When it comes to having emotional responses to posts about formula feeding, I’m pretty stoic. After reading so many heartbreaking stories you start disassociating – you have to, or you’d go crazy with outrage and frustration.
But tonight, I cried as I read this post. Happy tears. Tears of relief. And then, tears of frustration as I read the comment section.
The post in question was entitled “Let’s stop the war between breastfeeding and formula feeding”, and it was on a blog sponsored by MedPageToday. Pediatrician “Yolanda MD” wrote a rational, calm, but still impassioned post about how crazy the pressure to breastfeed has become, explaining that while she believes breastmilk is “incredible stuff” – she nursed her baby exclusively until suffering a supply dip after returning to work – breastfeeding is not always possible:
I still do everything I can to encourage mothers to breastfeed. I want to help them get through the ups and downs. But obstacles do arise. Obstacles abound. Breastfeeding does not come naturally for many, and life can often throw a wrench in the most well-intentioned plans. Severe pain and slow healing. Minimal time with a lactation consultant. Discouragement from family members or even medical providers. Postpartum depression and stress. Insufficient glandular tissue. Illnesses and hospitalizations. Medications. Returning to work. Limited support for pumping at work.
The idea that every woman can nurse is a hurtful myth….
Which is, of course, no shocker to anyone who reads this blog. But then, she says this:
I was fortunate and did not have difficulties with breastfeeding. But that’s all I can call it — fortunate. My ability to nurse my baby did not make me a more successful or more loving mother than someone who decided to use formula…The mark of a mother is not whether she dons a nursing cover. The mark of womanhood is not whether her breasts are able to produce enough milk. Since when did mothers need to prove that they care?
Amen, hallelujah and sing it sister!
Of course, then the comments began. It was exactly what you’d expect ….”Formula is a marginally adequate nutritional supplement for breastfeeding. But formula feeding has significant health risks for babies and mothers. We must remove the barriers and allow all babies and mothers to have a NORMAL, healthy breastfeeding relationship as long as possible for each mother and baby.” said one visitor (also an MD). “I’m sorry but can someone explain to me why mothers who are successful at breastfeeding, despite all of the obstacles in their way…aren’t allowed to be proud of their accomplishments? Please! I salute every mother who meets her personal breastfeeding goals and she should be proud and deserves a pat on the back for doing what is best for her, her baby and society at large,” said another.
These were only the first of many, I’d bet, which will miss Yolanda’s point entirely. Nowhere did she say breastfeeding wasn’t “best”. Nowhere did she say that women should not feel proud of their accomplishments. She only suggested that to make breastfeeding the mark of motherhood was unhelpful and pointless.
Herein lies the reason that we will never, ever get anywhere in this “debate”. There is no room for alternate opinions. There is no room for sensitivity, or moderation, or nuance. If a person merely hints that bullying women into breastfeeding – by making them feel like inferior mothers (women) if they don’t, or by misrepresenting the “risks” of formula so dramatically that they deserve an Oscar – is wrong or misguided, they are immediately dismissed as being Enfamil’s pawn or a women-hating moron. And if that person happens to be a doctor, god help us all.
Do they not see that this is censorship in the most naked sense? What could be so scary about acknowledging that the experience of one woman is not any less valuable than another? Does the stress caused by not breastfeeding compare to the stress of breastfeeding? Was my pain worse than yours? Who the fark cares? It’s pain, and pain sucks.
It is easy to win an argument when you are wearing earmuffs. Taking them off and hearing – really hearing – what the other side has to say takes true courage. Although I don’t know how you could turn a deaf ear to the breastfeed-at-all-costs zeitgeist, I think we should all make a concerted effort to hear, and comprehend, that point of view. Maybe if they see that we are willing to do this, they will take off the noise-canceling Bose earphones and finally have a real conversation. Not that I am holding my breath.
Regardless, go visit Yolanda’s blog and show her some love. She deserves it.