Breastfeeding; lets move on to the ‘third wave’

(wow- I never thought I would be writing a blog post that talks about feminism… but here goes)

Yesterday, I read a blog post on my friend Cheryl’s blog, written by a friend of hers, about breastfeeding. (http://amoment4mommy.com/ See the name resemblance… oh how friends think alike and Mom’s are obsessed with the concept of time) The post is called “Thoughts on breastfeeding” (http://bit.ly/aDJEtj), take a moment and give it a read. The first sentence gives you the basic idea: “I make milk, what’s your superpower.” My friend Cheryl, having read my post on breastfeeding (http://bit.ly/c4SKV2), wrote me a note saying she was dying to know what my reaction was to the post.

So I started thinking about it. My first reaction? Sadness and jealousy. I guess that makes me a non-superhero Mom. I am sans superpower. I mean, mixing powder with water and heating is not exactly challenging. I make really good muffins, does that count as a superpower? But do I begrudge this Mom her wonderful breastfeeding experience? No. I am proud of her. It obviously positively impacted her view of herself and made her feel fulfilled. She was able to give her kids the best nutrition available for a baby.

Then I started thinking some more. Why is it that, despite my support for anyone who did master the art of breastfeeding, I feel so crappy every time I hear or read a pro-breastfeeding story. And then it struck me. Breastfeeding is stuck in that ‘second wave feminism’ trap.

*Side note: Before I really tick anyone off, let me first just say that I am not a student of feminism. I took a few Political Science classes in university that touched on the main points, but other then that I don’t know much. I am basing this on my impressions of feminism, not extensive research and study.

To me, second wave feminism was all about loud and proud. It was a ‘shout it from the roof tops’ kinda movement that sought to enlighten everyone, especially women, on just how oppressed they were. And in doing so, it also alienated a lot of women. Especially women who truly loved staying at home, raising kids and cooking dinner. Instead of liberating those women, many felt like they were being told that they weren’t good enough. That they weren’t whole unless they got out of the house, went to work and discovered ‘who they really were.’ They were told that they were being brainwashed to believe that they liked their lives.

To me, the breast feeding movement as a whole, is sending the same message. I am all for an individual being loud and proud about her breastfeeding success. I think, like the second wave of feminism, this is a natural reaction to so many years when breastfeeding was in the shadows. Something done in secret and in private. I get the need to go the opposite direction and convince everyone that it is natural, beautiful and something to be celebrated, not shunned.

The problem is, when organizations, governments and health care providers take such a strong stance on the issue, they leave behind a wake of women being told they just don’t cut it as a Mom. They have been told it is because of societies bias against breastfeeding that they weren’t able to do it. Or if they choose not to, that they were brainwashed. I wasn’t brainwashed, thank you very much. It wasn’t societies bias against breastfeeding that got me. It was a series of unfortunate events.

You take a women, who has just been through the most emotionally and physically exhausting ordeal in her life, stick her in a two person hospital room where she doesn’t feel comfortable, and hand her a little baby she has no idea what to do with. Then send her home two days later with very little help except a quick lesson on latching. Someone who is just not the type to stay in bed for 3 days nursing, like they recommend. Then you add a group of health care professionals who hem and haw about a tongue tied baby for 8 weeks. Then you shuffle Mom and baby to a million appointments here and there, giving her all different advice. And lastly, you add a medical condition that predisposed her to breastfeeding issues (PCOS- some women product too much milk, others not enough, according to recent studies. For more info: http://bit.ly/dvUXMi). I wasn’t hoodwinked- I was unlucky.

We need to bring on the ‘third-wave of breastfeeding’. Where we accept and support each other despite our differences. Where we don’t talk down to one an other and tell each other how we are victims of societies anti-breastfeeding stance. Where we don’t suggest that the only way to really experience motherhood is to breastfeed.

In some ways the breastfeeding discussion is like the Stay-at-home versus Work-outside-the-home Mom debate. There is a choice involved, but a choice that some people don’t have the luxury to make. For some families, both parents need to work outside the home to financially support the family. For others the cost of day care is so high that one parent needs to stay home. Either way, these families are faced with a ‘choice’ where circumstances stack the odds on one side of the debate, making it not so much a ‘choice’ as they would have liked. My experience with breastfeeding was one of those situations where ‘choice’ was limited by circumstances.

*Side note: I will acknowledge that the two debates have their differences. While I believe that kids can thrive in either a stay-at-home or a day-home/day-care situation, it does seem clear, from a nutritional standpoint, that breastfeeding is better then formula feeding. Although, when read the sentence I just wrote, I have to say that I feel that babies can thrive on either formula or breast milk… so I don’t know.

Really, when you think about it, ‘choice’ is an interesting concept in parenthood. One of the hardest things I have learned about parenting so far is that sometimes you have to make a ‘choice’ that really isn’t your preference. It is all about hard decisions, where the odds are stacked in such a way that limits your ‘choice’. Maybe I need to stop regretting and just accept this part of parenting. I should forgive myself for making what was a crappy ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’ ‘choice’ and stop feeling like a failure every time I hear about somebody elses’ great breastfeeding experience. I am sure going to try.

Okay, I am done. Last breastfeeding post you will read from me. (At least until the if/when of baby #2 happens… which won’t be anytime soon!!)

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20 responses to “Breastfeeding; lets move on to the ‘third wave’

  1. Perpetua January 29, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I don’t have anything to say other than that I really, really like you. 🙂

      • Accidents January 29, 2010 at 7:10 pm

        This is quite possibly the smartest take on what we as women need to do about the “internal” politics of breastfeeding that I have encountered.

        I have taught Women’s Studies courses, so I guess you could call me a student of feminism, and I think the analogy is so. SO. apt.

        (and was anyone else disgusted by all the mommybloggers posting and tweeting about how we *shouldn’t* send formula to Haiti? Have you ever heard of something so sickeningly ridiculous and DANGEROUS as that? I felt ashamed to be associated with that garbage)

      • amoment2think January 29, 2010 at 7:33 pm

        Wow. Thank you. Good to hear that apparently I do remember something from my university days clearly. 🙂

        I didn’t hear any of the discussion about not sending formula to Haiti…. a good thing too, because I think I would have written quite the rant about it if I did. Seriously?!! Yes, let’s have babies with no alternative source of nutrition… awesome. If I struggled to breastfeed in Canada, with a roof over my head, food on the table and all of my family around me, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to try and learn how to do it in post-earthquake Haiti. Wow… there are some nut-bars in the world, aren’t there?!

      • amoment2think January 30, 2010 at 10:36 am

        Just read this post on the “Fearless Formula Feeders” blog about the formula/breastmilk to Haiti thing… and now I don’t know what to think. I can see both sides….. http://bit.ly/70cxz0

      • Fearless Formula Feeder January 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm

        You know what’s funny? I actually started to post an additional comment in response to what some of your comments on this post said about Haiti… and I deleted it b/c I was worried it would sound irrelevant to the original point of your post. But what I said was that I actually felt like a shmuck b/c I supported the whole don’t-send-formula thing, when I’ve since seen that it has turned into yet another case of putting someone else’s agenda before the true interest of women. My problem with the whole thing is that WHO and Unicef are using it as a platform for pro-breastfeeding propaganda, rather than focusing on the nest interest of Haiti. I still feel that breastfeeding is the best thing for people in a 3rd world country post-disaster, but I know think that the important thing is to get these kids fed, and reports are conflicting at best… it sounds like there is a real shortage of formula and a true need for it. I don’t know what to think anymore, and I find it sad that we even need to question the motives behind aid organizations…

        I’m ranting. Sorry. But just wanted to say that I think the story has changed/developed a great deal since I left that post. I am trying to separate the true issues from the politics surrounding it, but it has been really hard for me.

  2. Denise January 29, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    It’s me Denise, from Cheryl’s Blog.
    Thanks for your point of view on the much debated subject. I was trying to make a light, entertaining read about something that I spent a good part of the last few years doing. I did have the same struggles of course, but I choose to make it more of a positive post as overall my experience was just that- positive.

    Don’t ever think I am putting down those who don’t breastfeed. That’s just not me. There are a million choices you need to make as a parent. Bottle, breast, homebirth, epidural, vaccinations…the list goes on. We all need to make our own choices, while some are made for us. That’s why I said I was grateful I could “physically” do it.

    I’m glad people are reading and talking, I hope you’ll check back again….now about those muffins? Do you ship them, because that’s a superpower I just don’t I have.

    • amoment2think January 29, 2010 at 5:18 pm

      Thank Denise. I hope you didn’t feel like I was implying that you were putting down anyone. I think your post was great and I am happy for you that your experience was so positive. I think it is important for Mom’s to celebrate their successes in what is one of the hardest jobs ever! It just happened to get me thinking about how I felt.

      LOL!! I have never shipped my muffins before, but there is always a first for anything! Usually my husband (and I) eat them all before they could get shipped! 🙂

  3. Cheryl January 29, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I just appreciate the dialogue and the fact that we can talk freely about this, regardless of the varied experiences.

  4. Fearless Formula Feeder January 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    I am going to link to this post on my blog. You totally hit the nail on the head. Thank you for putting this out there!

  5. amoment2think January 30, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Its a hard one. The politics of breastfeeding is such an emotional issue for so many. It is this emotion that gets people and organizations to take stances that may or may not reflect the reality of what is happening on the ground. I am with you, after reading a bit from both sides I just don’t know what to think. On the one hand I agree that breastfeeding is the best option whenever possible, especially when there is very limited supply of clean water. But I would hate to see babies going hungry because of a well meaning, but perhaps misguided, pro-breastfeeding bias.

  6. amberhj January 31, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    I think you have a better understanding of feminism than most “experts!” You nailed this post. Thank you for writing it. I could not agree more.

    Actually, I enjoyed both posts (this one and the one it refers to) VERY MUCH. However, it’s that darn line that rubs me the wrong way. Not “I make milk” pride… it’s the “What’s your superpower?” With “your” in italics. Why throw it in the face of the reader/other? It would be far more effective and celebratory as a slogan if it expressed pride without that negative/comparative aspect. (Yes, I’m a copywriter and I write and nitpick copy for a living.)

    If I had successfully breastfed, I’d be proud. Extremely! And rightly so!!! But I’m just as proud of my above-and-beyond efforts to ensure my daughter’s happiness and health. Just as much love and work was involved, trust me. I’m incredibly proud. I am, indeed, a superhero.

    Anywho, Denise’s post was wonderful and non-adversarial, except in my opinion for the use of that line, which reminds me of the unfortunate tone of some more antagonist lactivists who equate motherhood with breastfeeding, as was mentioned above. I guess I just don’t understand the sentiment behind it, or maybe the head honcho lactivists should hire me to write a better line. 😉 I could totally do it.

    Being a mother requires plenty of superpowers. Superhuman effort and patience, at the very, very least. I’ve got a whole list of superpowers, and I think I’ll be doing a post on that very soon!

    Thanks for the refreshingly civil and reasonable dialogue, and intelligent, thoughtful commentary.

    • amoment2think February 1, 2010 at 8:46 am

      Thank you. I am very happy that this post is getting such a positive response, as I was a bit scared to post it! Not only because breastfeeding is a topic that gets soo many people emotional, but also because it has been a long time since I contemplated the meaning of feminism!!

      Yes, I agree, although Denise meant nothing at all by it, I was most upset by the ‘what’s your superpower’ line. Although I know my own 3 1/2 month struggle to make breastfeeding work was certainly a heroic effort, in the end breastfeeding is still not a superpower I was able to master.

      But you have a very good point, that motherhood has a lot of other superpowers too. I think all of us mothers are often too hard on ourselves. Thank you for reminding me of that.

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  8. Nicole April 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Wow, your experience sounds just like mine! Short hospital visit, quick lesson on latching, tongue tied with a long wait for the “miracle” that would occur with release, only to discover that I didn’t have enough milk in the first place (despite herbal supplements and drugs). I dragged my little one from appointment to appointment with no improvement. Despite all this “support”, it just wasn’t going to work.

    I made a choice to then formula feed, and it was not my preference, breastfeeding was but it didn’t work out. I decided that it was more important to have a fed baby than a starving one!

    Thank you for this post, I hope that with blogs like this more women will feel comfortable to share there stories and not hide in the closet mixing up their powder and water. When you have been through the “battle of the boob” and come out defeated, it sure is wonderful to hear that you were not the only one.

    • amoment2think April 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm

      Thank you Nicole. I am sorry you also had to go through something so similar to what I did- I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But the more time I spend online the more I realize that there are many many women like us. Yes, I hope to that more of us feel like we don’t have to hide in the closet, as you say. Thank you for your comment. FYI- if you ever want to share your story and/or talk with other Mom’s who have been through it I would recommend visiting the Fearless formula feeder’s blog (http://fearlessformulafeeder.blogspot.com/). (Although you may already know about her and got to my blog via her’s).

  9. Stephanie October 3, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Thank you so much for your lovely blog entry. I found you through Fearless Formula Feeder’s blog and thought your thoughts were right on. I have to say that I have PCOS and never knew until recently that could effect my milk supply. I was reading your links and almost started crying it was such a source of relief. I have been beating myself up for two years now because I just couldn’t produce enough to breastfeed. I tried pumping, feeding, etc. I had two lactation nurses, my daughter’s pediatrician, and my OB all saying that I wasn’t producing enough, but I just kept thinking it is because I didn’t work hard enough and mainly because that is what all the pro-breastfeeding websites (and comment boards) kept telling me. Now I am convinced that my PCOS is the reason why I couldn’t breastfeed and it is such a source of relief. I guess I’ll still get the dirty looks when I bring out a bottle (I live in a super pro-breastfeeding area,) but I’ll know that I did try hard enough, my body just was against breastfeeding.

    • amoment2think October 4, 2010 at 6:51 am

      Thank you so much for your comment Stephanie. I am glad that you found some relief in what I wrote. Yes, you did try hard enough. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. I really hope you stop beating yourself up, breastfeeding is not the definition of a good mother. I so wish there was more research going into health issues like PCOS in relation to breastfeeding. Maybe if there was then women like us would have a better chance at being successful at breastfeeding the second time around.

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