If there was something that I could have been better warned about when I had #1, it was what I like to affectionately call the “Boob War”. It what appears to be a no-win situation on either side of the debates, however you choose to feed your infant will indicate how society will try to shame you.
We hear a lot about how breastfeeding in public is seen as dirty. Women have been shamed in some of the weirdest places. You see men staring, women getting all grossed out and making comments under their breath, old people shaking their heads, etc. I was always an ally for breastfeeding. I didn’t bat an eyelash or stare when it happened. It was never gross, it was natural. I was totally going to breastfeed my kids because I am Captain Awesome and breast is best. Imagine my horror when it didn’t happen for me and what subsequently became my personal battle in the Boob War.
In Canadian hospitals, it is more common for nurses to do absolutely everything they can to have you breastfeed. There are no formula ads, just diagrams on how to get a proper latch. These nurses will also push you after you tell them you’ve had enough. It wasn’t until day 2 when I showed the nurse the chunk of nipple that was missing and the blood running down my breasts that she got some formula out. I later learned after visiting a lactation specialist that I was not producing enough breast milk and I had blocked ducts as well. Factor in various physical breast issues a little too personal for the interwebs, and I had a recipe for disaster. My mother, having gone through the same thing assured me that it was no big deal and that I tried my best. She was in the minority of women who held that sentiment. I soon experienced shame at the hands of the very same women I’ve been keen on defending.
I will never forget trying out this mom group when my daughter was about a month old. The women were echoing the complaints that a lot of breastfeeding women have in terms of the public shaming they endure. I was totally on board with what they were saying. Then, it happened. Daughter got hungry and I pulled out a bottle. One mom actually stared in complete shock, then said “well ladies, I’d rather have the shame of public breastfeeding than stooping so low as to bottle feed my kids”.
Cue my thought bubble: lol, wut?
The conversation then changed to the evils of bottle feeding and how selfish these women are. Right in front of me like I didn’t exist. At first I just thought it was these women until I started telling the story to other female friends, some with kids. Sure enough, I didn’t have a single ally or anyone to understand. These women were right in their eyes. Forget the fact that it didn’t work. As in tore-a-chunk-of-nipple-OMG-I’m-fucking-bleeding-holy-shit-I’ve-got-blocked-ducts-and-my-baby-won’t-latch kind of not working. I am a selfish ninny who must be a terrible parent because I didn’t stay up day and night, bleeding profusely trying to feed my baby milk that wasn’t there. I found myself getting reminders that breast was best like I was an idiot who had never heard that concept before. Never mind that those who were there to experience my breastfail attested to the fact that I really did try, it wasn’t enough for other women. I was less of a woman.
As a first time mother, it was extremely damaging to my self esteem. I questioned myself every day. Did I really try hard enough? Was it really worth it? Most importantly, am I really depriving my child? I felt alone, shamed and made to feel like an idiot by the very same people that I fought for. I kept hearing all these warnings in my head that I was asking for my kid to be obese, prone to allergies, not as smart as the other kids and getting sick all of the time. Was I really damning my kid to lifelong hell because of formula?
Five years later, and the daughter is far from obese, has no allergies, is never sick and thriving so well in kindergarten. Most people can’t tell the difference between her and a breastfed kid, so when I was pregnant with my son I made the decision to bottle feed my son. Of course, that didn’t stop my own sister-in-law from telling me that I’m damning my kid and that I just “didn’t try hard enough”.
So what if I don’t breastfeed? I tried it. It didn’t work. I don’t need to be reminded that “breast is best, you just didn’t try hard enough”. First off, I’m not a moron, of course breast is best, but there are alternatives if it doesn’t work out. Second, it is not in the scope of a perfect stranger to grasp on whether or not women who use formula tried hard enough. The kids are going to be alright. Even if there are women who didn’t try at all, it’s none of your business and it does not help to patronize these women. You may not believe in it yourself, but much like being pro-choice, it is not your place to judge or criticize. General rule is if you don’t like being told how to raise your kids, chances are the woman next to you doesn’t like it either.
It’s a backwards kind of world when on one hand, there are people demanding acceptance while shaming with the other. Breastfeeding is absolutely best and no woman should ever feel ashamed about it. On the other hand, a woman should never have to feel ashamed about bottle feeding her child. Let’s strive to erase the shame around breastfeeding AND support women who are incapable or find it difficult to their lifestyle. Shaming either group contributes to a society that scrutinizes women unfairly for their choices, and I think we as a group have been judged enough.