The (Venus Fly) Booby Trap

The other day, my best friend said something to me (which in context had nothing at all to do with breastfeeding or formula, but still): “A lot of plants look pretty and smell nice, but are still poisonous.”

I realize it’s a juvenile pseudo-feminist fantasy, but I always had this conspiracy theory that there were a bunch of men standing around in a room coming up with ways to turn women against each other, because if we were busy being each others’ worst enemies, we could never take our rightful place in this patriarchal world.

Except for a few (admittedly outspoken) random male lactivists, the people leading the breastfeeding advocacy charge are female. It doesn’t surprise me that the breast vs bottle battle has devolved into a screechy “who’s a better mom?” catfight. We women do this. It’s why I never joined a sorority. Gaggles of girls make me nervous. I much prefer the direct, matter-of-fact, typically masculine style of fighting to the uniquely feminine way of acting sickly sweet to your face and then stabbing you in the back with a pointy, perfectly manicured fingernail. (No joke – those things can draw blood.)

Luckily for me, a lot of the more militant anti-formula-feeding types, or AFFTs (please note that I’m calling them this, rather than “breastfeeding advocates”, because I’ve learned in my two years writing this blog that there are many amazing, noble, supportive, live-and-let-live lactivists out there, and I am on a personal mission to make sure they are not lumped in with the AFFT’s) I’ve encountered have been direct in their approach. They don’t mince words. I know how they feel about me, and what I do. In a weird way, I respect them for it.

But then there are the others. You know the kind. The ones that will tell you how they support all women, both breast- and bottled-feeding, but then suggest that you must only be bottle feeding because you weren’t properly educated or supported. Or post interviews which insult and demean women who are not breastfeeding. Or who will pretend to be moderate in their views, but then pepper their websites with misleading articles on the dangers of formula. The kind who claim to want to help all women breastfeed, but who are unwilling to listen to stories that don’t fall under the umbrella of what they deem acceptable “booby traps”.

You’re probably wondering what this whole cryptic post is referring to, so here it is. I’ve read a lot of things that have made my blood boil, and I realize that this interview may seem, on the surface, like a really stupid thing to get riled up about.

But this is what my friend was talking about: The pretty plant which will give you pus-filled hives.

Beyond the obvious offensiveness of this article, I also have to mention that the comment I left about it – basically saying that I thought Ali came off as judgmental and holier-than-thou, and that attitude seemed to obscure the typically positive message of the organization she was representing – was taken down within an hour. (Now, let me just admit up front that I let my passion get the best of me, sometimes; I’ve been known to leave pretty angry comments on a few blogs here and there, and I’m the queen of passive-aggressive tweets. But for the most part, I hold back. And I held back as much as I possibly could with the comment I made on this post… it was at worst, a bit snarky. Nothing worth censoring.)

This scares me. It scares me that an organization making impressive money, getting impressive celebrities to represent them, and gaining mainstream media as well as political attention, is so quick to censor their site. This may help them keep up their glossy image, but… you know what it reminds me of? My college roomate who used to shower with a full face of makeup on. (I kid you not. She would arch her neck back so that the water wouldn’t hit her face. Really.) People who hide behind gloss are impossible to truly know, and when you don’t know who you are dealing with, well, you don’t know who you are dealing with.

(On a whiny personal note, it also saddens me, because this particular organization had been one I respected in the past. I didn’t agree with everything they said or did, but I believed they were kindhearted, and acting out of altrustic motives. I thought we were friends, at least in the make-believe world of the blogosphere. Now I feel like that scene in Carrie with the pig’s blood. )

Here’s all I’m asking: be clear on where you stand. You can’t advertise that you support all mothers, both bottlefeeding and breastfeeding, and then tack on a bunch of caveats. It’s totally okay to say that you are out to support breastfeeding moms, first and foremost. Hey, I’m totally for breastfeeding, but my job is to look out for the bottlefeeders. That may infringe upon my lesser role as breastfeeding supporter, at times. We all have our priorities. But this interview promotes the message that only certain women are worthy of support; only certain women are good mothers.

Imagine how a woman – any one of the brave women who have talked about their perceived breastfeeding “failure” on this very site – were to go to this organization’s website seeking support and advice for a second go at breastfeeding. It’s quite likely, as the group often Tweets supportive messages about how all mothers deserve support; she could easily get the impression that they are anti-bullying, and offer a kinder, gentler, more flexible form of lactivism. She arrives at the website, and is greeted by an interview with one of the organization’s “Champions for Moms”, and is excited to read something that inspires her, comforts her, assures her that she did not “fail” the first time around, and that there is plenty of hope for her the second time. (Maybe like this much better interview with Jenna Elfman from the same site).

And then she reads the piece by Laila Ali, and it all comes back. All those feelings of failure, all the pain, all the grief. She starts thinking that maybe this Ali person is right. She wasn’t strong enough. She worries that other breastfeeding moms feel the same way that Ali does; after all, nearly every Tweet she sees with the #breastfeeding hashtag makes her feel like poop on a stick, as negative as they are about formula feeding…

Now, who can she turn to for inspiration? For guidance? For hope?

If that’s not a booby trap, I really don’t know what is.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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20 thoughts on “The (Venus Fly) Booby Trap

  1. True.
    But an excuse implies that the mother is inventing reasons to justify not BFing. The mother doesn't have to justify anything, you know? I guess the easiest response to “why aren't you BFing?” is “none of your business” but next up would be “It wasn't working out for us” and leaving it there, because then the lactivist has no cannon fodder.

    I just keep thinking of gym class: some girl could come up with a plausible excuse to skip gym class, and everyone else who was stuck playing kickball envied her. In some cases, they might decide her excuse was made up (whether it was or wasn't) and insist that it's not fair that SHE gets out of gym class because of cramps, when they either didn't think of it, or failed to get of gym class on the same grounds.

    If these BFing women think non-BFing women are all “getting out of gym class” it implies they have/had some problem with BFing but for whatever reason, continued to do it. They suffered, and so should everyone else. Their suffering becomes pointless if there's a “get out of gym class free” clause.

  2. You are so so so right. I'm one of those “moderates” and its INSANE. I nurse for reasons that are my own and I'm astounded at some of the blatant cruelty to mothers who can't or don't! My heart goes out to ALL of you mamas who had a rough go at it- DO NOT SAY YOU FAILED. Nature failed YOU, YOU were not the one who did the failing. Got it?

    And you know, no matter how you fed/feed your kid, no matter how you parent, no matter what you do, there is someone who tells you that your kid is going to become a freaking socio path! G-d forbid you do something different, or mainstream.

    I've had my own share of judgements lodged against me for a totally different parenting issue and its insane. Seriously. I want to smack some of these people across the face and say “get over yourself, and take care of your own dang kids, stop worrying about MINE”

  3. I think they're mean simply because they're like a clique of nasty girls in school. I'm sure there's some sociological studies examining why women are so evil to each other, but in the end, all I see is meanness that's totally there to make themselves feel better in their own choices.

  4. I am now pregnant with my second. With my first I was a “breastfeeding failure”, with number 2 I inted to be a “formula feeding success”. I don't need to be told about “the benefits of breastmilk”. Really, I don't. I just don't “care”. I love formula feeding. So shoot me! 😉

  5. If they did, can we coin the term “booby liberation” (for moms who were miserable BFing or pressured to BF when they didn't want to)?

  6. I totally agree with you that it shouldn't matter the reason a woman formula feeds. I don't think there's any good or bad reasons, just different ones. I just think it's incredibly harmful when women go around insisting that most women who were unable to breastfeed are simply liars who didn't try hard enough.

  7. I dealt with low supply in the beginning and luckily was able to overcome it with the help of my good friend Medela and a lot of herbs. That said, I agree that it's much more common than the lactivists think. Plus, even if it's not, when you're in the trenches of trying to up your milk supply, the last thing you want to hear is “oh please. it's really rare and hardly anyone has that problem.” Hello?! I do!!

    The breastfeeding class I took while pregnant was taught by one of the hospital LCs and she spouted that crap, among other lies. Later, I was pumping for the 10th time in one day, and my baby was getting little milk from me, I just had her lies running like a record through my head and it made me feel like shit.

    Rather than tell women that it never happens, they need to say that it exists and it's real. Some people can overcome it, some can't. Not overcoming it doesn't make you any less of a mother.

  8. Sadly there are women out there who believe any reason not to bf is an excuse: they believe if you work hard enough it will happen. Im guessing that poster on babycentre was looking through “true low milk supply is very very rare, pain should be fought through and you just need more patience for latching” goggles. I tried to explain to some die hard anti-formula types that low supply is more common than they believe and I was scoffed at and/or passive-aggresively belittled.

  9. Thanks for the link to my article–I'm honored!

    BFB recently posted a comment that “Breast milk is always the perfect food for your baby. It changes in composition as baby gets older, but also even from feeding to feeding! Your body makes a 100% custom food that's made to meet your baby's needs. Cheers!” When I called them on it, my comments were mostly deleted.

    Nice to know that an organization that is supposedly for strong women apparently thinks they are not strong enough to countenance dissent, much less when people point out that they are factually wrong. Simple disagreement is apparently considered a booby trap these days. Their response to my further comments that the statement is a booby trap against all those who pump or use donor milk was unsatisfactory to me. Kind of an “oops, hehe” response, as opposed to, say, posting a correction.

    I cannot conclude anything other than that BFB has gone over to the dark side. It's unfortunate, but it seems that a lot of lactivists, in order to maintain their core readership, find themselves being pushed more and more to the extreme, leaving those in the middle (who are probably a very large majority) marginalized.

    Breastfeeding bullies–which BFB seems to be increasingly leaning toward–do not just harm bottle-feeding parents. They harm breastfeeding ones, and potential breastfeeding ones too, as you pointed out so well. Which makes it all the more sickening that they deleted your comment, and shows me that their priorities aren't really in supporting mothers, but in making themselves feel better about themselves.

  10. Antigone, I agree with what you say here. Ultimately though, it shouldn't matter to anyone if a woman CHOOSES to formula feed or is forced into it by a variety of circumstances. The women you are talking about are making a distinction there—they think that women who CHOOSE to formula feed are bad, and worthy of insults and disdain, but the women who HAVE to formula feed elicit pity. They are clearly seeing the world through the “any good mother wants to breastfeed” glasses.

    Now if some individual woman (like Laila Ali) feels that way, and even if she chooses to voice that opinion, well, she has that right, as obnoxious as she might be. But, when the media and pediatricians and politicians are the ones buying into that and spouting it from the rooftops, and causing policy change among other things, that's when it causes harm.

    Obviously there are plenty of good mothers out there who didn't want to breastfeed, and certainly some bad mothers who did/do breastfeed.

  11. Hence why I avoid babycentre. Actually I did choose to supplement with formula. I chose not to continue breastfeeding when she wouldn't latch well at 3.5 months as most of her nutrition was coming from formula.

    I also chose to seek help early on. I chose not to listen to the nurse who told me that because of my breast shape and space between my breasts that I may have trouble breastfeeding because I chose to educate myself about breadtfeeding before I gave birth and the books/websites told me to ignore the advice of nurses/doctors in regards to bfing.
    I chose also to look at the situation realistically: my daughter was losing weight. I chose a relatively simple solution to help her gain weight: adding formula.

    So I guess I chose not to breastfeed, but my choices were made out of doing what was best for my daughter and were made after looking at the situation realistically.

  12. I'm fully in support of anyone making BFing look normal. All I ask is that it's not at the expense of people who don't breastfeed. Like you, Ashley, I just don't get why that's so much to ask.

  13. The interview didn't bother me as much as some of the comments on the BabyCenter article. Yes, Ali is stuck up and holier than thou, but since it's just sharing her own experience and not directly insulting anyone else, it doesn't bother me as much. Her comments can definitely be taken as an indirect insult, but it's easier for me to shrug that off. Yet at least two women in the comments directly went after those women who just didn't try hard enough and had the gall to say they could not breastfeed when they really CHOSE not to. I guess that's just a pet peeve of mine, but I hear this crap all the time and it drives me up the wall.

  14. Yeah the article made me feel like poop on a stick–especially the part about not being strong. Gee, thanks Laila Ali, for making all those feelings come flooding back.

    Sigh…I just don't understand why some lactivists are so mean. It's like it becomes about them rather than their child. I guess I have a difficult time understanding their animosity. Of course, it's the loud mouthed ones that give a bad name to others. Grr.

    Thanks again for posting your support–it's nice to know that it's out there :)

  15. I find that I like BfB as an organization, but have never liked their blog posts; they always seem a little too indulgent and little bit too biased for my taste. I was bothered by their “cover girl,” and I feel like they skew towards supporting a very specific kind of breastfeeding mother.

    That said, I do like the idea of an organization that reaches out to make breastfeeding look less crazy. If, you know, they actually do. It's really easy to say, “Supporting all mothers!” but it can be a lot harder to do.

  16. Ah yes, the infamous “we are all equal, but some are more equal than others”. The article didn't offend me because it reeks of ignorance. All I read was “Blablablah… I didn't have issues breastfeeding… gave a bottle too soon… boobytrap… everyone can breastfeed if they try hard enough… blablablah.” Nothing new. Because Layla Ali (whoever she is) says is doesn't make it anymore true.

    Teri is absolutely right: BF bullies harm BFers more than FFers. I said this in a comment on Bottle Babies' FB the other day and I'll say it again. The “breastfeed no matter what or else” brainwashing is so strong that is causes some of us to endanger our lives and the lives of our children. It's dangerous, and it has to stop.

  17. As a currently FF mom who has BF my older kids, I have always liked Best for Babes as an organization that was “supportive” to all mothers. And hand of God – I had the same reaction to the Laila Ali post AND to the comment you quoted, and removed them from my feed on Facebook after that.

    I just think that at the most basic level, moderate attitudes and being supportive of everyone just doesn't get readers and ad impressions. Showing your ass and leaning toward militancy does. And the fact that they're still doing it from a guise of WE ARE SO UNDERSTANDING AND SUPPORTIVE HEHEHEHE BOOBY TRAPS! I had an IRL AFFT (haha!) “friend” say the phrase “booby traps” to me repeatedly after I chose to formula feed my youngest (I went back to work when she was two weeks old, as a single mom, with three older kids.) No thanks.

    Thank you for speaking up and confirming that I'm not some insane formula nut and that they are, in fact, going off the deep end lately!

  18. I both read that post and your comment on it (which wasn't offensive at all) and the whole strong bit in the article really turned my stomach. I see so many women worry that (to paraphrase an offensive comment I read somewhere else) because they didn't manage their breastfeeding goals, for whatever reason, they weren't tough enough and couldn't 'hack it'. That feeling weak in the face of issues is an awful thing to perpetuate. I realized it about my own experience-what I did, what others who had struggles went through, was so much harder than what 'normal' or 'successful' usually entails. Equating the ability to breastfeed with personal strength, or fortitude is so ridiculous. It's an annoying misconception that it's all about hard work. I mean, isn't that one of the points of the BfB Booby Traps series?

    I'm primarily a supporter of breastfeeding, but I'd rather everyone was able to be happy and regret free.

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