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?

Wrong.

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 theleakyboob.com 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.

 

 

Of nanny states and nonsense

This is why I hate politics.

Earlier today, Jennifer Doverspike’s scathing indictment of Latch On NYC popped up on the Federalist website. By this evening, Amanda Marcotte had written a similarly scathing indictment of Jennifer’s piece on Slate. Both talked about hospital policies, formula feeder paranoia, and boobs. But in the end, what should have been a smart point-counterpoint between two passionate, intelligent women turned into a steaming pile of another bodily substance.

Yep, I’m talking about shit. 

Look, guys, I’m sorry for the language, but I’m done being classy, at least for tonight. Tonight, my Boston-bred, townie self is coming out, because I. Have. Flipping. HAD IT.

Doverspike’s piece does veer into political territory, mostly from the use of the term “nanny state”, a phrase that is undoubtably evocative (and apparently intoxicating) in today’s partisan climate. There were portions of her article that made me (a self-proclaimed, sole member of the Turtle party – our platform is that we just hide our heads in our shells whenever political issues arise. Anyone’s welcome to join!) a little uncomfortable, mostly because I worried that her important message would get lost by those on the Left. But I naively thought (us Turtles are naive about such things, considering we start singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” whenever someone brings up Congress and prefer to our news from the Colbert Report) that she’d covered these bases with her final paragraph:

There are, of course, many laws the government issues for our protection and those of our children. Seatbelt laws, child car seat booster requirements, bans on drop side cribs and helmet laws. Regardless of whether or not these encompass valid risks (many do, some don’t), they do not encroach on personal freedom the way laws regarding parenting methods do. And don’t get me wrong; this goes in all directions. Infant feeding, and the personal freedoms associated with it, is not a liberal or conservative issue.

Apparently, it is a liberal or conservative issue, at least according to Marcotte, whose response to Doverspike felt far nastier than necessary. Marcotte accuses Doverspike of not doing her homework regarding the implementation of the WHO Code, for example:

What Doverspike fails to mention is why the WHO wrote out these regulations in the first place, something a quick Google search reveals. As reported at the time by theNew York Times, researchers had discovered that poor parents were stretching out formula by watering it down, which was leading to malnutrition in infants. In addition, places that lack clean drinking water are places where formula feeding is downright dangerous. There are substantial benefits, particularly worldwide, to creating a culture where breast-feeding is the go-to way to feed children, and formula is only viewed as a supplement for cases where breast-feeding isn’t working. Of course, that does cut into formula company profits, so if that’s your priority, by all means, bash the WHO’s efforts to keep babies healthy some more.

Huh. See, that’s odd, because I clearly remember reading something in Doverspike’s piece about this very issue… let’s see… ah, right:

Unlike the city of New York, the WHO  has valid reasons to be concerned with breastfeeding rates worldwide. After all, in less developed countries not breastfeeding may mean instead using cow’s milk for infants. When formula is used, the risks of it being prepared incorrectly and using contaminated water is rather high…The WHO should focus being on how to educate and support women in developing countries regarding the dangers of cow’s milk, the benefits of breastfeeding, and the importance of correctly mixing formula. Unfortunately, the WHO Code saves most of its energy in marginalizing formula companies, requiring hospitals to under no circumstances allow formula advertising and requiring that product samples only be given for research at the institutional level — “In no case,” it stipulates, “should these samples be passed on to mothers.” The WHO is also requiring labels stating the superiority of breastfeeding and warning to not use the product until consulting with a health professional.

True, she didn’t delve into the issues surrounding formula use in developing nations as deeply as she could have, but Marcotte’s take on the subject wasn’t exactly accurate, either. The Nestle controversy which she alludes to involved corporate subterfuge (women dressed as nurses convincing new mothers to use formula; these “health workers” then packed up and left, abandoning the moms with no established milk supply, no resources to procure more formula, and dirty water to use for what formula they did have), and this was what drove well-meaning individuals to create the WHO Code… but the problems that exist which lead women in these same countries away from breastfeeding are so much more complex than our Western understanding of “unethical marketing”. And to compare the risks of not breastfeeding in these countries to the risks in countries which are debating baby-friendly initiatives isn’t fair nor useful. These are two entirely separate issues.
Marcotte also dismisses Doverspike’s concerns that under Latch On, formula ”must be guarded and distributed with roughly the same precautions as addictive and harmful narcotics” by citing a “sober-minded assessment” that she claims “shows that no such things are happening”. This “sober-minded assessment” is a CNN option piece from writer Taylor Newman, who repeatedly brings up her own breastfeeding experience in a hospital with piss-poor support. Newman engages in some of the most immature name-calling I’ve seen in a respected news source – those who disagree with her opinion of Latch On are “obnoxious”, “unhinged” they write “badly-written” posts that are just ‘kicking up dust”. (If this is sober-minded, hand over the vodka. This is mean-girl, bitchy, completely anti-feminist bullshit, is what it is. If a man called a fellow woman writer “unhinged” or accused her of being hysterical, I bet we’d see plenty of backlash from Slate. ) She also makes the fatal mistake so many reporters, pundits and advocates have made in this tiresome debate: she’s only seeing it through the lens of her own experience. It may not seem like a huge deal to someone who wanted to breastfeed (and ultimately did, successfully) that new moms will have to ask for formula each time a baby needs to eat, or that they will have to endure a lecture on the risks and intense questioning of their decision. But try living through that experience as, say, a single mom who was molested as a child. Imagine you don’t have anyone around to defend you, to demand that the nurses treat your decision not to use your body in a particular manner with respect. Imagine that you don’t feel like reliving your abuse and telling a total stranger – repeatedly – why the idea of letting a baby suck on your breasts makes you want to throw up.
I know I’m digressing here, and again, I’m sorry to be throwing my usual I-Support-You, let’s all hold hands and braid each other’s hair Pollyanna-esque, evolved FFF persona out the window. This is old school FFF, the angry one, the one whose claws come out when I see that women are being told their voices don’t matter, their concerns don’t matter, their choices don’t matter. The one who refuses to allow an important discussion – a women’s rights discussion, not a political one – get bogged down in right vs. left rhetoric.
Marquette’s choice of image to go along with her article is a baby holding a bottle with the caption “Freedom Fighters”. Again, I have to ask – really? Fine, be mad that the Libertarian Federalist invoked the Nanny State and beat up on poor old Bloomberg. Rage against that. But to belittle those of us who care about this issue is petty and cruel. And to ignore – once again – that what Latch On’s PR machine told the press was quite different from what was written in the actual materials used to implement the program; to ignore that no one has actually done a follow-up story since the initiative was announced which reports actual accounts from actual women who actually delivered in actual Latch On hospitals and used actual formula – this is just poor journalism.
Feminists, journalists, bloggers – I belong to all of your clubs, and I’m sure you’re about to revoke my membership, but I have to ask: Why are we rehashing the same arguments over and over, instead of discussing how we could come to a more beneficial, neutral ground? For example – couldn’t women be counseled on the benefits of breastfeeding before they enter the emotional sauna of the postpartum ward? Yes, I realize that not all women have access to prenatal care, but for those who do, this seems like a practical and  beneficial adjustment. If these issues are discussed beforehand, at least a mom who knows from the start that she doesn’t want to nurse can sign whatever documentation is necessary to tell the state s has been fully informed of the “risks” and “still insists” (Latch On’s term, not mine) on formula feeding. For those who change their minds while in the maternity ward – well, couldn’t we just agree that she gets one lecture on why it’s a bad decision, and then receives the education, support and materials she needs to feed her baby safely, rather than having to go through the whole rigamarole every time her infant begins rooting?
Or here’s another idea – take the hyperbole out of the initiative. Stop saying these things are “baby-friendly” or “progressive” or “empowering” because they aren’t necessarily so. And by saying that they are, you get people all riled up, politically. You start hearing terms like “nanny state” because some of us don’t want to be told how we should feel (or how our babies should feel, for that matter. If my mom couldn’t feed me and some nurses weren’t letting me access the next best thing, I’d be hella pissed, and that environment would become decidedly baby unfriendly. Especially when I punched the person refusing my mom the formula in the nose with my tiny baby fist). You start getting feminists shouting about second waves and third waves and whether women should feel empowered by their ladyparts or held down by them. It’s one big mess, is what I’m saying. So can we stop it, now? Can we start writing articles that are balanced reports rather than press releases for a particular administration or cause? Can we stop hurling insults at each other just because we don’t agree on what being a mother should mean?
Can we please, for the love of all things holy, just flipping stop?

FFF Friday: “Changing my conversation”

This week, I’m featuring a post that doesn’t fit the usual profile of the FFF Friday stories. It’s not about someone’s feeding journey, per say, but rather a journey of acceptance and understanding about feeding issues. 

I have such respect for the author, Nicole, as both a blogger and a person. Her humor, intellect and honesty are a potent combination – just the beautifully random, yet exquisitely specific name of her blog (“Evidence-Based Tits and Teeth“) is enough to make me like her. And when she sent me this post, my admiration for her grew. 

I love how Nicole’s story shows how people can change their opinions so profoundly; I bet all of us have some ugly judgmental thoughts about various parenting decisions, and most of us don’t make a conscious decision to expose them, examine them, and destroy them. As Nicole changes her conversation, it’s inspiring me to change mine as well – to look at what I silently judge and figure out why I judge it, and to accept that people don’t need to agree with me 100% to be on my side, in the most nitty-gritty sense of the term.

How do you think you can change your conversation?

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Nicole’s Story: Changing My Conversation
Something that the FFF said to me on a comment to one of my blogs stuck uncomfortably in my stomach. “I can see how someone who doesn’t respect that it should be a woman’s right to choose how to feed her infant wouldn’t feel welcome.”  She was referring to me.  I hadn’t felt welcome because a comment I had made to a blog post never appeared.  It turned out to be none other than the SPAM filter on her website to which she rectified and apologised.  So why didn’t I feel welcome?  Was she right?  Did I not truly respect a mother’s right to choose?

I kept revisiting, reading, studying every word on every page.  Then I’d study the comments.  I still didn’t feel comfortable.  I felt like an outsider peering into a world I didn’t belong.  It bothered me. A lot.

When I first started blogging, I believed I knew the answers and if I didn’t know them all, it wouldn’t take me long to figure them out.  I would single-handedly change the world of breastfeeding for the better.  I had an inkling that many mothers that had ‘failed’ at breastfeeding hadn’t really tried hard enough.  Some said they just couldn’t but that was nonsense.  I also thought that those that hadn’t tried hard enough probably didn’t have all the facts and that if they really knew what a difference it would make to their baby’s health, then they would go through hell and high water to succeed.

I read feeding stories as research but found after a while, I wouldn’t really look at the content, I would scan straight to the comments.  Women from different sides of the globe would be battling with each other and sometimes saying the most hurtful things.  Words were full of pain, regret, guilt, anguish and desperation to prove that they were still worthy of calling themselves mothers because they didn’t ‘succeed’ at breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding woman would be smug, self-righteous and belittling. I felt uncomfortable again.

It all smacked of a school playground. Why was it so important for me to bring more women to the cause?  Was it about me or them?  It was like I was trying to convert non-believers to a cult, until I read one woman’s reply to a feeding story.  It simply read, “STOP TELLING ME THAT BREASTFEEDING IS HEALTHIER FOR MY BABY.  I FUCKING KNOW.  DON’T YOU THINK I ALREADY FEEL BAD ENOUGH? I TRIED REALLY FUCKING HARD. DON’T YOU THINK I DID?”

I felt horrendous.  I was just a.n.other do-gooder making another mother feel bad.  I hadn’t directly to her, but probably to many others with my ‘good intentions’.  That was the complete opposite of what I had set out to do.  But I couldn’t shake off the ‘health’ benefits.  It was a sticking point for me. Babies aren’t meant to be fed artificial milk.  ”Children are getting sicker”. “Children are getting fatter”. Fair enough if you wanted to breastfeed but for whatever reason didn’t, that’s ok. Or you’re a adoptive mother and bottle fed. That’s ok too. Or you’ve had both your breasts removed from cancer. That’s ok as well. Sexual abuse survivor? A definite ok. But to not choose at all?

The more feeding stories I read, the more photos I saw of babies all looking the same.  Happy and loved.  Line them all up and I would never be able to tell which ones were breastfed and which ones weren’t.  Then came the I Support You campaign; the real turning point for me. Photos, memes and messages of love and support for every type of feeding mum. I felt warm and fuzzy. I felt invigorated and inspired. I felt proud. Nothing about it felt uncomfortable.

So here I am.  I want to start changing my conversation, and firstly I want to say a few things I have been too scared to say and perhaps why it was so important for me to get woman on my side.  I feel that bottle feeders are superior.  They have an easier life because their partners can help.  They have an easier life because their babies sleep through.  They can return to normality far quicker including having a social life.  They are not trapped by the overwhelming and sometimes suffocating sense of responsibility at having to keep a baby alive.  They can wear sexy underwear.  They aren’t limited by clothes that have to have easy access to the main feeding receptacle.  Babies still grow up to be perfectly well-rounded, healthy, clever human beings.  Why would anyone really want to breastfeed?  This is why ‘we’ push the (ambiguous) health benefits. Why ‘we’ bang on about bonding. Because it’s all ‘we’ve’ got.  And ‘we’ haven’t really got the latter either.

So, ladies and…well ladies, this is my new agenda.  I want to support ALL mums to feed with love – a feeding peer supporter.  To set up a local support group to welcome bottle-feeding mums that may have wanted to breastfeed or chose not to. To discuss how to biologically nurture without using a breast. To talk about bottle-led feeding. To discuss how to make up feeds correctly and safely (as a region, we have the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the UK). To support them through their grief at things not turning out how they’d hoped. To talk to them, should they wish, about how to improve their chances next time.

I used to worry that this would further divide the breast vs bottle – having separate support groups.  But actually, by hopefully NOT feeling like they’ve been cast aside by humanity – to not receive support and help, to be persecuted for their choices and to feel like they’ve failed – it might make a few less mums disappear into the black hole of PND and to unite us mothers far more than the ‘reward those that tried hard enough’ policies that are rife in society.

I hope my words don’t appear contrite or patronising.  I now feel I totally respect a woman’s right to choose.  And… I want to dedicate this to to my heavily pregnant best friend who I have no doubt ‘pressured’ with my conversations about health and breastfeeding. I feel so sorry if I have and would hate it if she didn’t feel comfortable talking to me because of how she ultimately feeds her baby. I change my conversation for her.  I change my conversation full stop.

***

Have a story you’d like to share for FFF Friday? Email it to me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Announcing the “I Support You” Movement

Last week, I got together with a group of friends for a rare “mom’s night out”. We sat for hours, sipping white sangria and inhaling carcinogens from the nearby fire pit, laughing in that way only overtired, overstressed moms can when they finally get a chance to let loose.

I’d met these women at Mommy & Me when our firstborns – all boys, born within days of each other- were about 8 weeks old. So it was no surprise that as the night wore on and the wine glasses were emptied, our conversation turned to those hazy postpartum months, when we were younger, more confused versions of ourselves. I began inwardly musing how much we’d all evolved since then; how through two pregnancies each, our strength and power as women had stretched to new limits along with our bellies.

And then it happened.

“Do you guys remember breastfeeding support group? What a godsend that was!” one of my friends gushed.

“I remember sitting next to you and crying,” said another. “Eh, I think we were ALL crying,” another responded, and the whole group started laughing in self recognition and commiseration.

I felt my shoulders tense up, an ancient and forgotten ache shooting through them, down into my belly, where old pain dies hard. The ache grew deeper when one of my friends told me that my children probably didn’t sleep as long as hers did because she breastfed them, because “nursing gives them sleepy hormones”. And when another, trying so hard to be kind and include me in the conversation, reminisced about seeing my son in his infant carrier making little sucking movements with his lips as he slept, “as if he was still sucking on his bottle”.

And all I heard was “other”; all I heard was “different”.

The next day, I was interviewed for a documentary about breastfeeding, and asked about my journey from passionate breastfeeding wannabe to Fearless Formula Feeder. I’ve done interviews like this a hundred times now; told my story a hundred more. But this time, when I came to the part where I went to Mommy & Me for the first time – the first time I’d really been out in public, let alone surrounded by other moms and babies, as prior to that I’d been stuck at home attached to my pump and held down by the weight of postpartum depression and a baby who couldn’t stop crying, no matter what we did to soothe him – I felt the ancient pain rise up like bile in my throat. As I recalled sitting there, in a circle of nursing moms, feeling like all eyes were fixated on my bottle, judging me, I choked back ugly, rusty sobs. Rancid tears punctuated my typically canned tales of feeling separate, isolated, and constantly on the defensive.

I don’t think I’d realized how much the previous evening’s conversation had affected me. My children are 2.5 and 4.5; while some of my friends have younger babies or are still nursing their second-born toddlers, breast vs bottle is not something that our group is emotionally invested in. Breastfeeding, in and of itself, doesn’t really come up anymore. But breastfeeding support group does. The days we  they spent at the park discussing breastfeeding difficulties do. Those days carry a rosy glow for my friends, but my memories are tinged with gray. Those days I sat silent, clutching my son’s formula filled bottles, gritting my teeth through the inevitable comments about how terrified they were of having to supplement, smiling a frozen smile when a new mom would join our fold and ask the inevitable question “are you pumping?” which would be met with someone else in the group recounting my story of going above and beyond, as if I needed excusing.

Something I’ve heard a lot from those who don’t quite understand my passion for this issue is that “once your kids are out of the infant stage, you won’t care so much about breast or bottle.” And that’s true, to a large degree – the scary statistics and shaming memes don’t carry the same power; I’m able to dismiss them, laugh at them, debunk them without it affecting me personally. What surprised me about the other night and my subsequent breakdown over faded memories, is that while the logistics cease to matter, the old pain and doubt are always there.

There’s a lot of research out there about imprinting, and how first experiences affect infants. But isn’t new motherhood a sort of infancy, itself? Here you are, reborn into mother, your skin and organs and thoughts raw and foreign. Everything is new. Everything is a first, postpartum- your first shower, the first time you have sex, the first time you take the baby for a walk, the first time you feel confident in your new role. Is it surprising, then, that your first social interactions as a mother don’t imprint on you in the same way a new food imprints on an infant’s taste buds?

What would have my postpartum experience been like if I could’ve sat next to my new friends without being afraid of what they’d been made to believe about formula feeding? If I could’ve attended a support group in those first weeks, too, and not had to wait 8 weeks before my community allowed me the gift of peer interaction? And what would my friends’ experiences have been like if they hadn’t been made to feel like failures for the supplementing they had to do, or made to believe that their ability to breastfeed was what made a mother worth her title? What if we could have all been supported in our individual experiences and goals, without fear of some Orwellian gaze, labeling us with a “pass” or “fail”?

And most of all…. what would have happened if I’d had the courage to speak up; to give voice to my demons, to help my friends understand how their innocent words could hurt more than my Pitocin-induced labor pains? What if we could have spoken openly, and found our differences to be our power, the power that could bring light to our fundamental sameness?

World Breastfeeding Week begins in a few days, and the theme this year is “Breastfeeding Support – Close to Mothers”. This is a fantastic theme, because breastfeeding moms need tremendous support, especially in those early days. But I think we should be taking this a step further. ALL new moms need support. Hell, all moms – those with toddlers, those birthing their fourth babies, those with teenagers – need support.  I think brand new moms are the most vulnerable, though; these are the women who are not only dealing with all the craziness that babies bring, but also their own rebirth.

I want to support breastfeeding mothers. I wanted to support my friends, in those early days; I wanted to help them through their struggles, but I felt trapped by my own insecurity. Their efforts seemed like an indictment of my choice. Their well-meaning questions about whether I’d tried talking to a lactation consultant (try seven) felt like judgment.

The problem is not us, us mothers just trying to do our best for our babies, us mothers desperately seeking a tribe, a source of support, a group to someday drink sangria with and laugh about how tough those first few weeks were. The problem is with how breastfeeding has become the antithesis of formula feeding; the problem is with how the two are set up as black and white, as polar opposites, as competing interests – rather than as two entirely independent, valid ways to feed children. Those promoting breastfeeding because they honestly believe formula is risky can continue to do so, but I think there is space for a new type of breastfeeding advocacy and support: one that celebrates and honors mothers’ autonomy, and focuses energy on providing REAL support to those who need it, regardless of feeding method. If infant feeding wasn’t set up as a succeed/fail dichotomy from the beginning, imagine how moms might be able to support each other without feeling alienated or judged for different choices?

My belief that this type of advocacy would be far more powerful in helping mothers meet their breastfeeding goals is what has inspired me to join forces with Kim Simon of Mama By The Bay and Jamie Lynne Grumet of I Am Not the Babysitter, to encourage moms to stand up and say “I Support You”.

Created by Cary Lynn Davis

Created by Cary Davis

The I Support You movement is a respectful, empathetic, compassionate exchange between parents.  We all feed our children differently, but we are all feeding with love, and in ways that work for our individual circumstances and family dynamics.  I Support You is the first step in helping formula-feeding, breast-feeding, and combo-feeding parents to come together and lift each other up with kindness and understanding. We have chosen to announce this movement during World Breastfeeding Week, to honor the commitment of those who fight for better support for breastfeeding moms; we are inspired by this, but believe that by changing the focus to supporting all parents, we can truly provoke positive change without putting the needs of some mothers above the needs of others. The “I Support You” movement aims:

 

1) To bridge the gap between formula-feeding and breastfeeding parents by fostering friendships and interactions.

 

2) To dispel common myths and misperceptions about formula feeding and breastfeeding, by asking parents to share their stories, and really listening to the truth of their experiences.

 

3) To provide information and support to parents as they make decisions about how to feed their children.

 

4) To connect parents with local resources, mentors, and friends who are feeding their children in similar ways.

 

(written by Kim Simon with a tiny bit of help from me)

 

If you want to join the movement and celebrate real support with us:

 

Send us your photos. I’m creating a slideshow of photos to show how beautiful support can look. If you are willing to let me use your image, take a photo of you, your baby, your family, you and a friend – doesn’t matter – with a message of support (i.e., “I exclusively breastfed, but I know every mother does what is right for her – and I SUPPORT YOU” or “I may formula feed, but I’d fight like hell for a woman’s right to NIP. I SUPPORT YOU”) and send it to formulafeeders@gmail.com by Friday, August 2nd.

 

Interview Your Opposite. Are you a blogger?  Are you a formula-feeder who is best friends with an extended breastfeeder?  An adoptive parent who knows of a mom using an SNS nurser with a baby in the NICU?  We want you to interview someone who is feeding in a different way than you are, and then publish it on your blog.  If you’re interested in participating but don’t know where to start, feel free to email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com for a list of interview questions.  On  Sunday, August 4th, we will ask you to share your story with us, by adding your link to the I Support You blog hop. If you don’t know anyone who feeds in a different way,  send me an email and I’ll try and connect you to someone.

 

Join us for a Twitter Party on August 7th, at 5pm PST/8pm EST.  We’ll be asking you to share your truths about your feeding choices, and connecting you to other parents who might be feeding their children the same way.  You can find us with the hashtag #ISupportYou.

 

Create your own meme or message of support. If you’re tech savvy, feel free to create a meme or shareable video that honors the “I Support You” message, and share it on the FFF Facebook page.

 

Check out Kim’s incredible, spine-tingling post on the “I Support You” movement, here.

 

The best way to counteract hate is by drowning it in a sea of change. The tide is rising, and we can float above the negativity and fear; push down the us-versus-them bullshit and let it sink to the bottom, where it belongs; lure it to its death with a siren song of I support you, sung far and wide.

 

Start swimming, fearless ones. I support you.

Can formula feeding really be “fearless”?

The lovely KJ Dell’Antonia recently mentioned my book and blog in a Motherlode column she wrote about the recent onslaught of breastfeeding-pressure backlash. There was the refreshing -albeit unfortunately titled- piece by a father in the Atlantic, followed by another excellent Motherlode post by writer Marie C. Baca about “embracing” bottle feeding- these came on the heels of a number of other articles which cropped up over the summer and in the early fall, as a result of Latch On NYC and a few other initiatives that have passed in the United States and abroad. Dell’Antonia observed that in all of these writers’ submissions (including yours truly’s) to the infant feeding discourse, one thing remained consistent:

…What’s striking about Ms. Barston’s and Mr. Kornelis’s stories, and most stories of “fearless formula feeding” is still really how “fearless” they aren’t. In every narrative of not breastfeeding, there is the obligatory note of failure, as though justification were the first order of the day… for most women, not nursing, for whatever reason, remains a troubling topic. As long as women are occupied with the litany of excuses… then the conversation will stay on defending the bottle or breast, and off the more important question of how to ensure that the choice between them is dictated more by health and happiness and less by circumstance.

This struck a nerve with me. Scratch that – it pinched a nerve. Her theory was like a constant, nagging backache, reminding me that it needed attention every time I moved a bit too fast. It took me a few days to untangle what bothered me so much about these assertions; the ensuing discussion on the FFF Facebook page only served to deepen my desire for answers (or a good massage).

All of you made fantastic points about why we so often appear to be defensive about our choices. Some argued that while we may indeed give excuses, this is because we are conditioned to expect judgment. “I think our stories are tinged with defensiveness since before even sharing them we are already preparing to be attacked,” Tara mused. Lisa echoed that sentiment. “For me, it wasn’t inner guilt – it was everyone’s expectation that I SHOULD feel guilty and that I had done something wrong. Frankly, I was outright pissed off by the insinuations and outright accusations that by formula feeding my daughter, I was setting her up to be fat, stupid, and unhealthy. That’s where my defensiveness came from – the need to defend my choice.” And others thoughtfully mentioned that while we may indeed appear defensive, a lot of it may simply be our way of dealing with complex emotions over the inability to do something we wanted very badly to do:   “”I don’t believe that guilt is a simple emotion – I felt guilty because my boobs failed, I also felt guilty that I was happy that formula was working for us. I felt I was letting my daughter and others down. Guilt is often the result of being unable to change a moment in time – it’s not always about what is right or wrong,” wrote Allison.

As a few of you rightly pointed out, so much comes down to perspective. Unless you have lived through this particular kind of hell, you just can’t understand it. As Misty explained. “I think they mistake bitterness with defensiveness. Unless you’ve suffered the same societal and personal condemnation and guilt tripping that comes with the breast v bottle war, you can’t imagine what kind of damage and pain it causes to a woman’s soul. Obviously, not every woman who tried to nurse but went to formula experiences anguish about it, but many of us do, especially those who had fully embraced the ‘breast is best’ mantra. I still struggle with resentment toward the BFing friends and professionals who, in my opinion, needlessly caused me to suffer terribly as a new mother. I still have sorrow that my first year as a mother was so joyless, because others chose to reinforce my flawed views about BFing (which I’d gotten from them) instead of guiding me compassionately to a more balanced and emotionally healthier way of feeding my child.”

Perspective also plays into the issue of defensiveness in another way: the further away from it you are, the easier it is to approach the “Why I Formula Fed” question dispassionately. I guarantee that for most new mothers, ten years from now- hell, even five – this debate will bore the hell out of them. Other issues will take its place – education, bullying, puberty, safety concerns, etc. However, there are those of us for whom this isn’t just a personal tragedy, but a social problem, a cause which deserves our anger and outrage and yes, defensiveness. I don’t think it’s entirely realistic to hope that we can move away from defensiveness completely, because we are typically reacting to offensiveness.

I think you can be fearless and simultaneously feel the need to defend yourself. All “fearless” formula feeding means to me is that you feel you have made the best choice for your family, for your baby, for you. Fearless doesn’t necessarily mean regret-less, guilt-less, anger-less, resentful-less. It just means you’re not scared of your choice, because you know it is safe, and you know it was right.

But as for what KJ refers to as the “litany of excuses”… I’ve always suspected these are a necessary tool, a ticket to participate in the conversation. By explaining how much you wanted to nurse, and talking about all the struggle you went through to do it, it might help the opposition understand that this is not a matter of lack of education or drive. That it would at least start us on a level playing field, and take down the barricades at the border – I wanted to nurse, you wanted to nurse, we both believe in breastfeeding, so let’s try and discuss this rationally. I have nothing but admiration for women gutsy enough to just come out and say nursing wasn’t for them – I loved Amy Sullivan’s essay in The New Republic, and it was, indeed, the most “fearless” argument for bottle feeding I’ve seen (interestingly, Dell’Antonia felt that Baca’s piece was free from the normal guilt-ridden excuses. I thought it was an excellent piece, on every level – I mean really, really excellent, and quite fearless in a number of important ways – but the fact remains that Baca still mentioned that that she was physically unable to nurse. That gives her a “pass”, in many people’s estimation; it’s still a preemptive strike against condemnation, unconscious as it may have been). But one look at the comment section of Sullivan’s editorial, and you’ll see that it immediately erupted into a hate-fest. Breastfeeding moms took her words as an affront to their method of feeding; breastfeeding advocates told her she was misinformed; judgmental sanctimommies hurled accusations of the usual flavors- Sullivan was selfish, shouldn’t have had kids, etc.

Still, in the past few months, I’ve noticed something: no matter what the writer says, in every online piece I’ve read about formula feeding, the response thread is Exactly. The. Same. The same arguments, the same people, the same facts and studies and name-calling. So while I think we have a right to our emotions – whether these emotions are guilt or regret or anger or pride- we shouldn’t feel the need to state our case in order to create a more peaceful discourse. No matter what you tell them, haters are gonna hate, or whatever that saying is.

Ultimately, I think KJ is right: I’m not sure we can move forward in creating positive change for anyone until we can stop the vicious cycle of guilt-defensiveness-bitterness. I would argue, though, that this is not the responsibility of the women (or men) sharing their stories, but rather that the conversation at large needs to change focus and tone. This might start with media outlets allowing for more nuanced, balanced features on why breastfeeding isn’t working for so many women, rather than coping out with opinion pieces. It might continue with physicians being able to speak out against some of the newest breastfeeding promotion endeavors without risking their careers to do so. It might end with us accepting that changing our society to be more breastfeeding-friendly is far less of a public health issue than it is a question of personal freedom, women’s rights, and trusting our own instincts over what the experts deem is best.

 

 

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