I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone who read the galleys of my book. This woman breastfed two children successfully in the late 80′s and 90′s when this feeding method was certainly not the norm; breastfeeding rates didn’t start really going up until the past decade, when campaigns like the log-rolling, mechanical bull-riding DHHS one began to to kick things into high gear.
Anyway, she had a good experience breastfeeding; she told me she never really experienced much pressure in either direction, and while she was aware that breastfeeding had become far more of an issue in society, she had no clue that formula feeding had become so vilified. Her exact words were “I had no idea how bad it had gotten.”
I know it sounds ridiculous, but this comment provoked a tremendous revelation for me. Imagine a cartoon image of the FFF (imaginary-draw me with a better figure and less wrinkles, will you?) being hit with a lightening bolt, next to the caption “Doh!“
Of course this person didn’t know how bad it had gotten. She hadn’t given birth in the last 5 years, when the pressure to breastfeed has gotten so ridiculously out of control. And neither have the vast majority of big-time breastfeeding advocates or policy makers, let alone the folks reading the various newspaper editorials and commenting on the heated threads of media-reported breastfeeding studies.
See where I’m going with that “Doh”?
I have had two kids in the past four years, and honestly, I saw a marked difference in the amount of breastfeeding pressure I experienced from one baby to the next. In 2008, it was tough to end up in the formula feeding category; still, most of the vitriol I encountered was the online variety, save for a few overbearing physicians and mommy-and-me instructors. By the time I delivered Fearlette in the end of 2010, even my childless, motorcycle-driving, gun-wielding neighbor threw me a look when he saw my bottle. And since I have my eyes on what’s happening in the breast/bottle scene, I can say without a doubt that things are just getting worse. I don’t know if these changes were spurred by Hannah Rosin taking a stand, or Joan Wolf questioning the science, or the Call to Action announced by the US government - but one thing is clear: infant feeding has become part of the national dialogue, and gone far beyond a trivial mommy war.
|Mary wore the hairshirt, sans the “F”. Source: Wikipedia.org|
If you were a breastfeeding advocate who’d had children before this new front blew in, you might think my pleas for a ceasefire are nonsensical. Kind of like when my mom complains she’s cold on a temperate, 78 degree day. But then again, my mom happens to be super-skinny (like 85 pounds soaking wet), and those without any padding can have issues with temperature regulation. Likewise, women giving birth today have been stripped of the padding when it comes to breastfeeding pressure; no longer are we cushioned by “encouragement” to breastfeed, but rather thrown out onto a cold street with a hairshirt labeled with a big, scarlet “F” should we fail to meet expectations; if we end up being “suboptimal” in our feeding methods.
If you’d been a new parent in a different, not-so-long-ago time, you might think things aren’t so bad. You might brush off feelings like guilt, saying that “no one can make you feel guilty”. That’s easy to say when no one has told a 3-day postpartum You that your inability to breastfeed, or your choice not to, is damning your child to a life of poor health and low intellect. (It’s also easy to say when you’re someone who has never been through this kind of hell, or when you have a penis rather than a vagina and are therefore of the non-lactating persuasion.)
If you’d been a new parent back in, say, the 1970′s or early 80′s, when breastfeeding rates were at an all-time low, it might be easy to laugh at the stories we tell on this blog. Because nobody’s really telling formula feeders they are bad parents. It’s being a breastfeeding mom that’s hard. (Which don’t get me wrong, it can be. I think you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, in this regard. But that doesn’t mean formula feeders have it any easier- it’s just that our challenges come in different flavors. My platform is that we can’t protect one group of parents by shaming or neglecting the other – we all need to be supported in feeding our babies in the way that works best for our given situation.)
If you’d been a new parent even ten years ago, when breastfeeding began to be more popular, but three months was considered medically sufficient, and six months was considered ideal, you might not fully comprehend what this breast/bottle debate is all about. You might think hey, it wasn’t so hard to breastfeed, not realizing that by today’s standards, the fact that you stopped after 4 months and had been giving relief bottles every now and then would be considered abject failure by many respected experts.
If you haven’t given birth or adopted an infant since before Obama was in office, and don’t plan to again, you might not care that much about infant feeding “wars”. And that’s okay; I get that many things begin to take on graver meaning, like ensuring a good education (we’re facing that now and I swear I’m *this* close to closing down FFF and starting the Fearless Public School Parent in a Really Awful, Underfunded District blog, but then I remember Sandra Tsing Loh beat me to it), drugs, teen sex, and so forth.
But for the breastfeeding advocates, physicians, psychologists, and media pundits out there, whose voices matter in this discourse: please, for the love of god, take a minute to consider that things may have changed dramatically since you were buying Size 1 diapers. This has nothing to do with the benefits of breastfeeding, nor am I belittling your efforts to make the world friendlier for nursing moms (which I appreciate and thank you for), but it is important that you realize this fact. You need to understand what it is to be a mom in 2012, when the internet has all but usurped the “real” world; when Facebook pages are not just about reconnecting with high school flames but are used to discuss parenting styles and form “groups” which simply exist to hate on other peoples’ choices; when a scathing blog post has the power to change the face of advocacy in a disturbingly negative way; when the media has covered stories which state that women who “fail to comply” with breastfeeding recommendations are costing our country innocent lives and billions of dollars.
I know everyone says the more things change, the more they stay the same. In this case that does not hold true. Things are not the same. The sooner society at large realizes this, the sooner this discussion will begin to evolve.
Or at least I hope it will. If it doesn’t, the silver lining is that I think I’d look pretty cool in a hairshirt.