20.9.11

The Most Amazing Thing You Can Do for Your Children


A couple of months ago I was happily browsing around blog-land, reading a few blogs suggested by friends.  While visiting one of these blogs, I clicked "About Me." Included in the authors blurb was the statement, "I think [breast feeding] is the most amazing thing you can do for your children!!!"  I have been on friendly terms with this blog-author and she is delightful in every way.  I am fully aware, she was in no way intending to challenge or offend, however, when I read this my blood began to boil.  THE most amazing thing?  Really?  How about loving your children?  How about playing with your children?  Reading to your children?  Setting good limits?  There are so many "amazing" things we do for our children, so many experiences to share with them and so many ways to express our love.   I will not argue with the fact that breast feeding is very good for children and also a very special, unique experience, but the statement that breastfeeding is "THE most amazing thing" pushes my buttons. It brings up for me problematic attitudes within some mothering and breastfeeding communities from which similar pronouncements have sprung.

The part about it that most upsets me is this... What if a woman cannot, for any reason breast feed her babies?  Should any mother be made to feel that she is not providing her children with the best care and nourishment because her baby cannot latch, because she does not have enough milk, because she is ill, because her baby is adopted?  No mother should be made to feel she is harming her children or that she is less of a mother in this way, EVER.  This attitude, common within some mothering and breastfeeding communities, is simply not OK.  It is harmful.

The morning I was leaving the hospital after the birth of my first son, I was brought to tears by a horrible nurse who wielded this attitude.  I will never forget how I was made to feel by this woman on the joyous day I brought my baby home.  My first son would not  latch on, no matter what we tried.  It seemed like I had every lactation consultant in San Francisco marching through my room giving me suggestions and support, but in the end, I was issued a breast pump.  I pumped for 5 months, and had a double mastectomy when my son was 9 months old.  During the time I was shamed and pressured into pumping prior to the double mastectomy, I was putting myself at risk...  And the day I first went to the store to buy formula, I stood in the grocery aisle, held my baby and sobbed for 20 minutes. I had enough to worry about that day.  I did not need to be crying over buying formula.

I stand publicly and say I agree 100% -- breast feeding is beautiful, wonderful, important and healthy.  I agree that every mother should try to offer this to her children, but no mother should feel ashamed, EVER, for bearing (and baring) her bottles.  I will also stand forward and say that my children are strong, healthy and smart.  The bond I share with them is undeniable.  For anyone to put forth that my children have been compromised or harmed in any way because I fed them formula is just plain deplorable.

To read more on the topic of breastfeeding you can visit Stephanie at Knitty Gritty Homestead where she has written a wonderful, heart-felt post. Danielle at Most Days I Win  also offers humor, wisdom and insight on this topic.

16 comments:

  1. You are one of the most amazing Mamas that I know. I hope you know that. *hugs*
    (and no, my comment doesn't necessary have anything to do with this post.)

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  2. There are so many things we can do for our children, and shame on anyone who suggests that bottle feeding hurts a baby. As I mentioned yesterday, mothers need support and choices and love from other parents. Not this closed perspective that suggests that a mother is harming her baby. Good grief. As an aspiring midwife (I hope, one day), I can only stand for things that support women and their choices, not for things that shame them.

    I followed your link about your double mastectomy and I was moved by your description. I was also tested for the BRCA genetic mutation after so many women in my family had breast and ovarian cancer, with thanks to the BRCA mutation. I had just had Alyce and we knew we wanted more children, and I needed to know. I needed to be around for my baby and the larger family we always wanted. It was terrifying, but in the end I didn't have the genetic mutation. I was spared this particular fate. Of course there are lots of things that can happen in my future, but I am relieved to have taken the test and been given the chance to prepare just a bit for my future. My grandmother, who passed away just before I was born, and my aunts were not given this choice.

    Lots of love. d

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  3. Oh, Melissa -- You are amazing, too! I thank you for your love and support and am so grateful we're friends...

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  4. Danielle -- I'm sorry to hear of the losses in for family due to breast and ovarian cancer. I'm also glad to hear you were brave enough to test and lucky enough to be spared from the mutation.

    Thank you for your strong words and also for the inspiration to finish writing this post (as I said by email, it had been sitting in my queue for 2 months!)

    xo

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  5. *hugs* I think this is an incredibly sensitive issue. It's difficult for both sides.

    For what it's worth, I don't think the author was putting down bottle feeding at all. I didn't see anything in her statement intended to be shaming - and intent is important, no? I think perhaps she was celebrating her own breastfeedind success with her own child and trying to encourage others to breastfeed as well. Not people such as yourself, who wanted desperately to breastfeed but couldn't, but the mamas we see everyday who due to family pressure, unknowledgeable care providers, societal pressure, etc. do not breastfeed. I can't count how many women I know who nursed in the hospital but quickly switched to formula at home because let's face it...breastfeeding pretty well sucks for the first 6 weeks! I was able to nurse my two youngest boys for 2 years and 3 years respectively, and *yes* I am proud of that. I am proud that I ignored the disgusted looks, the ignorance, etc. and continued to breastfeed. We are a country that still regularly kicks breastfeeding women out of YMCAs and restaurants because it's "gross." I will celebrate anyone who nurses their baby. Our country actually has laws in many states to protect a baby's right to nurse in public - how sad that is necessary! My own mother used to leave the room when I nursed my son b/c she was so uncomfortable. :(

    However, I have also been the mama who wanted to breastfeed and couldn't. My daughter had extreme allergies and we ended up weaning at 6 weeks. It was a very sad and painful time, but I do not regret making both of us feel much better by giving her formula! But that experience does not make me any less happy about my breastfeeding experiences with my other 3 children (son #1 nursed till age 18 months). Nursing all of my children was an amazing gift; there is certainly truth to that.

    But for a LONG time, anything promoting breastfeeding w/out making exclusions for mamas like myself made me very upset and angry.

    Please don't let someone's (perhaps poorly worded) happiness about their own breastfeeding experiences make you so upset. Certainly you have many painful memories surrounding breastfeeding; I'm *so* sorry that you were made to feel less than because of your difficulties. You are a fabulous mama!!

    I think it's a fine line breastfeeding advocates walk - even the statement "breast is best" was emotionally charged for a long time b/c women who couldn't breastfeed saw it as a put-down, which it was never meant to be.

    I hope you take my comments in the spirit they are intended - communicating over the net can be so tough. Just please know that there are many of us who have been on both sides of the fence and understand. :)

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  6. You stated this so well. It is such a touchy topic, but an important one. I know my own experience which I was able to pump for the first year, but after a difficult delivery (much blood loss), the baby in the special care nursery and getting jaundice after being taken off the iv, the lactation specialist is the one who said I needed to start supplementing with formula until the jaundice was gone. Now I should also say that I didn't think anything besides breastfeeding would be acceptable in my family. My mother breastfed us when people didn't breastfeed and my sister is an occupational therapist in a NICU with a second master's degree in lactation speciality. However, she did advise me that it was my choice and I needed to do what was right for me and my baby. She honored our decision to supplement with formula and to continue to pump since our baby would "latch" on but after feeding her for an hour on my breast would cry for a bottle because she wasn't really eating.

    I also have many friends for various reasons have not been able to breastfeed. Allergies being the biggest one. So I also know not to judge the parenting style as long as they are doing the best they can for their child and showing him or her lots of love.

    Thank you for addressing such an important issue and stating it so clearly.

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  7. Oh, yes, Nicole, I don't think the statement which inspired this post was meant to be a put-down to women who need to bottle-feed -- it just reminded me of the attitude which causes shaming around formula-use. And it makes me equally angry when women are shamed for breastfeeding! How obscene is that, to shame a woman for nourishing her child in such a beautiful and natural way!

    Thank you for visiting, for sharing your story and leaving such a heart-felt comment!

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  8. Im so sorry that you lost family members to cancer and that you were made to feel bad for having a mastectomy. You must have felt scared enough without anyones judgement. I dont think anything could be wrong with making sure your there to see your baby grow up. Breast milk can be replaced by formula but nothing could replace his mother.
    What a lovely photo of your happy baby having his milk and a cuddle:)

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  9. Huzzah! A woman who states what she's really thinking, even if it might ripple the waters of blogland. I too read that statement on a profile, and it niggled at me, too. My feeling was just, "Well, if you don't breastfeed them, you might as well not bother, because you've already missed the opportunity to do the MOST amazing thing. You COULD do the second-most amazing thing, but..."

    I think statements like this are made with love and good intentions, but without a lot of reflection. I used to look at women who bottlefed in public, thinking, "Oh, she could be nursing if she'd had more support", or "Why would anyone bottlefeed when nursing is just so portable and convenient and wonderful?"...

    That was before my own story took its turn. So it's really about experience and perspective, mellowing out and gaining wisdom as you follow the path of parenthood.

    Peggy, thanks so much for writing this post. It's important. It should be shared. There are so many other ways to be the most amazing mother...sometimes that even means letting go of a dream to breastfeed to save your own sanity, and just get down to the business of feeding your child.

    The marketing of formula is a whole other issue.

    When I first brought Margot to emerg., after struggling and struggling for 10 weeks, not knowing what was wrong, she was close to dehydration. The hospital was very supportive of me pumping and giving her breastmilk, and I did...but the addition of formula made a world of difference for her and for us. She wasn't hungry and crying anymore. I wasn't going crazy trying to pump, nurse, tend to my other small children, and feeling like I was failing at all of it.

    Bottle feeding bought peace to our home. Yes, I could have tried harder. Yes, the day she took her first bottle of formula was among the hardest for me at that time. But I was just...done. Now it's 2.5 years in the past, and I hardly think of it. I'm peaceful.

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  10. Well said.
    My first baby spent 101 days in the NICU and everything about his infancy was different than I expected. My husband and I lived in a Ronald McDonald House during that time and I learned from the other parents that unconditional love, indeed, is the most amazing thing you can do for your child.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your story. Whatever a mother chooses, the only choice is LOVE and that's really it--no explanation or qualifying needed for that. I hope our community of bloggers continues to find inspiration and support from one another, friends on the path all over the globe.

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  12. Thank you for sharing your story. It touched me on several levels. I have lost women in my family due to breast cancer and just recently my Aunty has under gone Chemo and surgery to save her life. I can't begin to imagine how you would have felt going through all you did without the support of some of your nearest and dearest.

    I breastfeed my daughter (she's 14 months now). I can't comment what it's like to not be able to breastfeed your child, but it irks me that there is so much pressure placed on Mama's to "succeed" at it, and often from other Mama's (though sometimes generations apart). I have seen my Sister struggle through three children with little "success" and various friends also and be made to feel in some way inadaquate. On the flip side I also have a sister in law that get's no support from her in laws and husband to continue to breastfeed as they were all bottle feed.

    Everyone has a different story, a different set of circumstance. Each Mama different, each child.

    My story is that I am breastfeeding my 14 month old still. It was bloody hard to get started, I had little support, we saw everyone under the sun, my nipples were bleeding and still I continued (I had an emergency c and felt like a failure already and was determined to "succeed" at breastfeeding). The day I had to express, I had to get her dad to give her the bottle while I howled outside in the yard. We did that for two days off one side while it heeled enough. I was told to continue, it'll get better.

    Eventually it did get better, but not for ages, it was hard and not "easy and natural" for us. But a learned skill. I was fortunate to have lots of milk though, but apart from those two days she's never taken a bottle again despite us trying repeatively.

    On the flip side, like I said, I'm still breastfeeding at 14 months, but she is a boobie monster and still feeds 3 times a night. I'm often struggling with sleep deprevation and physical exhaustion but teaching her to rely on something other than the boob is difficult also, and people judge me for that. They tell me she should be sleeping through the night, like I'm the one to wake her and get her up. Obviously I'm the parent and so therefore need to teach her, but it takes time to break a habit of (her) lifetime and one that we struggle so hard to start in the first place.

    I wish "people" (I don't know who they are, they aren't the people I surround myself in my village, but they seem to make themselves know in shopping centers and the like) were less judgemental and more supportive of one another. Whether you feed by bottle or breast, each Mama (and Dada) are doing the best they can for their child, with the best intentions.

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  13. Thank you and I love you! I just stumbled to your blog and this is the first thing I find, I was unable to breastfeed and cryed so many tears about it, I tried and tried after 20 min on each side my baby would cry so hard, then I would bottle feed her formula and the hunger calmed down, then I would pump for 20 min on each side, every time for three weeks, my breast where so sore, when she breast feed it was so painful, when I saw the clock and see that in 20 min she would eat I began crying just to know the torture it would be, and the I quit and it felt so good to quit that I felt as such a bad mother, a horrible one... but the day I bottle feed her a special milk for her milk allergy and the day that after sucking for 10 min the bottle she was full, that day motherhood was such a bliss for her and for me, we where both happy, she was well feed and I was out of pain. I would have loved to succesfully bf but Im not less of a mother for not succeding, our bond is unbreakable. Thank you again!

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  14. Dearest Domestic Artisan and Anonymous --

    Thank you for sharing your stories -- I'm so glad you each found ways to nourish your babies. Your devotion and love for your babies shine through your words...

    xo
    MB

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  15. You are a very courageous woman, and mother. The love and devotion you have shared, and continue to share and model for your children is by far the greatest gift.

    I take from what you wrote the need to make sure we don't judge each other as women, and as mothers. It is true - until we have walked in their shoes, we just simply have no idea.

    Thank you for sharing this, it is very inspiring.

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