I’ve been completely enjoying the commenting on a recent post at PhDInParenting entitled “When to Give Up on Breastfeeding.” In her post, PhD explains her dismay at a post she read where a mom named Colleen gave advice that moms should switch to formula if after two weeks breastfeeding isn’t working for them.
PhD concludes her well-researched post, saying:
I sympathize with the woman that wrote the original post and I know her heart is in the right place when she tells people they should give up at 2 weeks, but I don’t think she realizes that she is undermining them if they do want to continue and that recommendations like this can have disastrous results for breastfeeding rates and subsequently for our healthcare system.
It’s really a well-written response and I do recommend giving it a read! What was fascinating to me, however, was that some moms were actually offended by her remarks.
The whole thing opened up my thoughts on the larger issue of stating our opinions openly online. While I believe that understanding and support are great positives, I ended up coming even closer to my conviction that only through directly and courageously stating our opinions can we truly make a difference.
A bit more back story: The string of comments on PhD’s post quickly began to get very thought provoking.
Sommer of Green and Clean Mom drew a line in the sand:
What about those that decide to NOT breastfeed or decide to quit because “their” emotional, mental or physical boundaries are different than yours? What you have done is drawn a line in the sand and puts you on one side and someone else on the other.
Shouldn’t the most important thing be a healthy mom and baby? Shouldn’t moms feel less judged and more supported? I don’t sense support or COMPASSION. The smell is clearly a mob of women that are pro breastfeeding and it is there way or the highway but NO that is not the case. We can’t all see the same way or have the same capabilities or handle the same stresses.
Ruth of Left of the Pleiades spoke to Coleen (the original poster), explaining why she feels we need more advice like PhD’s:
I think the reason your post has upset Annie to the point of actually making a poll is because of this very reason. If I had read your article when I was struggling, and given up when it wasn’t working out at two weeks, it would have dragged me even further down into the mire.
Amanda at Family Nature defended Annie’s conscientious writing:
Not once does PhD criticize the mother, or any mother. There is no name calling. There is no judgement. It seems that PhD went to great lengths to write in an unoffensive way. So I have to wonder…what exactly are people upset about? I mean specifically; what words or sentences do people find offensive? ‘Cause I just don’t get it.
And Kelly, a reader, explained just how our words can cause hurt:
But when I read about moms who struggled so mightily for weeks and months to “give their child the best start” I can’t help but feel insulted as my son has done just fine thank you oh so much. I did give him the best start. I loved him, cuddled him, held him nurtured him . . . What I’d like to see is some acknowledgment that for the women who struggled for so long that they did so because succeeding at breastfeeding was important to them, to their identify as mothers, to their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t just so that their babies would receive breastmilk. Because when that is how their struggles are presented, what moms like myself and Colleen take away is that these women sacrificed more for their babies. Perhaps that isn’t the intent.
I saw a theme in the comments to this post, one that relates to the issue of how we state our opinions as moms in general. What I think cuts to the heart of the banter here is the use of the word “support” and the different meanings that are equated with it. It’s a big topic in mothering and mommy-blogging, of course!
I can say that for myself, I do not equate the idea of being supportive with avoiding value judgements entirely. As mothers, especially educated mothers and bloggers, when we present our opinions, I believe the presumption is that we do so out of a combination of our personal values and our informed research. The understanding is that not everyone shares our values, our limitations, or our strengths. What works for one mom doesn’t necessarily work for another!
But if we go to extremes in that regard — essentially saying, “Whatever way you do things, honey, that’s ultimately the best thing that you possibly could have done and I support it wholeheartedly because I support all moms.” — I think we undermine our ability to truly help eachother.
When I ask someone for advice, I don’t expect them to tell me that they fully advocate whatever choice I make. I want to truly know what decision they support and what their experiential and educated reasons are for that. I hope to get the same from moms online.
No, in this particular situation I don’t personally feel that Annie at PhD has mis-stepped in either conducting her poll or writing her thoughts on how she feels moms can support each other regarding beginning breastfeeding. Why? Because she is honestly stating what she truly believes to be a positive course of action to benefit moms and babies. She is not pointing fingers, she is opening up doors.
Loving Ourselves While Upholding Our Values
When I wrote earlier about breastfeeding growth charts one of points I tried to make is that the WHO charts are based on optimal growth for babies, because, according to international health experts, breastfeeding is the optimal feeding choice. Period.
That doesn’t mean bottle feeding is wrong, or that it’s not entirely possible to love, nurture and care for a bright, well-developed child with bottle feeding! “Not optimal” and “wrong” are not the same thing. Personally I find that it’s easy for us as moms to wish that we could be doing everything, every aspect of parenting, in the optimal way. When someone shares information about a particular thing we have done in the past that they believe may not have been the optimal choice, we jump to thinking they’re telling us we’re terrible moms! I’ve been there, and I know that mothering can cause these normal emotional reactions.
But, though we do need to be respectful of others feelings and clarify our message, I believe that it’s crucial that we don’t back away from the most important aspects of what we are trying to deliver. By diluting that message, I think we do everyone, babies, moms, heck our entire human populace, a disservice.
If I understood Kelly’s comment above, I believe that she was pointing out that when moms use phrases like “I want to give my child the best start” in relation to breastfeeding it can be read as an insult by those who didn’t succeed at or attempt breastfeeding for personal reasons. I can understand and truly respect the genuine needs and emotions that go into that.
But that’s where I think each of us need to love ourselves where we are. Breastfeeding is the best start. But it’s not the only aspect of parenting a baby there is. And I don’t think that by withholding that value judgment on breastfeeding in general we make things better for moms and babies.
For example, I feel like a failure because I let D play with a cute vintage toy my mom gave him, without testing it for lead first (more on that later, truly a mistake). But do I think that parents shouldn’t say out loud, “DON’T GIVE YOUR KIDS VINTAGE TOYS WITHOUT TESTING FOR LEAD!” No! Instead I wish I had been told that. Vociferously.
Breastfeeding is best. Lead toys are bad. It’s that simple in my mind. Does that mean that moms who choose bottle-feeding are as a lot unfeeling and neglectful? No, no, no! Absolutely not! Not only does it not mean that, but it also serves absolutely no purpose to even go there.
From what I know, 99.9% of moms spend their every waking moment trying to do what’s best for their kids with the situation and the information they have before them. We are all doing our best, but just because we can’t always make the best choices, doesn’t mean that all choices are equal.
What’s important is getting the right information out there to help us make those choices, not judging each other on what we do personally.
Thanks to everyone for the extremely intelligent discussion!