A World Breastfeeding Week Plea: Stop celebrating, start collaborating

Usually, I’m all over the place this week. Getting quoted in the requisite “it may be breastfeeding week but gosh darnit some women still find exclusive breastfeeding super hard” articles. Posting my own stuff here on the blog, or over on HuffPo. Talking about #ISupportYou and pissing off hundreds of people in the process, because they see it as a veiled attempt to “steal the thunder” from World Breastfeeding Week.

But this year, I’m all but invisible.

Part of this was unintentional. I’ve been going through some stressful career-change mishigas, dealing with the inevitable gaps in childcare that occur between camp and school, entertaining a ridiculous number of visiting extended family members. I’ve been too exhausted to blog, or talk to media sources, or self-promote (because let’s be honest – that’s a part of what all of us parenting bloggers do. Even the most altruistic of us. Even those of us who don’t depend on hits or advertising or who never make a cent off their blogs. We write because we want to be heard; we pray for bigger audiences, book deals, evidence that we’ve made some sort of impact. I happen to be rather shitty at this, which is why I don’t blog much anymore. I don’t have the stomach for that part of the job).

Another part of my conspicuous silence has been intentional, however. Probably more than I care to admit. See, I’ve been focusing my efforts on the supportive stuff. Reaching across the aisle, trying to understand all facets of this debate, and hoping that by creating better resources for all moms, I can help stop all the guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt. I know that breastfeeding is important to many, many women. I want those women to succeed, and feel happy and proud and supported. So this year, I wanted to try and stay out of World Breastfeeding Week drama like I try and stay out of my kids’ sibling squabbles.

Yeah. Because that works so well with my kids.

The problem is, I also want formula feeding mothers to feel happy and proud and supported. And for some reason, it’s not okay to want both of these things. It’s ok to pay lip service to it, to claim #ISupportYou and tell formula feeding moms that celebrating breastfeeding isn’t about them. But if you actually do the work you need to do to ensure that non-breastfeeding parents are supported, you are violating WHO Code. You are taking attention away from the women who “need it”. You are stealing…. what? Resources? Sympathy? One-up(wo)manship?

I tried to stay out of it. I really did. I held my newly-minted CLC certification close to my non-lactating chest and bit my tongue.

And then the articles came, and came, and came. And so many this year were not about the benefits of breastfeeding, but rather how hard it was. Or how hard it was NOT to breastfeed. How this mom felt like she was poisoning her baby, or this one felt like she’d be booted from the “mom club” because she didn’t wear the EBF badge.

So much guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt. None of it is stopping. There’s more this year than ever before.

Then this happened.

https://www.yahoo.com/health/olivia-wildes-breastfeeding-photo-causes-a-stir-93893024387.html

https://www.yahoo.com/health/olivia-wildes-breastfeeding-photo-causes-a-stir-93893024387.html

And I heard my community inwardly wince. Not for the reasons you might think. Not because they didn’t think it was a beautiful image, and not because it glamorized something that had been messy and painful for most of them, although those certainly were thoughts that some of us had to squash down into that endless pit of mother-guilt. No, it was because it was yet another image of a breastfeeding celebrity, with headlines and stories that spoke of her bravery for normalizing nursing, and comments all over the place about how breastfeeding was finally being celebrated.

I think, for many of us, it was the “finally” that did it. For many of us, it would seem far braver for a celebrity to do a shoot with her bottle-feeding her kid with a can of formula in the background. We have only seen breastfeeding being celebrated. There’s so much partying going on, and we feel like the crotchety old neighbors calling the cops with a noise complaint. But you know, it’s late, the music is loud, and we’re tired.

Now, just to be clear – I’m talking about breastfeeding being “celebrated” That celebration doesn’t do us much good. It does not mean that it is easy for moms to nurse in public. Obviously, it isn’t. Or that lactation services are plentiful and accessible to all. Obviously, they aren’t. Breastfeeding is celebrated, but that doesn’t stop it from being difficult for the new mom in the hospital, whose birth didn’t go as planned. Or the one who has to go back to work 2 weeks postpartum. Or the one with a job not conducive to pumping. Breastfeeding is celebrated, but not when you’re overweight. Or when you’re nursing a toddler.

Idealized images in the media of what breastfeeding looks like do not normalize nursing. In fact, I’d argue it fetishizes it – not for men, so much, but for women. Now, we don’t just have to feel inadequate for not fitting into size 2 jeans a month after giving birth, but we need to feel inadequate if we don’t meet the feeding norm and make it look gorgeous and natural and easy.

Please do not misread what I’m saying here – talking about breastfeeding, supporting breastfeeding, and implementing changes to make breastfeeding easier for those who want to do it are important, admirable, and necessary goals, as far as I’m concerned. But the comments I saw coming from my community after this photo hit the news were not about any of these things. They were from women feeling totally drained, frustrated, and alienated after a nearly a week of hearing how inferior their feeding method was, who were sick of being told they were defensive or that they feel guilty if they tried to stand up for themselves. This story was the last straw. It’s weird, when you think about it – it wasn’t the piece on the risks of formula, or the memes about the superiority of breastfed babies – what broke the camel’s back was a seemingly innocuous spread of a gorgeous, confident actress proudly nursing her baby.

This is what perpetuates the cycle of guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt: our lived experiences are so damn different, that it’s like we’re constantly talking at cross-purposes. The nursing mom who is the only one in her small town not using a bottle sees a photo spread like this as thrilling, victorious, self-affirming – as she should. The formula feeding mom living in Park Slope who carries her formula-filled diaper bag like a modern-day hairshirt sees the same spread as just another celebrity being held up as a pioneer, when she’s only doing what’s expected of a woman of her stature – as she should. Both are right. Because both are personal, emotionally-driven responses.

Earlier this week, I said that deciding how to feed your baby is just one of a myriad of important parenting decisions. But somehow, it’s become the most important one. We cannot expect formula feeding moms to support their breastfeeding sisters when they don’t receive the same support. We just can’t. It’s not fair, and it’s not realistic. I feel like that’s what I’ve been asking of all of you, and somehow I just woke up to that fact.

Why are there still articles talking about how shitty we feel for not breastfeeding, instead of articles talking about what’s being done to change this? Where is the news story about the doctors who are saying enough is enough (because I know they are out there – many of them contact me, and I appreciate these emails, but I wish they were able to say these things publicly without fear of career suicide)? Where’s the NPR program about ways we can improve breastmilk substitutes so those who cannot or choose not to nurse aren’t left hanging? Where’s the Today Show, The View, The Katie Show, doing segments on why women are REALLY not meeting breastfeeding recommendations, instead of segment after segment on how brave so-and-so is for posing nursing their newborn on Instagram, or talking to dumbasses on the street about the “appropriate” age for weaning?

When we stop “celebrating” and start normalizing and supporting and being realistic about how different life can be even just a street away, maybe World Breastfeeding Week can have it’s proper due. Maybe we can actually talk about ways to help women in the most dire straits feed their babies as safely as possible – clean water, free breast pumps, free refrigeration, access to donor milk.

I want to be able to be silent during World Breastfeeding Week. It shouldn’t have to be “overshadowed” by emotional, personal pieces about breastfeeding “failure”. It shouldn’t be a time for articles about not making formula feeding moms feel “guilty”. These words shouldn’t even be part of our infant feeding lexicon, for godsakes. Failure? Guilt? For what?

This year, I want us to stop celebrating, and start having some calm, productive conversations with people outside your social circle. For many of us, the celebration feels exactly like high school, when the popular kids had parties and we sat home watching Sixteen Candles for the thirty-fifth time. That’s not to say breastfeeding isn’t worth celebrating, but the end goal should not be one group feeling triumphant and the other feeling downtrodden. Formula feeding was celebrated for decades too – and that celebration made the current atmosphere of breastfeeding promotion necessary. Please, let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s move on. Rip down the streamers, put away the keg, and open the doors to the outsiders looking in. You never know – they could end up being the best friends you’ve ever had.

 

FFF Friday: “Maybe My Better Isn’t Your Better”

Today, World Breastfeeding Week begins. There’s a lot of good that comes out of this week, but it can also be a painful, triggering seven days for those who have struggled with their infant feeding decisions. 

That’s why I was excited when this FFF Friday landed in my inbox a few months ago, because I knew it would be the perfect entry for this week.  Carly’s piece isn’t about breastfeeding or formula feeding. It’s about the terminology we use to discuss parenting choices; our inability to look outside of ourselves and our experiences, our beliefs. 

I hope people take this one to heart. I honestly believe if they did, we could stop discussing the same, old, tired issues and move on to the real work of supporting parents in concrete ways. 

It’s something to dream about, at least, on this late World Breastfeeding Week eve…

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Maybe My “Better” Isn’t Your “Better”

by Carly Ceccarelli

“When you know better, you do better.” Maya Angelou

I tried to dig to the bottom of the context of this quote and was instead bombarded with legions of posts from various blogs, online groups, and message boards regarding choices in parenting and how many use this quote as not only their parenting compass, but a ‘gentle’ way of recommending that what you are doing with your child is hopelessly, utterly wrong.

Have you ever considered…..maybe my “better” isn’t your “better”?

I have been through so many seasons in life. Haven’t we all? Fortunately, I have gained some perspective from those. I have been broke and living off of fish sticks and canned ravioli.  I have been a working, single mom with not exactly a load of free time or patience. I have been a stay at home mom to an intense baby that taught me more about lacking free time and patience than being a working, single mom ever did.

As a result of seasons, we make choices. My current season is being at home full time with two children under two years old. That intense baby is now a very mobile, intense toddler.  My experience with him greatly impacted my choices with his younger sister.  Having to be a present and attentive parent to two children simultaneously impacted my choices with both children. Only having two arms and two legs impacts the choices I make every day.  Yet I am bombarded with what I “should” choose because this person or that person knows that I “know better”.

I do know better.

I know better that, for me, these are the choices that are in line with the goals my family has, all people and categories of impact considered.  I have a diverse group of friends who are all over the spectrum regarding their choices, based on the goals THEY have within their familial units.

I had all of the answers, too. I understand the need to spread the gospel of my amazing experiences and informational finds, because, heaven forbid, that person doesn’t have access to Google and would “miss out”.  I realize how very wrong I was. I realize now that there isn’t one answer for everyone in any category, and that I am showing more wisdom when I am silent because I don’t know everything, as opposed to saying something because I believe I do.

Mean People Suck

Back in the 90’s, 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.

 

Mean-People-Breed-Bumper-Sticker-(5567)

Guest Post: Different Flavors of Kool-Aid

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

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

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

Enjoy.

-The FFF

***

Guest Post: Different Flavors of Kool-Aid

by Melanie Holmes

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

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

The WSJ article told 2 heartbreaking stories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

First World Problems: Fill the Gap and #FeedWithLove

Yesterday was one of those days. Overslept. Kid peed the bed. Bad hair day. Traffic. Drama at work. Husband had to work late, again. House a mess. Feeling fat. Zit popped up on my chin. You know. First world problems.

http://www.stickycomics.com/first-world-problems/

http://www.stickycomics.com/first-world-problems/

 

Here’s a dirty little secret: I hate that phrase. Because we live in our own realities. No matter how much of a selfless world-view we attempt to hold, or how fully we own our privilege, we’re human. You can feel depressed about a zit while realizing how insignificant your plight is in the grand scheme. One doesn’t need to cancel out the other. I’d even argue that people who are inherently empathetic typically feel all things deeply – a news report about a displaced deer will affect them more than most, but so will a breakup or a bad day at work. Emotions are emotions – and I don’t think controlling them because of some innate sense of privileged-woman’s-burden is healthy.

 

But here’s the other the reason I hate the phase “first world problems”: there are some majorly screwed up things going on right here in the first world. First world problems are nothing to scoff at. Kim Simon, my #ISupportYou cofounder (along with Jamie Lynn Grumet), has been thinking about one of the most warped aspects of our decidedly first world nation. In the midst of our government shutdown, Kim had started worrying about the people affected by furloughs at WIC programs  - breastfeeding moms who receive extra food to ensure they have the caloric load necessary to produce milk without it taking a toll on their bodies, and formula feeding moms who obtain the powder necessary to nourish their babies from WIC. She realized that aside from emotional support for moms, there’s another kind of practical support we haven’t really discussed. As she writes for Huffington Post and her own blog, Mama by the Bay:

When Suzanne BarstonJamie Lynne Grumet and I joined together to create “I Support You“, we realized that support begins with basic care.  Basic care for many of the mothers in this country means that they need to have access to healthy food for their families.  Breastfeeding mothers don’t always need a lactation consultant or a quiet place to nurse.  Sometimes they need breakfast.  I am nursing a four month old, and I usually eat two dinners.  I am hungry all.the.time.  But I have a full pantry cupboard and a refrigerator that I frequently have to clean out.  Many mothers don’t.  Formula feeding moms don’t always need the newest bottles or the support to feed their babies proudly.  Sometimes they need enough powder left in the can to get them through until their next paycheck, so they don’t have to water each bottle down.

 

Kim goes on to suggest ways that we can put our money where are mouths are – quite literally – by donating supplies, food, money, and time to mothers in need. Her suggestions are incredibly thoughtful and I urge you to read them, consider them, and put them to use.   But Kim also reminds us that even before the government shutdown, hunger was an issue for many American families – and that it will continue to be after this dumb fight ends and WIC offices are up and running. She’s right: back in 2012, when WIC was fully functional, a study found that 1 in 8 low-income families were watering down formula in order to “stretch” their limited resources – and that “the vast majority of families” in this study were “covered by Medicaid and receive(d) food stamps as well as assistance getting infant formula through… WIC.” (Source: NBC News)

1 in 8 families in this particular study, which was performed in the very first world environment of Cincinnati. 15% of parents already getting aid from government agencies like WIC who are not able to feed their babies adequately.

I can hear the arguments starting already: But that’s why WIC is promoting breastfeeding, FFF! If we could just get these women lactating, they wouldn’t have to put their babies in danger by using diluted formula! And you know what? I agree with you. It would be fabulous if these moms didn’t need to worry about their babies’ next meals, if milk were to flow easily and freely from their breasts. But it would also be fabulous if they weren’t in need. If they had well-paying jobs that allowed them sufficient maternity leave to establish breastfeeding without putting their families at risk. It would be wonderful if they had supportive partners or parents or friends who could stay with them in the early days and take care of their other children while they worked through the breastfeeding learning curve. It would be peachy if we could guarantee that none of them were part of the 5% of women who simply can’t produce milk, or that none of them had ever been victims of sexual assault which made it emotionally complicated for them to nurse, or that none of them had babies who were allergic to milk or soy, because when you’re living with food insecurity, it’s not so simple to go on an intensive elimination diet.

 

We can argue until the cows come home about whether all women in need should or can breastfeed, but once those cows do come home, we need to make sure there’s enough milk. Period. Whether from a can or a breast. We can’t let babies starve or become malnourished while we argue. Because when it comes down to it, arguing over breastfeeding in a theoretical sense  is a first world problem. That is where our privilege will bite us in the overfed ass. No matter what you believe, politically, or about infant formula marketing, or women, or birth, or Santa Claus, we need to address the hunger of our littlest members of first world society. And for now, until issues like maternity leave and adequate prenatal and post-natal care and lactation support and childcare are solved, that means supplying formula – not just whatever brand makes a deal with WIC, but options like hypoallergenic or gentle formula for babies who need it.

 

The breast/bottle mommy war is a “first world problem”. But the solution Kim, Jamie, and I are offering to this war doesn’t have to be. #ISupportYou can support moms in their emotional journeys while also supporting those who don’t have the luxury of worrying about judgment, because they are too busy watching the contents of their Similac can diminish and praying that their babies don’t hit a growth spurt before the next WIC appointment.

 

Privilege isn’t a bad thing. Privilege gives us internet access and time and sometimes (although not always), a little extra cash. I’m asking the FFF community to embrace whatever privilege they have, and begin finding ways to address the issue of hunger in our country. I’ll be reaching out to food banks, shelters, and organizations that serve mothers with young infants to see how we can help, specifically, with formula donations. We have one of the smartest and most educated communities on the internet – I don’t doubt we can come up with ways to fill the gap – nutritionally as well as emotionally – so that all mothers, regardless of feeding method or economic situation, can feed with love.

 

First world problems, here we come.

Want to get involved with #ISupportYou or #FeedWithLove? First, read Kim Simon’s post. Then, post here or there, or email me (formulafeeders@gmail.com), with your ideas, contacts, suggestions, etc. 
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