Formula Proponents: Your Privilege is Showing

Formula Proponents: Your Privilege is Showing

Recently on Facebook a few women, including myself and a very well known breastfeeding advocate were called bullies for some comments we made against “Fed is Best“.  I really try to stay out of the Facebook fray as much as possible and instead compose my thoughts and frustrations into constructive posts here on the blog.  I guess I was feeling extra saucy last night when I jumped in to comment on Facebook.  So, of course being called a “bully” had me thinking about all the different perspectives and why some of us are so adamant about breastfeeding education.

While thinking about all this, it suddenly dawned on me how incredibly privileged it is to promote formula usage as an out from breastfeeding.  (Disclaimer (per the usual): I respect that there are a variety of reasons why babies DO need to be formula fed, and also I think that making moms feel guilty for formula feeding is neither constructive nor acceptable.)

Why is promoting formula usage a privileged perspective?

FORMULA IS EXPENSIVE.

There, I said it.  That shit is not cheap.  And for families who can easily absorb that cost (think somewhere between $1,000 to $3,000+ per year depending on the brand/formula your child can tolerate) it’s really easy to say, “Eh, I guess this isn’t working.  Formula it is!”  And if you have that luxury, then great.  It’s your choice to do that.

But when people are PROMOTING formula, they have to think about families that CANNOT afford this extra cost.

How about beyond the cost of formula?  For families who live in places with easy access to potable drinking water using formula is no big deal.  However there are many places in this world where clean drinking water isn’t available by just turning on the tap.

Let’s fast forward, baby is eating solid foods, hurray!  Well, now if you can afford fresh, healthy, organic food, then that’s obviously great for your child.  But for families who cannot afford to go to Whole Foods and drop $300/week for their family, breastfeeding could make a huge difference in the long term and short term health of their child.  Breastmilk is an immunity booster and a complete nutritional food.

So, when there are people who don’t want us to push breastfeeding education because they feel that just talking about the benefits of breastfeeding is automatically an act of war against mothers who use formula, it’s an obvious sign of privilege.

You can clearly afford formula, so for you, what’s the big deal?  But there are so many families for whom picking up a can of formula is not the easy option, and educating them on how to successfully breastfeed is PARAMOUNT to their child’s health.

**Edited 8/23/16 based on a constructive conversation with a reader and friend!

This totally cuts both ways.  Because, let me tell you, formula SHAMING is also a big sign of privilege.

Here are the advantages I had as a breastfeeding mother that are not widely available to all moms (especially in the U.S.):

  1. Paid maternity leave
  2. Money to hire a lactation consultant
  3. Healthcare that covered my breast pump
  4. A city with pump-friendly/breastfeeding-friendly ordinances (and an employer who enthusiastically complied)
  5. SUPPORTIVE FAMILY AND A SUPPORTIVE SPOUSE (this is huge)

In the U.S. especially we are slowly becoming more supportive of working/pumping/breastfeeding moms, but as of right now it is still a huge uphill battle.  Moms in the medical field especially get a lot of push back from colleagues/employers, and if they work in emergency services the nature of their work can make it very hard to impossible to keep a regular pumping routine.

Remember that a child’s health, a mother’s health, and a family happiness rarely hinges on one thing.  I like to think that most breastfeeding advocates feel so strongly because they care about infant and maternal health for all.

But, even while we believe deeply in the bonding, healing and nurturing power of breastfeeding, we have to practice compassion, empathy and understanding.  Our daily reality is our own and we rarely know every challenge that other families face to give their children the best they can.  We have to have open, honest, fact-based and love-based conversations.

 

What Makes a Mother: Giving Up on Guilt

What Makes a Mother: Giving Up on Guilt

Going through a mother’s existential crisis here.  And with a new job that requires travel my desperation for answers is only growing.  My idea of what makes a mother is, of course, heavily influenced by my own mother.  As far back as I can remember, she was always there (she primarily worked from home).  And so my lack of presence in my daughter’s life has led me to question whether I can work and be my own best version of a mother.  If I’m not always there, if I’m not filling up my daughter’s conscious hours, who am I?

My lack of presence, my ratio of hours with my daughter vs. without has been haunting me since I started dropping her off at a baby sitter regularly.  I felt that presence was the one thing I can’t offer as a working mother.  Maybe it’s the vodka in my iced tea or this heat wave is knocking something loose in my brain, but I’ve come to two conclusions.

1) Letting this guilt rip me up, twist my guts, and pummel my heart doesn’t help me or my daughter.  I don’t come home a better mother for it. I come home exhausted from feeling conflicted all day.  Kids are very perceptive; I’m sure she’s picking up on my negative emotions when I bring this guilty feeling home with me.  I’ve lived with this feeling for so long because I thought it would drive me to come up with some fantastically creative solution.  But the truth is that mothering in America comes with some unfairness.

The majority of mothers in America work.  The majority of American companies have not evolved to support a working mother yet.  As Annabel Crabb said so succinctly, “The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.”  And so I’m not going to solve this problem for myself and all American women in a few months.  This is going to take time (hopefully not too much), women raising their voices and coming together to resolve.

For now, this is the reality I’ve been dealt, I must be the best mother in these circumstances.  I’m giving up on guilt, because it isn’t making me a better mother.  And I don’t have time for anything that doesn’t make me a better mother.

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2) Be present.  I may not have as many hours to offer my daughter as I would hope, not as much presence.  But I can be truly and fully with her when we’re together.  I can do everything possible to make those hours count.

I still have to do laundry, clean the house, cook, grocery shop, all the things that keep a family running, but I put those things off until after her bedtime if I can.  If that’s not possible I try to turn chores into a game we can play together.  If all else fails, I’ll clean when she goes to college.  When she wants to walk me in circles around the kitchen a tenth time, I’ll try to remember to say “yes” and tell that pile of dishes mocking me to shut the hell up.

That’s what I’ve got for now.  If I figure out some magical cure for the working mom blues, please know that I’ll have it posted here ASAP.

What Makes a Mother?

What Makes a Mother?

This is a genuine question.  I’m looking for audience participation here. But let me tell you why I’m thinking about it.

I’m a working mom.  If you’ve read my blog you may have noticed.  Being away from my daughter 40+ hours per week has caused me weekly existential crises of the mom-nature.  My own mother worked from home the vast majority of my childhood and so, to me (to a degree) what makes a mother is presence.  The fact that a mother is there, after everyone else leaves and when you need her most.  When I had summers off I was at home with my parents (they both worked out of the home, but my father frequently traveled as well).  I always knew my mom would be at home, available, present.  My relationship with my daughter can’t revolve around presence though.  That’s not something I can offer as much as I would like to.  So, I’m here trying to step far enough away from my existential crises to understand what makes me a mother.

I keep asking myself, if someone else is with my child during the workweek, what makes me Mom?  I know that in this modern time when the gender and family roles aren’t so strictly defined as they used to, I’m not the only mom asking myself this question.  What makes a mother?   I think some of the answers must be as old as the existence of mammals, but some of them might surprise us too.

So, I want to hear from you.  Have a mom?  Are a mom?  Know a mom?  Tell me in the comments below, tell me on my Facebook page, tell me on twitter.

Chasing My Daughter: A Window into Working Motherhood

Chasing My Daughter: A Window into Working Motherhood

Becoming a mother activated a tense, frayed worrier in me that I’d hardly ever seen in myself before.  It didn’t help that my pregnancy was fraught with quite a few scary scenarios that left me wondering if my child and I were going to come out of the pregnancy unscathed (or at all, in my deepest fears).  I had hoped those fears would be healed and become a distant memory after a beautiful, empowering, natural birth to a lusty, healthy baby.  Instead, a concern of mine was gaining steam as my belly grew larger and my daughter’s due date approached.  My body was not a hospitable place for a child and my pregnancy had greatly weakened me for delivery, when I would most need my strength.  This fear wasn’t entirely misplaced.

A traumatic delivery left us all wounded and weak and my daughter was whisked to the NICU.  The next week of my life my soul danced through stages of faith, peace, levity, black fear, panic, meltdowns, and exultation.  Every bit of my body, soul, and mind were ravaged by this experience.  The calm, laid-back mother I pictured myself being morphed into someone trying to keep the bile down and smile through the worry clawing at my throat.  She was only in the NICU for 8 days, but there was so much uncertainty.  What had gone wrong?  No one was entirely sure.  Would she be ok?  They wouldn’t know until the relatively new form of treatment was completed in 4 days.  She couldn’t eat, she couldn’t be held.  I spent those days wanting nothing more than to be with her, just to have her in my arms, reunited with my body where I knew she belonged.  She was torn from me when she needed me most, and my body was barely capable of sitting in the wheelchair long enough to stay by her bassinet for 20 minutes those first days.  From her first days I felt like I could never get enough time with her.  We are always filling the hole of that stolen first week, always trying to catch up.

I always planned on going back to work.  I really love working and I also need to work to pay bills.  My employer has always been incredibly understanding and accommodating of my need to be with my daughter.  They allowed me to bring her into work when that was feasible, work from home, and be forgiving and flexible when I had a hard time saying goodbye in the mornings.  And for the first few hours I’m at work, it’s great!  I know my daughter is well-cared for and I enjoy the adult interaction.  But the rest of my day is spent slowly unraveling and fraying at the edges feeling her little heart calling out to mine.  I think of the look in her eyes when she sees me at the end of a long day, “Where have you been?” they say.  My commute home is torture, how can I get there faster?  I have precious few waking hours each weekday with my daughter and I’m desperate not to miss out on a minute.

And I know I’m not alone.  I’m not the only mom mourning lost hours with my baby.  I’m not the only mom with a one track mind the minute 5PM strikes, who’s making her way to her baby like the world might end if we don’t have time to laugh and cuddle and hold our babies before bedtime.  Because it feels like the world will end.  They are our world.  We always feel like we’re making up for a deficit.  On top of it we’re worn the hell out from working, and then being our best mommy-selves at home (because we have to give them the best we have in the few hours a day we have together), keeping our homes running and functional, and honestly, the impossibility of it all is ripping us to shreds.  When do I take time to rest and care for my body?  I already feel like I short-change my daughter during the workweek, how can I rob her of more time on the weekends?

I’m not here to propose any solutions.  Sometimes I think I have answers.  But truthfully, most working mothers face a brutal and inhuman reality.  We’re all floundering in this unsupportive system and all we can offer each other is “me too” and “it’s so hard, I know”.  But don’t think those words of empathy and encouragement are meaningless.  The chorus of women saying, “me too” is my hope that we’ll find a way to quiet that unraveling worrier inside that feels we’ll never be enough.

 

5 Easy Steps to Perfect Parenting!

5 Easy Steps to Perfect Parenting!

Because we all know that anything worth having in this life can be attained with 5 easy, well-communicated, vague truths!

Seriously, the truth is that perfect parents don’t exist.  I’m certainly not one, and I feel pretty confident you aren’t either (which makes me really like you a lot more).  The real struggles involved with being the best parent and person you can are much more complicated than can be summed up in some easily digested list.  Real parenting is kind of unmarketable.  No one can walk you through every challenge you face or every weird thing your kid does and how to handle it.  At the end of the day you have to understand your child, yourself, and your circumstances and work with the best information and resources you have at hand.   Unmarketable truths no one wants to hear is my specialty.  So let’s dive right in to the 5 things to remember while you’re being your hard-chargingly imperfect self! *Take all this with a grain of salt from a first time mom with one young child.  I’m sure you mothers of many can and will school me.

1. Love, Love, Love, and more Love

It’s really obvious conceptually.  We’ve been hearing about how important unconditional love is for healthy psychological development and attachment.  But, this is a gentle reminder that love from a parent to a child takes on all forms.  Yes, a lot of it is communicating that love “I love you!”, hugs, kisses, and smiles.  But, love also means saying “no” because something is unsafe or allowing them to work through frustrations on their own because that’s a valuable skill.  Or it could also mean giving them space and alone time to spend time better understanding themselves.  How we love our children takes many forms.

2. Don’t Make it a War

I see so many articles espousing one parenting technique or style and denigrating the others.  They all tell you that you need to pick one and be consistent.  Align yourself with one parenting philosophy and stay dedicated!  First, don’t do this to yourself.  It puts so much pressure on you to be right before you even start implementing a sleep philosophy, or a feeding philosophy, or discipline, etc (you get my point).  This is really impossible, give yourself a little room and flexibility to figure out what’s best under the current circumstances with the kid you have.  You don’t want to be changing things up on them constantly, but kids can handle some change.  Second, don’t put your kid on the other side of a discipline battle.   You are on their side, even if you don’t agree.  We are their advocates, even against their own foolish impulses.

3. Find Friends and Allies

Allies are people who agree with your parenting philosophies, which makes play dates easier and less fraught with potential friction.  It’s also nice to spend some time with people and not have to defend yourself or feel tense about serious differences of opinion.

Friends are people who you have and care about in your life regardless of their viewpoints and opinions.  You need people who you care about AND disagree with.  It’s how we keep perspective.

4. Start Believing in Redemption

I hate to break it to you, but we are all deeply flawed.  Oh wait, I don’t hate to break it to you.  I’m actually at the point in my life where I am just a tiny bit gleeful about the realization that we are all deeply flawed.  This means, that despite our very best intentions some of those flaws are going to rub off on our kids.  And despite our best efforts at damage control it will affect them as they mature.  If you start believing in redemption now you’ll handle those phone calls from adult children much better later in life.  (Also,  if you haven’t forgiven your own parents for stuff, now might be a good time to work through that.)

5. Tell Everyone and Their Expectations to Shove It!

Probably don’t actually tell them this to their face unless the circumstances call for it.  For the most part, people mean very well with their terrible advice and their inappropriate judgement.  We really can do little to stop the unsolicited advice from rolling in.  We can however, refuse to give these voices a forum in our own heads.  Sit down with your spouse, your partner, your parent, or yourself (whoever is helping you raise this little hellion) and talk about what you really think 1) your child needs and 2) you can truly give them.  This is really all that matters.

So there it is.  5 super duper easy steps to being the most perfect parent alive.  Which is what we really all got into this parenting thing for in the first place, right?  To be perfect parents?

 

A Sunrise Kind of Mom

A Sunrise Kind of Mom

Motherhood is a fully consuming mindset.  You find yourself in this rhythm of always adjusting schedules, environments, and plans to accommodate your child(ren)’s greatest needs.  Especially if you have an infant or toddler who’s not a great sleeper (like I do), you are willing to do almost anything necessary to get your child to get a good night of sleep.

It can be really easy to become this pragmatic mom-machine that anticipates needs and does the dirty work and forgets to enjoy the moment (also, please see Glennon Doyle Melton on why not enjoying the moment is OK too).  This is really not a new concept; I would bet there are hundreds if not thousands of blog posts, memes, and middle aged women who will encourage you to enjoy your children while they are young.  So I know I’m not rocking anyone’s world when I nudge you to occasionally step back and introduce some spontaneity into your parenting.  BUT, that said, I think we need regular, fresh reminders.  Also, I have pretty pictures.

So here is my little testimonial:

We were at the shore over the weekend, and I won’t tell you why it was kind of a pain in the ass to get there because the details are tedious and exhausting (much like trying to rent a car and drive to a popular destination on a holiday weekend).  I will tell you that my daughter hates to be strapped down or confined, and this includes car seats.  Getting there involved a good amount of screaming and crying for extended periods of time (almost 3 hours).  It wasn’t a surprise that her sleep schedule was going to get all screwy and cost us all some much needed sleep, but dammit we were going to the beach.

Sunday night was a particularly terrible night of sleep for all of us (sharing a guest room in a friend’s family home) and my little angel woke up at 4:45AM Monday morning and decided she was ready for the day at a completely ludicrous hour.  I spent about 30 minutes desperately trying to get her to go back to sleep while she alternated between happily jabbering at me or screaming at me for trying to lay her down.  I was laying there thinking about how pissed off I was to be awake and how I just wanted this kid to sleep when the sky outside our window suddenly turned a vivid orange.  I thought, screw it, if we are going to be awake, we’re going to see the sun rise over the beach.

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I have to tell you, we had so much ridiculous fun running away from the waves and pointing at dogs and watching the stunning sun rise in the sky.  And it really hit me how easily I could have missed this whole experience just being obsessed with getting my daughter to go back to sleep.  We played and we laughed and we had a blast, and then when the sun was swallowed up in the cloud cover we went back to the house and she fell back into a deep sleep.

Our pragmatism is part of what provides our children with the structure and space they need to thrive, but we can gain a lot by taking advantage of special moments and letting everything else fall away.  As much as it’s OK for motherhood to be hard and grueling, it’s also OK to chuck the rules out the window and have some fun with our kids every once in a while.

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The Real Reason I Think Breastfeeding is so Important

The Real Reason I Think Breastfeeding is so Important

*Before reading this article please note my prior posts on a healthy acknowledgement that not all moms/babies can breastfeed and that is perfectly OK.

There is a lot of information floating around about the benefits of breastfeeding.  There are all kinds of studies that will tell you that breastfed babies are smarter, breastfed babies are healthier, breastfed babies have lower chances of developing certain diseases later in life, etc.  Most of the benefits that are touted relate to the nutritional value of breast milk and its superiority to formula.  Although the immunological benefits come up as well.  But, depending on where these studies are conducted, some of the studies may reveal more about the long-term well being of children who are raised in homes that value breastfeeding, than the actual breast milk.  I’m not saying that’s the case, but I’m also going to say that we have a love/hate relationship with scientific studies and their results right now.  Not sure what I mean?  Read this brilliant Jezebel article on all the conflicting information you get as a pregnant woman (all citing scientific studies).  It’s the same for anything, people listen to and cite the research that supports their preconceived notions.

That being said, do I think breast  milk is nutritionally superior than formula?  For most kids yes.  Do I think that formula is a life long sentence to ill-health and low grades? No.  Like anything in life, being breastfed is one single influencing factor in a whole host of influencing factors.  So, why are almost all my blog posts about it and why does it matter to me so much that I breastfeed my baby and see other moms breastfeed theirs?  I’m going to warn you, my answer is pretty unscientific and I don’t (*gasp*) have any studies to back me up.

One of the few instincts that babies are born with is the rooting instinct.  There are several mouth reflexes that exist to encourage a baby to seek and find nourishment.  The design of our bodies (and theirs) is that they should root and find their mother’s nipple.  That child has spent the past 9 (or fewer) months inside their mother’s body.  Protected, ensconced, and perpetually cared for in their own perfect little ecosystem.  They come into this world through pain and effort and hard work.  The separation of the mother’s body from the baby’s is a really violent process.  I’m sure there are some that are relatively calm, but even if you had a peaceful birth there is blood and sweat and other bodily fluids all being spent in the effort of removing a part of the mother’s body so it can grow and flourish to be its own independent being.  And now the child is in a world it’s only known by proxy, and the way our species keeps surviving century after century is by developing a habit to immediately seek comfort, nourishment, and warmth at the mother’s breast.  Because both mom and baby need this as a way of sharing her body until they are both ready for their own space.  We come into this world the way we spend the rest of our lives, looking for connection. 

To me, being at a mother’s breast, hearing her heart beat, being held in her arms, being warmed by her presence is such a crucial initial reassurance for a child after the shock of birth.  And I say that as someone who could not provide that for my daughter for her first 4 days of life.  It’s a first indicator to this little person what the world outside the womb will be like.  Once we become pregnant our bodies immediately begin redirecting nutrition and energy away from ourselves and towards growing this little being inside of us.  Unless someone chose to terminate the pregnancy altogether we have no choice in how our body uses resources to grow a child.  We form a bond with this child inside us, but in a strange twist it’s very tentative because it’s inside us, which means we can’t see or touch or hear each other directly.  But, when a child is born a mother is faced with the choice of whether she wants to continue to give of her body to her child.  Breastfeeding is one crucial way (not the only way!) that a mother can do this.  She now has the choice to literally take calories, water, and energy from her own body to sustain her child.  This is really powerful, it’s a physical manifestation of a deep and serious commitment.

Love and connection are not bound by practices and rituals, and especially the love of a mother for her child can never be contained or restrained by one act.  For me breastfeeding is a serious act of love and dedication to my daughter and an oath to be my best as a mother.  This is more important than whatever nutritional and immunological benefits are gained from breastfeeding.  Scientific studies are great, but they’ve never had the final word on anything.  As women and mothers we can tap into a deep and intuitive understanding of what is best for those under our care, and that’s why I choose to breastfeed.