Thursday, April 28, 2011

Slacktivism

Years of personal experience have suggested to me that women rock at comparing.  From the time we're little, we're constantly stacking ourselves up against other people, especially other girls.  Who has cuter clothes?  Who has more My Little Ponies?  Who got the better grade on the science quiz?  I'm in the audition-only choir, she's in symphonic band, she runs varsity track, she's class president, she's got ten trophies from speech tournaments -- so who's best?

We grow up, become mothers, and nothing changes.  In fact, in my own experience, motherhood creates such a sensitivity within us that we compare ourselves to others more than ever.  The gravity of the job is so monumental, we can barely grasp it, and we know we'll never be equal to the task.  A few years ago we were worried about boosting our class rank or reducing our 100-meter dash time or making sure our blouse was as cute as our crush's girlfriend's.  Now we're worried about raising children.  Making sure that they're fed, clothed, clean, happy, healthy, and not messed up forever because of our influence.  Oy!

We feel pressured to be like our moms, our friends, even people we don't like but happen to have on our Facebook friends list.  Uh oh, that girl who made a nasty remark about my outfit sophomore year just posted that her child is walking, and mine can barely crawl!  What have I done wrong?  And, oh no, another girl linked to an article on how disposable diapers are toxic pieces of garbage that will give my baby chemical burns and destroy the planet.  Good grief, I'm worthless!  Of course, it can go the other way too: whoa, she's feeding her baby pieces of hot dog?  Hellooooooooo choking hazard!  Let me give myself a hearty pat on the back for avoiding that one!

There are a million reasons we can berate ourselves and a million reasons we can self-congratulate.  Today, I'd like to focus on just one of them:
I breastfeed my daughter.  It is easy now.  It didn't start out that way.  She did okay the first day, but after enjoying a pacifier that night (with my exhausted, barely-conscious blessing), she wouldn't latch right anymore.  The nurses gave me a shield, which barely helped, and meant I got to experience the joy of needing to pump after many of her feedings to establish my milk supply.  I thought the hospital pump was going to rip me to shreds.  After a labor that included the delights of Pitocin contractions and four hours of pushing,  the searing pain of the hospital pump was the last thing I wanted to face.

The shield-and-(thankfully NOT hospital-grade)-pump cycle continued for a week.  I went to a lactation consultant, once.  She gave me a different shield and suggested some different positions, but I was too exhausted, too frustrated, and too sticky (my daughter was born in late June during one of the hottest, most humid summers I can remember, and we have no air conditioning) to give them more than a couple days' effort.  I decided to exclusively pump.

It worked.  I had to do it six times a day, sometimes while my daughter lay on her blanket complaining bitterly.  But my milk supply was awesome.  Ten minutes per pumping and I was done, and I had plenty of milk to spare.  Bag after bag went in the freezer.  I never had to supplement.

I figured on doing it that way for the duration.  A year of daily pumping didn't seem that bad.  Bottles gave me the freedom to go out without worrying, let my husband take care of some of the night feedings, and drink a couple glasses of wine in the evening if I felt like it.

During my pregnancy, I had gone to a couple La Leche League meetings to gear-up for breastfeeding, but I was embarrassed to go once I started on the exclusive pumping routine.  I was happy and satisfied that my daughter was getting breastmilk, but delivering it all through bottles made me feel like a nursing fraud.

One day, when my daughter was maybe 2 1/2 months old, I decided to try nursing her directly again.  I don't know why I did it.  In all likelihood, she was hungry and I felt lazy.  So try it we did, and to my shock, she latched just fine and nursed like a champ.  

So I dropped the pumping schedule immediately, right?  Ha!  No.  I didn't know what to do.  I had grown fond of the routine, to be honest.  I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours while I pumped.  I carefully measured every pumping and feeding like I was back in chem lab.  I liked the freedom of bottles.  I was attached to my steadily growing oversupply and feared that, somehow, switching to regular nursing would cause it to crash and become an undersupply.  

I proceeded slowly.  For a while, I only nursed her at night.  When she started sleeping through the night (oh, how I long for those days!), I nursed her first thing in the morning and stuck with bottles the rest of the day.  After a few weeks of doing this, I decided to take the plunge and nurse exclusively.  Within a couple days, my daughter refused bottles, and she hasn't had one since.  She loves, loves, LOVES to nurse.  

Do I miss the freedom?  The daddy feedings?  The vino?  Heck yes I do.  Like I said, my daughter loves to nurse, and even at a day less than 10 months old, she still demands it frequently.  It can be exhausting.  But, truth be told, I love it.  It is warm, cuddly, relaxing, cozy, and wonderful.  God knew what he was doing when He created oxytocin!  I try to remember to thank Him every day that I am able to nurse my daughter, because He is the only reason that I can.

I am not the most tenacious person in the world.  I am easily overwhelmed and find many of life's "challenges" to be very stressful and frustrating.  I've received a decent amount of praise for going the exclusive-pumping route for as long as I did, but really, it wasn't heroic.  What really happened was: my daughter was a poor nurser, and when she was a week and a half old I threw in the towel because I was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.  The blessing of my amazing milk supply was the only reason I never had to use formula.  Even our switch back to regular nursing was nothing to rave about -- as I mentioned, it started on a lazy day.  Most of the reason I pursued it was my weariness of cleaning and filling bottles.  I'm a slacker who just so happens to lactate.

I'm excited about breastfeeding.  (I almost said I was pumped about it, but as I just described, that's not really accurate anymore.  Oh, har, har!)  I think it's natural and healthy and beautiful and fabulous.  Not surprisingly, I would highly recommend it to any new mom, and I very much hope that it becomes more common, prominent and normal in everyday society (but that's a topic for another post).  So I guess you could call me a lactivist, sure.

But I'm not gonna be all up in your face about it.

Let's face it: if I hadn't had an awesome milk supply, breastfeeding never would have happened for us.  When Baby Girl was two weeks old, we met up with another mom (whom I didn't know, it was a blind mom-date) and her newborn son at a nearby park.  That mom was also having nursing troubles.  I told her that I was pretty sure I was just going to pump (at that point I had really already made the decision, but still felt a little awkward about it).  She said that she was going to stick it out.  "I'm pretty stubborn," she said.  And she said it nicely, just matter-of-factly; I didn't detect a dig.  But I still felt bad.  I still felt like I should have been more stubborn.  Her stubbornness made her outshine me more than any higher score or cuter outfit ever had.  Who cared about grades or clothes or achievements -- she was a better mom!

Now I realize that's bunkum.  Women who bottle-feed, whether it's breastmilk or formula, are just as much mothers, and wonderful mothers, as women who nurse.  There are many reasons why women don't breastfeed exclusively or at all; it isn't always a lack of knowledge or a lack of desire.  I can think of several among my friends.  One was a mom who struggled with issues similar to mine with her preemie, pumped around the clock for weeks, yet could never build up anywhere close to a sufficient supply, and finally grew exhausted of the practice.  Another had had gastric bypass surgery a few years before having her son (and a botched one at that, which significantly complicated her pregnancy), so she must eat very slowly and has a hard time absorbing the nutrients she would very much need to breastfeed.  Another mom had already nursed two older children with no problem and thought her third was doing fine too, but then learned that her baby was a poor nurser and wasn't gaining enough weight.  Breast pumps just don't work for her, so she decided upon (and still uses) a hybrid model of nursing and formula supplementing.

I've been going to La Leche League again the past few months.  At our last meeting, a mom came who was pregnant with her third child.  She formula-fed her first two, but was interested in breastfeeding the new baby.  Everybody was very encouraging and kind.  Then one of the leaders said, "It's so much more than a nutrition choice!  I just see it on so many levels...if every baby in the world was breastfed..." she trailed off.  Oh dears, I thought: those woman's other two babies weren't.  I'm not sure how she wanted to finish that thought.  If every baby in the world was breastfed...the world would be a better place?  Maybe.  But wasn't every baby breastfed since the beginning of babies?  Formula's a really new thing in the history of the planet, but illness and strife and suffering aren't.  Oh well.  I shouldn't put words in her mouth.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is this: breastfeeding is fantastic.  Utterly, utterly fantastic, and I shall sing its praises to the ends of the earth.  But it can be really, really hard.  And formula isn't poison (or I'd be dead).  So let's mothers be kind and understanding of each other when it comes to milk.

I leave you with this hilarity: both Almond Breeze and Silk Pure Almond apparently have a need to include this disclaimer on their products.

7 comments:

  1. Yeah...I don't know if you read my post on breastfeeding, but it was miserable for us. Maggie was tongue-tied, and it took five days for my milk to come in. She didn't sleep more than 30 minutes for the first three days of her life because she wasn't getting enough milk to fill her up. One the third day of her life, when she was getting listless and dehydrated from not enough food, I gave in and gave her formula because she was getting sick. I was really scared. I gave her that bottle of formula and I never looked back!
    She had a combo of formula and breast-milk from day three until 8 weeks, when I stopped nursing. I felt mildly disappointed that nursing did not work out that well for us, but I also am not sorry we chose formula. I am firmly convinced that the only thing which stood between me and full-on PPD was being able to get a decent night's rest (because my husband did and still does most of the night feedings). But I do think breastfeeding is wonderful. And I'm hoping to try again with any other babies that we may be blessed with. But I think I'm more realistic about it now too. You know? :)

    I like this post.

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  2. I must confess I did see your post! And I was writing a comment on it, and it was turning into a really looooooong comment, and I decided to just make a post myself. So you inspired me!
    I really hear you on the PPD issue. I experienced some pretty bad babies blues, and I think the freedom that I had at that time (and help with night feedings, too) helped me a lot. I can remember feeling an incredible sense of relief when I stopped nursing.
    I love what you said about being realistic. That's a big part of what I've learned through this process. I felt so guilty when I first started bottles, but before long I realized there was no reason to feel that way at all. Our nursing hiatus did wonders for my mental and emotional well-being, which in turn helped me adjust to motherhood more smoothly. I'm very glad that you have such a healthy attitude about nursing not working out. Maggie's getting all the nutrition she needs, and you have one less (major) stress factor in your life. Sounds like a smart mothering move to me! :)

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  3. I love this post! It sums up just about everything I have felt or thought in the past 5 months. I thought about doing bottles exclusively because it took Wylie about 3 weeks to figure out nursing, so I had a lot of tears while breastfeeding. I did not find pumping as cathartic as you did, though, so the only thing that kept me going was that I didn't want to do formula and I didn't want to pump.

    I know we don't live to close, but I would love to do a mommy-date sometime if the opportunity arises!

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  4. I follow Mothering.com on FB and it makes me really upset to see the comments people sometimes make about bottle feeding and formula. I am really, really passionate about breastfeeding, but the fact is that bottles and formula exist because there are times when they are really and truly needed. There are all sorts of reasons why a baby (or a mom!) might need to use them. It was really hard for me to supplement with formula, but I'm glad that formula exists so that my third baby didn't have to go hungry when I had serious supply issues. I often think of formula as being analagous to antibiotics. We know that antibiotics are overprescribed, and that formula is overused, but both have legitimate uses.

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  5. Ashley, I would love to do a mommy-date sometime too! I really hope we can! :)

    Maren, I couldn't agree more. I think people can get really carried away when interacting online, and their comments can be so hurtful to other moms who haven't had the same experience. I'm glad that #3 didn't have to go hungry, too. She's a healthy, happy girl! :)

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  6. I wrote out a quite lengthy response to this a couple days ago...then it loaded wrong and los it all when I hit post.

    I just wanted to say that I hope I eventually enjoy breastfeeding as much (or close to) as you do. :)

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