Let’s start by talking about the broken neon sign that I discovered last night as I was ushering my kids into bed in anticipation of solitude and wine. This particular neon sign was given to me and my husband when … Continue reading
If you’re reading this, you probably have a woman in your life that is, you guessed it, still nursing her child (or children). Whether she shared this article with you or you struck out on your own in search of … Continue reading
This month our little man, our rainbow baby, perhaps our last little spawn, Dr. Baby himself, will turn one. On Thanksgiving day, no less. The full gravity of that didn’t hit me until I sent out the call for Booby Award … Continue reading
I’m a member of a Facebook mom’s group that’s based in another city. Part of their mission statement is that their intent is to be a “safe place” for discussion about pregnancy and birth. Just this past week I witnessed … Continue reading
Somewhere in the Universe, two storks were matching babies to mommies-to-be… Manager: “Cindy Adams gets a blonde girl. Betty Jones gets twin boys. Bet she quits making fun of cankles now. Renae Rose….give her one of those new experimental models.” … Continue reading
If you’re a breastfeeding advocate/activist who is currently lactating, I’m going to preface this by giving you an assignment. I’m asking you all to go grab your sweet nurslings and get the oxytocin and prolactin flowing before you delve much further into this blog post. I need you to go to that place in your brain and heart where you have the capacity to see the good in all of humanity. I want you to nurse for a few minutes and to think about the fact that the very child that you’re nurturing will someday grow up to be a very different and separate person from you who will hold vastly different personal truths than you. Then, I’m going to ask you to listen to this:
Done? Very well, then. Carry on…
A very interesting article went viral and made it’s way to my corner of the internet last week. I’m sure that many of you read it and felt a wave of outrage wash over you in similar fashion to other people in my life. The article was a piece published by Press Citizen and written by Karla Erickson, an associate professor of sociology at Grinnell College. In it, Karla prefaces with research from the UK reported by Bahar Gholipour of LiveScience in June which suggests that children who are breastfed may be more likely to reach a higher social class than their parents. She resolves the article after voicing her opinion that breastfeeding is a burden and a power-trip by offering this pledge:
So in a pro-breastfeeding era, I say, “I’m out.” Not because I don’t benefit everyday from that “special connection” to my son, but because I do.
Her choice is based on a theory that she teaches in a Gender and Society course at Grinnell College which asserts that breastfeeding:
…sets up a gendered division of who does what early into parenting. It provides an infrastructure for an unequal distribution of the work (and rewards) of parenting.
As expected, a
debate full-scale personal attack on Karla and her husband ensued in the comments section of Karla’s article and in social media threads on Facebook and elsewhere. I don’t take issue with the critical and well-thought-out responses to Karla’s article, so don’t misunderstand where I’m coming from. I do, however, have a problem with some of the comments in the responses which are inflammatory personal attacks and/or outright hateful. Inasmuch as we claim that we are ‘educated’ women who would love nothing more than to bring the message of breastfeeding’s superiority to our world, our actions sometimes speak much louder. Many of these very public responses to Karla should embarrass us as breastfeeding advocates. Though I disagree with her, I don’t see anything in her article that could be construed as a personal attack on women who choose to breastfeed. Call me crazy, but something in me tells me that even though she’s been the subject of attack since her article was published, she still wouldn’t stoop to that. Conversely, it doesn’t take very much digging to find breastfeeding advocates making themselves look like members of some Militant Breastfeeding Nazi group set out to annihilate anybody who would dare put an artificial nipple in the mouth of an infant or pit themselves on the opposing team in the Mommy Olympics…because (didn’t you get the memo?) being a mother is a game and if you’re not on the winning team…
Well, I’ll just let our friendly neighborhood lactivists explain the rules to you. Here are some shiny, bright examples I pulled from a quick look at a few discussion threads I stumbled across:
So…let’s run through this real quickly from the perspective of us well-educated, lactivist types. Because Karla Erickson has drawn a different conclusion than us based on the very real issue (which deserves its due credence) that her baby nursed so much that her husband didn’t have much bonding time which was stressful for their family and she has a (probably misguided) theory about how to fix it which she has the audacity to share with other people, she deserves the full wrath of the entire worldwide lactivist community? According to us, she’s a piece of garbage, a moronic twit and a pompous idiotic ass(hat) caught up in her european BS thinking who shouldn’t be a mother and who is married to a detached, emotionally absent, and lazy man. She makes us sick to our stomachs and we’re appalled that Press Citizen has published her idiotic, selfish drivel because, after all, it’s just the self-obsessed musings of a wealthy, educated person. Does that about sum up which corner the lactivists are in regarding Karla Erickson?
Coincidentally, in the same week that Karla Erickson’s article was published, Improving Birth VP and blogger, Cristen Pascucci published a blog post that went viral as well. I rather prefer Cristen’s blog to some of the opinions of Karla Erickson which are being tossed about so I’m sharing it in the hopes that some of you will spend some time with it. The blog begins:
All my life, I’ve noticed a tendency among women to condemn each other rather than to reach out, and to criticize rather than support. There’s this territorialism that very effectively divides us. It exists among women as a whole (“Did she really wear that? She’s not 21 anymore.”), among women as mothers (“I can’t believe she didn’t even try to breastfeed! How selfish.”), and among groups of women who can’t work with other groups of women (“Remember when they didn’t invite us to that thing they had? Never again.”).
I have to say that I’m less focused on Ms. Erickson’s theory or her conclusions (which, coincidentally, there are plenty of people disputing) than I am on the reaction to her from within the natural parenting community. Much of the conversation surrounding this article has devolved into an “us against them” sort of mentality and that approach has been MAINLY at the hands of the natural parenting community…not at Karla Erickson’s hands. That is more damaging than anything she’s putting out there, in my always humble opinion. When applied on a grand scale, it has the potential to do much more harm than good where breastfeeding support is concerned and to create a much larger divide between “us” and “them” than the one that already exists and that is my issue. I think that our attitudes are more dangerous than her teaching is right now.
Of course, I also think she’s teaching a wrong conclusion and of course it scares me to think that there will be women who will read it and/or hear her teach it and buy into it. However…as she clearly states in the article, there is plenty of science to back up the benefits of breastfeeding. Amazing things are happening on a grand scale with breastfeeding support and that’s not going away anytime soon. In actuality, though, the premises she’s starting with are not, contrary to popular opinion, idiotic drivel. Breastfeeding does create a stronger bond between women and their babies and it does give us the advantage in many situations where our interactions with our children are concerned. I don’t like her conclusion or the course of actions she encourages as a result of her conclusion, but I can’t say I disagree with where she’s coming from. I happen to think that there’s a reason for the biological process that are wrapped up in breastfeeding. I believe that the hormonal processes that happen which result in a stronger initial bond being forged between a mother and her child than between a father and his child are purposeful. The fact that there are clear benefits to breastfeeding which are scientifically backed isn’t something she’s disputing. The evolutionary twist that resulted in the processes of lactation happened as a way to help ensure survival of our species and are one of many adaptive processes which contribute to the human race continuing to thrive, plain and simple. For her to ignore that would be foolish and she has not done that, but we can’t discount what she’s saying even if she makes a different choice and draws a different conclusion from the information than we do. The issue that she and her husband found to be a problem for their family is that men are at a disadvantage where bonding is concerned. As breastfeeding activists, our response should address that in a way that is helpful and positive. What she’s getting at with her conclusion is that there’s a gender disparity that exists and it does not diminish our position even slightly to acknowledge that truth in that. In fact, I think it’s the place where we have the opportunity to be on the same “team” as her and work towards real solutions for families who want and need them. Whether she’s taking it to the extreme or not with her conclusion isn’t where our focus should be if we want to affect real change with the women she’s reaching.
We start where we agree with her.
Breastfeeding is hard. It’s grueling at times. In the early days, there’s often not much a father can do to help even if he wants to. As much as my husband would have wanted to be the one to offer our babies comfort when they were newborns, the truth was that most of the time, he couldn’t. That was frustrating for both of us. Most of the time, our newborns ONLY wanted me. There were nights when I thought that my nurslings were surely sucking the lifeblood out of me and that neither of us would see the light of day the next morning because the darkness that was enveloping us was just going to make us disappear. BUT…we focus on why we still believe in it and not why she’s wrong or any of the number of insults and personal attacks that have made their way into our various cyberworld communities. We focus on constructive ways to think about our breastfeeding relationships and we focus on community-building. We love each other and we promote harmony. We encourage and we help each other push through it. She’s NOT working on the opposite team. She’s simply come to a different conclusion and a different solution. Maybe not breastfeeding is the best choice for her family. As much as I don’t want to admit this, the truth is that her child is likely to be fine as will the children be of the women who buy into what she’s offering them. Knowing that, we meet them at the place they’re at. Breastfeeding frustrated her and her husband. We address that. That is where we affect change if that’s what we really intend to do.
If change is not our goal, then we should feel free to sling insults at her and women like her because we’re not doing our cause any justice anyway. BUT, if we’re going to choose that, we should be honest about it and say that we’re more concerned with setting ourselves and our choices up on a pedestal than we are with helping more women and babies make breastfeeding work.
I don’t think that Karla Erickson has set out to be divisive and I don’t think we should respond to her as if she has. I hope that she stumbles across this blog post and that we find some common ground. If our worlds ever collided, I’d ask her if I could buy her a cup of coffee and pick her brain because I think she’s a valuable person. I think she is genuine and I honestly believe that she buys into what she’s saying. I propose that we should start the conversation with and about her from that place, not from a place that establishes her as the enemy from square one…because the ground that we have to cover to get back to neutral at that point is just too immense. These babies we’re nurturing (ours and Karla’s) deserve to grow up in a community where people who believe different things don’t feel it necessary to sling mud just because we’re different.
I think my favorite passage from the Improving Birth blog post I mentioned earlier is this one:
With other groups, “find your overlap” and formalize it. Where do you agree? Go there and stay there.
In a nutshell, THAT is what it’s about for me. What about you?
WMC Doula, Amy JonesAmy is one of WMC’s Founding Mothers with four children of her own; her oldest graduated high school and her youngest started Kindergarten in 2014. She’s currently rocking Southeast Texas as Founder, Chairman and Peer Counselor with the Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition, a Breastfeeding Counselor with Breastfeeding USA, and waiting on the final exam to be the only Certified Professional Midwife in the Beaumont area. She is a DONA-trained birth and postpartum doula, welcoming over 100 babies into the world over the last few years. When she’s not hanging out with her family, she can be found at the Beaumont Area Produce Co-op or preparing for her upcoming role as a pregnancy surrogate.
The past few days have been an opportunity for me to realize just how judgmental some of us attachment parenting types can be. I’ve been working on a business plan for a proposal we’re about to present and have come across several articles and blogs that have shown a whole new light on the attitudes and presupmtions that seem to become an ingrained part of every mother’s psyche regardless of her parenting philosophy. I think part of it is an unspoken need to defend our choices but an even larger part is (as one of the articles I read lately points out) a need to be ‘right’. Most of us have an underlying need for approval and even if we’d never admit it out loud, we abhor being wrong. I’ve watched directors of hugely successful programs (recently) fabricate something rather than admit they don’t know the answer. It’s a symptom of the human condition……..we never think we’re good enough to really be doing the job someone has entrusted us with and we sometimes wonder if we’re going to be ‘found out’ one day.
I don’t think parenting is something that should be approached from that perspective, though. There are very few parenting issues that are strictly black or white and taking a view that only allows you to make decisions from a right or wrong perspective could very well be dangerous.
For example, a good friend and past client of ours had high aspirations during her pregnancy that she would have a beautiful, natural birth and that she would breastfeed her baby for a year or longer and that her parenting experience would be some glorious, natural dreamland. Of course, that was her ideal……what she didn’t expect was that as soon as she got home with her little cherub, she would start having SEVERE bouts of postpartum depression. Not only did she end up bottlefeeding, but she needs medication every day to control her depression. For her, it came down to a choice between living her ideal experience and being sane.
See…….for some of us, there are parenting decisions that are our of our hands. This friend KNEW deep in her soul that she was a breastfeeding mama. In fact, I bet if you’d asked her before her postpartum experience, she might have told you that she was intolerant of anything less. It was a hard decision for her when she finally caved in and walked away from breastfeeding but it was a necessary choice. I think that any of us who might judge her for that are working from a place much more black and white than parenting should be approached from. I personally applaud her efforts to be the kind of mom she needs to be for her sweet baby girl even if it means that she sacrifices some of her dream in the process. She and her daughter will develop a stronger bond and a MUCH healthier relationship for it.
If you’ve got people in your life who parent differently than you do, take a step back today to explore your feelings about it and remember that the ultimate goal in parenting is intact, healthy kids AND parents. Accepting that what’s right for YOUR family might not work for somebody else’s family may very well open the door to friendships you never imagined and a whole world of alternative perspectives. That accomplishes one of two things…..assuring you that you’re headed in the right direction OR opening your eyes to another way of looking at parenting that might prompt you to make positive choices you would never have considered otherwise. Who knows? In the midst of it, you might have the same affect on another mama and make a lifelong friend in the process! 🙂
WMC Doula, Amy Jones