Tamara Ecclestone, breastfeeding, and how it feels to see representations of love that you’re unable to give

Last week I was interested to see a picture of celebrity Tamara Ecclestone pop up on my newsfeed.

 

Source: BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/38932320

Source: BBC.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/38932320

Tamara was shocked. Shocked and saddened that her valiant attempt to normalise breastfeeding through a stunning photoshoot had not been received with the blanket adulation that she had expected. More than that though, for Tamara there is nothing but love in the images and it’s such a shame that it brings out anger in some of you it’s sad for you that that’s how you choose to live.  Personally, I think that love may well have been the order of the day, but there were also probably more scatter cushions than there were in the John Lewis Christmas sale this year.

I don’t know why she would expect blanket adulation because my experience of being a woman and having access to the internet has shown me that I could post an image of a packet of crisps with a vagina and somebody would try to concern troll over what birth control it was using.  Post a picture of breastfeeding and you are guaranteed to uncover that very special type of person who is mortally offended by a nipple.  This is annoying and these people deserve to be treated as the newts that they are and I delight in doing so. However, the four of five newts come with legions of likes, shares and messages of support, as I’m sure Tamara’s PR team know well.

The thing is, we’ve seen these images before, Gisele did it, [here]. Body confidence advocate Tess Holliday used the women’s marches two weeks ago to do it [here] and this week, it’s Tamara’s turn [here].  All of these images have striking similarities.  We see beautiful, wealthy, white and glamorous women gazing off into the distance while effortlessly nurturing wide-eyed babies (scatter cushions optional).  These women are professionals at re-packaging our bodies as an ideal and selling them back to us, they have a team of PR execs and agents to help them in their quest for self-promotion and this is exactly what’s happening here. Usually we are allowed to be angry about the lack of realism and unattainability of things like the thigh gap, but here the product is breastmilk and it’s different rules.

In the UK, 81% or women initiate breastfeeding whilst they are in hospital.  Given that figure, it’s hard to keep a straight face when someone tells you that seeing someone breastfeed is some sort of revelation, but they do.  By the time the baby is six weeks old that figure falls to 55% and by six months, it’s at 1%.  Of those women who stop breastfeeding, 80% of them desperately wanted to but could not. These women have internalised the mantra breast is best and they’ve given it everything they’ve got but come away feeling like abject failures when their breastfeeding dreams didn’t come true.

For them, when they see an image like that with the words powerful demonstration of love and nurturing it feels like a kick in the teeth. As I imagine it does for those among the 20% who don’t attempt to breastfeed because they’re transgender or survivors of sexual violence, on certain medications or adoptive parents, or because it simply isn’t the best choice for their family.  For those parents all they can hear is:

A powerful demonstration of love and nurturing THAT YOU CAN’T GIVE.

That you can’t give, written as if by sparkler; bright, hot, fleeting and gas lit. Or worse, that you are too selfish to give. Of course there is anger.

The late John Berger wrote a lot about advertising and how it works.  To skim it, a good advertising campaign creates a tableau that we all recognise subconsciously to some extent, like the Madonna and Child. You foreground a product of lifestyle that is difficult but perhaps not impossible to imagine yourself attaining, this creates envy.  Then you distribute it far and wide. If it’s something that everybody can have it simply won’t sell as either an image or product.  I mean I love my Henry the Hoover, it never lets me down. I’m never going to make it look like Tamara makes breastmilk look because it is so very mundane and attainable.

If you haven’t yet read Berger’s book Ways of Seeing then you should, because he also makes the point that:

“[P]ublicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats […] takes the place of significant political choice. Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society. And it also masks what is happening in the rest of the world.” [Berger: Ways of Seeing, p. 149]

 

Tamara and her photographer’s image, and those that came before are the epitome of the genre. Glamorous and unattainable, always just slightly beyond reach.  Why? Because for all of the hashtags and so called ‘normalising’, they do nothing to address the structural inequalities that mean that none of us really gets to choose to live the way we would really like. They are publicity as a mask.

The NHS is struggling and with maternity services, according to the National Health Executive report of January 2017, disturbingly high numbers of women are experiencing so-called ‘red-flag’ events.  What are ‘red-flag events’? They’re events that happen because we simply do not have enough care for women, even to the point that of women not receiving one-to-one care during established labour. If we can’t even ensure that women have that level of care when they’re giving birth can we hope for better during the post natal period and with breastfeeding support? No prizes here for guessing that no, we can’t:

During the post natal period, women were most likely to express disappointment with their experience in the postnatal wards and breastfeeding support. (Source:  National Health Executive report of January 2017)

On occasions where we have actually spoken to women who found themselves unable to breastfeed over dismissing them as bitter and hateful trolls, we find that something like 80% cite pain as a key reason that they were unable to continue. If a mother simply cannot get the help that she needs from a dedicated professional then she cannot continue.

Since 2010 the UK has faced austerity and whether or not you agree with the necessity, in March 2016 the Women’s Budget Group found that women are hit harder than men and households headed by women such as lone parents […] are hit harder. What does this mean for mothers? It means cash in hand, manual labour jobs where you can’t have your children with you. It means no maternity leave because you’re restricted to short-term, temporary contracts. It means not being able to afford the bus fare to get to the doctors when you have mastitis or to pay for the prescription for medicines you might need to treat it. It means choosing between heating and eating. It means that having the time, energy or will to go through the pain of establishing breastfeeding may well not be at the very top of your agenda.

If you do have a job that you are able to go back to, there is unsurprisingly yet more bad news. The House of Commons committee on Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination, tells us that not only is there more discrimination reported now than a decade ago, but also there is no legal duty to provide a place to breastfeed or store milk. So even women who are able to afford the highest levels of childcare may not be able to continue to breastfeed their babies until two years of age.

These images are beautiful and modern reinterpretations of the Madonna and child tableau, chic and classic, but they do nothing to address any of the challenges faced by women today. baby-jesusEven if women in their droves started saying that had they just seen one more photo they could have breastfed on, I don’t know if this one would really help. We already know that wealthy, well-educated and thirty something are more likely to breastfeed, it’s already normal. Most of us could only dream of owning that many scatter cushions in a lifetime and one of her shoes could probably cover at least a month’s rent. As a twenty-two year old, pregnant dropout who just couldn’t get her breasts to co-operate, the only thing that image would have done for me is amplify my failure on every single count.  With the benefit of hindsight, and good research, I now know that I’m not alone.

 

Breastfeeding a new baby is already normal, breastfeeding a two year old has yet to become the norm. When every parent has the luxury of choice over how and for how long they feed their babies, it most likely will. Papering over the cracks with a few Instagram snaps and calling your critics angry and bitter isn’t going to cut it.  We need to meet every obstacle head on. We need to treat our fellow parents with empathy.  Above all, we need to support each other.

#ISupportYou.

Stephanie Maia is a UK-based writer for FearlessFormulaFeeder.com and the #ISupportYou movement.

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.

 

FFF Friday: “Losing my sanity was not something I could afford…”

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 are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.




Wow. After my plea for entries last week, I got a slew of incredible stories delivered to my inbox. (In related news: You guys ROCK.) One of these amazing submissions was Chelsea Allen’s. I always appreciate hearing stories about the psychological impediments to breastfeeding, because these are as real and valid as the physical ones – and seldom understood. Body-image issues, anxiety disorders, PPD… all of these things can be that proverbial straw that breaks the breastfeeding camel’s back (a breastfeeding camel. Now THAT would be a cool sight…). The more these stories are shared, the less alone the next mother who is suffering through something similar will feel. I’m humbled by Chelsea’s willingness to share her very raw feelings with me, and with all of us.

Happy Friday, fearless ones.

– The FFF

***

I have two little boys. With my oldest, I never tried to breastfeed him because I had huge fears of nursing him in public because of my weight and breast size. I had some major self esteem issues going on with my body and just didn’t want to torture myself. When I got pregnant with my second born, I decided I would try to get over those fears and breastfeed him because well…breast is best right? I educated myself very thoroughly. Went to classes about breastfeeding, read and read about it, how to latch the baby properly etc etc. When it finally came time to nurse my baby, I demanded he be brought to me immediately so I could have the skin to skin contact that was so important and try to latch him. He flat out refused! So I tried again a little bit later and finally I got him on with the help of the nurses. He nursed for a good 20 minutes, which the nurses said was wonderful. However, I was a nervous wreck! I suffer from extreme anxiety anyways but when he was nursing I was having a hard time breathing, I became covered in sweat, my heart started racing and I just…I dunno I was shaking very badly. I pushed it aside though and tried to continue nursing him. While I was in the hospital, I had the nurses in there every time it was feeding time to help support and encourage me because I literally had these anxiety attacks every time it was horrible!

When we got home the anxiety attacks only got stronger. I was by myself without the nurses and had an older child the required attention at well. My anxiety was through the roof, even when I wasn’t nursing him. What didn’t help was that he was literally wanting to nurse every half hour, for a good 25 minutes each time. Getting comfortable was also impossible, which stressed me out even more and because I was stressed, my son was too. He cried and screamed and would get so upset he wouldn’t latch for the longest time. I went through five days of this and it was turning me into a monster, towards my significant other and other little one. I began to resent my baby, didn’t feel like I was bonding with him at all. My significant other finally was like, Chelsea, you need to just give him the bottle. Put him on formula, he said. I felt like the biggest failure. Yet, the moment when I gave him that bottle it was like…a whole new world for us. It felt like the sun was finally shining. After having anxiety attacks like I was, I was finally able to relax and just enjoy my baby. I suffered from a bad case of PPD though and it was a struggle for me to get back on my feet, and still to this day I struggle with it (although its under control).

If I ever have baby number three, I will never ever try to breastfeed again. It was one of the worst experiences of my life and I will never put myself or my baby through that again. When I tell people my story, they have a hard time believing it. Saying awful things like “You should have just dealt with it instead of giving up.” Yea maybe I should but I had another child to worry about and losing my sanity was not something I could afford to lose. And resenting my baby was also the worse feeling ever. I wanted to love and bond with him, not look at him with disgust and resentment.

It’s taken me several months to get over my failure and now I don’t let those people get me down. I made the best choice for my baby and myself.

***


Inspired to share your story? Good, then. Send it along to formulafeeders@gmail.com.

“Maternity Leave” Guest Post: “Our boobs,Ourselves”

Our boobs, Ourselves 

by FFF Alison


“Mothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of the baby.”  – La Leche League international


Pregnancy and motherhood is supposed to be a time to transcend and heal all the past little issues and focus on transforming into the new role as a mother and doting on and loving a wonderful child that will finally make you into a real-grown-up (or a mother goddess, take your pick), well that may be true in modern motherhood fairy tales, but in real life there are so many messages out there that can make even the strongest woman feel like a fat, acne ridden teenage girl on the first day of school; and for those of us with body issues and a history of eating disorders put us in that situation with our underwear.

So let’s talk boobs. I was obese (with acne) growing up and in my early 20s lost 100lbs and was very proud of my accomplishment, but being a perfectionist I found many flaws with my body (from my nose to my loose skin) and gained a little weight ( to a healthier weight: I was very thin at my thinnest, but in my mind I was a huge failure for being a size 6-8… I am on the taller side of average and big boned) and kept not feeling good enough which expressed itself in binge eating disorder. Wait I promised some talk on boobs, here is the irony, I was actually okay with my boobs post weight loss. They were tiny and widely spaced, but I actually had a very athletic build. As friends of mine complained about the pain of big breasts, I enjoyed the freedom of not having to wear a bra if I wanted to and when it came to my passion of running I could get away with shelf-bras that came with the running tanks. With padded bras and the fact they weren’t exactly shown to everyone around me, my boob really didn’t bother me at all.

From 2001-2005 a lot happened, I graduated university, I moved to a new city, I got a great job, I bought a house and I got engaged. In October of 2005, just after my 28th birthday I ran a half-marathon and 3 days after that I got two lines on a stick I peed on, yup I was pregnant.

I always wanted to become a mom, so even though this wasn’t planned, I was a little freaked, but very happy. I knew I wanted to be a good involved mother and without even picking up any book, study or lecture knew I was going breastfeed. My mom breastfed me and my brothers during the 70s, and many women I knew breastfed (naively I thought it was the norm, heck my half-marathon instructor would nurse during our talks before the run). I also researched the subject up and down.

Fast forward to the Summer of 2006 after an uneventful except for being overdue pregnancy and a greater than ideal weight gain my daughter was born. Actually the whole birth kind of sucked, I ended up with a csection after pushing for a while. That said she was almost a 9lber and was super alert so she never particularly looked like a newborn. Since I had a section I was put into recovery and 1 hour later was given my daughter to feed. She fed, went back to daddy at the nursery, and they monitored me as I had an infection and slight complication (healed quickly).

Anyway, soon after started the breastfeeding struggle.  Anyhoo, G’s weight kept dropping and despite nursing all the time, skin-to-skin contact, seeing LCs, pumping, breast compressions and having tons of support, I started supplementing when G was 2 weeks old.

Then doing all of google research trying to figure out what went wrong, according to most, it wasn’t my body that failed me, it was society, my support network, my lack of education on the matter and well, me. From my perspective every message from what I was reading was making me feel unbelievably inadequate. Making me feel if I did more x,y and z I would have been successful. It added to my core belief that I wasn’t good enough.I made myself crazy reading trying to figure out what I did wrong (later discovered the condition breast hypoplasia and that made a lot of sense to me and fit the look and my bfing experience to a t). I also felt even worse about my body and myself. People would post pictures of their bubs proudly stating that their chubby baby was exclusively breastfed, but I had no sense of that accomplishment. I would read posts, blogs and webpages describing how bad formula: some going even further pushing that line of reasoning that the women behind the bottle were severally misinformed and some even flatly saying these women were bad moms regardless of their reason for Formula feeding. I wanted to defend women like myself who struggled and went to the “vastly inferior artificial milk”. Eventually I needed to sort through my own feelings on the subject.


In retrospect, one thing I found jarring about the whole experience was just how out in the open it was. I had no issues about nursing in public, but suddenly every aspect of the feeding of my daughter became other people’s business, as a private person, that was hard to deal with. People would ask why I went to formula: some people would give me an eye roll or a very skeptical look when I described the experience. I found myself discussing my boobs to everyone and I soon wondered what the hell was I doing. I found the dispareging remarks people would make about their friends who didn’t BF for whatever reason very hard to hear. Reading their remarks seemed like a personal insult, which was a little ironic since I was reading those boards, blogs and articles to learn more to have a better experience the next time. I really felt that I needed to have a second experience to redeem myself from my not so ideal first parenting experience. To show I was a good mom. Even though what I had to do according to my reading would have been a herculian task (pumping, herbs, pharmaceuticals etc), it would prove I was good enough and doing what was best for my hypothetical second child. I even started to look into natural childbirth and homebirth thinking that would also show how committed I was (as that is often cited as a way to establish a good bf relationship). A lot of my thinking in regards to that was eerily similar to why I felt I needed to be a size 4-5, to show I was good enough, motivated, strong-willed with incredible willpower and that I was worth something.

I ended up with severe depression 2 years after G was born and even though I had had a work burn out the first thing I needed to discuss was my breastfeeding experience. It had shaped a lot of what I had felt about myself at the time. I lucked out with a therapist who had issues with that too so we talked and she took what I said seriously (a lot of people kindly dismissed my concerns with don’t worry about it you’re doing your best and it will seem insignificant when they’re older, which is actually true in my case, but hard while you’re going through it).

Like body image relates to our fundamental core beliefs about ourselves, breastfeeding for me reiterated past core beliefs of not being good enough, but worse it seeped into a new core belief that was being formed: the fundamental belief about my mothering skills. Failing at not only childbirth but also the beautiful relationship that was supposed to be solidified through of breastfeeing. It took time and therapy but eventually I gained a better perspective: motherhood is far far more then what and how your child’s food is delivered. Motherhood isn’t a checklist of a perfect scenario but a unique relationship between mother and child. I also think the whole issue of body image and breastfeeding is something that is ignored. If we become a parent we’re supposed to be a mom first and foremost and to dare talk about the insecurities that we may have are almost seen as selfish, as it should have been expelled with the placenta. Breastfeeding failure in my mind exacerbated the other failures and flaws on my body. I have been working hard on my self-esteem and body image and this is something that I had to deal with, especially with a part of the body that has many additional connotations of feminity, fertility and sexuality . Not to mention feeling that my body failed my daughter, that was especially hard, since I wanted to breastfeed so badly.

I am at a place now where yes, I would like to be thinner (I gained a lot of weight over my depression) and would like to do more of the things that made me happy (like distance running again, I was never fast, but always enjoyed the fresh air and was happy with my accomplishments there). I am in out patient treatment for my eating disorder and though I am not fully into recovery, I am learning to be kind to myself again. My husband and I make time for each other and we now have a great routine with our daughter. My daughter is growing, smart and thriving and can make me laugh everyday with some of the things she comes up with and the stories she tells, it is true about when they get older the less significant the infant feeding seems. I don’t know if I will have another child or not, but whatever feeding choices I make will be what works us. I would love to say I am always kind to myself and never berate myself for my physical appearance, but I would be lying, however I am working on it. I am not a perfect mom, but I am a good mom. I look back and now believe that I did what was best for her and for me. I look at things globally and if people don’t understand why I make a particular decision, that is okay. I am even starting to like my boobs again, wearing nice bras and being relieved I don’t struggle with chafing or back pain. 

At the end of the day, the lessons I want my daughter to learn are to be kind to herself and to get a strong positive sense of self, learning to sift through and challenge the many messages she will receive either overtly or subtly throughout her life and have the fortitude to choose the messages that enhance her confidence in herself: I am currently learning those lessons myself.
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