it. Maybe it's there and I'm not sensitive enough to see it while nursing my own wounds. Maybe it's somewhere else and not in my town. Maybe it's all kept very hush, hush. I'm not denying the existance of this anti-breast movement. I just don't see it.

And, so, to me, the war seems one-sided. Okay, women should be guaranteed a place to pump in the workplace. I support that. Although, I support the need for paid sick leave and easy access to healthcare as "mothers' issues" more. I see where there are still a handfull of crazies babbling something about "sexualizing" infants. I get that. But, I really feel that it's few and far between. And most of us know better.

I am almost out of formula (praise the Lord!) and as Maren is my last baby, I hope to put this all behind me in two short months. But I have spent years now, walking on eggshells, trying desperately not to offend my breastfeeding sisters. Who have not treated me the same way. They have talked about formula feeding like it was abusive and have talked about breastfeeding like it is the only intelligent choice. Formula feeding has been linked in their rhetoric to the stupid, the uneducated, the poor, the lazy, and the weak-willed.

I quit telling people the reasons behind my choice to formula feed years ago, because I was tired of being attacked. I was tired of the name calling and the mean implications. Now I just say "personal reasons" and people may make some snide remarks, but they mostly drop it.

And you know what, I have happy healthy kids who are well-fed, neither over or under weight, intelligent and amazing. I bonded with my kids just fine, thankyouverymuch.

I made a choice. A choice that I am happy with to this day. And I support women's rights everywhere to be happy with their parenting choices. To not have to defend a choice or get worn down listening to the name-calling. If people are making you feel guilty or ashamed of breastfeeding, then they are idiots. And if you decide to combat those idiots by screaming from the rooftops about how breastfeeding is the only right choice, then you are an idiot too.

Motherhood is hard. I will say that again, Motherhood is hard. We have a million battles and only sleepless nights to prepare us for them. We should all be on the same side. The side of ensuring that babies are fed, without casting judgement on what they are fed. The side of ending actual child abuse and not confusing that fight by calling alternate choices abuse. The side of preparing our kids to run the world and choose our rest homes.


Suze said...

We were bottle-fed, and my mother felt so bullied because she didn't breastfeed. Good parents feed their babies, just like you said. I don't for one single minute think I'm a better mother than you or than my own mother, for that matter, because I'm a BF mom. The so-called lactivists get on my nerves, too.

You know, I don't really understand why certain parenting issues are so incredibly sensitive. Like breast and bottle-feeding. You do what's right for you and your kid, so why do other people care SO MUCH which choice you've made as long as it's informed?

Aside: When I was visiting KY a couple years ago, there was an incident at a McDonald's in Berea where a woman was asked to leave because she was breastfeeding. None of the other customers even noticed but the manager made a big scene and threatened to call the police. Ridiculous, huh? Would they rather she feed the baby Mcnuggets?

Mrs. Allroro said...

Though I doubt I've ever shared an opinion about breastfeeding, this post made me think about how I share all of my opinions--it made me want to be more sensitive. Thanks.

Jessi said...

Suze - That is ridiculous about McD's. I hadn't heard about that. And there are definately issues that are bigger issues than others. I also think we are all a little senstive to one issue in particular. A read one blogger who is really sensitive about young mothers and another who is super-sensitve about tobacco use around kids. I think I am really most sensitve about this whole "can't we just get along thing."

Suze said...

I think my issue is sleep. My kids are/were terrible sleepers as babies. Didn't nap well or reliably, didn't sleep through the night (Anya still doesn't on both counts). We have funny eating habits, too, but fortunately those seem to be resolving themselves on their own, thank goodness. I've been bombarded with advice, none of which has worked, all of which makes me feel like an incompetent idiot. Now I just nod and smile and generally ignore the advice I get. We do what works!

Jessi said...

I am a big fan of doing what works. Yay, you. As long as kids are healthy and happy, I really don't care how they get that way. :-)

Caroline said...

I couldn't breastfeed. I tried, my boobs and Nate just didn't fit (they are small, he is not). It was the only thing I was sure of. My mom and MIL gave me shit. Said I wasn't trying hard enough.

And as for our other battle, the choice not to circumsize. The in-laws still wont let it go. How we are denying him something. How we are going to cause infections and locker room ridicule. It's made Philip doubt our decision. It sucks.

Oh, and when I was pregnant with Nate (2007), some lactivist staged a sit-in at Applebee's after a breastfeeding mother was asked to cover herself.

Jessi said...

Yeah, the joy of having girls, I never had to have the circumcision debate. Just as emotional.

OhSweetSara said...

What a great post.

I had no idea this was such an issue with mothers.

I breastfed my son until I ran out of milk. It was what I wanted to do and I was told that it helps the baby's immune system. After my "supply" ran out I switched to formula. No one I knew had an issue with it and I never felt like a bad mom for formula feeding.

I know many mothers who chose formula over breast milk and their kid's development was not affected by the choice. The kids have grown up happy, healthy and smart. There is no way I would have criticized them for that choice. What a horrible thing to do to a mother. Especially a new mother who is just trying to figure out how to cope with motherhood.

I wonder what the Lactivists would think if someone came along and criticized them for another choice they made for their child. Would they still be so quick to judge?

jessicabold said...

Wow...this surely does not make my decision to become a mom any hasn't happened yet but posts like this scare me...

Tina said...

I have never thought less of people who didn't breast feed. Personally, I don't think I would. I have never heard of a child being harmed by being fed by formula. I agree with you, who cares how they are being fed as long as they are eating and not starving.

Her Bad Mother said...

You may be right - it may be an impossible situation. But you are also right to say that we can persist in avoiding judging each other - living and letting live - and embracing the peace that might come with that.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an older post. But I loved what you said and you have brought a little bit of comfort to me. My baby is 2 months and she is formula fed. Before being pregnant I never want to nurse. Then I got pregnant and planned on nursing as long as it all went well. Everything went great up until about a week and then it all went downhill with a colicky and hive filled baby due to milk/soy allergies. I could either cut everything out of my diet or formula feed. So i formula fed.

Why oh why was it so hard for me to stop even though I said all along that I'd only do it as long as it all went ok? Well, because everyone and their dog questioned why i didn't cut things out of my diet. "Oh, your formula feeding??" It has made this so hard. And over and over again I hear "breast is best." Breast is best. It's like this giant guilt trip I can't avoid.

I have a medical reason why I stopped, but so what? What if I didn't? Why do I have to explain that to people when they ask me why I don't nurse? I really don't believe any one way is best, I don't think we can use breast is best as a standard because of the implications it has, which you described. I have always fully supported formula feeding for whatever reason, even if its done because a woman thinks breastfeeding is gross. Thanks for your post. I loved every word of it.

Jessi said...

Anon - Thanks for the support. I hope the guilt trip eases up and your life becomes more peaceful soon!