It’s spring. Love is in the air. So, it must be time for . . .
the latest throw down in the breast vs. bottle wars. There are some great pieces about this, um, yeah. See, here’s the first problem. If I call it a controversy, someone’s going to yell at me because breastfeeding is natural and utterly not controversial. If I call it a discussion, someone, somewhere will say I’m not taking it seriously. If I call it a war, well, yeah, that’s probably the best word for it because it is polarizing. People feel really strongly about what’s appropriate and what’s not and harsh words end up getting spoken.
Here’s the thing. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, needs to take a chill pill. First up, the formula feeders (or former formula feeders): relax. Not every post, tweet, or comment about breastfeeding is a slam on you. If someone makes an “I” statement, it’s about them, not about you. If someone is talking about an “ideal” that’s all it is, an ideal. It doesn’t mean that everyone can live up to the ideal — hell, most people can’t (this is why you’ll find homemade chicken nuggets on my menu more frequently than I like to admit, but hey, they’re homemade, right?)
Next, the breastfeeders: congratulations on feeding your babies. Great work! Now, please take a deep breath and remember, it’s not rocket science. You haven’t invented cold fusion; you’ve fed your baby. This does not now entitle you to tell anyone what they should be doing or how they should be doing it. Is breast best? In an ideal world, yes. Do we all live in an ideal world? No.
Let’s think about a couple of points that keep getting pounded on by lactivists: 1) There are only a few, rare women who can’t breastfeed; and 2) Your body gave birth, it’s a miraculous thing, so it can feed your child.
Having watched these posts explode with comments from women who couldn’t breastfeed? I think the few and rare is not as few and rare as we’ve been led to believe. And it is NOT HELPFUL to tell someone that she “could have done it” with proper support or whatever. Because that? Creates a sense of failure and guilt. And why, for the love of God, would anyone want to create more guilt in a profession that already corners the market on guilt (especially since it’s quite clear that all of my understanding of Roman Catholic guilt was *way* out of proportion with reality). Also, it’s frankly none of your business why someone couldn’t/isn’t breastfeeding.
It’s nothing short of rude to tell someone that if they had a baby then they should be able to breastfeed. I’m sorry, because I know this is the conventional wisdom, but it’s wrong. It’s as wrong as saying that every woman can give birth vaginally. It’s not true. Read your history. Know that before there was formula babies DIED because they couldn’t get fed. There is a REASON there were wet nurses. And it wasn’t just because some women (and/or upper class women) didn’t want to breastfeed.
Look, I’ve heard it all: I should feel confident in my “choice,” and so nothing anyone says should be able to induce guilt or make me feel bad; I don’t respect my children because I didn’t breastfeed; I abused my children by giving them formula; I’m a snake for not breastfeeding; and so forth.
I know I have some fairly ardent breastfeeding advocates following me and I have a question. How does that rhetoric further your goal? And see, you can tell me that only the fringe of the movement makes those arguments and that you don’t agree with those comments, but I’ve heard them from too many people in too many different forums to feel that this isn’t a fairly representative opinion.
Now, for the formula feeders, I also have a question: why don’t you tell your stories? Talk about why you feed formula. Write a blog entry. Explain the reasons/reasoning behind the decision (if you were actually able to make a decision), and then try to let it go. Ignore the arguments. Don’t let yourself get sucked in. Realize that no matter how many times you explain your circumstances, there are going to be women who simply refuse to view the feeding of formula as a reasonable choice in some circumstances and pretty much only see it as the worst possible option.
Finally, for all of you ardent breastfeeders? Put your money where your mouth is. If you are so adamant that breast is best for every child, then make sure you have a local milk bank and donate to it if you’re still lactating. If you’re not still lactating, volunteer, advertise for them, recruit nursing mothers for it. If there were actually milk banks available with screened breast milk, women like me could have done something other than formula.
But there aren’t. And so, my children received formula. And they’re thriving. They did not get a significant number of illnesses (and certainly not more than any of their breastfed confederates), and Katie’s trigonocephaly was certainly not caused by lack of breast milk.
Please know, I’m not condemning anyone (well, still not crazy about the people who said I don’t love/respect my children or that I abused them), but I think we all need to consider whether any of this is worth hurting others for. One thought, though, I’ve seen a lot of similarities between the rhetoric used about formula feeders and the rhetoric that the students at Candace McMillan’s high school use to defend their actions. I’m not sure that’s an association that anyone wants.
Edited: Should have been Candice McMillan’s school, I’ve fixed it in the text.