In the immortal words of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, parents just don’t understand.
My folks were visiting this weekend, and we got into a rather frustrating conversation. This isn’t a rare event; we fall on different ends of the political spectrum, and we come from passionate, opinionated stock, so things tend to get heated at least once or twice per visit. But this time, I was especially annoyed – and hurt – because they seemed to be viewing my “cause” as something vastly different than what it actually is.
On the drive up to LA, they were listening to one of their favorite hosts discussing their local McDonald’s NIP controversy, replete with the resulting outrage from listeners. They began to tell me about this radio program by exclaiming that I should “go on this show”, suggesting that I’d be some sort of alternative voice in the debate. Strike one. I patiently explained that I was a big advocate for nursing in public, and that it really irked me when businesses and/or society made women feel like they couldn’t feed their babies how they see fit – in any way, ahem, ahem. “Sure,” they said, “But then all these women were calling in, badmouthing bottle feeders, talking about how formula kills…how it’s all the bottle feeding moms that are to blame…”
Well, I guess that would qualify as a first base hit. (Sorry, my baseball terminology sucks – you know what I’m saying, though. They hit the ball, but only a little bit. Clear?) I felt my temperature rise; I wanted to go off on the subject, but something struck me. A mini-revelation, so to speak.
I understood where these callers were coming from.
Don’t stress, FFFs, I’m not going all soft on you. I still think that turning the claws on formula feeders is misguided at best; cruel, ignorant and entirely counterproductive, at worst. But as I tried to help my parents understand why certain callers’ juvenile behavior couldn’t take away from the true topic at hand (i.e., the ridiculousness of not allowing a nursing mother in McDonalds – I mean come on, people, the only thing we could possibly fault this woman for is being in a McD’s in the first place), and why the callers had every right to stage a nurse-in, I realized:
- In a society where nursing is still so taboo (despite the very real pressure from the media, Internet, and medical communities to breastfeed) that a woman showing her breast to feed her infant is considered “inappropriate”, we can, and should, feel angry.
- Following this logic, the anger has to be directed somewhere, and if you feel alone and ostracized, the easiest construct to blame is the one that made breastfeeding something “odd” or “other” in the first place – and that construct is our (perceived) formula feeding society, spearheaded by the evil empire of the formula conglomerates.
- One would logically assume that another breastfeeding mom, or spouse/family member of a breastfeeding mom, would support a woman’s efforts to nurse her child. Therefore, someone who is being unsupportive is most likely a formula feeder. (Please note, I don’t believe that this is actually true. I think, typically, the people who are unfriendly to breastfeeding moms are most often men, or childless folks, or people from a different generation – some of these may be part of the aforementioned bottle feeding culture, but I’d submit to the jury that most modern moms, living in a time where breastfeeding is advocated by celebs, commercials, and our physicians, are not the ones actively throwing suckling babes out of fast food establishments. But I can understand the thought process involved which would immediately peg a “threat” to breastfeeding as pro-formula, by default.)
- There’s also an element of envy and resentment towards the majority when you see yourself as the minority, or “other”. Considering I was a formula feeder living in a breastfeeding society, I get it. For instance, it’s very hard for me not to feel judged and angry when my closest friends keep pestering me about whether or not I’m going to nurse my second child. It’s frankly none of their business, and I’m not sure why they care so much. I find it way easier to talk to bottle-feeding moms about this, and see them as “my kind” versus the breastfeeding masses. I fight these feelings, because I don’t like giving in to the basest elements of my soul, but sometimes I do just want to punch certain friends in the arm a few times for making me feel so “different”. I also have to fight the urge to make a decision solely based on wanting to fit in – that’s how powerful the pull of the crowd can be. So, I can empathize with a mother who feels alienated, and then finds a group of women online, or via a mom’s group, or LLL, or whatever, and takes up the cause of lactivism, bolstered by a sense of belonging and the security of a group dynamic.
- In addition, until society sees breastfeeding as “normal”, nursing in public is going to be controversial. In order for breastfeeding to be seen as normal, the majority of women need to be breastfeeding. Hence, we need lactivism to deliver these kinds of results, so that no woman will have to endure the injustice of being told to cover up, or told that feeding her child past the age of 6 months is “creepy”, or any number of other insane things that nursing moms have to endure.
What this all comes down to is that I now understand why certain lactivists end up vilifying formula, or formula company marketing tactics, or pro-formula-feeding blogs (even if they are not pro-formula feeding as much as pro-feeding choice, but hey, whatever). And while I don’t condone the tactics some may use to try and increase breastfeeding’s prevalence in our society, I think, for the sake of all of us, we should hope that they succeed, and soon.
Why? Because when breastfeeding advocates finally see themselves as the “norm”, they will no longer have to try so hard to convert everyone to their way of thinking. That means no scare tactics, no guilt, no overstating research results, no trying to compare formula companies to cigarette companies. I hope we can all agree that all things being equal, breastmilk IS the ideal food for (most) human babies (not that formula isn’t a perfectly good alternative, but you get my point). And I also hope we can agree that a woman should have the right to feed her baby in public, whether it be by bottle, covered breast, or exposed breast. By making this a widespread belief, perhaps we can move on. Maybe the time and money spent on research that seeks to prove – again, and again, and again – that breastfeeding is superior to formula feeding could be used, instead, to truly discover which medications pass through breastmilk or effect a nursling in a significant way (and I’m talking long-term, far-reaching studies, not the kind we have available now, with tiny samples and only considering an abysmally short time span for side effects), or what is causing a rise in lactation failure.
Does this mean I’m going to shut up when people rage unfairly against the bottle feeders? That would be a resounding no-freaking-way. But I want to make it clear that I do support lactivism – the positive kind, at least – because I believe a pro-breastfeeding society is better for all of us. Not for the usual reasons; I don’t think it will significantly improve the health of our nation, or save us millions, or cure cancer and make our kids super-smart women/men of steel. I just think that if we can find a way to make breastfeeding more prevalent without alienating those who make an informed decision to formula feed, or who simply cannot nurse for whatever reason, we can move on to fighting for more important things. Like better schools, better health care, better access to chemical-free foods, etc, etc.
If we can support positive lactivism, even if we can’t agree with every single thing these groups/individuals say or represent, we can use our power – the power of a supposed majority – to improve things for both nursing and non-nursing mothers. I can’t see the negative in that. I’m willing to take on the hate mail and negative comments this post is sure to receive to say it aloud: even if it’s for entirely selfish reasons, we can all stand to benefit from better breastfeeding rates.