FFF: Furious Formula Feeders?

“The community of women who choose to formula feed, and the moms who have so many challenges with nursing that they formula feed, tend to feel that the lactation professionals are insensitive, pushy and overstate the amazing-ness of nursing a baby. And they are ANGRY!! Check out the Fearless Formula Feeder page and you will get a massive dose of angry. They seem to take so much personally and cannot seem to see the broader cultural ramifications of the formula companies’ marketing campaigns. They also do not seem to understand that successful nursing is time sensitive. It has to be initiated early after birth or there is really no going back.”

 

After seven years of working in the infant feeding space, I’ve become rather immune to criticism. There are people who will never understand why a site like this is needed; people who think what I do “promotes” formula feeding; people who don’t think there should be any sort of choice in how babies are fed. Recently, my Facebook readers were threatened by someone claiming they would be reporting them to social services for child endangerment, due to their feeding method. It happens. People suck, and all that.

But last night, I saw the above comment on the page of someone who claimed to be all about female empowerment, empowered choice, and sisterhood. This was someone I collaborated with – or, rather, allowed to use my image and words in a way that resulted in no financial compensation, favorable publicity, or support for my own cause (the exact opposite, actually – it was a film which portrayed formula as the devil and romanticized mostly white, upper class, celebrity women and their breastmilk). Someone I welcomed on the FFF page. Someone, I assumed, who respected that our opinions were different, but whose goals were ultimately the same: ensuring that mothers were informed, autonomous, and supported in their choices.

Seeing her comment did, indeed, make me “ANGRY!!”

Then, I started thinking… maybe she’s right. Maybe we really are ANGRY!!. For a moment, I felt self-conscious and defensive, wondering if I should post something sweet and positive to counteract this negative portrayal.

But then I stopped myself, because damn straight, I’m angry.

I’m angry that despite sharing hundreds of stories of what the “breast at all costs’ mentality does to women, the people who are responsible for perpetuating this culture refuse to listen.

I’m angry that these same people spend so much time and energy hating the formula companies, when the formula companies are not the ones mishandling women in the hospital, leaving IGT and other potential breastfeeding complications undiagnosed, ignoring the mental health needs of new parents, or forcing women to go back to work after a few short weeks in order to support their families.

I’m angry that they can’t see the difference between “anti-breastfeeding” and “anti-breastfeeding-extremism’. These are not the same things. quotescover-JPG-32

I’m angry that they continue to gaslight the women who come to me for help, sometimes suicidal, over their perceived “failure” to breastfeed.

I’m angry that they are allowed to be angry at anyone and everyone who doesn’t think the way they do, but insist on absolute complacency and infinite patience from us.

I’m angry that they think we are uninformed about breastfeeding, when the most common reason parents come to my page is that they were blindsided by formula feeding; they had read books and taken classes on breastfeeding, but never even thought of using formula. These women know more breastfeeding than most. They know about jaundice protocols, Thomas Hale, SNS feeding, galactogogues, tongue ties, lip ties, skin-to-skin, the magic hour, the breast crawl, good latches and bad latches, exclusive pumping, power pumping, and more. They know how important it is to breastfeed immediately after birth. There’s a reason nearly every FFF Friday starts with a scene in the delivery room.

I’m angry that some of the “new voices” in this debate are doing more harm than good, making claims that can’t be supported, confusing the issues, and making it harder for the rest of us.

I’m angry that my community members are told that they are victims when they don’t feel like victims. I’m angry that when they do feel victimized, they are dismissed, brushed off as unfortunate casualties in the War Against Big Bad Formula.

I’m angry that the formula companies continue to make stupid marketing moves, adding fuel to a fire that should’ve been extinguished back in the early 1980s.

I’m angry that “celebrating moms” always means “celebrating breastfeeding”. Moms should not be celebrated for feeding their babies. They should be celebrated for doing a job that is often hard and thankless, for bringing home the bacon, frying it up, and cleaning all the dishes afterwards before putting the kids to sleep and working on tomorrow’s quarterly reports. I’m angry that this myopic focus, this fetishizing of what should be a perfectly normal act, marginalizes adoptive parents, primary caregiving fathers, and anyone without working mammary glands.

I’m angry that moms can’t nurse in public without it being a fucking federal case. Literally.

I’m angry that moms don’t get sufficient support in the hospital for breastfeeding – especially if they are young and/or non-white.

I’m angry that parents get no support whatsoever about formula feeding, and that parents in the UK need to preemptively bring their own supplies if they think there’s even a chance they might need or want to supplement. (Has anyone else thought about how this might be more self-sabotaging than having formula available in the hospital? Not that I think either is actually self-sabotaging, but for those constantly making that argument… let’s use basic logic for a minute.)

I’m angry that my use of formula is somehow threatening to your efforts to encourage other women to breastfeed.

 

I’m angry that women insist on battling each other in these snarky ways, like life is just one big junior high school. Grow up. Grow. The. Hell. Up. There are so many problems in the world – you really want to spend time arguing about whether we feed babies breastmilk or a perfectly viable substitute? Is live and let live really that hard a concept? Do you really have nothing better to do than tell random women on the internet how they are Doing It All Wrong? And formula-feeding moms who hang out on breastfeeding sites to cause trouble – I’m talking to you, too. You’re part of the problem. Making shitty comments about breastfeeding moms, who have just as much right to community and support as you do, is hypocritical and mean. Mean girl behavior is not “venting”.

I’m angry that comments like the ones above leave my community no choice but to stay silent. If they respond, and say what they want to say, they sound ANGRY!! If they don’t respond, they are silenced. Neither is an attractive or empowering choice.

I’m angry that I still feel the need to write posts like this, when my kids are in elementary school. I am angry that I care. I am angry because it doesn’t change anything, and I’d probably be a much happier person if I never said the word “lactivism” again.

So yes, I am angry. In fact, I am ANGRY!! And I’m sure much of it is self-imposed, because I could be focusing my own efforts on something more important, like the Syrian refugee crisis, the poverty and inequality in my own city. I could be focusing this energy on my children – sometimes I think that formula feeding made me a better mom, but Fearless Formula Feeder made me a pretty crappy one.

As for the FFF community? Sure, I suppose they are ANGRY!!, too. But no more than they should be. And if they are talking and venting and crying and supporting each other on my page, they are handling that anger appropriately. They have a safe space to work through that anger – but there are many people who want to take that away from them. “Concern Trolls” who repeatedly post inflammatory pieces (and if you’re going to argue that “information” isn’t ever inflammatory, ask yourself: would you post a piece on how easy it was for you to get pregnant on an infertility support page? Or an article about a plane crash on a Fear of Flying support group?), “experts” who try to school them, people who don’t believe they have any right t feel bad because formula feeding is so prevalent. (So is obesity. Doesn’t make the kid who gets relentlessly teased in school for their weight feel any better.)

Most of my readers work through their anger, and move on. Many go on to breastfeed future kids, armed with the knowledge they now have that there’s no such thing as failure. They understand relative risk. They know how to spot problems, and what can and can’t be done about them. They aren’t trapped in the sticky spider web of dogma. They know they have a soft place to land, should things not go as planned.

ANGRY!! isn’t a bad thing. ANGRY!! is what makes us act up, speak out, and create change. ANGRY!! is a healthy, justified emotion when you’ve been shamed, mistreated, embarrassed, ignored, and insulted. ANGRY!! is empowering, as opposed to sad, depressed, lonely, ashamed.

So yes, you’re right. We are ANGRY!! We don’t enjoy it. We don’t want it. We want to move on and be HAPPY!! CONFIDENT!! ACCEPTED!!

Maybe if you could just let us be, you could let us be.

_______

The following are some additional comments sent to me by FFF members, reacting to this piece.

“Well yes I am angry. I am angry for being bullied into breastfeeding even though it was clearly not the right path for me. I’m angry my sons were left to go hungry and get sick because nobody would believe I wasn’t producing breast milk. I’m angry my midwives believed in breastfeeding at all costs. I’m angry there were entries in my post natal notes essentially calling me lazy and not trying hard enough to breastfeed. I’m angry that “normalise breastfeeding” has caused the vilification of formula feeding. I’m angry that I have been made to feel like a second rate mother who is poisoning her children and condemning them to a life time of low intelligence and obesity. That is, of course, if they survive child hood at all. I’m angry that I am supposed to laud and bend over backwards to accommodate breastfeeders but the courtesy is never returned. I’m angry that twaddle like “only 2% of women can’t actually breastfeed” is bandied around and taken as gospel, despite there being no respectable scientific research into such a claim. So yeah, I am angry. But as I usually say, if you kick the dog long and hard enough, sooner or later it will bite back.” – Emma

“What it comes down to is that unless you agree with the lactivist mentality that breastfeeding is a child’s “birthright” and that it’s the “end-all, be-all” of infant nutrition, then you wrong, misguided and angry. In reality, we are standing up for what we believe in just as much as they are standing up for their beliefs. However we believe in a women’s right to choose, to keep her bodily autonomy while still nurturing her children. And above all we lift one another up as mothers. I’m proud to be a part of the latter side.” – Deanna

“Being angry about having your body policed and having your parenting choices judged and shamed is a completely legitimate feeling/thing. Or are we as women only allowed to ever be happy or sad and anger is never ever appropriate?” – Nikki

“I wonder what the end game is if they actively alienate women who chose to, or had to, formula feed. I wonder, do they really care if we breastfeed? If so, do they think this kind of hurtful rhetoric will be a useful tool in convincing women to try breastfeeding again with the next child? Or are they just turning women off to their agenda through causing them pain? I for one have found the most support and kindness in caring for my child in the ff community, so I’d stick with what worked to keep myself and my family healthy and safe. It just seems so disingenuous that they are trying to “help” through hurting people. I don’t think they give a fig in the long run what I or any of you do, or for the health of our children. They just want to stare into their own reflections in solipsistic fantasy.” – Jessie

“I’m not angry that I couldn’t breastfeed. Not anymore, at least. You know what DOES make me angry though? A bunch of sanctimonious women (and men too, I guess) telling me how wrong I am for feeding my children formula. You know what? Formula saved BOTH of my kids’ lives. And it saved my sanity! My kids are happy, healthy, and thriving.” – Tasha

“I’m not angry or disappointed that BFing didn’t work out for us. I really don’t care anymore. Shit happens. I’m angry about the way moms are treated and babies put at risk for something that doesn’t really matter.” – Amy

“It’s funny because I’m not angry at all. Formula helped my son’s life from the beginning and formula helped me through PPD and other issues with my two girls. Not angry, grateful.” – Shannon

” I honestly think we are entitled to stand up for ourselves. All of us have at least one, if not many more, stories of being shamed for feeding our healthy and beautiful babies. The whole reason we’re here is to receive support from each other, that we are amazing mothers and parents, regardless of how we feed. We aren’t here to just bash breastfeeding, we are here for each other when everyone else is bashing us. were an amazing group of women who need support. We may come off as angry, but if these individuals who bash were in our shoes, they would see just how wrong their opinions of us are.” – Alexis

“They don’t even get *why* I’m angry. It’s not about me, I don’t give two shits I’m angry for two reasons. 1-All of the lovely ladies and GOOD MOMS who come here with broken hearts because of how the lactivist community has treated them and 2- Because their judgement doesn’t end with their side eye and snarky comments, they are changing public policy (think BFHI and all the horror stories from WIC offices) and that affects all of us. I don’t care if you sit there and comment about my bottles til the cows come home, but when you’re changing policies based on bad info that’s dangerous.” – Maria

“As someone who had no desire to BF whatsoever I have never gotten used to the opinion that we’re not allowed to decide what we want to do with their bodies and we’re not allowed to get angry when people tell us we’re not allowed to decide– or act as if we are stupid or misled when I KNOW we are some of the most informed women when it comes to this issue.” – Nicole

 

“How can they read the stories of what the mothers and babies went through to establish breastfeeding, and still blame women and claim everyone can Bf!!. DARN RIGHT I am angry!!!!!. I bought the “everyone can breastfeed” BS. None of those brilliant nurses (who were also licenses LCs) managed to help my baby latch. My baby had hypoglycemia, jaundice and lost 10% of her birth weight within two days, under their ‘watchful eye’.” -Bahan

“The justification for why why “should not be angry” is both condescending and misdirecting. Also, I’m pretty sure a lot of us are way more educated on formula and breastfeeding, and have given far more thought about the rhetoric surrounding it and it’s implications than most people.” – Bethanny

“They’re silencing us, undermining our autonomy. ‘They make X choice because they’re angry and stupid so X isn’t valid'” – Stephanie

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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