FFF Recap 2013: What we learned about infant feeding (or didn’t) this year

It was a busy year in the world of infant feeding! Let’s review:

1. We learned that The Baby Friendly Initiative taking over more hospitals was “good news for mothers”. But some mothers don’t see forced rooming in as good news.

2. We learned that breastfeeding made kids smarter. We learned that breastfeeding didn’t make kids smarter. 

3. We learned that formula feeding causes more than 220,000 deaths per year, worldwide. Most of these are in developing nations, but the media and breastfeeding organizations don’t care to differentiate. Also, we learned that if you’re in a developed country, the benefits of breastfeeding are negligible (notice that these facts both come from the World Health Organization).

4. We learned that unscreened donor milk, purchased over the internet, was often contaminated by a variety of harmful pathogens. We were encouraged instead to engage in local, face-to-face breastmilk sharing, based on the belief that if you meet someone and talk to them and they are willing to give you their breastmilk, there’s little risk of them carrying diseases or engaging accidentally in improper transport or storage. We also learned that this study had too many methodological flaws. Which taught us that people are really great at being hyper-diligent about critiquing the quality of research when it fits their personal agenda and beliefs, but will turn a blind eye to similar critiques of studies that contradict them.

5. We learned that questioning a policy which appeared to put children in immediate danger meant that we were privileged, ignorant Westerners who had no business caring about people in other countries. Except if we were trying to donate our breastmilk to a nation struck by disaster, with spotty electricity, transportation, and access to refrigeration, in which case our privilege, ignorance  and Western-ness made us saints.

6. We learned that women are having trouble meeting their breastfeeding goals, not because of formula marketing, ignorance of the benefits, or because they didn’t give birth in BFHI hospitals, but because of issues like severe breast pain, trouble latching, or insufficient supply. We then learned that these problems were caused by the mothers’ lack of experience and knowledge, and not because there was anything physically wrong with them, despite the fact that the study did not perform physical examinations of the mothers and babies, nor did they obtain medical records.

7. We learned that “informed consent” meant being subjected to one-sided, biased information that mutated evidence into scare tactics, and that formula feeding information (which one assumes is an important part of the “informed” aspect of informed consent) was not a maternal or child health issue, but belonged buried in a website about food safety regulations, according to the Canadian government.

5. We learned that virtually all medications are safe for nursing mothers. Except for various antidepressants, pain killers typically prescribed for postpartum women, herbs, and galactogogues. But who’s counting.

4. We leaned, thanks to Beverly Turner, that misogyny is defined as women speaking up about how postpartum depression, sexual abuse, and personal autonomy affects their relationship with lactation. We also learned that Beverly Turner needs to read the dictionary.

5. We learned that, when it comes to infant outcomes, dads are chopped liver. Actually, all parenting methods are chopped liver, because the only thing that matters is mom’s education level, socioeconomic status, and breastfeeding history.

6. We learned that’s it’s fine for neonates to starve and get seriously dehydrated from insufficient milk, because they usually only have to stay in the hospital a few days to recover. Who cares about a few days in the hospital, besides new moms who feel like failures and those who do not have stellar insurance and have to take out a second mortgage on their homes to pay the exorbitant NICU bills?

7. We learned that breastfeeding probably doesn’t protect against obesity. A few months later, we learned that not only does formula feeding cause obesity, what a mom eats while pregnant is also to blame.

8.  We learned that despite all of this back-and-forth, advocacy-disguised-as-research, confusing crap, most mothers are completely supportive of each other’s feeding journeys. We learned that both breastfeeding and formula feeding moms get guilt-tripped and shamed, albeit from different sources. And best of all, we learned that when women band together and take a stand against intolerance, judgment, and hypocrisy, they can be heard.

It was a typical year in the infant feeding world, filled with contradiction and zealotry and unprofessionalism on all sides, and I have a feeling 2014 won’t be much different. But unlike past years, I have hope. #ISupportYou gave me proof that there is a peaceful army of women who are fed up with the status quo; who are ready for a new wave of support and advocacy. So in that spirit, my resolutions for 2014 are to continue to develop programs that will hopefully help women feed their babies in the healthiest way possible, in whatever way is best for them; to keep tabs on research that may cause unnecessary alarm for vulnerable new parents; and to ensure that womens’ bodily autonomy is respected while simultaneously protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed wherever, whenever, and however long she and her child wants. And to lose 10 pounds, but I guess that’s not really relevant to the discussion.

 

FFF Friday: “The pointlessness of all this breastfeeding guilt struck me…”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so. 

 

Ashley’s story illustrates why I worry about our current, restrictive breastfeeding recommendations, not just for those who don’t want to nurse, but for those who do.  Breastfeeding can and should be an amazing experience for both mother and child. By making it a parenting imperative rather than viewing it as a choice (because we do have a choice, as we have throughout history – formula is a more attainable, normalized, and stable alternative than wet-nursing or using paps/unprocessed animal milks, but alternative have always been there), it becomes more like a root canal rather than a massage. If someone wants to nurse once a day for 3 months, they should be just as supported in that choice as someone who breastfeed exclusively for a year. As Ashley explains, sometimes combo feeding can offer the best of both worlds; isn’t it the right of every nursing dyad to find what works for them, with their individual needs? Imagine how it could be if we lived in a world where everyone viewed infant feeding like Ashley’s daughters do. From the mouths of babes, as they say.

Anyway. Have a great Christmas, FFFs. This is my gift to you – one of the most well-written, stand-up-and-cheer, affirming pieces that has come floating through my inbox. Enjoy.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Ashley’s Story

Today, I nursed my baby for the last time.

And because she’s my last child, I’ll never nurse a child again.

Here’s my confession: We are a full 4 months shy of the AAP-sanctioned 1-year, “it’s-okay-you-can-quit” point.

For me, weaning “early,” entirely by choice with no dramatic reason other than I WANT TO was big step forward in shaking off the rather paternalistic expectations of Bloomberg, my baby-friendly hospital, breastfeeding pressure–promoters in general who advocate breastfeeding for a full year, the sacrificial nobility (yet apparently second-best option) of pumping at work, and the crock that a simple but firm “no bite!” during teething will eliminate all nipple strife.

With my first child, Charlotte, I went through typical breastfeeding hell. Bloody nipples, bawling (me) during oh so painful nursing, and more bawling (her) due to hunger, because I had been told a bottle of formula was a “slippery slope” that would lead to more formula and a reduced milk supply.

I dreaded each next painful feeding and pumped (often while my daughter cried—pumping takes TIME, and you can’t do much mothering attached to the machine) to get a break from my child’s mouth. I longed for sleep or a feeding time-out. My entire support system lived on the opposite coast, and I felt utterly alone and terrifyingly inept.

Finally, when Charlotte was 3 weeks old, I turned to formula. After hours and hours of her frantic crying and equally frantic nursing, I called the pediatrician. Formula, he said. Give her formula.

This being couple years prior to those blasted baby-friendly initiatives, I had some formula from the hospital. I sobbed as I fed my daughter that first bottle, devastated at my failure to merely feed my baby The Right Way and The Best Way. Charlotte drank bottle after bottle. Finally satisfied, she drifted off into a 5-hour nap. From then on, I guiltily slid down that slippery slope, becoming a combo feeder and supplementing when my supply came up short. I vowed to never again let my baby go hungry. I kept my promise. I never skimped on a formula feeding to try to increase my own supply, and cranky Charlotte became a jolly, lively baby.

Returning to work, I pumped for a while. Eventually, I quit, which added to my guilt. Of course I had read statistic after statistic on how working outside the home was the #1 reason women quit breastfeeding “early.” And of course I had read those glib assertions that with a wee bit of commitment, working mothers could still hang onto their I’m-a-good-mom badge by pumping multiple times a day. “Think of it like a little break!” the pamphlets said. Hardly. “Return calls while pumping!” our (male) pediatrician’s hand-out said. Um, pumps are LOUD. “Think of pumping as a way to connect with your baby!” a website cheered. No, pumping just reminded me that she was away from me.

I continued as a combo-feeder, breastfeeding mornings and evenings and bottle-feeding during the day. Ashamed of what was my apparent lack of maternal commitment, I’d hide the canisters of Enfamil at the bottom of my Costco shopping cart, fearing judgment from strangers.

Here’s the screwy thing: At that point, I actually ENJOYED breastfeeding Charlotte, although (or because?) I did it only twice per day. I missed her desperately when working, and now that nursing was no longer a painful, bloody horror show, I loved our sweet, quiet time together.

My daughter weaned herself at 8 months old (yes, babies CAN wean themselves).

Charlotte’s weaning was a mutual and well-timed decision. But even after all the tears, angst, and sheer work that getting to that point entailed, I still felt like a failure. Like I had come up short due to inexperience, the audacity to work outside the home, and the fact that Charlotte simply adored her bottles of formula. In the back of my mind, I worried that I should’ve tried harder.

Next time, I vowed, I’d do better.

When pregnant with my second daughter, Lorelei, I dreaded the upcoming burden of breastfeeding, knowing it would steal from the joy a new baby brings. The pain. The stress. The nurses coming into my room every 2 hours to reprimand me for letting her (and myself) sleep instead of feed.

And that’s pretty much what happened. Sure, I was more adept this time around, but this child also tore me up. Again, I spent hours and hours of my maternity leave pumping, always paranoid about having a relief bottle on hand, loading up the freezer, and giving damaged nipples a chance to heal.

Except for an ounce or two of formula now and then to “top off” a feeding before bed, my daughter was, I suppose, exclusively breastfed for the first 3 months.

But I saw myself as a formula feeder. I viewed that yellowish powder like the Ben & Jerry’s pint I always have in the freezer—there if I needed it but technically off limits. And yet, like the ice cream, I knew I’d eventually consume it, so I felt preemptively guilty. Worrying about the next feeding and my milk supply absolutely consumed me, especially after I returned to work and was at the mercy of what my pump could do.

I pumped at work for 3 months—miserably. My employer, bless its heart, installed a lock on my office door. I had a private place to pump, so what was my excuse? I figured I better keep going. Pumping, pumping, pumping.

My supply faltered, especially after several weeks of ongoing illness. Eventually, I had to mix in some formula with the breast milk when I prepared bottles for day care. Then a whole bottle. Then two bottles.

This devastated me. I had worked so hard! But I realized that I could not WILL myself to make more milk. I just couldn’t. Still, I pumped.

Then one glorious day, my pump broke. My $300 pump that had caused so much misery was dead.

I could buy a new one, I thought.

Or, I could quit pumping.

Though initially upset and panicky, not super thrilled to be backed into a weaning corner, I slowly started to remember what life was like before my body was expected to produce meals every 3 hours. I could take my older child to birthday parties and gymnastics on weekends without pumping a bottle for my husband to give to Lorelei and rushing home for that next feeding. I could get more work done at work, I could spend less time cleaning parts, and I had so much less to remember to pack on hectic mornings.

So, I quit pumping.

With Lorelei, I eventually found that nursing sweet spot I had hit with Charlotte, breastfeeding entirely on our terms—Lorelei’s and mine. Again, I breastfed in the evening, before putting her to bed, and again in the morning before work, my now 3-year-old Charlotte nestled against me, chatting or rubbing her little sister’s head.

Yesterday, as I nursed Lorelei before work, Charlotte asked, “When I was a baby, did I eat from you like Lorelei?” I said yes. “And when I was a baby, did I drink from bottles like Lorelei?”

Looking at Charlotte’s bright, healthy, nonjudgmental face, the pointlessness of all this breastfeeding guilt struck me. To my daughters, breastfeeding is totally normal—a loving, nurturing form of mothering. And to them, bottle-feeding is also totally normal—a loving, nurturing form of mothering.

And they should know.

Lorelei unlatched, sidetracked by her sister, and my goofy girls started blowing raspberries at each other and giggling. My girls know they will always be fed and are deeply loved.

I’m grateful that formula helped me adequately feed my children, and that, with both my girls, I managed to have a segment of time in which I enjoyed breastfeeding.

I hope they know how much I’ve loved nursing them in those quiet, intimate evenings, when we were reconnecting to close out the day, breastfeeding on our terms—for us, and not to maintain supply, to support national anti-obesity agendas, or because hospital pamphlets told us to.

I’m done breastfeeding. I’m nostalgically wistful and a little sad.

But I do not feel guilty.

***

If you feel like sharing your story, email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

FFF Friday: “I’m a better mother now that I bottle feed.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so. 

Today is Fearlette’s birthday, so I’m obviously thinking a lot about her birth. For those of you who were around 3 years ago, you’ll remember how I opted to formula feed her pretty much from the start. It was a decision I have sometimes felt sad about, but never second-guessed. I feel sad that I missed out on nursing her – something I really wanted to do – but do not regret making a choice which, at the time, was the only way I could guarantee her a mom who was fully present. Time is like Photoshop; it’s so easy to gloss over the imperfections and idealize events that happened in the past. But even five years later, I have a clear memory of what it was like to be failing to nourish my first born. I can still feel the pain in my breast; tiny lightning bolts from the neuropathy that plagued me while he tried, unsuccessfully, to latch. I can still hear the bwaomb-bwaomb-bwaomb echo of my own heartbeat, pounding in my ears, drowning out my child’s desperate, angry cries. 

But Fearlette’s birth brought other memories. Memories of her sweet mouth, her scent, the feel of her snuggled against my chest. Memories of laughter and funny photos and the first time her eyes focused on mine. These memories may have happened if I’d nursed her. But formula allowed me a sure thing. The right medications, the right mindset. I can’t regret that, even if I feel sad that I wasn’t able to have the breastfeeding relationship I wanted. 

And this is why I chose to publish Lisa’s story tonight, in honor of my little girl. Because, like Lisa says, I was a better mother to her because I bottle fed. And the more of us who stand up and admit this, the less of us will waste our time feeling  inferior, guilty, and abnormal. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones (and happy birthday Fearlette),

The FFF

***

Lisa’s Story

I like to think of myself as a “naturalist”. I have lots of hippie friends, I eat granola in the morning (which I make myself), I opted not to take the free prenatal classes provided by the government and pay out of pocket for a series of classes provided by a doula, I was committed to having a natural birth, I camp, I believe in yoga, you get the picture. So as my due date fast approached, I didn’t even given breastfeeding a thought. Actually, I did give it a thought, only it was, “Of course I’ll nurse, why wouldn’t I?”

Enter my beautiful son. One week early. Best day of my life. And guess what? I caved. I had an epidural, they gave me the drugs, I had a great delivery, I had a son! Then over the next 24 hours my little guy latched like a champ, pooped like a champ, cuddled like a champ and was just perfect. Me, on the other hand, was elated, but physically damaged. I had 15 stitches due to an episiotomy (which my doula friend would have been appalled by, but it was a procedure that my nurse said probably saved me a dreaded 3rd degree tear), I had raging hemmerrhoids caused by my all-star pushing. I was exhausted and in pain.

We got home and it was difficult to sit down due to the pain. When my girlfriends came over and reassured me that these first few days would be okay because I could “just sit in bed and have your hubby bring you the baby to nurse every hour”, I thought, “sitting is absolute torture right now!” I couldn’t sit comfortably in the glider I spent my life savings on, our leather couch was simply unbearable, the bed we just bought to help with my back pain was so high off the ground I had to grit my teeth just to roll into bed for a 20 minute nap. I was scared to drink too much because going to the bathroom was excruciating (from all the above ailments, especially the episiotomy), and I wasn’t eating right, my appetite that was hearty all my pregnancy was now reduced to nothing. So the water and oatmeal that would have boosted my milk supply was not getting into my body. The time sitting down I needed to let my boy latch and eat was beyond difficult. Everyone and their mother was dropping in to visit, me putting on the fake smile, my breasts everywhere, milk barely dripping out, the baby crying, my hubby helpless, the constant advice, the barrage of gifts and phonecalls.. AHHHHHH!!! It was overwhelming, awful. It was a time I don’t want to rememember. It was probably the most sad I’ve ever been, the most isolated I’ve ever felt, even amongst the throngs of people in and out of my house.

And even with my little guy’s champion latch, he wasn’t getting much. I would pump then feed, feed then pump, hot shower and feed, massage my breasts, poke my breasts, literally squeeze them until they were bruised and still, the guy was starving. Now I’m not a small lady- I’m tall, relatively athletic, healthy, hearty. My boy at 7lbs, 7 oz wasn’t a tiny thing, but he became one. His eyes yellowed with jaundice and looked vacant, his arms became little sticks and he became lethargic. I was feeding for 1.5 hours, sleeping for 30 minutes then waking again to feed. Still he wasn’t thriving. I went to the doctor and she was concerned about his weight. In my head was my doula friend- “it’s okay if they lose weight! Don’t let anyone tell you you have to supplement. He will thrive eventually. This is the best way”. I believed most of what she said until I looked at my skinny little angry, starving baby. I went home, my hubby mixed up some sample formula, heated it up and stuck it right in his mouth. Chug. Chug. Chug. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. He looked up at me and smiled with his eyes, and didn’t break the latch with the bottle until it was gone. He slept. He was satiated. I was happy. My husband was happy. I slept. Relief…

I did keep feeding him with my breast…. 1.5 hours here, 2 hours there. I’d pump in between, I’d wake up at night to pump, I’d pump one boob and feed with the other, I’d hand express and catch it in a cup. I was a breast milk super woman! A superwoman who could never nurse until my boy was full, and a superwoman who could only pump no more than 2 oz each time. But yet  I wouldn’t stop. I got 2 bouts of Mastitis, was on meds. Meds made my milk taste funny apparently, and little guy hated it. I pumped and dumped. It cleared and he latched well again, but by then my supply was comically low. My hippie friends said if my supply was low, just to nurse for comfort. Let him suck for an hour, get up, heat a bottle, let him drink and then give him my breast again. I did that for weeks. I still pumped, too. It was, plain and simply, exhausting. I brought my breast pump everywhere, including two weddings. All for 2 oz of milk that I mixed with formula.

Then it went from exhausting to completely unsustainable.

How could I do this for a year? How would I ever make dinner, cuddle with my hubby, see my girlfriends or go out ever again? I’m social, I’m active. But I started to retreat. I didn’t want to go anywhere where there was other moms because explaining my feeding choices and schedule was exhausting. I would go for drives because I knew he would sleep, and then go home and start the 3 hour feedings process again. As my stitches started to heal and the ‘roids gone, I DID feel more able to sit for longer periods of time, but I started to question how good this was for my son’s development. He would eat and sleep, eat and sleep. He was never “playing”, I feel like I never saw his face because it was stuffed on my boob for hours on end. I wanted him to smile, I wanted him to be full, I wanted to not hear the drone of my breast pump, I wanted to be liberated from this schedule.

That’s when it hit me. Liberation. Freedom. Choice. What the heck was I doing to myself? I fancy myself a feminist, but I’m deliberately putting myself in the most restrictive of situations as possible. I wasn’t being myself. I was straight up lying to other women to save the “embarrassment” of not exclusively breastfeeding. I was my own worst nightmare. But what came most abundantly clear to me 3 months post-partum was that I wasn’t enjoying my son. I wasn’t bonding like they said I would, I wasn’t overjoyed at giving him this “gift” of breast milk, I was resentful at myself for being such a failure. I was a faulty human, I thought. I was weak. I was a quitter. This is what was going through my head. I battled with it constantly.

So I stopped. Cold turkey. I asked my hubby to collect my breast pump supplies and put them away. And never looked back.

Guess what? My son didn’t notice. He loves the formula, and I love that I can see his eyes while he eats. I love sneaking around the corner and seeing my hubby tell him ridiculous stories while feeding him. I love how I can easily leave him with his grandparents so I can go to the gym (returning to the gym has done wonders for my sanity, by the way- this, above all, has been such a welcome advantage of being boob-free). I love seeing the joy of my sister, who is having trouble conceiving her own little one, feed my son and adore him. I love how he’s thriving. I love how he’s happy. I love that I cuddle with my husband during those moments where previously I’d be pumping. I love going for walks with the time I used to spend sitting endlessly while he sucked and got almost no milk. I feel human again.

I’m a better mother now that I bottle feed. And no lactation consultant, nurse, blog, google search, friend or medical study can tell me that breast feeding trumps being a better more active, lively, loving, doting and happy mother.

Our bodies, ourselves: Gisele’s breastfeeding photo and our obsession with our physical selves

Ah, the power of supermodels.

With one instagramed snapshot, Gisele Bundchen revealed the Victoria’s secret of ideal motherhood. Privileged, serene, and perfect, while simultaneously nurturing her child in a way that earns both the AAP and Mothering.com’s seal of approval. In doing so, she is now credited by fellow celebrity Ricki Lake as “starting the conversation” about breastfeeding. Funny, I was hoping that conversation was finally wrapping up.

Source: http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/entertainment&id=9356910

Source: http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/entertainment&id=9356910

I don’t see anything wrong with Gisele’s photo, or her caption (“What would I do without this beauty squad after the 15 hours flying and only 3 hours of sleep #multitasking#gettingready”).

She’s being pampered by a team of professionals, which she graciously acknowledges. The fact that her child is nursing is an afterthought; it’s not the point of the photo, nor should it be. But that didn’t stop the media from turning it into a mommy war, confusing the issue of normalizing breastfeeding with what really rubs some of us like a poorly fitting bra: our resentment of how society has shoved us back into the same stagnant gender roles we’ve been trying to escape for the past century or so.

Before you stop reading, thinking this is just another second-wave feminist rant on biological essentialism, hear me out: I am not suggesting, as Jennifer Block writes for the Pacific Standard regarding feminism and breastfeeding, that any of us should be “politically afraid to admit that women are biologically different and demand support for those differences.” My problem is that once again, I am being reduced to my body parts and how they operate.

As a young woman, I struggled with anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder. I spent hours staring in the mirror, raking my fingernails over my face in hatred for its contours (too ethnic) and pinching my skin (too fleshy) until it bruised. It didn’t matter that I excelled in school, that I was smart and creative – I couldn’t “think” myself taller or blonder, or create a world where looks didn’t matter. And my adolescent brain wouldn’t allow me to escape the prison of these imperfections, especially in a world where the prettiest people always won. Chelsea Clinton entered the White House as a gawky tween while I was in high school; despite the fact that she was probably the smartest and coolest First Kid we’ve had this century, all anyone could talk about was her frizzy hair. And when her father decided to have a very public affair, people seemed more concerned by his mistress’s girth than his indiscretion. These messages permeated my psyche, imprinting one clear message on my young mind: Being a woman meant being judged on your body.

Flash forward to my early thirties – eating disorder solved, happily married, but still staring in the mirror wishing for more here, less there. And then I got pregnant. Watching my body grow didn’t fill me with wonder or pride, but rather horror and disgust. I cherished the child growing inside of me, but hated feeling so out of control. When my pregnancy went south and it turned out my body hadn’t been nourishing or protecting my son properly, when I had to be induced early, when my son couldn’t latch, when my milk was essentially poisoning him – all these things made me resent my physical body even more.

But as he grew, I finally grew up (it only took 36 years). My son loved me for me. Not because my breasts provided him with food (they didn’t). Not because I gave birth to him naturally (unless one considers 18 hours of pitocin and an epidural “natural”). He loved me because of my mind: my ability to reason with him when he was worried, to teach him about the world, to listen to his stories, and to make him laugh. He loved me because I was there for him. Because I was his mother. And none of it had anything to do with my body.

Now, when I look in the mirror, I still hate my body – perhaps even more than ever. Unlike many women, I don’t embrace my stretch marks as “battle scars” or my fleshy lower belly as proof of my ability to give life. I just think, yuck. I wish I was lithe and firm and young. If I had the money, I’d gladly go under the knife for a tummy tuck, or get rid of those pesky laugh lines.  I haven’t learned to love my body, or become immune to our beauty-obsessed society just because I am a mother and I was able to reproduce.

But something has changed. I don’t define myself by my body, anymore. I revel in my mind.

And that is what bothers me about our current “conversation” about motherhood, and breastfeeding, and feminism. We are still so focused on our physical selves. It’s great to embrace our differences, and discuss ways that the workplace can better accommodate mothers and their biological processes. But by focusing so much on these constructs of birth and breastfeeding and smacking the labels “progressive” or “feminist” on them, we’re once again defining ourselves by our bodies and how they operate. We accept the way male physicians discuss our feminine capabilities in reverent tones; we discuss our births as ways to reclaim our power as women. We sport slogans on t-shirts and social media like “I make milk- what’s your superpower” with no hint of irony. And what we say to the world, to each other, is “You are your body. Your worth is your body. Your worth is your body’s ability to conform to its biological purpose, and that is what makes you a Woman.”

What message does this send to women who are infertile? Who cannot breastfeed? Who choose to remain childless? What message does this send to our daughters, who observe their mothers spending hours online arguing about what comes out of their breasts (or doesn’t) or what they did with their placentas? Why are we asking are you mom enough, when we could be asking, are you woman enough? Are you person enough?

It’s not that motherhood or birth or breastfeeding can’t be feminist; they can be. But we also can’t dismiss the fact that focusing so much on our physical selves is going to have an impact, in a society so obsessed with perfection. Replace Barbie with the breastfeeding doll, but in the end, they are both dolls. I’d prefer my daughter play with Legos.

Of course, none of this is Gisele’s fault (well, except for the asinine comments she’s made about women gaining too much weight during pregnancy or making it an “international law” to breastfeed for 6 months). Come to think of it, her breastfeeding image might be the perfect representation of today’s “conversation” about breastfeeding, and motherhood in general. If we are going to reduce motherhood and womanhood and personhood to body parts, they may as well be pretty ones.

 

Guest Post: Different Flavors of Kool-Aid

I didn’t post an FFF Friday this week, because I was out celebrating FC’s 5th birthday and it totally slipped my mind. I find that a little poetic, because five years into parenting, I’m realizing that we do, ultimately, let go of the newborn insecurities that feed (ha) the breast/bottle debate. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are always new parenting issues to feel vulnerable and unsure about; new problems that make you question your own choices as well as the choices of others. That said, I definitely think infant feeding is at the top of the mother-guilt food chain – ha. See, there I go again with the puns.

I often wonder if some of this mother guilt has to do with how our identities as women are intertwined with parenting. We are raised thinking that being called “mommy” at some point in our lives is a given. The adjectives that are “feminine” are also seen as “maternal” – soft, nurturing, giving, loving, sweet, caring. Being a good mom isn’t just about being a good mom, it’s about being a good woman. Hell, the way we birth and feed our babies is becoming a gauge of our feminist cred… whether you are old-school or progressive, if you don’t view motherhood as empowering and having a vagina as a superpower, forget about being mom enough, you’re not woman enough.

Melanie Holmes is the author of a forthcoming book that focuses on the cultural assumptions of motherhood, and I was thrilled to receive this submission from her. The post isn’t entirely about infant feeding, but I think it has everything to do with what FFF stands for – that women are not defined by their bodies, and that we deserve choices and options that do not reduce us to biological imperatives. I’ll be reading her book, and I hope it will remind me to raise my little Fearlette in a way that allows her to define her self-worth not by her anatomy or its actions, but by her autonomy and its actions.

Enjoy.

-The FFF

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Guest Post: Different Flavors of Kool-Aid

by Melanie Holmes

I am a mother of 3, two adult sons and a teenage daughter.  My oldest was born in 1984 when breastfeeding was not the norm.  My mother, my older sister, nor any of my friends had breastfed.  I was totally alone to learn and I turned to La Leche League for support.  Without a doubt, I became a La Leche League Zealot.  Hear me out!  When I read about Suzanne Barston’s campaign (along with Kim Simon and Jamie Lynne Grumet), “I Support You,” I was so inspired by her goal of uniting women that I included the campaign in a book I’ve written about the cultural assumptions of motherhood (more about that later).

I was able to breastfeed all three of my kids, and I drank from the Kool-aid that states that every woman can succeed at breastfeeding.  Until the day I read a Wall Street Journal’s article (22 July 1994) titled, “Dying for Milk: Some Mothers, Trying in Vain to Breastfeed, Starve Their Infants.”  After reading that article, which I cut out and tucked into my copy of La Leche League’s book, I considered myself “reformed” on the topic of breastfeeding.  I’ve held onto that WSJ article for almost 20 years because I never ever wanted to forget the lesson it taught me – to support women who cannot or do not breastfeed.

The WSJ article told 2 heartbreaking stories:

- Pam Floyd gave birth to a son, Chaz, and did what the books and her physician advised her to do – put him to her breast.  But he didn’t seem to be getting enough milk.  24 hours after being discharged from the maternity ward, Pam made a frantic call to her doctor and a lactation consultant, who both advised, “Keep breastfeeding; don’t turn to formula.”  Six days after his birth, Chaz suffered dehydration-induced permanent brain damage.  The neurologist told Pam, “The lack of milk those first few days means that Chaz will never lead a normal life.”  A year later, Chaz wasn’t doing the things 1-year-olds should do; he wasn’t sitting up or crawling.

- Under the subheading “Silent Starvation,” lactation educator Mary Wisneski described a breastfeeding mother who told her what a “good and happy baby” she had, only he wasn’t wetting many diapers.  Wisneski, knowing that babies should wet 6-8 diapers per day, asked to see the baby immediately.  It turned out that the soft spot on his head had sunken – a sign of severe dehydration.  Doctors describe this phenomenon as, “content to starve,” such infants suffer in silence which makes it hard to identify them.

The reality:  Physicians say that some infants are incapable of learning how to breastfeed. In other cases, certain breasts are structurally incapable of producing enough milk; in addition, women who have had breast surgery are at risk.  Physicians point out that cases of breastfeeding failure used to be detected during an infant’s third or fourth day of life by professionals on maternity wards.  These days, mothers are discharged 24 hours after birth before some infants are even alert enough to try feeding.

And now my own story:  My firstborn child, a son, was born in 1984.  At that time, insurance companies let new mothers stay in the hospital 3-4 days, even for a vaginal birth, which mine was.  My son had a strong latch, but I was so inexperienced that I wasn’t getting him to latch correctly.  He had a strong suckle, however, he was latching onto other parts of my nipple, therefore, he was not getting anything.  Maternity ward nurses worked with me, and they gave him some supplemental water when he cried during the night.  To this day, I remember when my son latched on for the very first time correctly.  It was a moment of, “OH! That’s how it’s supposed to feel!”  My son was 4 days old when that happened.  To this day, I wonder:  what if I’d gone home, convinced that I was doing it right, with no maternity ward nurses to give my son supplemental water?  Without continued supervision, might my son have ended up with brain damage such as Pam Floyd’s?

Which brings me back to the book I have written which is designed to unite women around topics that, although we may not agree, what we can agree on is this:  We are all women!  We all share the same gender history where strong women who came before us fought for our rights as individuals; the right to vote, property rights, the right to advanced education, a wide array of career options, and control over our bodies pertaining to reproduction/procreation.  There are so many topics that can divide us if we let it happen.

Most of us have beloved daughters, nieces, or female friends in our lives.  I have a teenage daughter.  A book I read 10 years ago had a quote that still haunts me; spoken by a woman, “Donna” (not her real name), who grew up assuming she’d be a mother someday, having been told that motherhood was what being a woman was all about.  When she found out she was infertile, she thought, “If I can’t have a child, I may as well be dead.”  This quote is from Madelyn Cain’s, The Childless Revolution.

I began to imagine what my own daughter would feel like if she were unable to or didn’t want motherhood someday.  I began paying attention to how women who are not mothers are viewed; often judged as selfish, dysfunctional or to be pitied.  I also noticed how many women pursued motherhood despite extremely challenging circumstances, such as the lack of a strong support system (support systems come in various flavors of “Kool-aid” but they must be strong/full-flavored).  And I researched the statistics on unplanned pregnancies (half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned; and 3 in every 10 females will become pregnant before age 20).

Thus, 2 ½ years ago, I began writing a book about the cultural assumptions of motherhood; to be published in 2014:  The Female Experience: How the Assumption of Motherhood Impacts Women’s Lives.  While interviewing 200 women across the U.S. (mothers and nonmothers), I found a real-life example of Cain’s “Donna.”  Someone who remembers feeling that life was not worth living if she could not become a mother.  I also found a startling level of assumptions held by mothers of daughters — that their daughters will follow in their footsteps; and that they would communicate their disappointment if their daughters expressed disinterest in motherhood.  What child sets out to disappoint the person(s) who are most important in their lives?  Following is an excerpt from my book which quotes Suzanne Barston’s wonderful example of uniting women.  I do hope you’ll keep the females you love the most at the forefront of your mind while you read it; and perhaps let the windows of your mind open just a crack with regard to the assumptions of motherhood for the females in your life.

Quote from The Female Experience, book by Melanie Holmes to be published in 2014 (copyrighted material, not to be quoted without permission from the author):

“The vision of women without children that a number of people hold is skewed in large part based upon the assumptions that are held for females’ lives.  There are numerous books, articles, and blogs in existence designed to justify or demystify being childless, childfree or “without child,” written mainly by women who are, themselves, not mothers.  Some want to get their voices out there in hopes that people will stop pestering them with intrusive questions; others just want to set the record straight on the circumstances or choices that led to the lives they are leading; others just want to be left the hell alone to live the lives they’ve chosen that brings them happiness.

 

The media is full of “mommy war” stories, describing conflicts between warring factions of mothers on topics from breastfed versus formula-fed, to stay-at-home versus working outside the home, to attachment parenting versus other child-rearing methods.  Gathering steam is another type of war, largely fueled by women, a sort of “unmommy war,” if you will; and it has the potential to fracture the inner selves of women who are not mothers due to decisions or circumstances within or outside of their control.  Caustic, rude, judgmental comments are being hurled across the demarcation line.  One woman I interviewed, Calista (not her real name), who is not a mother and does not want children, said to me during our interview, “I’m so glad there are people on our side.”  Which makes me wonder, why must there be a demarcation line?  As women, shouldn’t we seek to understand each other?  Even when agreement is not found, can we agree to disagree and show respect and support?

 

In a wonderful show of compassion and support between women, in honor of August 2013 being National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, Suzanne Barston spearheaded a social media campaign designed to tear down the barriers separating women who breastfeed their babies from those who formula-feed.2  In a picture posted on the Internet, we see a woman with her baby and she’s holding a sign that says, “I Support You.”  Isn’t this what all women should do — support and respect each other?”

 

My book gives voice to both sides of motherhood.  I do not advocate for or against a woman’s choice to choose the path she feels will lead to an authentic, happy life.  My teenage daughter knows that the assumptions I hold for her are that she’ll be kind, independent, and live a happy life following whatever path she chooses.  We, as mothers, know how hard it is to do what we do.  We may complain about it to each other, especially on anonymous websites, but the true tales of our challenges escape our brood because we don’t want them to feel guilty, and we certainly don’t want anything we say to sound like regret.  We love our children!  But not every woman wants to be a mother.  In the only industrialized nation without paid maternity leave, with inflexible workplaces, and homes where the bulk of the load is still carried by mothers (with or without partners); and with more doors open to women than ever before to follow goals that our mothers and grandmothers never dreamed of, many women want to live their lives differently, sometimes to the exclusion of motherhood.  How open you are with your daughter will determine how she views her life options.  If your daughter (or niece or BFF) happens to express disinterest in motherhood, what will you say?  As mothers, do we feel that motherhood trumps all other experiences, such becoming a brain surgeon or biomedical engineer?  If you take a look at the list of brain surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh Schools of Health, you will find 31 neurosurgeons listed, two are female.  There are women throughout history who have done magnificent things to the exclusion of motherhood.  Are we teaching our daughters about how high our horizons are as women?  If not us, their mothers, who gives our daughters “permission” to truly choose the path that will make them happy?  Life is not perfect.  In fact, it gets downright messy.  Something we can do for our daughters is to educate them about women’s history, and help them to know that, no matter what they choose, we support them!  It’s the old, “I’m OK, You’re OK” mindset.  We’re all okay, no matter what flavor of Kool-aid we prefer.

Melanie Holmes is a mother of three (2 adult sons and a teenage daughter) and has witnessed firsthand the pain of women who are viewed as “dysfunctional” or “selfish” because they decided to pursue something other than motherhood for their lives.  She has also viewed women who have pursued motherhood despite extremely challenging circumstances, without the needed support for mother and child.  With her daughter as her inspiration (as well as many women across the U.S. whom she interviewed–women who live with criticism, judgment and intrusive questions because of their choices), Melanie has written a book examining the cultural assumptions of motherhood; along with a reality-based view of motherhood and the evolution of women’s choices.  Melanie graduated with her Bachelors of Arts from Saint Xavier University, Chicago, in 2011; a goal that took 20 years to attain as she paused along the way to raise her three kids. She lives in Chicago with her second husband and teenage daughter. To learn more about Melanie, her book, and her blog, please visit www.melanieholmesauthor.com.
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