To Mothers Who Feed Babies

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Hey You! I know you. You’re a new Mom.You look tired. You look enamoured and excited and exhausted and confused. You look like you could use a massage and a day to yourself. A bubbly soak in a claw foot tub with candles and headphones and Channing Tatum giving you a foot rub and….

Sorry. Where was I?

Oh right. You’re a new Mom, just like me. We used to see each other at the club, the mall, the theatre. Now we run into each other at Wal-Mart or at play dates. We think we barely know each other, except that you’re “Aiden’s (or Sophie’s or Jack’s or Madeline’s) Mom”. But the truth is, we’ve got more in common than our children’s ages. You see, we’re in a full fledged battle with and against each other. The Mommy Wars. There are lots of battle lines, but no two sides. We are all alone. Different coloured uniforms, engaged in a network of battles with one another and ourselves over who can make the most best choices, and reign victorious with the coveted title of “Good Mom”.

Who created this battlefield? How did we get here and how long has it been? I’m not sure. I’ve only been in battle for a little over 4 years. I arrived to this war when I became a Mother. It’s all that I know of my life as “Mom”.  It’s exhausting. We’re tired, right?

I know none of us came here to battle. We came to be Mommies. To kiss boo boos and sing lullabies. To dream, to relearn to see the world through the eyes of a child. To love and hold and be loved and needed. To build our own safe little nests to snuggle and laugh and grow together within. But the white picket fences of yesteryear don’t serve the same purpose these days. No longer can the safety of our homes and fences protect us from interactions with those outside of our world and our circle of family and community. Nope. Not anymore. Because we have: the internet.

We rarely meet each other at coffee shops these days to chat, but we seem to spend all of our free time chatting. Well not really chatting, but “Liking”, “posting”, “commenting” , “creeping”. We talk on facebook and join groups and build networks and buy cloth diapers and hair clips and look at photos of each others’ children and ask for advice and post about potty training and teeth, and fevers and our mutual fantasy of a full night’s sleep. We share articles and blogs and comics and quotes that inspire us, or teach us, or make us ask questions or give us a laugh. And we interact with complete strangers, or old friends or random acquaintances who’ve stumbled upon the same posts as we have and we’re suddenly involved in interactions with people we would never have over for coffee or tea.

And because facebook has changed, so much, the way we interact with one another, it has also changed us. Not us, as in mothers, but us as individuals. All of us who use it. We are a culture of “me”. My profile and My photos, and My friends and My my my, we like to share our opinions. Me too. We all do. (And those who don’t voice them on facebook are always the first to voice them ABOUT the people who voice them on facebook). Right?

Anyway. Mommy Wars. I don’t know who started them or who’s benefiting from this “Good Mom” competition we’re all unwittingly engaged in, but facebook and “the internet”…what shit disturbers.

We make a million choices a day as mothers. From the time we wake up to the time we lay our heads down to pretend for a minute that we’re going to sleep (but really we know we’ll be woken up soon anyway, so….sorry. Tangent). Anyway, all day long we make choices about how to dress and diaper our babies. What to feed them, how to feed them, which doctor to go to, when to burp them, rock them, toys to buy them, books to read to them, and the list goes on. You already know. And each time we make a choice, we are open, if we choose to look, to a barrage of information about that choice on the internet. If I’ve learned one thing in my short time as a Mom thus far it is this. This is wisdom. Write this down on a sticky note and stick it to your computer monitor.

WHEN YOU READ AN ARTICLE ONLINE ABOUT PARENTING, DO NOT, AND I  REPEAT, DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS SECTION! DON’T DO IT. EVER!

Because it’s easy to assess information in scientific form. We either seek out the stuff we want to read and believe that it was flawlessly supported by evidence, or we decide that the article which presents an opinion other than our own is hogwash, nonsense, mock science, for-profit propaganda. But the comments. They hurt. People’s opinions matter to us these days.  Opinions feel personal. If I read an article against breastfeeding, I can laugh and roll my eyes and click on the “x”. But if I read a stranger’s opinion in a comment that says  “people who breastfeed are (xyz)”…oh it’s on!!!

The media, including social media, are full of “information” and opinions about our value, as mothers, based on the choices we make.  Messy, messy opinions with comments and arguments and miscommunication, ignorance and assumptions and anger. I’ve been involved. We all have been involved. Some more directly than others, but we’re all in battle (whether we post to engage or sit back and judge in silence). It’s exhausting and I don’t want to take part in it any more. That is why when I found this really interesting article today in my facebook inbox, I found myself in a dilemma. To share or not to share?

http://www.futurity.org/health-medicine/scans-show-early-brain-growth-in-breastfed-babies/

You see, the article’s about breastfed babies and brain development. Finally some physical evidence to support what I’ve been lead to believe all along. Naturally, like all dedicated facebook oversharers, my first instinct was to share this wonderful study which helped me find clarity on the choices I’ve been grappling with as the pressure to start weaning my baby is closing in at 8 months. Do I give him a few bottles (I’ll admit it, I already have)? Do I think about switching to cow’s milk at 9 months? Could I use a little more freedom (hells yes!)? “Haven’t I taken him off the tit yet?” Afterall, “breastfeeding at this point is just for the mother” (I don’t believe that, but many people share this opinion). Reading this article helped provide physical evidence that my choice was the right one for me. So I wanted to share.

Not to “shove my choices in people’s faces”. Not to make formula-feeding Mamas feel guilty or insufficient. Not to flaunt my body or be self-righteous and certainly not to stir up controversy. I wanted to share because I found it helpful. That’s all. I found it helpful to me where I am in my life right now and I thought maybe it would be helpful to someone else who is in a similar place in their own life right now as well.

But I stopped myself. I stopped myself because I have been accused of all of those less than noble actions above. And quite frankly, it hurts. The way I handled those feelings in the beginning was a bit more aggressive and not as well articulated, because I was fresh on the battlefield and out of my comfort zone. Nobody was coming up to me in restaurants or shopping malls with rude comments or requests to cover up (although I did weather my fair share of sideways glances and occasional glares). But because of my propensity to read and interact on facebook, my head was filled with the awful hatred and ignorance spewed by morons about how my breastfeeding was “public nudity, and disgusting, and saggy and unattractive and controversial and attention-seeking”. It was “judgmental and sanctimonious and perverse”. But they were so wrong!  I spent most of my days locked in a feeding-frenzied stare down with my innocent little baby whom I simply knew in my heart was doing nothing more than what he was hard-wired to do, and I’d be damned if I was going to let anyone get in the way of that by making me feel guilty about it.

Eventually I learned to nurse in public without fear. I stopped trying to wrestle with the cover.  I stopped caring if someone in the restaurant was offended by the way I chose to feed my baby or the fact that I was confident enough to do it publicly. I stopped trying to defend myself. So should you.  Do yourself a favour, and STOP LISTENING TO OTHER PEOPLE except the ones you love and who love and care for you (including your pediatrician, of course, or your naturopath, or whoever you seek medical and health advice from.) Don’t let facebook comments infiltrate your psyche and join that nagging voice inside that is constantly questioning and doubting your worth and strength as a Mother. If you made a mindful choice from a place of love, then you made the right choice. Believe it.

Women who breastfeed feel pressure to cover up, to hide their feeding, to feed their babies in bathrooms, to shut up, to leave the room. Women who formula feed feel judged and belittled and pressured to breastfeed, as though they’ve made the  wrong choice, or guilty and inadequate because they tried to unsuccessfully and have no other choice. But how can we both be wrong? I have sat on both sides of the fence and from either side, I’ve felt, while feeding my baby, that I was doing the wrong thing. Either I am being judged as uneducated or lower class, or I’m an attention-seeking, self-righteous hussy. I just want to feed my baby, dammit!  And now that I’ve had a chance to calm down and make peace with my own choices, I am ready to kick down that fence, blur up the battle-line and stick up for both of us!

First of all,  a big ol’ F-OFF to advertisers and ignorant commentators who know nothing of what it feels like to be responsible for another human being. They can not fathom the pressure and the insecurity and the helplessness that parents endure. So they don’t get a say and we’re not going to let them pit us against each other any longer.

UNITE! Mothers who feed babies, this is your call to join forces and support each other. We’re in a battle together, so we can decide to keep fighting each other or turn our swords outward and defend each other. Formula feeding mothers: if you see a woman breastfeeding on a public bench, bring your baby and your bottle and JOIN her! Breastfeeding mothers: if you see a woman bottle feeding on a public bench, bring your baby and your boobs and JOIN her! Reach out, support, and love one another. Try to understand each other. Don’t make assumptions. Celebrate motherhood together. This first year goes by fast, as do the years that follow. The days seem long, but the years are short. Don’t let the media and the morons take these precious simple moments with our children and crowd them with controversy any more. Resist labels. As mothers, we are so much more than “breast-feeders” vs “bottle-feeders”. We are humans with feelings and insecurities and love in our hearts and desires to give our children the best that we can. Share information and knowledge. Engage and interact and learn. Ask questions. Answer questions. Stand up for one another. Stop beating yourself up. Don’t engage in dialogue with idiots. People who say mean and hurtful things will never be helped, nor educated or changed. Forget about them. We’ve got more important things to do. Like feed our babies and watch them grow. ❤

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To Mothers of New Mothers

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Dear Mothers of New Mothers,

We need to talk. I’ve noticed something about our relationship lately. I feel like we both feel a little bit judged. Your passage into grandmotherhood and mine into motherhood was a beautifully shared moment. But now that the warm and fuzzies have started to fade, I’m sensing something I don’t have a name for. Animosity, jealousy, fear, regret – they all hint at it, but none quite fits.

Whatever it’s called, it’s there in the online discussions of the problems and the stresses we new mothers face. It’s there in the answers we offer each other when we search for advice on how to “deal with” in-laws and well-meaning, plan-sabotaging grandmas. It’s there in your reaction when I tell you something I’ve learned. It’s there in my defensiveness when you tell me how things were when you mothered babies.It’s there when you offer my babies ice cream and it’s there when I intervene and say “No”.

At first I thought it was unique to my own situation. I was wrong. It’s pervasive. It crosses social boundaries of race and class. Everywhere that a mother becomes a grandmother, it’s there.

So let me be the one to come out and say it. This is an important message from new mothers, to our mothers. Please listen. I promise to be honest and I promise to be kind.

Loud and Clear: We aren’t going to do everything the same way that you did it. 20-35 years have gone by since you’ve mothered an infant. Times change. And I mean that in the most loving and understanding of ways. Scientific advances, long-term studies on child rearing practices, trial and error – parenthood is a learning curve and one that never stops. As long as there are humans there will be new parents and new grandparents and things will always change. Some things may ocsillate. Old “DON’Ts” will become new “DOs” and vice versa. But there is something at the core of it all that doesn’t seem to change.

Close your eyes and think back to the time when you first became a mother. You were suddenly responsible for the life of another human being. Remember that sinking fear that you didn’t know enough. Remember the endless reading of facts and suggestions offered to you in the hospital, at doctor’s visits, the endless unsolicited advice from strangers in the grocery store, the balance of advice from both sides of your new family, traditions, methods, recipes, facts and figures, anecdotes. Remember staring into your newborn’s eyes and seeing glimpses of the dreams you had for them, and the promises you made through your own teary eyes to theirs that you would always do your best for them no matter what. Remember that at the core of your being, all you wanted was to be a good mother. Not for yourself, not for your ego, but for your children. And you still do.

But sometimes it hurts. Sometimes, when your daughter tells you she would “NEVER…<do something that you did as a Mother>”, it feels like a slap in the face. When you offer her advice or say that something is okay because you did it as a mother and she says “but now we know better”, it feels like a punch in the gut.

On behalf of new mothers everywhere, let me tell you that we really mean no harm. We’re tired and overwhelmed by it all and excited at the same time. We’re just like you 20-35 year ago. We’re on that same demanding, isolating, painful, confusing and beautifully joyful roller coaster ride that you rode once upon a time (the one that slowed down as we moved out and moved on). When we share our day-to-day details about how we feed, carry, diaper and dress our children, we’re not trying to tell you that we know better than you knew. We’re trying to invite you to get back on the roller coaster and ride it with us. It has a few different twists and turns than the one you just got off of, but please, come along. Keep sharing your stories of when we were babies. We love to hear them. But let us share the stories of our babies, your grandbabies, without feeling hurt, or insulted or judged. We already know you did the best job possible. If not, we wouldn’t be sharing with you now.

We learned more than how to change a diaper, mix a bottle or breastfeed laying down and make a bed from you. Your pot roast was delicious, but the recipe didn’t really matter when we went to bed in warm houses with full bellies. We learned that there are values and motivations and love behind those mundane actions, no matter what the current trends on how to do them happen to be. We learned to want for our children- to want better than we had, to want the best available options, based on the most recent and well informed research, just like you did. When we do things differently than you, Mom, please don’t take it as a departure from your maternal ways. Please, pretty please with a cherry on top, see it for what it really is; an extension of the love and care and the dreams you had for us. We learned those maternal values from the women who raised us. And you did a pretty darn good job, if I do say so myself.