Common Bonds: The challenge of nurturing friendships in the early days of motherhood

When I was first trying to get pregnant, I suffered a few early miscarriages. Going through that particular kind of hell actually had a silver lining: it led me to join an online “support” message board on a popular baby site, something I probably never would’ve done otherwise. But I didn’t have any close friends who’d gone through pregnancy loss, and there was something intensely comforting about turning on the computer at any time of day and finding at least one virtual “friend” at the ready, available to commiserate and connect.

This group of ours became inseparable, and over the course of a year, we bonded through fertility treatments, pregnancy scares, and subsequent, unfair, heartbreaking multiple losses.

And then, we started having babies.

And this group, which had been so strong despite our geographical, religious, political, ethnic and socioeconomic differences, did begin to splinter, but just a tiny bit. Comments tinged in tentative judgment about birthing choices, small digs about things someone would “never” do or questions met with not-so-hidden sanctimony. Things were changing, and it was hard to watch, but  overall, we were still miles above the typical mommy-chatroom behavior norm.

When I started having trouble breastfeeding, I immediately turned to this crew for help. I expected some judgment, especially as I’d started seeing so much friction in the group. But oddly, magically, there was NONE. There was only support. These friends of mine – women whose voices I’d never even heard, or whose eyes I’d only seen in photographs – reassured me, counseled me, implored me to do what was best not only for my child, but also for myself.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t find the same degree of support in real life. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Wasn’t the World Wild Web supposed to be the cesspool, teeming with anonymous, heartless trolls, whereas the “IRL” people were grounded in the humanity forced on us by feeling someone’s breath on our skin, having their eyes meet ours?

I’ve thought a lot about this over the years… why our group was immune to the usual mommy war bullshit. I don’t think it was because we were better or kinder or more highly evolved – I’ve seen the same group disintegrate over political arguments and anti-vaccination threads on Facebook, 6 years after our merry band of miscarrying misfits had formed. No, I think our immunity had more to do with us starting out so different from one another. Unlike most friendships, we didn’t have a lot of common ground. For the most part, we only had one thing in common: grief. The rest of it never mattered. We had perspective.

Perspective, in my opinion, is what destroys friendships. Or rather, the lack of perspective is what destroys friendships. Especially when your friendship faces the hurdle of parenthood. As new mothers, we are all floundering, trying to find our way through thickets of thorny branches. Go to far to the right, you get pricked. Lean too far to the left, you get pricked. Either way, you’re going to bleed. Our friends should be there, but often they aren’t in the woods with us at all, and from their vantage point, the forest looks picturesque and cheery. If there’s someone by your side, swaying in the same direction into the same thorns, you can hold each other steady. But someone who leans in a different direction might pull you too far, topple you over. It’s easier to let go of her hand and find your way through the woods alone.

When I was struggling with breastfeeding, my friends who didn’t have kids yet couldn’t understand why I was so obsessed with what did (or didn’t) go into my baby’s mouth. Others, child-free friends who thought they “knew” how important breastfeeding was, understood why I was thinking about these things, but acted confused when I grew sensitive at their intellectual discussions about human milk. (For them, it wasn’t visceral, it wasn’t personal, it was just what they’d read in Time magazine. For me, it was my nipples, my body, my baby.) My breastfeeding friends couldn’t understand what I was going through, assuming my struggles paralleled theirs, and if they could push through, why couldn’t I?

They couldn’t understand.

But here’s the secret: they didn’t have to.

Friendship isn’t about commiseration. It’s about empathy. You don’t have to have walked through the same thorny thicket, you just have to show up with band-aids and beer.

There are many friendship theories about how like-attracts-like, and I worry that this is never more true than during the mothering period of a woman’s life. Not only do we find it hard to connect with friends who don’t have kids, but we find it hard to connect with women who have kids but parent them differently. That’s normal, I suppose; there’s a human tendency to want to validate ourselves through other people’s choices, and an innate desire to see ourselves reflected in our friends’ eyes. When we seek out new mom-friends, of course we will gravitate towards women who can relate to our everyday experience, and whose discipline, feeding, and parenting styles are close to our own.

It’s so easy to forget, in those poop-stained, exhausting, dizzy days of baby and toddlerhood, that we are more than mothers. We are sisters, aunts, daughters, employees, poets, musicians, writers, readers, dancers, athletes. We are multifaceted. Yet the part of ourselves that takes utmost priority when it comes to nurturing and developing friendships is the part that gave birth. Why can’t we connect with a woman who feeds and diapers her child differently, when three years ago we would’ve bonded quickly and powerfully over a mutual love of Ani DiFranco? Maybe it’s hard to feel close with a former friend who is formula feeding, when you’re struggling so hard to breastfeed because you feel it’s the most important thing you can do for your child – but why can’t you step back and celebrate what you do have in common?

This potent mix of hormones, hopes, fear and ambivalence – this thing we call motherhood – can create amazing friendships. It can also destroy amazing friendships.

I’m pondering all of this, because I am honored to have an essay in a new collection of stories about female friendships, which is available for purchase now. It’s called “My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Loving and Losing Friends”, and it’s part of the phenomenal HerStories Project, spearheaded by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger. Not all the stories in it are about motherhood, but many are, and nearly all focus on times of transition. Each and every story is heartbreaking in its own way, but for me, the ones about motherhood provoked a powerful sense of frustration and sadness. Because it doesn’t have to be this way. These things that divide us don’t need to do so, but they do. They almost always do. Fear, judgment, resentment, pain – emotions that should be mitigated by friendship, but are instead exacerbated by it.



So tell me, FFFs – did you lose friends during your transition to motherhood? Did you patch them up later? Do you have “another ex”?


Guest Post from Jessica of The Leaky Boob: Tough Love

I’m cross-posting this excellent piece from Jessica Martin-Weber, creator of The Leaky Boob, because… well, I think that will be obvious once you read it. THIS is what #ISupportYou is about. THIS is what the FFF community stands for. Working together to ensure that all mothers are supported. Not pushing breastfeeding on those who don’t want to; not cutting down breastfeeding to make ourselves “feel better’ about formula feeding; not advocating for one method over another…. It’s about helping mothers feel confident and educated and celebrated for doing the best they can for their families and themselves. Jessica is a wonderful example of what true breastfeeding support can and should be. and the fact that she is taking a stand against someone who is harming both her community and ours (and of course, they often intersect, since so many of us are not firmly entrenched in specific “camps” like some would have us believe) is seriously awesome. 

So enjoy.  And share. 

– The FFF

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Sometimes tough love is necessary, sometimes people getting in your face, calling you names, and yelling at you totally works as motivation. Usually motivation to punch them in the throat but hey it’s motivation. Entire “reality” TV shows have been built on this premise: you can scream troubled teens onto the right path, personal trainers can belittle overweight individuals into exercise and healthy eating, and business moguels can rant apprentices into savvy executives. In spite of all the studies that show that shaming doesn’t actually provide any kind of lasting intrinsic motivation, countless parents, self-help gurus, educators, and others in positions of influence and authority resort to shaming in a desperate attempt to inspire positive change. Sometimes tough love really isn’t tough love, it’s a power trip down false-sense-of-superiority lane.

Even those purporting to support families. Birth, breastfeeding, and, ironically, gentle parenting advocates, far too often resort to shaming other parents. Because that makes sense, something negative is going to have a lasting, positive impact. Undermining parents’ confidence surely is going to result in change for the better, right?


It may get your website page views, it may increase your “talking about” numbers on Facebook, it may even get people pinning your content on Pinterest. But helping people? Not likely. Inspiring them to do something different? Maybe but that may just be to ignore any information or support because it all starts to feel like an attack. I’m not talking about guilt here (though wishing guilt on people is just nasty) but rather intentionally belittling, mocking, and dismissing others in order to induce shame and build a false sense of superiority. Guilt is one’s own feeling and sense of grief over perceived wrongdoing (sometimes legit, other times not) so believing that what they did was wrong, shame is one’s own feeling and sense of grief over their personal ability of perceived wrongdoing (sometimes legit, other times not) so believing that who they are is wrong. Shaming is intentionally trying to make someone not only feel guilt but to internalize it as believing that somehow they are bad/lazy/stupid/unloving/pathetic/unloveable/worthless as a result. Ultimately, shaming comes from a desire to see someone feel bad about themselves.

It’s disgusting. And it doesn’t work to motivate people to change their actions. It isn’t education, it isn’t support, it is really nothing more than abuse.

I’ve shared before that I’m not really passionate about breastfeeding. I mean, I am, but I’m not actually passionate about breastfeeding. What I am passionate about is people and personally, I don’t see how you can actually be passionate about breastfeeding but not be passionate about people. To do so would mean that you care less about people than you do about being heard as right. Do you know what happens with that kind of passion? It hurts people and detracts from the message you are trying to promote. That kind of passion becomes easy to dismiss at best, damaging at worst.

The Leaky Boob isn’t about that kind of passion. The information, images, stories, and interactions we share are meant to inspire and encourage people. While we can’t control nor are we responsible for the emotions of others, we don’t intentionally try to manipulate others’ feelings. Underlying everything at TLB is respect and the belief that with genuine support and information, women are perfectly capable as mothers to make the best decisions for their families based on the information and resources available to them in their individual circumstances. We don’t assume to know what that looks like for anyone.

So it was with horror that we discovered an image of one of our own volunteer admins originally shared on The Leaky Boob Facebook page and then on had been turned into a vehicle intended to shame, belittle, and attack certain mothers. An image that was shared to inspire and encourage, to give someone the platform to share their own personal story and breastfeeding journey, had been used as a vile expression of superiority intended to hurt others. Words were applied to this image communicating the very opposite of what TLB and Serena, the woman pictured, stand for as a community. Without permission, Serena’s image was used to spread a message she in no way condones aligning her with those that would bully others.

This message is not approved TAP serena

I’m not going to lie, I am incensed. For my friend, for my community, and for those hurt by this image, I am outraged. Disgusted.

The person that perverted this image stole Serena’s photo and manipulated it in order to send a shaming message to formula feeders. In a statement to me Serena expressed that she felt violated and used. Not only that, but as a woman that has both breastfed and formula fed, Serena’s own image was used to attack a group of women to which she belongs as well.

When I opened FB this morning to a message from a concerned friend with a link to this meme I was shocked. Shocked that MY photo, a photo of a tender moment, could be used in such a hateful, disparaging way. To see that it was posted 28 weeks ago only makes it worse. All this time MY photo has been circulating with such a hurtful message, a message that I would NEVER propagate. Belittling or negating someone else’s breastfeeding issues or choices is not beneficial for anyone. As mothers we all do what we believe is best for our children. Even though our opinions may differ due to choice or circumstance. I am not a breastfeeding martyr, I have used formula in conjunction with breastfeeding when needed. What was important was that I was able to mother my son in the way I wanted to, due to the SUPPORT I received. Support is something that was lacking in the making of this meme. I do not condone the use of my photo in this way. ~Serena Tremblay


As far as we can tell, the image was originally posted to The Alpha Parent’s Pinterest board “Dear Formula Feeder,” don’t go check it out, it is a virtual collection of putrid hate filled shaming refuse. Nobody needs to see that. There has been no response to our two email attempts requesting the image be removed and destroyed (and never shared again) and so Serena has followed Pinterest guidelines to have the graphic removed. We have tried to utilize respectful means and the proper channels to have this image removed and do believe that Pinterest will not allow the copyright violation to remain. Still, simply having that image erased from Pinterest won’t be enough. It has been seen and discussed in some circles, it’s message cutting and hurting and not helping anyone. The Leaky Boob stands behind Serena that this graphic is not a message we condone. The Leaky Boob, including Serena and all the volunteer admins hold to a very different set of values:

TLB creed

It is rare that I single anybody out for how they run their own website and social media presence. I respect that there are different styles and a variety of people are attracted to those style distinctives. I don’t have to get it or agree. But this has gone too far. Stealing an image and putting words to it that are directly opposed to the intent of the owner of the photo. Standing against the oppression of others is part of my passion for people, so I have raised my voice to express concern and even outrage when I have seen supposed breastfeeding advocates resort to shaming in general and specifically with this same offender. It is not the first time I have vocally opposed messages coming from The Alpha Parent and I agree with Amy West’s assessment of TAP’s “brand” of support. This time though a line has been crossed and while I have long not tolerated any abusive messages in the name of “supporting breastfeeding” within The Leaky Boob community, now I am taking stand against any and all expressions of shaming in the name of breastfeeding advocacy outside of my own little space.

Why am I sharing this with you? What can you do about it? If you’re reading this and have made it this far you probably care at least a little about how babies are fed, the information moms receive, have an interest in parenting support, or at the very least watch online interactions with a passing interest. To those ends then, consider how you are promoting shaming messages targeting others. Here are some simple steps you can take to not contribute to the type of interactions that do nothing to make our world a better place.

  1. Don’t share or spread memes that mock, belittle, or promote the shaming of anyone. This isn’t just a breastfeeding/formula feeding issue. This is a human issue.
  2. Before you use an image, be sure you have permission and don’t create memes and graphics that mock, belittle, or promote the shaming of anyone.
  3. Question every image you see and the message attached with it, particularly online. Everything may not be what it seems.
  4. If you “like” or follow any personality that regularly engages in such messaging, unlike and unfollow them. Take away their audience and don’t align yourself with the hate they are communicating.
  5. NEVER share materials, even if they seem supportive, from a source that you can not verify as free of mocking, belittling, or the promotion of shaming. Many of the breastfeeding support and education sources I follow share materials from The Alpha Parent because some of her content, particularly her older stuff, is pretty decent. Every time I see one of these resources share content from her I cringe, it’s like leading lambs to the slaughter. I loved her “anatomy of the toddler brain” post from a while back but there is no way I’ll share that with my audience, it would be irresponsible of me to do so. Share responsibly.
  6. Ignore them. It is tempting to take a stand and engage in heated arguments with those that thrive on putting down others, particularly online, but truth be told, ignoring them is far more effective in shutting them up. Don’t engage.
  7. Consistently share and interact with messages that promote true support and eventually the attraction of the fight will fade. Offer supportive support and if you find you are tempted to go on the attack, ask yourself why and what insecurities could be motivating you to do so.

I won’t be linking to The Alpha Parent here but I do encourage you to look through your social media channels and remove The Alpha Parent from your playlist if she is there. My intent is not to shame The Alpha Parent or cause her any harm and I hope that she finds her own happiness that doesn’t depend on a false sense of superiority. I hope we all can.



Mean People Suck

Back in the 90’s, sick before the age of memes, bumper stickers were the best of sending the world (or at least the person stuck behind you in traffic) a message about your political leanings, philosophy, or the status of your child’s “Good Citizenship” in school. People got seriously creative with these little strips of adhesive, but there was one that seemed to be strike a chord with the folks I typically associated with. The Birkenstocks-wearing, Ani-DiFranco-listening, liberal-arts-major types. The message that seemed to be stuck to the back of everyone’s used Volvo was this:

Mean People Suck


Catchy, isn’t it?


But what I’ve realized in my late thirties is that mean people do more than just “suck”. The screw things up for the rest of us, in serious, systemic ways. They are the cops who brutalize minor offenders based on the color of their skin; the politicians who refuse to see the human side of their voting record, the instigators of road rage. And in the parenting world, they are the women who perpetuate the mommy wars (such a stupid and patronizing term, for a stupid and patronizing problem).


The thing is, mommy “wars” may be stupid, but their effect is far-reaching and profound. They make us believe we need to take sides, choose a team, thus dividing us and making it ridiculously easy to conquer us. And by conquering us, I mean keeping us from fighting collectively for better family leave, better maternal health care, better resources and options for our children and ourselves. We’re so busy trying to prove we’re an Alpha Female, conveniently forgetting that alpha males are generally assholes.


Speaking of Alpha Females, there’s a woman who has built up an impressive following on the Internet who I’ve tried to avoid giving airtime for the past year or so, after a few run-ins that made it clear her only motivation in life is to fight. I’ve tried thinking about her in a new-agey way, considering what made her the way she is, and trying to feel sympathy for her anger and vitriol rather than letting her make me act in turn. But when Jessica from the Leaky Boob – a woman I admire greatly and am proud to consider a friend – reached out to me about this Alpha person’s latest assault, I agreed to speak up.


I agreed to speak up because my friendship with Jessica is based on everything that this other person is trying her damndest to destroy. Jessica runs one of the most respected and beloved communities for breastfeeding women. I run a modest but pretty vocal community of people who take issue with the current state of breastfeeding promotion (as well as people who are totally cool with breastfeeding promotion, but ended up using formula for whatever reason and are willing to put up with the constant drama and debate because they have few other communities where they feel safe asking questions about formula feeding). We’re part of an informal community of breastfeeding advocates (and me, although I do consider myself a breastfeeding advocate, albeit a strange hybrid of one) where we discuss ways to better serve all mothers and provide REAL support and education. It’s actually really awesome to see how women can work together to find solutions even when they come from opposite ends of the parenting spectrum.


The Alpha individual operates on the premise that working relationships (and friendships) like this cannot – or should not – exist. Her page and blog are consistently dedicated to making fun of those who haven’t lived up to her own personal standards. Her work wouldn’t be worth mentioning at all, except for the fact that she has gotten the seal of approval from several notable breastfeeding researchers and advocates, including James Akre, who writes regular (and strikingly misogynist) guest posts for her blog. The woman knows how to get page views and Facebook likes. You have to admire her for that.


But in the immortal words of Stan Lee (and as I keep telling my Marvel comic-obsessed son), with great power comes great responsibility. And when someone with a fair share of public attention does something incredibly harmful, not only to a movement (those invested in creating a more supportive environment among mothers) but more importantly to an individual, that is an abuse of power, and seriously irresponsible.


Here are the facts: The blogger in question stole a photo of a woman in an emotional moment and used it to promote her recurring message that formula feeding parents are lazy and un-invested in their children. The photo was of a woman hooked up to wires, looking at least semi-unconscious, with a baby being held up to her breast. The blogger superimposed the word “obsessed” on the photo, meant in a “positive” way, as in, yes; this woman was obsessed with breastfeeding, which was a good thing because it meant she was properly dedicated. Unlike the rest of you nitwits.


The thing is, that was the antithesis of what this photo meant to the mom featured in it. This was, for her, a memory of something she went through with her child. I don’t know if that memory was positive or negative or something in between, as most postpartum memories are when something goes awry. It’s not my business to know. It’s hers. She didn’t intend for her image to be used this way. We don’t know the backstory behind the image, which I’m sure is human and flawed and beautiful and complicated.


But bloggers like the Alpha person are not complicated. They are simple. They are mean. And mean people suck.


They suck the life out of images like this; make them fodder for a contrived mommy war. They suck the life out of breastfeeding advocacy efforts, because they perpetuate the myth of the “breastapo” by becoming a caricature of that concept.  They suck the joy out of parenting, by making it a competition. They suck the intelligence and nuance out of what could be a productive debate between people who genuinely care about maternal and child health. And they suck the energy out of bloggers like Jessica and myself, who resent that we feel forced into a corner and made to confront this type of bottom-feeding behavior, when we could be focusing our collective efforts on something more productive.


Alpha types will always exist, these parasites that feed on fear, loneliness and feelings of inferiority. But parasites can be stopped if their food source is cut off. That’s why we are asking both of our communities to stop engaging. Don’t be a food source. Don’t visit her site. Don’t comment on the Facebook page, even if it’s to fight back against the hate. Just don’t engage.


If you see people you respect at risk of an infestation, let them know the true nature of the beast. Speak up when respected advocates are partnering with her or linking to her work. Let those around you know that this type of behavior does not advocate breastfeeding; it advocates bullying, shaming and hate.


And if you see one of her memes, post one of your own. One from a time before the internet allowed the best and worst of humanity to be distributed worldwide: Mean People Suck. Because they do.



The requisite post-BlogHer post, wherein I debate whether or not I qualify as a “blogger”

I just flew back from the BlogHer 2012 conference in New York, pharmacy and boy, cialis are my arms tired. Nah, I’m kidding. My arms are fine. It’s my back and abdominals that are aching with exhaustion, overworked from a particularly nasty bout of food poisoning.
Yep, in true FFF fashion, I managed to get struck down by a few bites of cheese. There I was, scared of an angry mob of haters storming my hotel room, when really what I should have been suspicious of was the ricotta crepes at Bar Americain. Somewhere, there is a lactating bovine (or sheep. Isn’t ricotta sometimes made from sheep’s milk?) with a vendetta against me.  Serves me right for breaking my two-month vegan streak.
The silver lining of my having my stomach contents expelled for nearly 24 hours straight was that, when the time came to read my piece about why lactivism and feminism have a dysfunctional relationship at the annual BlogHer Voices of the Year keynote, I wasn’t even worried about the crowd. On Thursday afternoon, when I’d met with the other 14 Voices of the Year readers for a walk-through, I’d been nervous enough to ask if anyone had ever actually been booed at a VOTY keynote. By the time I took my place backstage, the question in my mind was “has anyone ever projectile vomited over the audienceat a VOTY keynote?” (For the record, I’m pretty sure the answer is “no” to both those quandaries.)
Listening to the other VOTY readers, I came to a rather disturbing revelation, one that had been percolating in the French press of my brain since I’d entered the cliquey atmosphere of the conference: I wasn’t sure I was really a blogger. This was troubling, as I was about to read in a ceremony intended to honor blogging voices; a ceremony that the community takes seriously, and for good reason. I didn’t feel I belonged in this group of infinitely lovable, immensely popular individuals. Bloggers write unbelievably beautiful pieces about dying friends and food-pushing grandparents. Bloggers compose eloquent essays about how your identity is defined (or not defined) through attire. Bloggers make you pee yourself laughing over recollections of writing trite love poems on the iPhone or having unexpected liaisons with Aunt Flo on Aaron Spelling’s overpriced white chairs. Bloggers write in ways that make you want to be their best friend, ways that inspire you, and ways that make you worship them.
What bloggers don’t do is announce to a room full of some of the most powerful parenting voices in the Western hemisphere that they write something called the Fearless Formula Feeder. The silence after my introduction was deafening. Or would have been, were it not for the ringing in my ears. Thank god for e-coli.
Anyway, there must’ve been a few FFFs in the audience (thank you, Ivy, Shannon, and Kim, and anyone else who was there who I don’t know about) because a few folks were sweet enough to cheer for me when I made potentially offensive statements. Despite one strong wave of nausea that I managed to, um, swallow (sorry if that sounds gross, but trust me, it was far grosser actually doing it), I got through the speech. And then I ran, quick as my sensible Naturalizer shoes could carry me, back up to my hotel room to pass out.
The next day, after choking down a few saltines, some Gatorade, and a bite of a waffle, I sat in on some conference sessions. The nagging feeling from the night before returned. I couldn’t relate to conversations about leveraging Pinterest and Instagram to popularize my blog. I attended a fascinating talk about the state of blogging in 2012, but felt more like an interested outsider than a participant. I don’t typically write about products, so I felt like an impostor wasting the time of the vendors in the Expo hall (although I did manage to get some fun samples from a sex toy company. See, now that is the kind of company that should be advertising on FFF. There’s no WHO Code against sex toys.) Networking sort of fell flat, as anytime someone asked me, “What do you blog about?” I would mutter “Cough…Infant feeding and support for formula feeders…cough” and typically be met by a) a blank stare, because the person was a 20-something fashion blogger who had no idea what that meant or b) a suspicious glare, because the person was a parenting blogger and knew exactly what that meant.
Before I knew it, the conference was over (time flies when you’re stuck in the hotel bathroom for half of the scheduled events). I met up for a few minutes with a blogger I adore, and while we were chatting, a colleague of hers came over. “You know, when they announced your post last night, I braced myself,” she said, rather suddenly. “I’m very pro-breastfeeding.” This was when I braced myself, for the inevitable conversation where I would try in vain to convince her that I was pro-breastfeeding as well, and that my point was merely we should have equal support for all moms, etc, etc, I’m boring myself, etc., but then she continued: “I was surprised, though, because I ended up agreeing with every single thing you said.”
Now, I’d met a few folks over the weekend who’d offered some amazingly sweet comments about my VOTY reading that made me feel like a million bucks, and were far less backhanded than this. Yet, this was the comment which meant the most. This woman had been willing to listen with open ears, and allowed herself to have a subliminal dialogue with me. She was willing to consider another side of the issue; to allow herself to be changed in some small way.
And that is when I realized that I was, indeed, a blogger. Because unlike static forms of writing, bloggers care about the conversation. It’s about a give and take, a trust between blogger and reader which means we can allow each other in on a regular basis; we can agree on some days, and disagree on others. Bloggers are deeply affected by their readers, by their comments and criticism. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
There are times I’ve worried that other popular mediums have made this blog irrelevant; that now that the book is coming out, I’ve said all there is to be said. But this weekend, despite feeling like a bit of an outsider at BlogHer, I finally feel confident in defining myself by this particular platform. I may not do product reviews, or make people laugh or cry, but my blog allows me to work out my thoughts in long form; it allows me to learn from every one of you, the open-minded and the intolerant, the unbearably mean and the unbelievably kind. My twitter feed is shallow and undeveloped; my Facebook page is somewhat out of my control, and belongs primarily to the community; but this space – this blog – remains mine, in the sense that I get to drive the conversation, and learn from you all on a deeper, more reflective level.  And that is something worth celebrating. Once I fully recover from food poisoning.

The Babble Breastfeeding Blogger Brouhaha

Long story short: a woman who runs a milk-sharing network turned down one of those Babble “Mominations”, because Babble allows formula advertising, which she is against as a matter of principle. A bunch of other bloggers sang the praises of this “noble” action; Catherine Connors from Her Bad Mother wrote a heated response, stating some of the same arguments we’ve covered time and time again here on FFF: formula should not be subject to the same rules as tobacco when it comes to advertising restrictions; that formula feeding moms deserve to get information upon which to base a consumer decision; and that the formula-as-poison meme is “pernicious nonsense that is harmful to mothers, inasmuch as it undermines mothers’ powers of self-determination and calls into question their ability to make the best choices for themselves…It is harmful, because it shames mothers.”

Well, yeah. No argument from me on that one, Catherine.

Catherine received pages upon pages of comments, but as usual, the conversation therein was not about what the conversation should have been about. It should have been about principles, not formula.

The way I see it, the milk-sharing lady had every right to turn down the “Momination”. If she feels strongly about WHO Code and has the same beef with formula advertising that most lactivists do, it would be extremely hypocritical for her to accept money from an organization which makes it money from formula advertising. Kind of like me taking money from Unicef (whom I believe act irresponsibly in how they promote breastfeeding over women’s bodily rights, and perpetuate misleading information in the developed world based on evidence from under-developed nations).

But, rather than discussing how/why our need to stand by principles might clash with the financial benefits reaped from letting the reigns loose on these moral standards (and the resulting benefits to the groups we’re trying to help), this inter-blogactic debate went back to the old, tired argument of why no website should allow formula ads; then, it further devolved into the classic formula feeder versus breastfeeding snooze-fest.

Let’s all take a deep, slow breath. If you don’t like that Babble accepts ads from formula companies, don’t work for them. Don’t take money from them. In fact, I’d write a letter asking to be removed from any further “rankings” of Best Blog, Best Tweeter, or whatever… because many of the same folks getting angry about this debacle are the ones who top these lists every year, and I assume gain readership because of it. Make a statement that way; I think it would be pretty bad-ass, and maybe it would allow some of us less-popular bloggers to move higher up the list. Kidding. Kind of.

On the flip side, I have to wonder why Babble is always giving so much attention to those who despise what they stand for. There have been some really forward-thinking articles posted on that same site about the pressure to breastfeed, and insufficient milk, and how formula feeding is a valid choice – topics that most parenting websites are too chicken to tackle. Imagine how cool it would be if Babble could just embrace their core audience, and stop pandering to specific parenting philosophies who are already shunning them for giving voice to alternative opinions.

It could be because I just found out my dog has cancer and I’m in the middle of the Kubler-Ross anger stage, but the whole fight has made me ornery. I get why people are mad about ads for the Similac Breastfeeding Help line, which did originally pop up on Babble; I understand the arguments against formula advertising, even if I don’t always agree with them. But the fact that someone refused a nomination – it’s not like she even WON the damn contest, or necessarily would have (and frankly if they picked someone who collected breastmilk over someone who’s fighting pediatric neuroblastoma, I’d probably lose faith in humanity) – should not become fodder for an out-and-out catfight. The woman in question stuck by her beliefs, and that is rad; I don’t love that she had to make a federal case out of it, because that sort of seems like biting the hand that has tried quite nicely to feed you a very expensive biscuit, but hey. Not my business.

I see both sides, here. If you believe in WHO Code, Babble is in violation of it. (I don’t, so I’d work for Babble in a heartbeat. Just sayin’, Babble. I’m available, and I wouldn’t turn down 5k, either. Do they give Mominations for someone trying to afford chemotherapy for their Japanese Chin?) But the gracious thing to do is simply state that you don’t feel comfortable accepting money from a site which doesn’t adhere to a Code that you choose to follow. Calling it “blood money” or using the snub as a platform for your own feelings about formula is just poor form, in my opinion.

I can’t help think we do a disservice to the already lame term “mommy blogger” when we act so stereotypically hysterical over things that don’t really deserve that much angst.

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