Sometimes the fight makes the victory all the sweeter, but at some point, the cost of conflict becomes unbearable. Where is the line? It’s easy to say that it depends on the subject, the combatants, and the victor, but that is such an oversimplification that it means almost nothing. All it proves to me is that like any controversial issue, there is no right or wrong answer. Yet, because the particular issue I’m talking about involves children (and by default, parenting), there are few willing to admit that there’s no “right” answer.
Julie over at A Little Pregnant.com had a great blog post about the continual battle surrounding the issue of breastfeeding (or not, as the case may be). Please go and read her take on the issue (and what sparked today’s discussion), or just bookmark her page/add her to your RSS feed simply because she brings a lot of fertility- and rights-related issues out of obscurity or worse, out of the arena of academic intellectual masturbation and into real-life, down-to-earth, applicable situations and attempts to analyze them with wit and passion. These are painful and frustrating subjects, and there is a lot of ignorance and social/political prejudice attached to the personal experiences that everyone seems to have coloring their own opinions. Remaining objective is pert-near impossible, but I think she does a fine job of at least managing to remain logical, despite the emotional minefield of infertility, parents’ and women’s rights, adoption, parenting issues, and in this case, breastfeeding.
Anyone who has been a parent is familiar with the breastfeeding vs. formula debate. They may not visit online forums that never seem to be anything more than a flame war, and they may not adhere strongly to one side or the other, but somewhere along the line, I can guarantee you that someone, at some point during the pregnancy or infancy, has touted their own personal brand of “I know what’s best for your child” unwarranted advice. (To be fair, this is only one of the many subjects it’s possible to be given advice on when you’re expecting or a new parent; everything is fair game to anybody at any time. Whatever it is, you’re not only doing it wrong, but someone is nearby to correct your heathen ways and save your poor child from certain doom. Parents, I can see you nodding all the way over here. Non-parents…observe the parents around you and you’ll see it too; you might be lucky enough to catch someone being scolded about using/not using wet wipes on a kid’s face and hands, or the unlucky shape of a kid’s head, or whether or not babies can see colors.) The advice usually begins with well-meaning family members, and quickly spreads to opinionated-but-not-necessarily-well-meaning family members, then friends, friends of friends, relatives of friends’ friends, and eventually strangers on the street.
The questions are usually the same. Are you going to keep working after the baby is born (and the follow-up implications of WTF is wrong with you/Stick it to the man, sister/WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN)? Are you going to circumcise? Are you going to limit the kid to gender-specific colors/toys/life choices? And then the big one, “Well, whatever you do (you heathen/hippie/lazy-ass), you had better breastfeed.” They don’t even phrase it as a question anymore. It’s no longer a choice, it’s something you simply do, like moving out of your parents’ house after college or not screwing livestock. (Well, let’s be honest. Not getting caught screwing livestock.)
However, unlike choosing to abstain from bestiality, sometimes breastfeeding just…doesn’t work. There could be supply and demand issues. There could be no way for the mother to comfortably pump at her workplace. There could be a physical obstacle in mother or child, like inverted nipples or reflux or an illness that prevents the two from physical contact or complications that arise from a c-section. Or, and more commonly, a combination of those.
Hardcore proponents of breastfeeding maintain that all of these issue can be surmounted with enough determination and elbow grease, but only some of them admit that there are situations where, well, it just isn’t going to work. All the determination in the world can’t make your supply suddenly increase, although there are things you can try that might help. All the hard work you have the strength for can’t change the fact that your baby is tongue-tied and can’t suckle properly, but there’s a minor surgery that sometimes works. Sometimes, like Julie so adeptly illustrates, fighting all day long, every day, week after week, month after month with pumping and scheduling and supplements and crying fits takes such a toll on your sanity and self-worth and your relationship with your baby that it really, really, REALLY isn’t worth it anymore.
I don’t think there is a woman out there in the world who is unaware that breast milk is ideal, but arbitrarily chooses to pay a lot of money for formula because for funsies. I think there are women who choose to formula-feed for reasons of vanity, or so that they can support their child by working a job/school where they can’t pump, or because they can’t kick whatever legal or illegal substance they are addicted to that could harm the baby, or because they must take prescribed medication that isn’t safe to nurse but allows them to function so much better and more safely, and I do NOT think that these reasons might as well all be lumped together under convenient labels of “lazy”/”crazy”/”irresponsible”/”uncaring”/”incompetent,” either. Nor should those who find it necessary to supplement be lumped into these categories or shamed by someone else who isn’t in their shoes.
Furthermore, I have never been told that I had better formula-feed, or else my child could end up brain-damaged or diseased, or that by depriving him of formula that I don’t deserve to have a child, or that it’s a proven scientific fact that breastfed children grow up to be criminals living in poverty. (Not that people who hold these beliefs aren’t out there somewhere, but I have never met one.) I have, however, been confronted with each and every one of these claims by someone trying to convince me to breastfeed. Interestingly, I have never been against breastfeeding, or even on the fence about whether or not I wanted to breastfeed. I always knew that I wanted to, but even after expressing this agreement I was subjected to something akin to a tirade lest I change my fragile, hormone-laden mind.
Maybe it was my fragile, hormone-laden mind that was the problem, but when did this become a “with us or against us” issue anyway? If you supplement or have to formula-feed, how the hell does that mean you’re suddenly a bad influence on future parents and compromising their ability to make an intelligent choice? I personally love hearing about peoples’ struggles, because it makes my struggles not only feel normal and not something to be ashamed of and hide, but something that everyone goes through and it’s okay to ask for help. I’m not a failure because things didn’t work out like a fairytale, because most people don’t have that fairytale, AND FURTHERMORE, I shouldn’t have to take shit from people who DO manage have the fairytale, either! There is a lot of room for different solutions to different situations, so why are we in two camps? It’s like any of the big debates; the people shouting the loudest are crazypants; their rhetoric is designed to evoke emotions, not productive solutions. There may be people who think women and non-whites aren’t people or deserve equal rights, and there may be people who loooooove killing babies and pets, but I’m pretty sure they are a distinct and despicable minority. The rest of the people getting into the debate are fairly reasonable, relatively intelligent people who want the same thing, but don’t agree on how to get there. I’m sure that what both camps really want is for infants to be healthy, happy, and loved. So for heaven’s sake, STOP TAKING POTSHOTS AT EACH OTHER.
For that matter, who says that breast milk really is the ONLY OPTION for a healthy, happy child? Who says that what works for one kid is always going to work for all other kids? Babies can be simple creatures, but they are still individuals, just like adults. Maybe the majority of their personal preferences don’t show up until later, but some are distinct from birth.
For example, everything I read (and I read a LOT) and everything everyone told me was that newborns love being swaddled. It makes them feel safe, they said. It makes them calm. It helps them sleep. Well, the Podling hated being swaddled. HATED. He knew when we were trying swaddle him, too, and though his legs were tiny, he tried like hell to kick us in the nuts whenever we tried. He hated being confined at all, unless it was in someone’s arms, and even then he needed at least one limb free to wave around. And all that jazz about how much newborns sleep? Yeah, not my kid. I don’t think he even blinked much, just in case he missed something important. He weaned himself at 6 months and never looked back. He demanded solid foods at 4 months (written requests were submitted much earlier) and only then did we see the first signs of satiation on his chubby little cheeks. Now, my cousin’s little boy can’t get enough breast milk, and he’s nearly two. I’m pretty certain she’s going to have to pry him off with a crowbar. Her little girl only ate bananas for three solid months, and then only well after the 6-month mark. Kids are all the same the way women are all the same and men are all the same. They’re human. They like food, shelter, and affection. …and that’s about all you can say with any accuracy.
So where is the line? At what point are we being too sensitive? “I love breastfeeding!” does not necessarily mean that people who don’t are somehow inferior. But, “breast is best,” while catchy, does carry the implication that people who don’t or can’t breastfeed aren’t as good parents. Maybe it’s time for a different slogan. How about “I heart healthy small humans”? Or “Formula: the other good milk.” Or maybe, “Just feed ‘em!”
Hm. Maybe this is why I never went into marketing.