You don’t need to know why I don’t breastfeed, because it shouldn’t matter.

This past week, Emily Wax-Thibodeux’s excellent essay, “Why I don’t breastfeed, if you must know”, went viral. As it should have. It’s a cutting, heartfelt expose of just how ridiculous the pressure to breastfeed has become, made all the more powerful by the author’s recounting of her double mastectomy.

Unfortunately, even breast cancer didn’t stop the haters from hating.

“95% of the time people don’t breastfeed for reasons other than terminal illness. This is a red herring argument. She shouldn’t feel bad for having a legitimate reason for not breastfeeding and if she does then its really a personal problem,” said one comment on a Today.com thread.

“We all understand should and can are different. A mother who cannot breast feed is different than a mother who can but chooses not to…Breast milk is better for an infant than formula, I don’t think there is a doctor, nurse or midwife who would say that formula is better…Shame people would criticize this mother who CANNOT breastfeed like it was her choice,” wrote another (who happened to be male).

And then there was the woman who insisted that “(t)here is absolutely zero systematic or general judgment against infant formula or bottle feeding. It is the absolute expected norm by the majority of adults and parents in our culture. No one cares if you feed your baby infant formula or use a bottle…Most children start on the breast. Most children are weaned. Most children are given formula and fed with bottles. There is no public backlash against infant formula or bottle feeding. But here’s an article that pretends “infant formula shaming” is some actual thing. No. It isn’t. Not in the real world of critical thought and evidence. The data doesn’t support this notion at all.”

In the FFF community, there was tremendous support for Wax-Gibodeux’s piece, but an underlying concern about the title – because why must we know why she isn’t breastfeeding? Is shaming more acceptable for some mothers than others? What is the litmus test that rewards us with a breastfeeding “pass”? If a double mastectomy doesn’t quite cut it, I don’t know what will.

So maybe we should stop giving reasons altogether.

For those who fear formula as a product, no reason in the world is sufficient for a baby to be given anything other human milk. It doesn’t matter if the baby has to be wet nursed by someone with an unknown medical history – that is still better than formula.

For those who like to shame mothers – because that’s what it really is about, enjoying the act of shaming, of making yourself feel superior, or feel better about your choices by questioning those of others – no reason in the world will make a mother above reproach. She could always have done more – after all, breastfeeding is 90% determination and only 10% milk production, as a recent meme proudly stated. Best case scenario, she might get pity – but pity carries its own heavy scent, similar to the sour stench of shame.

Giving a reason for why you didn’t breastfeed is pointless.

That doesn’t mean telling your story isn’t important, because our narratives matter; they help those floundering in their own messy journeys make sense of what’s happening and find community with those who’ve been there. But there’s a difference between telling your story and owning it, and telling it to defend yourself. One gives you power, the other takes it away. 

We are at a turning point, I hope. Jessica Martin-Weber of The Leaky Boob has taken a stand against romanticizing the reality of breastfeeding, and is helping those in the breastfeeding community feel comfortable with bottle (and formula) use. When one of the leading voices in breastfeeding advocacy speaks out against a culture of fear and rigidity, that means something. Wax-Thibodeux’s piece has brought many powerful voices out of the woodwork, allowing women who’ve swallowed their shame to regurgitate it, and make the uninitiated understand just how sour it tastes.

Now is the time to draw a line in the sand. This conversation has moved beyond breastfeeding and formula feeding and whether one party is more marginalized than the other, or how superior one product is nutritionally to the other. We’ve been there, done that, and nothing has really changed. We’re all still hurting. We’re all still feeling unsupported, unseen, and resentful, like a 3-year-old with a colicky new sibling. Now, we need to stand up, collectively, and say it doesn’t matter why I am feeding the way I am. It is not up to anyone else to deem my reason appropriate or “understandable”. I’m going to stand up for anyone who has felt shamed about how she’s feeding, instead of just people who’ve had identical experiences to me, or those who I feel tried hard enough. 

A breastfeeding advocate shouldn’t be afraid to admit she questions aspects of the WHO Code. A breast cancer survivor shouldn’t have to have awkward conversations about why she’s bottle feeding. A woman who chooses not to breastfeed for her own personal reasons should not have to lay those reasons out in front of a jury of her peers.

This Tower of (breastfeeding) Babble has reached a fever pitch. It’s time for it to come down. Pick up your axe and start chopping. And next time someone asks, simply tell them, “You don’t need to know why I don’t breastfeed. Because it shouldn’t matter.”

 

The 2014 #ISupportYou Project: ISY Week of Service, Nov 1-7th

Sup·port

transitive verb \sə-ˈpȯrt\

: to agree with or approve of (someone or something)

: to show that you approve of (someone or something) by doing something

: to give help or assistance to (someone or something)

Full Definition of SUPPORT

1: to endure bravely or quietly :  bear

2 a (1) :  to promote the interests or cause of (2) :  to uphold or defend as valid or right :  advocate <supports fair play> (3) :  to argue or vote for 

b (1) :  assist, help <bombers supported the ground troops>(2) :  to act with (a star actor) (3) :  to bid in bridge so as to show support for

c :  to provide with substantiation :  corroborate <support an alibi>

3 a :  to pay the costs of :  maintain <support a family> b :  to provide a basis for the existence or subsistence of 

4 a :  to hold up or serve as a foundation or prop for; b :  to maintain (a price) at a desired level by purchases or loans; also :  to maintain the price of by purchases or loans

5: to keep from fainting, yielding, or losing courage :  comfort

6:  to keep (something) going

 

There are many definitions for the word support. And many arguments within the parenting community about what that word should mean, could mean, does mean.

Does it mean that you agree with someone’s choices, 100%?

Does it mean holding up signs and getting media attention for “stopping the mommy wars”?

Does it mean demanding equal representation, equal respect?

Does it mean something global, local, or personal?

You’d think that because we included “support” in our organization’s name, we’d have a clear definition in mind, a way to clearly explain what the word means to us. But the truth is, we don’t. When we started #ISupportYou, it was just a hashtag; a vague idea that we wanted to make all moms feel included, and worthy of support and community. We knew we wanted to show the world that the way we feed our babies doesn’t define us; that we are not “breastfeeding moms” or “formula feeding moms” but moms, and women, and individuals, and employees, and sisters, and spouses, and girlfriends, and daughters, and friends. We wanted to help other moms reach out to each other and recognize that at our cores, we all want the same thing: to be seen. To be heard. To matter.

This year, ISY is taking this vague idea of support to the next level. We want to put actions to words, to go beyond some glossy media idea of what support looks like, and get down and dirty with what it feels like. That’s why we’re hoping you’ll join us for our inaugural #ISupportYou Week, Nov. 1-7th, 2014. 

During ISY Week, we’re encouraging everyone to take all the energy we waste on silly online arguments to the streets of our own communities, and beyond. Find a way to bring one of the many definitions of “support” to life. Better yet, decide what support means to you, and do something about it. It can be something small, or something big. We’ve put together a list of our own ideas, but we’re excited to hear your ideas, too.

Between Nov. 1-7th, do one thing to bring the ISY message from virtual to flesh-and-blood life.  It can be one of ours, or one of yours. Then tell us about it. Tweet or post about it, using the hashtags #isupportyou and/or #ISYweek. Write a blog post about it, or shoot us an email so that we can share your stories on our blogs, and inspire others to drink the kool-aid. (It’s delicious. We promise.)

Ideas for #ISupportYou Week:

1.  Be a Coupon Fairy. Leave coupons for formula, bottles, diapers, or breastfeeding supplies in the baby aisles of your local stores, attached to post-it notes with the #ISupportYou hashtag and a short, encouraging message to whatever random parent finds it.

2.  Pay it forward. Pay for a mom or dad’s coffee, etc when s/he’s behind you in line with a screaming baby, or just looks exhausted or overwhelmed.

3.  Volunteer at your local women’s shelter. Lead a breastfeeding support group, a formula feeding group, or an #ISupportYou group (details to come).

4.  Bring a care basket to a new mom. Include items that support her feeding choice, but more importantly, items just for HER…m&m’s, lip balm, sitz bath, magazines, pretty water bottle, cozy socks, notepad/pen, note of encouragement, hair ties, etc.

5.  Donate generic new mom care baskets to local domestic violence or homeless shelters, with wipes, diapers, food and other useful items.

6.  Bring breakfast pastries/bagels to your next new mom’s support group

7.  Mail 3 real letters to moms that you know, with message of encouragement

8.  Leave post-it notes with the #ISupportYou hashtag and encouraging messages everywhere. Attach them to extra packs of wipes in a public changing area, or stick them on bulletin boards at the play place down the street.

9.  Commit to setting up an #ISupportYou (ISY) group in your community in 2015. We are currently developing materials to help interested people start these groups, and hope to see some popping up in early 2015. Email isymovement@gmail.com for more information.

10.  Do a teach-in with a group of pregnant mom friends on feeding 101. Ask a friend who feeds differently than you do to co-host it.

11.  Write a blog post with “10 Ways To Support A BF/FF mom”.

12.  Donate your feeding items to a local homeless/domestic violence shelter.

13.  Share ISY with your care providers – OB, pediatrician, therapist, daycare provider, etc.- so that they know where to guide new parents for support.

14.  Find a way to support a mom who feeds in a different way than you do.  Wash bottles at her house, buy her a can of formula, buy her a care package of lanolin and fancy breast pads, etc.

15.  FEED HER!  Find a new mom (or even better, a not so new mom, who needs it more!) and make/send dinner.  Or breakfast that is easy to reheat (egg sandwiches, casserole, etc).  Fresh fruit, surprise morning coffee, all with a note of encouragement.

16.  Set up a time each day that you will text a mom friend who needs encouragement (every day at 10:30 I will text her a “love note”).

17.  Call your local breastfeeding center and ask if they have any needs (scholarship fund for classes, etc.)

18.  Lead a “safe use of formula” workshop for daycare providers

19.  Ask to have a chat with facilitators of New Parent Support Groups, and encourage them to be inclusive to all feeding methods in their sessions.

20.  Call a local teen mother’s group and volunteer to be a breastfeeding or formula feeding mentor/peer counselor.

21.  Do something kind for YOURSELF. Write a letter to your 9 months pregnant self, or your 3 months postpartum self, telling her how proud you are, tips you’ve learned, etc.

22. Donate to organizations which support struggling postpartum moms. For example, Postpartum Progress, the Postpartum Stress Center, or the Seleni Institute.

We really hope you’ll join us in cutting through the bullshit and getting new parents the help they need to feed – and parent – with love, respect, and yes, support.  Put Nov 1-7 on your calendar, and chat with us during the week on Twitter and Facebook to let us know how things are going. Share your ideas, your experiences, and your reactions. Let’s get this party started, shall we?

It’s time. For real.

– The #ISupportYou Team

 

FFF Friday: “It’s not worth having the best moments of motherhood stolen from you…”

I‘ve been thinking about labels lately. Exclusive breastfeeder. Formula Feeder. Combo-feeder. Exclusive Pumper. Attachment Parent. Natural Parent. Conventional Parent (um, for the record, I don’t think anyone calls himself or herself a “conventional parent”, but I do hear this term bandied about rather derisively in certain circles). 

Sometimes, it feels like you need a punch card to be part of a specific parenting philosophy. For example, if you’re a “natural parent”, that means you exclusively breastfeed, babywear, cloth diaper, and eschew epidurals and interventions, But what happens if you don’t get one of these items punched on your membership card? Can you still find community? Or, more specifically, can you find a community that accepts you for who you are, and doesn’t ask you to make excuses, or hide your true feelings?

The problem with treating parenting as a “style” or “type” is that raising a child is a fluid, ever-changing experience. I fear that in our human desire to find community, to find a tribe, we limit ourselves. An exclusive breastfeeding mom can feel just as much anger towards the pressure to breastfeed as an exclusive formula feeder (see Gamze’s story, below). I’ve seen formula feeding moms turn rabidly judgmental, and I’ve also seen them divide themselves in an ugly game of those who “had” to formula feed and those who chose to. 

In the following FFF Friday, you’ll hear from Gamze – a mom who happens to exclusively breastfeed her child. That certainly does not define her. In fact, she resents the system that tells women that their feeding choices have anything to do with what sort of mother they are. These are the conversations we need to have; these are the stories we need to share so that women don’t continue to be bogged down by defensiveness, resentment, and fear. We are not how we feed. We are our stories. We are so much more. 

#ScrewLabels.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Gamze’s Story

I guess my story could be ‘marketed’ as a triumph over adversity, one that “should inspire all new mothers to keep on trying and to have faith that if they try hard enough, they too can succeed.” But in reality, it hardly is. Yes, I still breastfeed my 11 month old beautiful, healthy son. For what it is worth, he was (dare I say the magic word?) exclusively breast-fed from when he was 40 days old until he was 6 months old. He still receives only breast milk in addition to his solids.

So you might ask, “why are you writing all this?”

I am writing because the first 40 days of my son’s life and the first 40 days after my having given birth were a completely different story. A traumatizing, sad story.

I was breastfed. In fact, everyone in my family – across generations – was breastfed. Naturally, I had no question about how I would feed my baby when he was born. I was convinced that I would not put “commercial” formula in my baby’s tummy ever. (God forbid!)

My son was born post-term after 30+ hours of labor that I really was not ready for. Again, all the women in my family gave birth very easily. I am my mom’s first born and she had me in just a breezy 7 hours! And with no pain killers, might I add? I was convinced my experience would be a repeat performance. Maybe not by 7 hours but surely by 10… And no epidural (or so I thought!). I did end up delivering with an epidural because I had not slept for 2 days by the time labor started progressing and I was completely wiped out. I needed those 2 hours of sleep. So much for natural birthing!

Then my son was born. He was beautiful, healthy and mine! He was a little over 4 kilos (that’s just shy of 9 pounds) so they called him the “big boy” at the hospital when he was born. They placed him on my chest right away after he was born and he seemed to be suckling very happily for 45 minutes. I thought “Yes, we’ve got this!”. We hadn’t… Not by any stretch of the imagination.

He was very alert and pretty quiet during the day. During those 4 days that we stayed in the hospital, latching was a nightmare. The nurses and midwives kept thrusting his head toward the nipple, latching him was next to impossible, despite all the books and pictures I studied, he did not look like he was rooting… It was a bloody painful mess. He screamed every night at the hospital from 10 pm to maybe 2 am after being put at the breast repeatedly and then just passed out tired on my chest. I could not wink for fear that he would fall off of my chest. For 4 nights I did not sleep! The midwives said he must have colic (he was crying so hard) because I clearly had plenty of milk (read: painful engorgement). We got home and he still was screaming at night, nothing we did could appease him. He was producing wet diapers but not soiled ones. We went to a pediatrician because we thought maybe he is constipated? Looking back, I still feel terribly guilty and stupid for not realizing that he was starved. The pediatrician said something that made my world crumble: “Your son is just very hungry!” I had not managed to feed my baby! What kind of mother was I? Really, I thought a week old could be constipated? I am doing a freaking PhD! I have a degree from an Ivy league school!

So, after all the self-blaming, the self-pity, the crying, I went to a lactation consultant. She asked me about any underlying conditions I had. I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis but was on hormone replacement therapy and was doing fine. She said that the disease made lactation levels fluctuate and that probably was the culprit. She also said, “Your priority is to feed your baby! Give him formula now!” He had lost 200 grams. That is 5% of his body weight!

I cried giving him his first bottle of formula. I cried all the more because he gulped it down and wanted more. My feelings of inadequacy kept eating at me. He was 10 days old now and was combi-fed. I was in such excruciating pain every time he tried to latch that after a while I just pumped whatever I could pump and topped up with formula. I did not want him anywhere near my breasts. I thought maybe he had a tongue-tie but everyone (all the lactation consultants, the doctors we saw) said he was fine. (Many months later, after his teeth came in, we found out that he in fact did have a lip-tie and a tight tongue frenulum. That probably was the reason why he could not latch in the first place. Later, I also found out I had no milk supply issues).

My mom, who had been there since before the birth to help us out, kept telling me to stop pumping and get some sleep. She told me that I had tried hard enough and that the colostrum I fed him the first three days was gift enough. Although I have no recollection of this, apparently I kept snapping at her for telling me to stop pumping when she very well knew my milk would completely dry out if I did.

So, I pumped and I pumped and I pumped. And I didn’t sleep. And kept counting the ounces of milk I produced and that was dwindling. An added bonus: I felt like a cow. I did. I joked about being a cow hooked on to a milking machine (aka the double breast pump). My son was getting most of his intake from formula now. I could only give him maybe 1 ounce or 2 ounces of breast milk every other feeding. I looked terrible. I felt even worse. I could not go out, I had not seen another adult (save my mother and my husband) for weeks. Did I say, I did not sleep? (By this point, I spent all the little ‘free-time’ I had obsessively reading EVERYTHING I could find on low milk supply, exclusive pumping, you name it, I’ve read it! That’s when I found the Fearless Formula Feeder website. Thanks to a wonderful suggestion from a friend.)

Why did I think having a baby would be such a great idea anyways? I could not remember any more. So, I loved my son but I hated being a mother? Did I even know what being a mother meant? Was motherhood just about breastfeeding your child and feeling miserable and defeated because you couldn’t? So one fateful day, I decided I would stop pumping. I would accept the reality and do whatever my son needed to have a happy, caring and somewhat rested mother. Even if that meant formula-feeding full-time. And I would try one last time to get him to latch. If it worked, it worked. If not, he didn’t care. He seemed perfectly happy guzzling down his bottles anyhow.

I tried one last time to put him to the breast. He was 40 days old. This time, it worked. I felt a brief period of euphoria. Eureka! I did it!

Sorry, what did I do again? Nothing, really. It was sheer luck – or coincidence or whatever you might want to call it – that he could now somehow (miraculously) latch and feed at the breast.

Looking back, I don’t see a story of perseverance or success. All I know is that I needed to let go of my judgments and preconceptions but that it is easier said then done. I think it is time to acknowledge that the way a mom chooses to feed her baby is not an indication of how good a mother she is or will be. It really isn’t. It is not worth having the best moments of your motherhood stolen from you just to follow some generic advice about what is best. I will never again be a first-time mom. My son will never be that tiny, that wrinkly. I will never be able to reclaim the time I lost with him in my blind quest to provide him with what I thought was best. Now, I am thoroughly convinced that what is best for a baby is a sane, loving, well-rested and happy mother. Yes, now that it doesn’t hurt like hell and deprive me of my sense of self-worth, I do love breastfeeding. I love the convenience. I love the closeness. I love that when all else fails, the breast can calm my little son down in a matter of seconds. But I also know what it feels like to be judged for supposedly not having tried hard enough or to have people feel sorry for you because you tried so hard and ‘failed’. And I am saddened to see so much of that judgment being passed around as if there wasn’t already enough to make new mothers self-doubt and feel inadequate. And that’s why I wanted to share my story.

***

Share your story: email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

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