Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Great Debate Spirals Down into Whining...

I don't know why this happens but it seems like in any given week, there is a topic theme that's repeated over and over again across the blogs I read. I think what happens is that many of my friends read blogs similar to theirs and so on and so forth so people tend to "discuss" the same things as they are inspired by their reading material. Last night I came across many breastfeeding related posts on Facebook while battling insomnia (yay for not sleeping!).

While perusing Woman Uncensored's Facebook, I followed a link over to SquishyBumMum's Facebook to read a really good quote that started a lovely debate (of course) that spanned 78 comments!

The quote was this: "When we trust the makers of baby formula more than we do our own ability to nourish our babies, we lose a chance to claim an aspect of our power as women. Thinking that baby formula is as good as breastmilk is believing that thirty years of technology is superior to three million years of nature's evolution."
~ Christine Northrup M.D.

Then a comment that basically read, "But women shouldn't be made to feel inferior for not breastfeeding" and many that said "but someone women can't breastfeed" and still more that suggested that telling the TRUTH (oh, suggesting that we give up our power when we believe that formula is as good or superior to breastmilk) is making women feel attacked or inferior.

It goes on and I saw a lot of good points made.

Before I get started on my little rant, allow me to remind my readers that my son, 6mo old on Wednesday of next week, is formula fed, 100%. So believe me when I say that I "get" where these women are coming from. The reasons why he's formula fed aren't really relevant to this discussion but if anyone wants to know, just ask I'm happy to share (and no, it's not because I'm lazy, uneducated or believe formula is "Just as good or superior").

I am a STAUNCH supporter of breastfeeding and I will always be so. As a formula feeder, now, I am STILL a militant breastfeeder at heart. I believe this attitude is paramount to normalizing breastfeeding in our society and I will shout "breast is best" from the rooftops until the day I die. I feel very passionately about this issue so don't any of you think otherwise, mkay?

Anyway, to go on. So the whining started early and I say whining for a reason. Nowhere in that quote is anyone suggesting that women that breastfeed are superior mothers to those who don't. Nowhere does it suggest that people who choose to formula feed are...well, anything! It simply states that believing formula is better than breastmilk has further implications than just being misinformed. It's not a judgmental statement on anyone's character at all. It's just a statement of fact. So the people who read that and MUST project their own feelings of insecurity into the discussion as if they were attacked are WHINING. Yes, I just made a judgement.

The reality is that yes, many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons and as a formula feeding mother I get very tired of the 2% of all women statistic. It's true that only 2-3% of the world's women are physically incapable of breastfeeding, I don't argue it. I'm just sick of seeing that statistic thrown out willy-nilly. And don't tell me it's not used in a subtle "I bet you really could have if you tried" kind of way because I KNOW it is because I've been reading Mommy blogs n Mommy groups for YEARS (and I'll tell you that particularly when I was a new mommy to my first baby, I was happily tossing that statistic out in flame-wars, myself). Now, 2-3% doesn't sound like much, I admit. However, if you take the approx number of women in the world in 2007 and multiply it by .02, you get a grand total of 65,836,100 who will, in theory, be physically incapable of breastfeeding due to a defect of some kind or disease or you know, breasts that don't work. That is actually a LOT of people so chances are good, that some of these people we throw that statistic at actually ARE among the "very rare" women who literally CAN'T breastfeed. But that isn't really my issue with that statistic, though I think seeing the numbers like that may help breastfeeding supporters be more compassionate and less likely to just blow hurting women off. I think it is vital we approach this issue with tact and LOVE because many women are truly hurting or suffering from the inner fear that they ARE inferior! No, my problem with that statistic is it only covers a fraction of the reasons why women don't breastfeed. It does not, for example, touch women with serious medical conditions that need to be medicated (like women with severe Bipolar Disorder or certain diseases/auto immune disorders/congenital problems) in order to be functional women in society. Many of the medications these women need to take are not SAFE to feed their babies via the breast. I know some of these women, they are EXCELLENT mothers so don't you DARE suggest they just shouldn't have children, then. It doesn't cover situations like my own, where it's not the mother that is unable to breastfeed, it's the BABY. And sadly, it doesn't touch on the women my heart actually goes out to the most: women who cannot because they HAVE to work and pumping isn't working for them, or don't have the support networks they NEED in the workplace to breastfeed and work. My heart sings for them the loudest because THAT problem is fixable, rampant, and counts for FAR more FF mothers than we like to hear. So I get tired of hearing that because women that then stomp off in a huff because their feelings are hurt in many cases are just plain being dismissed and that's not fair.

However, back to my original point. The problem I have with the WHINING is that stating that facts does NOT mean you're inferior for choosing to formula feed!!!! It could very well be that you were misinformed. OR it could be that you have a damn good reason. There are MANY reasons why mothers choose to formula feed and if YOU choose not to for ANY REASON AT ALL, own it. Stop acting like information meant to inform and empower you is an attack. Believe me, there are staunch supporters for breastfeeding like myself running around with formula in their diaper bags. It's not about making women FEEL BAD. It's about empowering women to make informed choices. It's about empowering women to be confident mothers who know what is BEST for their babies all around. It's about spreading the INFORMATION that breastmilk is far, far superior for the health and well-being of our babies AND ourselves!

I formula feed and I'm not ashamed of it. I also breastfeed and I will tell you that my first thought upon reading that quote was "DAMN STRAIGHT, tell it like it is!". I don't feel inferior or looked down upon and there is NO reason why any women SHOULD just from reading that or any other pro-breastfeeding information. If any of my readers feels badly because they ff, you need to sit down and feel out the reasons WHY.

Do you feel badly because your breasts don't work? If so please, please be kind to yourself, it's NOT your fault and nobody with any sense is going to tell you it is. We understand, you're an awesome mom and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

Is it because you just couldn't make pumping work? If so, I know MANY women, including myself, in that situation and my heart goes out to you. It's NOT as easy as some make it sound and you did your best. The FACTS are that the "breastpump" in general was designed by a dairy farmer (male) and an engineer (male) and they based it around how to get milk out of a COW. I don't know if any of you have noticed, but we're NOT COWS. So yeah, MANY women find the pumps of today "udderly" inadequate for keeping up a supply :P. Again, be kind to yourself, let it go, love yourself. It's ok. Cuddle your child while feed him/her and smile because you are STILL a fantastic mother and NOBODY thinks otherwise.

Is it because you honestly didn't try hard enough? Ok, so you didn't try hard enough! Listen, nobody is perfect! We all make mistakes! The problem comes in when we don't learn from them. It doesn't make you an inferior mother but projecting that feeling of insecurity on people trying to HELP other women NOT make that mistakes DOES make you a whiner! Sorry for saying so, but I don't do unicorn farts, ok? You're still a great mom! Now you simply have an opportunity to be a greater person, in a way, because NOW you have the power to go out and share what you have LEARNED from that and empower other women to do the same! Furthermore, should you be blessed with other children, you have the power to make different choices based on the knowledge someone risked offending you by posting an "inflammatory" quote.

And what about those of you that had such difficult time, were in SO much pain, sick, etc etc? Honey, you do what you have to do and own it in the process. If you still feel you made the best decision, all things in your life considered, that's on you and nobody can take that from you unless you LET them. The only thing I would say to you is that you that it might be a good idea, when you are ready, to see what could have been done differently. Find out the WHYs of your problem. Sometimes just knowing that you did all you could is enough. Sometimes finding out that the problem could have been surmountable if x, y or z were in place is healing in it's own right (I know it was for my mother!). It is also a positive thing for your daughters and your sister women. They don't need to hear "but breastfeeders think I'm inferior". What they need to hear is "my situation sucked here's what I did...and here's what I learned through it".

Are you upset because you have some living situation/working situation that pretty much made breastfeeding impossible and you will mourn it forever? Honey, you are not alone! Instead of being offended, please, PLEASE speak OUT about how angry and hurt you are over this issue. Our society BENEFITS from hearing your righteous outrage over how your right as a mother and your child's right as a person was denied you because of a completely un-supportive system. Here you are, doing your best to raise your kids and you just CAN'T do what is in your heart because there are so many walls in your way! Raise awareness, nod your head and get out there and make yourself heard! These quotes aren't meant to piss you off, they are meant to inspire you, meant to empower you and meant to make you know that you are NOT alone with your inner wisdom. You were RIGHT.

So, to round up my post (and if you've stuck with me so far, brownie points to you!): Someone made a comment in the post that I heartily agree with, both as a lactivist AND formula feeder. Mothers need to work together and support each other. Formula feeders, if your friends are lactivists, that is a GOOD THING. It's not a personal attack on you, after all, they are your FRIENDS. I'm sure how you feed your baby is not the ONLY criteria that made your friendship to start with (and if it is, there is a problem, lol).

Lactivists, for heaven's sake, please take a minute and think about how you present things to you readers/friends. If someone is telling you that they are hurt, take a minute and think before flying off the cuff with statistics or ranting. Think to yourself, "What's her story?" ASK HER. Talk to her. It is my belief that really hearing your sisters and supporting them, even if it means gently telling them they could have done this or that and maybe had success, is THE pivotal point of lactivism. The reality is that we are NOT going to stop big business. What we CAN affect is the consumers. They are our sisters, our neighbors and our daughters. Be compassionate. LISTEN. Choose your words with care. Someone who is even participating in the discussion has an interest, try no to chase her away by being unwittingly callous in your enthusiasm. I speak from experience, I've hurt people unintentionally, I've sent people packing. It's NOT effective.

Mothers, keep up the good work! ALL of you!


Luschka said...

This is a really great post. I particularly love the line 'It's about empowering women to make informed choices.' I try to do that in all aspects, birth, breast feeding, natural health alternatives. It's not about TELLING people what they 'should' be doing - it's about showing them that there are other, less mainstream options.

ShaunaJ said...

Thank you for writing this. I dealt with someone a few weeks ago that instead of taking the information I was giving to everyone, threw a hissy fit because she obviously has issues to work out. She totally drew the attention away from what I was trying to say and made me look like a breastfeeding Nazi. I have no problem with the women that cannot breastfeed or tried and didn't have the support but honestly tried to find support (I was one of those). It's the women who just don't do it because they don't want to and then label us as crazies while they plaster their walls with all kinds of formula company propaganda.

melissa said...

Hi! I hope you don't mind that I read your post after you linked it in the comments section of Rixa's blog! I love this post. I really agree with what you have to say! I was so angry with the comments that implied (or outright accused) that women are lazy or 'inconvenienced' and thus don't breastfeed! As if individual women are the root of the problem! I really detest that kind of mentality and think it contributes to sexism, classism and continued poverty from self perpetuating perceptions....

And I commend you for being a great FFing mom. I am also a staunch lactivist who FFed one of my three kiddos--talk about coincidence!! My story was that our 2nd child was adopted at age 16 months. I was able to initiate lactation for him with my pump, but had difficulties coping with adjusting to having 2 kids, serious disappointment in myself regarding my inability to instantly bond with this (very cute) stranger, and grappling with an as-yet-undiagnosed anxiety disorder, so I stopped pumping. I still think that it was a good choice wrt my mental health at the time. It didn't solve ANY problems that way whatsoever, but continuing would have contributed to them. So while of course I wish I could have breastfed or pumped for him, cow's milk was what we needed to do. In retrospect I deeply wish I had been diagnosed and treated, so i could have coped with parenting at that time well enough to also pump. But, like you say in your post, we do the best we can and when we learn how we could have done better, we can use that learning to help other women. Without even knowing what was wrong with me, it wasn't healthy for me to continue trying to keep up with a pumping schedule on top of everything else I was dealing with!

So, I know from my own experience as a lactivist who formula fed one of her kids, it is fully possible to endorse Dr Northrup's quote and formula feed. Certainly without formula in the orphanage he was living in before we adopted him, he would have been much worse off!

OF COURSE women shouldn't feel inferior for formula feeding. Formula is a substitute that is appropriate for infants who cannot be breastfed. Feeding your baby is the bottom line of good mothering!!! But that shouldn't preclude acknowledging that information regarding the multifaceted superfood components of breastmilk.
We do the best we can with what we have at the time, and no one can do or expect better. The best we can is enough.

And I hope you don't mind this comment novel I've left on your blog :)))))

Keep it up, fellow lactivist!!

melissa said...

p.s. if you'd like to visit, I'm at


you can't find me by clicking on my profile pic, b/c of privacy reasons. But you are welcome to copy and paste my url and visit if you feel so inclined to investigate who this verbose new commenter is ;)