Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles

Week after week, I post stories on here from amazing women who have the cajones to share their deepest, darkest thoughts about formula, breastfeeding, postpartum depression, sexual trauma, medical issues, traumatic births, etc. In between these heartfelt, brave guest posts, I usually tackle some random aggravating study that’s being Tweeted to hell and back. Occasionally I share a personal tidbit here and there. But I am not laid bare, typically. I don’t get too intimate. And it’s starting to make me feel a little fraudulent.

I feel like a fraud because there are things – formula/breastfeeding related things – that happen in my daily life that make me feel hurt/annoyed/like I want to hit somebody, and I don’t share these with you guys. I think I used to; when FC was young, and these feelings were fresh and raw, I think I did open up more. Part of the reason I don’t discuss these things anymore is that I’m so caught up in the infant feeding world that I (mostly) approach the subject clinically; it’s work, so I can disassociate. And then of course there’s the fact that Fearlette is my second kid, and I have the advantage of perspective. I don’t freak out about much, because I know pretty much all of this “parenting science” is bullshit. You get what you get, and when you are lucky enough to get the kind of kids I have, the best you can do is try not to screw them up.

Still, if I’m being 100% honest – 100% fearless – I have to admit that a large part of why I don’t discuss the little jabs that sting me here and there, is that I have friends who read this blog. I worry that they will recognize themselves in something I write and feel hurt/annoyed/like they want to hit me. That’s not just cowardice in the FFF sense, but also in the writerly sense. What kind of writer censors herself because of what people might think? And yet I find myself holding back. A lot.

In real life, too, there have been countless discussions where I’ve bitten my tongue so hard that it bleeds, because I don’t want to alienate myself any further from my breastfeeding friends. The danger in this is that it actually creates the situations that are so tough for me to write about.

First case in point: a good friend’s second son was just diagnosed with a dairy intolerance. She managed to control his symptoms by cutting dairy out of her diet, which is great. I *think* I reassured her that she should keep breastfeeding even when she asked if she should just switch to hypoallergenic formula, even though I also helped her try a 24-hour Alimentum test when her doctor wasn’t being very cooperative. I tried my best to help her with the elimination diet, since I’d been there, done that.

Anyway, we were talking this weekend and she mentioned – pointedly – that her doctor told her it was the cow’s milk that kids reacted to, not breastmilk. Now, this is a common belief. There is some pretty interesting research that suggests that many dairy allergic kids might also be reactive to breastmilk, but many doctors are not aware of this… I believe this can be filed under “Medical Advances that Will Never Be Made Thanks to the Breastfeeding Hysteria”, but that’s another story for another day. (Plus, I have a whole section on it in my book so I don’t wanna give away the cow for free. No pun intended.) My point here is this: she knows FC’s history better than anyone. She also knows where I stand on the dairy/breastmilk allergy issue. I know we have discussed this very thing probably 590 times. And yet I found myself repeating the mantra: Well, I cut out dairy with FC, too. It didn’t work. I tried.

But what I wanted to say was this:

Really? You’re going to challenge me on this? Do you realize what you are implying? You’ve been talking about what a “fun challenge” it was to cut out dairy for your kid, and how much better he is already. That’s awesome. And it’s even more awesome that it took no more than a few days for him to improve. You know what happened with FC, right? I not only cut out dairy (which wasn’t hard, considering I was 85% vegan at the time anyway) but also soy, nuts, and a variety of “gassy” veggies on the advice of the zillion Kellymom articles I read on the subject, obedient wannabe lactivist that I was. I did that for 2 weeks. It made no difference. He was sick as a (really sickly) dog on my breastmilk. So, you know, that’s cool that your doctor said that. It’s cool if you believe that. I know my beliefs about this are a little off the grid. But your telling me this – me, specifically, who has been through this very thing and did not find it a “fun challenge” to eliminate foods from my diet, but rather a hellishly drawn out science experiment with a sickly newborn as a guinea pig – seems an awful lot like you are implying that I just didn’t try hard enough. Because if you believe it’s just a matter of cutting out dairy, then by process of elimination (haha, get it? Elimination??) that means you either think I am lying or I didn’t love my kid enough to stop eating ice cream.

But of course I didn’t say that. Not only would it have been extremely confrontational, I worried it would come off as anti-breastfeeding. That she’d take it to mean that I thought she should switch to formula, which wasn’t it at all. I am thrilled that she can continue nursing. Why does my experience have to negate her good fortune? They were two different experiences, two different moms, two different kids. I don’t get why my feeding choices/history has to threaten hers, or vice versa.

And then this morning, I met up with a friend who I had tried to help when she struggled with her choice to EP and supplement. She had asked me for reassurance that it was okay to stop pumping, on a few occasions. I told her that I was hesitant to “go there” because I never, NEVER wanted to be responsible for talking someone out of breastfeeding (or pumpfeeding, or whatever you want to call it). This friend also read a rough draft of my book. In other words, she knows how I feel about overblown breastfeeding claims, especially regarding immunity.

We were chilling on a blanket in the sun as another acquaintance peacefully nursed her baby, and my friend began talking about how her daughter had never been sick (thanks to breastmilk). And she’d stopped pumping a few weeks ago, and then she herself had caught a bug, and she’d been so worried about her daughter catching it since she was no longer receiving breastmilk. Luckily, she sighed, the immunity advantages must last longer than she’d thought.

And I sat there, silent. Because what could I say? If I interjected “well, um, it doesn’t exactly work that way, which we’ve discussed. And I’d actually bet that your kiddo’s good health has more to do with you having the cash for a full time nanny rather than sending her to daycare, so you don’t need to worry,” I would have come off as being anti-breastfeeding. While her friend sat there, nursing. Shoot me, seriously.

I keep silent. I hold my tongue. I bite my lip. And I seethe, inwardly. I seethe at the tiny digs that some friends throw my way, time and time again. The little glances I see, passed back and forth, between them, if I dare to correct a mistaken belief. Even if that belief is causing them stress, unnecessarily.

Then I come on here, and write, and act like I have no fear. Bullshit. I am full of fear. It’s easy to go balls-out when I don’t care about the person I’m debating. But with those I love? I soften my stance; I sugarcoat. I convince myself I’m being overly sensitive. I keep my big mouth shut.

But who is this really helping? Certainly not me, or you guys… the more we keep things close to the chest, the more people will be telling us what we need to do with our chests. And you know, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to my friends, either. If I don’t start speaking up when they say hurtful things, how will they know that they are hurtful?

I know our breastfeeding sisters have had to deal with a crapload of stupid comments and insensitive behavior. I admire breastfeeding moms who counter the ignorance of others with strong, confident, calm responses. I think it is the most effective way of provoking real change: offering to have a discussion, rather than resorting to nasty rebuttals. In that sense, I’m glad I held my tongue in these cases; in the heat of the moment I probably would have come off a tad nasty. But maybe in the future I can make a concerted effort to speak my mind, calmly and clearly. Fearlessly.

Maybe I can start living up to my screen name. Starting by hitting the “publish post” button…… now.

If my friends abandon me, I’m blaming you guys.

Building babies’ immune systems, one sniffle at a time

I think God or Zeus or Mother Nature or whatever deity you believe in is punishing me for being a cocky bastard.

See, I was always bragging about FC’s amazing immune system. I mean always. And who could blame me? The kid was barely ever sick as an infant. I don’t think he had a fever for the first 15 months of his life, and he’s never had a (non-dairy allergy-related) stomach bug. Nary an ear infection, either. He was my own little observational study suggesting that formula feeding was not correlated with poor health in infancy.

And then came Fearlette.

While she is a far easier baby, an absolute delight and ridiculously adorable, the kid has cost us far more in pediatric medical bills in her first 6 months than FC has in his lifetime. Granted, a lot of that was fallout from her crazy reflux, but she’s also had a constant cold for the past 3 months, and recently had her first ear infection. My pediatrician dubbed it “second child syndrome” – the result of having an older brother in preschool, being lugged around to My Gym and playdates from the time she was a mere week old, and slobbered over by Big Bro’s germ-ridden friends –  and assured me that she’d have the greatest immune system on earth when she was older.

That doesn’t give me much comfort when I have to suck the snot out of her nose for the fifth time in an hour, but it does make me wonder…what’s the deal with this acquired immunity thing? And if acquired – rather than passive – immunity is the answer to stronger immune response in the long term, why are we all so focused on avoiding typical child ailments in the early months?

Okay, so there’s an obvious answer to that question: no one likes to see a newborn with a cold. It’s like a panda with a broken paw. Pitiful. But when we are talking about the health of the nation here, or lamenting employee absenteeism due to sick offspring…. shouldn’t we care how our kids are doing once they are in school or around other kids, since those years make up the majority of our parental careers? Assuming most kids enter preschool by 4 years of age (where I live, most start around 2.5 or 3, so I’m being generous), and we are held responsible for kids until their 18th birthdays… that is 4 years of babyhood versus 14 years of school-age shenanigans.

These ponderings were mostly self-soothing techniques while I berated myself for not being more vigilant with the Germ-X (although if we’re being honest, I think antibacterializing is the least of my concerns, considering I’ve been known to change one kid’s diaper and then turn around to wipe another’s nose without even rinsing my hands in between these germ-ridden acts). But then I heard a report on my morning radio program last week. It was about a study that associated better resistance to common childhood diseases (ear and respiratory tract infections) in later childhood with earlier exposure to daycare. The researchers looked at maternal reports (in other words, we have to take this all with a grain of salt) of illness from one cohort over an eight-year span, and found that while the kids who started daycare at a younger age (versus those who were cared for at home) had more of these infections earlier on, by the time the cohort was in elementary school, these same kids had significantly less incidences of the same illnesses. The researchers then came to this conclusion:

“Children contract infections around the time they initiate large structured group activities. Participation in large GCC (group care centers) before 2 1/2 years old, although associated with increased infections at that time, seems to protect against infections during the elementary school years. Physicians may reassure parents that infections during the first child care years do not lead to a higher overall burden of infections.”

Interesting, right? Now this is by no means a definitive study; its like all the other ones we discuss on here – observational, rife with confounding factors, etc, etc…just because it’s supporting a theory I like, I can’t wish those flaws away. But I do wonder why we spend so much time worrying about passive immunity (at least once we get past the scary window of the first few months – during which most babies still have passive immunity from the placenta, so you’re pretty much covered – although colostrum does give an extra boost of the good immune-enhancing stuff, so if you’re gonna do any breastfeeding, those first few days are the time to do it) when acquired immunity is just as important.

Anyway. Just some loosely related food for thought. Possibly empty calories but it might be fun to much on for a bit.

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