Miss Misery, and Down With the Mommy Wars

Bun has been sick since November.

She has had repeated ear infections, two visits to an ENT (a third is upcoming — this time, I’ll be advocating for tubes and/or removal of the adenoids), and I think she has picked up every virus that has come down the pike this winter. She’s had colds galore (hence, the ear infections), the puking version of the flu, constipation, hives, and now another cold or flu virus that has come complete with snot, coughing (no chest congestion, thank goodness), a fever over 100 degrees, and another ear infection.

I stayed home with her yesterday, and we had a difficult day. I don’t know why I do it to myself, but if I end up at home with a sick child, I actually think I will accomplish something: cleaning my room, for example, or doing laundry, or swapping out the girls’ clothes.

Bun would have none of it. Her usual 3-hour nap was only 1 hour and 45 minutes, and I spent the whole of it driving to and from Target to get her prescription filled (and do a little shopping, of course. On a completely unrelated side-note, I just want to say that I only bought the items on my shopping list — a mean feat in Target, as everyone knows — and that I spent under $100! Okay, so it took three coupons and a $10 gift card to come in under $100, but I did it.) When she wasn’t napping, she was sitting on my lap demanding to be read to, or sitting on my lap demanding to watch TV, or demanding food that she had no intention of actually eating, or straining pathetically to produce some poop.

Constipation is the worst in a toddler. She’s been suffering for about two weeks. I thought it was the last antibiotic she was on, but that’s a week behind her now. We have a pretty high-fiber diet (being vegetarians and all), and she’s good at taking in plenty of liquids, but I upped everything anyway, and cut back a bit on stuff like cheese. Now she’s on Augmentin, so her constipation will switch to the other end of the spectrum, and her diaper area will be inflicted in Biblical-plague proportions. My little girl cannot catch a break.

Part of my frustration, of course, is having a sick child, worrying about the continued use of antibiotics, losing time at work, etc., etc. Part of the frustration comes from the fact that I breastfed Bun and Monkey, and it hasn’t done jack to protect either of them from (at the least) ear infections. I have been reading a lot of articles this week about breastfeeding, and they’ve sparked some discussions on forums other than this blog, and I just couldn’t let them go unremarked.

First off, is this wonderful piece from the Atlantic by Hanna Rosin, a woman who also writes for Slate.com. (The title, I think, is misleading. Summary: All the science that “proves” breast is best may be more of a bill of goods than hard data. That said, breastfeeding does have immeasurable benefits.)

Then there’s this article from Slate.com, regarding the brain boost breastfeeding may or may not give to children. (Summary: There is a gene involved, and if your child doesn’t have it, it doesn’t matter how much boob milk he/she gets. That said, most children seem to have it.)

Then there is the lovely, intelligent discussion on Slate’s XX Factor blog regarding both these articles.

And lastly, here’s a viewpoint from someone I briefly tweeted with regarding that first article. This post is not about that article, although it is on the topic of BF’ing (pro, of course).

If you are inclined to read any or all of that — and it’s all good, thought-provoking stuff — then maybe you’ll read further. I’ve been ruminating on this all since Wednesday, so I apologize if I seem to be going on a bit. I hope you’ll stick with me.

Let me say first: I am pro-breastfeeding, and I did (as I said) nurse both of my girls. I also pumped and supplemented with formula. I did it all, baby! And this as a W/SAHM. If I do have another baby (never say never), I would do my best to breastfeed and/or provide him or her with breastmilk, too.

Did I make that choice because all the “science” that promotes BF’ing? Maybe that influenced my decision. I certainly derived a lot of information and support from external sources (from books and magazine articles to my mother and SILs). I feel extremely lucky that BF’ing was not a struggle for me. I put both my girls to my breast within an hour after they were born, and they pretty much took it from there.

Did I love the intangibles about BF’ing? To wit: the skin-on-skin contact. The rush of warmth and pride that I could do this, that I could nourish my baby with my body. The bone-deep feeling that what I was doing was natural. Yes, yes I did.

Was it always comfortable and convenient? Hell, no. Was I a sleep-deprived zombie mommy for six, eight, twelve weeks? Hell, yes. Did I in a desperate bid for sleep or freedom give my babies a couple ounces of formula to get them the heck off my boob already? Hell, yes! Do I feel bad about that? Hell, no.

Would I ever let another woman make me feel bad about that? Again: Hell, no.

And here’s the crux of all this rambling: Would I ever let another woman — mother or not — make me feel bad about any decision I made regarding my child? No. Would I ever, on purpose, make another woman question or feel bad for any decision she made regarding her child? No. Not if the end result was a healthy and thriving baby, and a happy and healthy mother. (Please note: Ain’t nobody happy if Mama ain’t happy.)

I hate Mommy Wars. Passionately. I hate the stay-at-home moms who insist that their decision is the best decision period. I hate work-outside-the-home moms who think SAHMs are a big waste of brains. I hate moms who make decisions for their children based on what their peers will think of them instead of making decisions based on what is best for their children. I hate the whole BF Brigade and the lactivists who insist that “breast is best” in such a way that it makes moms who turned to or chose formula feeding feel like bad moms. I hate mothers who insist that motherhood is the end-all-be-all of womanhood. I hate child-free women and couples who act like kids are such a drag and/or devastating to the environment, and women should be ashamed for even longing to perpetuate the species. I hate people who look cross-eyed at women BF’ing in public and get all offended. I hate lactivists who wave their BF’ing boobs around and say, “It’s natural! Suck it!” (Pun intended.)

All of these are deeply personal choices that women, that mothers have to make. From the private, personal decision to become a mother or not in the first place. What right do I have to stand in another woman’s shoes and tell her that she made the wrong choice? And what nerve!

If a soon-to-be mom asked me about breastfeeding, I would wholly and enthusiastically encourage her. If a new mom was struggling after two weeks, I would encourage her to continue to try. But at some point where mom’s health and mental stability were bumping up against the need of her child to be fed — whether it be five weeks or six months — I think a mom has to be left alone to make her own decision.

If a mom decided from the get-go that she was going to formula feed, I would be surprised, but I certainly wouldn’t presume to judge her. It’s not my decision.

It’s not my decision.

It was my decision to become a mother. It was my decision to breast feed. It was my decision to supplement with formula. It was my decision to go back to work full time. It was my decision to raise my girls as vegetarians. The only other person who gets to weigh in on my decisions regarding my children is my husband, DearDR. And even with his input, it is still, in the end, my decision as the primary caregiver in the family. (Things like joining a soccer team or a dance class and schooling are much more a team effort.)

Opinions are like bellybuttons: everybody has one. (I know the adult version of that, too, but this strives to be a family-friendly site.) If you cannot offer your opinion without insulting anyone, please keep it to yourself. If you cannot express your opinion without making another party feel shame or guilt, it has no place here.

Thanks for your time.

Could someone help me down off this soapbox, please?

15 thoughts on “Miss Misery, and Down With the Mommy Wars

  1. “But at some point where mom’s health and mental stability were bumping up against the need of her child to be fed — whether it be five weeks or six months — I think a mom has to be left alone to make her own decision.”

    Yup.

    That is exactly the point I was trying to make! 🙂

  2. Hear hear!

    Mommy wars are certainly tough. It’s amazing that something that should bring women together (and let’s face it, we need *something*) actually pushes them apart. Motherhood is HARD. And no one should judge anyone else for their decisions.

    Great rant. I couldn’t agree more. And I hope I don’t judge other mother’s for any decision they make regarding their own child as I certainly hate when I am judged.

  3. @zig: haha! punny. 🙂

    @phdinparenting: I’ve emailed you a couple of questions. I don’t know if you will address them. If it’s okay, I’d like to post them here, too. thanks.

    @Allison: I’m going to take a stab at the whole “something that should bring us together” yet pushes us apart: I think — due to societal pressure or hormones or our own neurosis, *something* anyhow — leaves women particularly vulnerable when it comes to trusting ourselves and trusting our instincts. I think the message out there is we women cannot be left to our own devices when making decisions for our babies. We are endlessly advised about what to eat, how to birth, how to nourish our babies, and so on. The avalanche of expert advice is overwhelming — and, frankly, terrifying. You’d think we just started this whole “having babies” things.

    My favorite expert is Dr. Spock. You know why? Because the first sentence of his book is: “You know more than you think you do.” And also, he focuses on parents — “parents are humans, too”.

    We focus so much on “what is best for baby”, as if “baby” were in a vacuum instead of a unit of a family. And the external pressure, especially, has women on the defense from the moment they conceive (how did you conceive that baby anyway?? You know?). As a response, we are terrified of doing it differently, or seeing it done differently, and feeling as if we maybe made the wrong choice. So instead we’ll go after others for their choices. Instead of embracing the difference, and exclaiming how clever a mom is for figuring out what works for her and her baby. I am constantly amazed at the adaptability of women when it comes to mothering, and I think it’s about damn time we all congratulated ourselves and each other for doing a great job. Regardless of “how” we are doing it. Are our kids happy and healthy, thriving, learning? (well, okay, in Bun’s case, maybe not the picture of health. But my peds assure me she’s fine — kids get 7 to 10 colds a year! She’s prone to ear infections, and we have to get that problem solved.) Is mom doing okay, able to provide for all of her children and her partner (providing she has one)? Is she able to address her own needs?

    thanks for the comments. spread the word. Stop the Mommy Wars!

    ciao,
    rpm

  4. Poor Bun and poor you! I have no good advice to give you. I sometimes think it is a complete crapshoot as to whether or not our kids will have predispositions to allergies, colds, ear infections.

    When my first was born, I had emergency surgery for hemorraging and didn’t see my baby for 12 hours, so her first meals were formula. Unfortunately, no one told me that one’s milk doesn’t come in after that. I was starving my baby when I came home with her and didn’t even know what it felt like for milk to “come in.” Needless to say, she was formula-fed. Ditto for #2 (although that time, I experienced what it is like for milk to come in–WOW!

    Incredibly, my kids are allergy-free, and rarely get sick. My four-year old just had her first ear infection. I was not pleased that it took 3 rounds of back-to-back antibiotics to get rid of it.

    So who really knows? All we can do is make the decisions that are best for our families and roll with them. I completely agree with Dr. Spock.

    P.S. Genna’s last two round of antibiotics were with Augmentin and it didn’t change her stools. You.just.never.know.

  5. I feel SO bad for you and Bun (and partly responsible for the virus exposure 😦 , although if it wasn’t me and A, it probably would have been someone else, I guess. Illness is so frustrating, especially when you can’t figure out how to help or fix it! Good luck at the ENT! Hope you both can get some rest and feel better soon!

  6. Mommy wars suck, and they continue well beyond the early months of motherhood. I really appreciate your efforts towards ending them.

    And give that Bun a big hug!

  7. @MH: exactly. After reading that Atlantic article, I find myself skeptical of the “evidence” out there.

    @Hope: don’t even fret over the virus transmission. Bun picks those things up like shiny pennies.

    @ClumberKim: Spread the word! End the Mommy Wars! And I’ll give Bun a hug from you. Thanks.

    ciao,
    rpm

  8. As you mentioned above, you e-mailed me a few questions as a follow-up to my comment, my post that you linked to and my related twitter conversations. Here is my response:

    QUESTION 1: IN YOUR TWITTER EXCHANGE WITH JAYESEL, YOU PUT FORMULA AND CIGARETTE SMOKING IN THE SAME SENTENCE. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?

    Let’s recap the conversation first. Because unfortunately in this case and in many other discussions on the issue of breastfeeding and formula feeding I think the “wars” that you are describing come from people reading more into the words than are there or not really reading the words and just reacting instead.

    On twitter everything comes in maximum 140 character tweets. So often you need more than 1 tweet to say what you want to say and that is how it went in our conversation. We had been discussing the Hanna Rosin article in The Atlantic (more on that in Question 2 below) and then started talking more broadly. Here is how the conversation went at that point (note: when more than 1 tweet came in sequence, I’ve combined them):

    jayesel: @phdinparenting don’t get me wrong: breastfeeding is great. but for moms (like me) who had trouble, the guilt-trips are too much sometimes. I think the Us vs. Them mentality regarding breastfeeding and formula has to go. It’s ridiculous.

    phdinparenting: @jayesel That is fair. But I don’t think there is any point in pretending there are no benefits to breastfeeding just because it is hard. It kind of reminds me of people that are addicted to cigarettes trying to pretend that they aren’t harmful. They are. People can make their own choices. I have no problem with that and I won’t judge them. But don’t pretend away the science.

    jayesel: @phdinparenting I don’t see it as pretending there aren’t benefits. But to act like BFing Moms are superior than FFing Moms is insane. And sorry, but I take offense at comparing formula feeding/not breastfeeding to cigarette smoking.

    phdinparenting: @jayesel I’m not saying cigarettes and formula feeding do similar damage. I’m just saying they are both cases where people deny science when they do not want to or are not able to choose healthier path.

    jayesel: @phdinparenting then that is their choice, is it not? you said yourself, no judging. Not saying it’s a smart choice if they have no reason to not BF, but it is their choice.

    phdinparenting: @jayesel I don’t judge people for not being able to make the healthiest choice. I don’t always make the healthiest choice in everything. But I do judge people for denying science so that they can pretend that their choice is just as good as another choice.

    jayesel: @phdinparenting true. but science is not to be relied upon without question. research&reporting are done by humans, who are biased & flawed & that goes for both sides of the debate. me? I’m in the middle. there are MUCH bigger issues for parents than breast milk.

    phdinparenting: @jayesel Absolutely. Especially when there is corporate backing/sponsorship for that research.

    jayesel: @phdinparenting or when there are pressures from advocacy groups.

    There you have it. That was our conversation. So back to the smoking issue, in case it wasn’t clear enough above. I was not comparing the health risks of smoking with the health risks of formula feeding. I was just saying that there are similarities in the way that people that smoke and people that formula feed feel the need to defend their actions and pretend that science doesn’t exist that demonstrates the risks of their choices.

    People that smoke are usually addicted. They have trouble stopping. They may have tried several times to stop and just can’t. Rather than admit that, they often deny the health risks of smoking and feel the need to convince others that it is fine to smoke.

    People that formula feed usually wanted to breastfeed. But they had trouble breastfeeding. They may have tried really hard to breastfeed, but they just can’t. Rather than accept that formula isn’t as good as breastmilk, they deny the health risks of formula feeding and feel the need to convince others that formula feeding is just as good.

    Again, I’m not saying the health risks of smoking and the health risks of formula feeding are equivalent. I’m just saying that the way that people get defensive about both is similar.

    I have no problem with people not being able to make the best choice all of the time. I’m not perfect either. But I do want information on what the best choice is and think others deserve that too. I also do not get upset when other people are proud of their accomplishments when they do something better than me in some aspect of their life. They deserve to celebrate their successes and I deserve to celebrate mine.

    QUESTION 2: IN THE POST BY YOU TO WHICH I’VE LINKED, YOU LINK TO ANOTHER PAGE WITH “WELL DOCUMENTED BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING”. DO YOU STILL THINK THEY ARE AS “WELL DOCUMENTED” AS HAS BEEN PORTRAYED?

    I followed-up with you via e-mail to find out where the thought that they might not be as well-documented as I indicated in my post and you clarified that you were referring to the article “The Case Against Breastfeeding” in The Atlantic by Hanna Rosin.

    I’m hoping to find the time at some point next month to dissect her article in depth. She makes a lot of sweeping statements and I don’t have the time to research or articulate my thoughts on all of them now because this is a very busy time for my business. As the evidence goes, I think she picked and chose a few different factors/studies to highlight rather than doing a thorough review of all of the science. I do want to respond though and I think that it deserves more than an emotional reaction, which is all that I would have time for right now.

    I will probably attack it in two parts: One on the feminism issue and one on the “science.”

    But back to your question. In the follow-up to your e-mail, you asked where I got my numbers from when I said that the benefits would be “cut in half” based on the data in my poll. Whether the benefits are substantial or are thin, if only half as many women breastfeed, those benefits would be cut in half.

  9. @phdinparenting:

    I’m not really crazy about you having used my comment section for a lecture on how twitter works, how smoking is addictive, and continuing to your agenda regarding “science” and the health risks of formula feeding. What exactly are these health risks, please? I have yet to pick a formula-fed baby out of the crowd because of her behavior, IQ, weight issues, or health issues.

    And I’m getting a pretty good chuckle about your criticism of Hanna Rosin, a professional journalist, and your plans to refute her article. Remember, she did her research on the benefits of breastfeeding from the medical literature. I hope you plan to do the same.

    That said, your comment in its entirety will remain here. I disagree with a lot of your points, and I’m not all that crazy about your tone. Or your tone as I “hear” it.

    I have a lengthier response, but I’ve more important things to attend to. Thank you for answering my questions.

    More to come.

    rpm

  10. For the record: No, I don’t want phdinparenting to say “oh geez I don’t know what I was thinking”. She is entitled to her positions and opinions. I just think it was an excessively long comment, and maybe better posted to her blog than my comments section. Sorry. I think I got a little territorial. I will admit I need to take a step back and a deep breath. But, still, more to come.

    rpm

  11. No problem. If I thought it was suited to my blog, I certainly would have posted it there. But I was only writing it to answer your questions, so I figured it was better placed here. As I said, I want to do more research before I address it on my blog. But I do plan to do that next month.

  12. Have you done the research into Ms. Rosin’s article? You do realize that the journal articls she references were based on research studies that took place in 1984, studies that have since been replicated and show the benefits of nursing? If she really wanted to be honest about whether or not there are benefits to breastfeeding, she could have cited this http://www.ahrq.gov/Clinic/tp/brfouttp.htm from 2007. Anyone can pick and choose which research studies support their personal opinions and I think that is exactly what that piece was: an opinion piece masquerading as journalism.
    I find it sort of silly that you assume that just because she is a journalist that she would be better at citing journal aticles than anyone else. Anyone who lives near a university can jump on a computer and research medical (or any other professional) journals. I helped a lot of those people when I worked at an academic library. It’s not difficult to do and you don’t have to be a journalist to do it.

  13. @Elita: That 1984 article is only one of the articles that Hanna Rosin mentions. That is not the only article she actually read — I’m pretty sure she cites a couple more articles as well. I haven’t time to review her story again right now.

    At the end of the source you emailed, it says: “Because almost all the data in this review were gathered from observational studies, one should not infer causality based on these findings. Also, there is a wide range of quality of the body of evidence across different health outcomes.” (emphasis mine)

    I’m pretty sure that means that one should not assume that breast feeding was the sole reason for these good health outcomes. I think there is a caution here akin to Ms. Rosin’s point that other factors, including a mother’s age, income, and education, may be greater contributing factors to good health outcomes in primarily breast fed children.

    I think we have to consider that bias actually exists on both sides. It’s not a one-way street. For every article one can find pro anything, we can also find one con.

    Thanks for your comment.

    rpm

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