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I have started a new job. I am my county's new WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor. A quick scroll through my little blog will reveal that I am a true believer in the benefits of breastfeeding. I've never thought of myself as a "lactivist" though. The issues are just too complicated, too personal, and at the same time too political for me to feel comfortable acting on my beliefs outside of my own home - or gingerly in my blog, and, once in awhile, Facebook page. Even this new job demands that I keep the issues on a very personal level. My role is about helping individual moms and their babies with their individual challenges. Period. No political agendas allowed - and I am comfortable with that. I do believe there is potential for a ripple effect that could impact moms and babies far beyond the few I will be privileged to know - but really even that is none of my business. I'm eager to work at normalizing breastfeeding within these strictly defined parameters - one mom and baby at a time.
And yet, you might have gotten the hint that I am a bit of a political animal. I love to wallow in the big picture. I get lost in it sometimes. So, bolstered by the recognition that I do have something to offer other breastfeeding moms that my new job has given me, I'm going to take my first tentative steps into lactivism by sharing the wise words of Dr. Jack Newman in his take on the breastfeeding wars. I do so still firmly within the context of building moms up and not knocking anyone down. Forgive me for not offering my own original insights, but he says it much better than I could (and I don't have time to reinvent the wheel anyway). The original can be found here, but I've supplied the full text below. Enjoy.
Breastfeeding and Guilt
by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC.
One of the most powerful arguments many health professionals, government agencies and formula company manufacturers make for not promoting and supporting breastfeeding is that we should "not make the mother feel guilty for not breastfeeding". Even some strong breastfeeding advocates are disarmed by this "not making mothers feel guilty" ploy.
Because, indeed, it is nothing more than a ploy. It is an argument which deflects attention from the lack of knowledge and understanding of most health professionals about breastfeeding. This allows them not to feel guilty for their ignorance of how to help women overcome difficulties with breastfeeding, which could have been overcome and usually which could have been prevented in the first place if mothers were not so undermined in their attempts to breastfeed. This argument also seems to allow formula companies and health professionals to pass out formula company literature and free samples of formula to pregnant women and new mothers without pangs of guilt, though it has been well demonstrated that this literature and the free samples decrease the rate and duration of breastfeeding.
Let's look at real life. If a pregnant woman went to her physician and admitted she smoked a pack of cigarettes, is there not a strong chance that she would leave the office feeling guilty for endangering her developing baby? If she admitted to drinking a couple of beers every so often, is there not a strong chance that she would leave the office feeling guilty? If a mother admitted to sleeping in the same bed with her baby, would most physicians not make her feel guilty for this even though it is the best thing for her and the baby? If she went to the office with her one week old baby and told the physician that she was feeding her baby homogenized milk, what would be the reaction of her physician? Most would practically collapse and have a fit. And they would have no problem at all making that mother feel guilty for feeding her baby cow's milk, and then pressuring her to feed the baby formula. (Not pressuring her to breastfeed, it should be noted, because "you wouldn't want to make a woman feel guilty for not breastfeeding".)
Why such indulgence for formula? The reason of course, is that the formula companies have succeeded so brilliantly with their advertising to convince most of the world that formula feeding is just about as good as breastfeeding, and therefore there is no need to make such a big deal about women not breastfeeding. As a vice president of Nestle here in Toronto was quoted as saying "Obviously, advertising works". It is also a balm for the consciences of many health professionals who, themselves, did not breastfeed, or their wives did not breastfeed. "I will not make women feel guilty for not breastfeeding, because I don't want to feel guilty for my child not being breastfed".
Let's look at this a little more closely. Formula is certainly theoretically more appropriate for babies than cow's milk. But, in fact, there are no clinical studies which show that there is any difference between babies fed cow's milk and those fed formula. Not one. Breastmilk, and breastfeeding, which is not the same as breastmilk feeding, has many more theoretical advantages over formula than formula has over cow's milk (or other animal milk). And we are just learning about many of these advantages. Almost every day there are more studies telling us about these theoretical advantages. But there is also a wealth of clinical data showing that, even in affluent societies, breastfed babies, and their mothers incidentally, are much better off than formula fed babies. They have fewer ear infections, fewer gut infections, a lesser chance of developing juvenile diabetes and many other illnesses. The mother has a lesser chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer, and is probably protected against osteoporosis. And these are just a few examples.
So how should we approach support for breastfeeding? All pregnant women and their families need to know the risks of formula feeding. All should be encouraged to breastfeed, and all should get the best support available for starting breastfeeding once the baby is born. Because all the good intentions in the world will not help a mother who has developed terribly sore nipples because of the baby's poor latch at the breast. Or a mother who has been told, almost always inappropriately, that she must stop breastfeeding because of some medication or illness in her or her baby. Or a mother whose supply has not built up properly because she was given wrong information. Make no mistake about it—health professionals' advice is often the single most common reason for mothers' failing at breastfeeding!
If mothers get the information about the risks of formula feeding and decide to formula feed, they will have made an informed decision. This information must not come from the formula companies themselves, as it often does. Their pamphlets give some advantages of breastfeeding and then go on to imply that their formula is almost, actually just as good. If mothers get the best help possible with breastfeeding, and find breastfeeding is not for them, they will get no grief from me. It is important to know that a woman can easily switch from breastfeeding to bottle feeding. In the first days or weeks—no big problem. But the same is not true for switching from bottle feeding to breastfeeding. It is often very difficult or impossible, though not always.
Finally, who does feel guilty about breastfeeding? Not the women who make an informed choice to bottle feed. It is the woman who wanted to breastfeed, who tried, but was unable to breastfeed. In order to prevent women feeling guilty about not breastfeeding what is required is not avoiding promotion of breastfeeding, but promotion of breastfeeding coupled with good, knowledgeable and skillful support. This is not happening in most North American or European societies.
Written by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC
This handout may be copied and distributed without further permission, on the condition that it is not used in any context in which the WHO code on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes is violated.
There are days when I feel drawn to him - to his physical presence - to all I have of him - to his grave. I often find myself wondering what would happen if I lay down on his grave and curled myself around his little marker stone. Would I feel closer to him? Would I feel connected to him in even a fraction of the way that I connect with Joni when I lie curled around her in our family bed and she finds my breast and nurses as she pleases? No, I don't think so. The ground is hard and cold. His marker is shiny cold and black. I want him to be there – somewhere where I can feel him - but he is not.
Sometimes my fantasies have me swallowed up by the earth at his grave - skipping the messiness of death, burial and decomposition and heading straight for elemental communion with my baby boy. This fantasy finds me on the days when my grief has been the hardest to face. On those days, being sucked alive into the earth feels like a completely appropriate, merciful and long overdue escape from the relentless saturation of my body and mind in missing him - but not really "missing" - "wanting him" is more like it. Of course I am needed here too much to let myself slip away, and so I don't let myself see where the fantasy would take me. But, the grief, and missing and wanting still remain.
This has been simmering under my skin for quite some time now. I feel ridiculous at 40+ sounding like a 13 year old little girl, so my upper lip has been rigid, I let it go, slipping swiflty, effortlessly down my fowl-feathered back.....
Except that is a lie. It doesn't go away. It stays and eats at my confidence - ravenously.
Many babylost moms talk about the way they feel abandoned after their babies die. Family, but especially friends turn away from the raging grief, and so turn away from the person it is consuming as well. I don't think that is what I'm talking about here. I've worked too hard, and think I've been pretty darned successful at boxing up my grief , putting on a together face, carrying my sadness with grace, looking normal. "I'm good how are you?".... with a smile on top. No mention of my dead son, being poor, or making a slumlord rich - just the blessings of my wonderful husband and by beautiful living children :0)
I am really really sick to death of being ignored! I'm sick of "putting myself out there" only to be.......well what else can I call it but ignored? No response - nothing. Not "thanks for calling but I've been so busy". Not "thanks for your email but I don't need what you have to offer". Not "thanks but you are way too fucking depressing (or weird, or needy, or boring, etc.)". Just cold dead silence.
For months now I've been sucking it up and making excuses why I shouldn't take it personally. People are very busy these days after all. When I do bump into someone in person, they act as if they are happy to see me, right? So I guess they are just too overwhelmed to respond to my quick "just thinking of you" notes.
The reality is though, that after so many months of the same thing happening with so many different people, both in my real life and virtual worlds, babylost and not, that it really is time to take it personally. It has gotten to the point that I am wondering if I've developed some autism spectrum disorder that won't allow me to recognize my social misteps or gauge other's response to me. I'm serious. On top of that, well I'm not the most attractive person on the planet - that in itself makes one ignorable. And my politics must be oozing out of my pores, even as I am gagging on the blood of my bit tongue. Did I mention confidence chewed up and spat out?
Or maybe my phone isn't working right......and incoming emails have been inadvertantly blocked..... I'll go check.
I haven't been around much. Well actually I have been, but I've been lurking on my own blog and reading and commenting on eveyone elses.
Reading other blogs gives me lots of ideas for things I would like to explore here, but I really struggle to find the time to put together a coherant exploration of a thought of more than a paragraph. Babies are a lot of work, and as I say at least once a day in exasperation - I can't have a thought of my own.
But commenting on other people's blogs - well that should only take a few sentences. That I can manage with one hand while I nurse the girl. And so that is what I've been doing. It keeps me thinking and writing, but it does have limitations. But I can't go there now......
......why the heck doesn't this thing have a spell check?
I love my little man very much. Sometimes he has a one track mind. Right now his track is stuck on quarters. He wants them in the worst way. To Chet, quarters equal gumballs! Chet likes gumballs more than he likes quarters. He will happily trade a quarter for a gumball. He will trade anything for a quarter.
Today he really wanted to Save the World! He needed his sister's red crystal hairpin to do it. She bought it at a rummage sale last summer for a quarter. As much as he wanted to save the world and as much as he needed the red crystal hairpin to do it, he just couldn't see himself clear to give up the quarter he had to buy the world saving hairpin from his sister. "But I need this quarter for a gumball" he wailed.
After much explaining on my part about equity, fairness and reciprocity, Chet came up with an answer to the problem on his own. He ran to the kitchen, pulled a chair up to the counter, and found Daddy's change bowl. In a spirit of generosity, he fished out two quarters, and used them to pay his sister. With the red crystal hairpin in hand, he ran into the living room, and was back within seconds, declaring the world officially saved.
This is typical of wealth redistribution in our house. Chet has no qualms about helping himself, and it eventually filters down to Grace. Sometimes she is patient about the process, other times - not so much. The rule at our house is any change found on the floor is free for all - finders keepers. Any change I find on the floor I put in Joni's piggy bank. Grace and Chet put their found wealth in their own special hiding places. Chet uses his sock drawer and Grace has a re-purposed sour cream container.
Grace knows enough to realize that quarters are best, but pennies, dimes and nickels will do the trick in sufficient quantity. Chet, as he just rambled in to explain, only likes quarters. They equal gumballs. No matter how many dimes and nickels he has, they can't get him a gumball out of the machine at the grocery store. So there you have it - the economics of toddlerhood.
Now, one way to solve the obvious problems with our household economy would be to give the children allowances. Then Grace wouldn’t have to rely on Chet’s thievery to get money, and Chet could have the pleasure of buying his gumballs with his own carefully saved quarters. Ok – honestly Chet thinks procession is nine tenths of the law. The quarters he has, no matter how acquired, are his because he has them. So I think the lessons an allowance would teach might be lost on him, and it certainly wouldn’t be as fun for him as hunting and gathering is. But Grace would LOVE it, and some of her excitement will certainly rub off on Chet.
To be honest, Grace having become big enough for an allowance sort of snuck up on me. She is nearly NINE now!! When did that happen? Of course she wants to buy things. And she needs to learn how money works for sure. For most of the last three or four years we have been too broke to offer an allowance. In fact any birthday or Christmas money that came her way inevitably ended up buying groceries or gas – sad but true. I don’t feel too bad about it though. I’m the old fashioned type that believes children should contribute in any way they can to their family. If that means sharing birthday money – so be it. (More on that later.)
Chet just came in and asked me to print a quarter out. Quarters are minted I explained. “Oh Mom, you got a printer, just print a quarter out.” Seems I have a lot of money training to do.
Glow in the Woods is my favorite babylost blog. In the open forum called "for one and all" a post-er brought up the issue of collateral losses - the things that slip away from us when our babies die. In this instance, the discussion centered on those things that we've lost that we wish we hadn't. There are many things that appropriately take a back burner in the face of such grief - priorities realigned. But those things aren't what this discussion is about. I responded with the following post. I have been thinking about this issue for such a long time, and I was happy for the opportunity to frame it in this way.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I lost birth. I know that sounds trivial but birth was important to me before Noah died (stillborn at term due to a cord knot). I had trained as a doula and birthed my second baby at home. I was engaged, on the periphery at least, with the women – doulas, midwives, body workers, etc - who make up the birth community in our small city. I was (am I guess) one of those lucky women who believed in natural birth, was able to have it, and felt empowered by it. I have never had a great relationship with my over-sized body – but giving birth….it just made me so proud – so amazed at what MY body could do.
Noah’s was a planned hospital birth because our insurance would cover it 100% and would not cover a home-birth at all and we just did not have the money. However I went to great lengths to find a doctor and hospital that would support my desire to birth naturally. When we discovered at a regular appointment that Noah had died and I would need to be induced, I wanted an epidural for his delivery. In the end I didn’t need it. He left my body almost painlessly without the meds I thought I’d need.
My husband and I were blessed to receive another life just three months after Noah left us. I struggled the entire pregnancy to reconcile what I wanted to believe about birth with my new-found unwanted knowledge that babies sometimes die before they are born – that my body wasn’t the safe place for my babies that I thought it was. I didn’t want fear to win. I looked for mentors – babylost women who still trusted their bodies and birth. That is how I found “Glow”. I hoped I could find someone who could help me see a way to embrace, even revel in pregnancy and birth as I had before, but I never did.
I had every intention of having a stare down with Death in my pregnancy after Noah’s, but instead I scurried around hiding behind rocks, under beds and in closets, trying to keep the Grim Reaper from finding the daughter I carried. It didn’t help that her pregnancy was the most medically complicated of my four to make it out of the first trimester. On top of that I was 40. Forty, babylost and lots of bumps in the road to delivery day – NOT a good combination to inspire strong prenatal mental health.
In the end I delivered our daughter in the same hospital where I delivered Noah, under the care of the same family practice doctor. I was induced at 37w4d because Joni repeatedly failed her bio-physical profiles. My doula/midwife could not be there, but she sent her back-up and she was lovely. I birthed as naturally as one could while dragging around an iv pole and hooked to machines. It was an honest day’s work, but it was not the triumphant, healing experience I had hoped for. Our daughter – skinny but healthy, strong, gorgeous and simply amazing – has tempered my ache for her brother. But her birth did not heal the hole left in my heart when birth and death renewed their acquaintance in my womb.
I have been around here long enough to know that this particular brand of crazy talk really irritates some. I hope I’ve conveyed the distinction that I make in my mind between the baby and the birth. I would have done ANYTHING to get my babies here alive. I believed pregnancy and birth with minimal medical interventions was the best way to do it. Beyond that, the acts of growing a life inside of me and delivering her safely into the world are about my relationship with my body and my own sense of power – a perk separate from the real prize, but important to me none the less.
Now, almost 19 months since Noah was born, and 8 months since Joni arrived, I have little contact with my birth community acquaintances. I went to a natural birth and baby expo last night, under the pretext of buying a new sling, but really so I could show off Joni. I saw many people I hadn’t seen since Noah’s funeral. There were smiles, congratulations, warm hugs. It wasn’t the place to touch on hidden grief, but I could tell just by looking in eyes who realized it was still there and avoided it, and who assumed it had been replaced by the babe in my arms. If they only knew how I grieve still - for my son and for the shared faith that used to make me part of their sisterhood.
Yesterday was International Women's Day. Some of my favorite blogs marked the day with commentary. I marked it by changing my Face Book profile picture to one of a painting of a beautiful strong woman nursing her baby. I have been reading lots of blog commentary on the baby feeding wars. It makes me sad. I'll write about that more later. For now I'll just share some images that I find beautiful.
Artist unknown to me. It is my current FB profile image. If you know the artist, please let me know.
Fiery Breastfeeding, Artist Unknown, alisaterry.blogspot.com
Mother and Child, Renoir
Yashoda Breastfeeding, Mysore Traditional Art Krishna
In the last three weeks my beloved has spent nearly $500 and at least 4 precious work days trying to get a snowmobile going so he can get around in the woods to finish the acres necessary to meet his deadline.......and the snow will be gone by the end of the week. So it will cost a few more hundred, and more worth-their-weight-in-gold work days (ok not really gold - they are just really really precious), to get the three wheeler going - which will almost certainly leave him stranded in the woods anyway........ :*0(
I tried to post this as my status on FaceBook this morning. It was error-ed out - too many characters. That is why I have this blog that no one reads - because I just can't say things in a quick blurb of a few words. My FB posts are often like this - too long. And too grumpy.
In my FB world - everybody is happy. Unless someone has died, and then condolences are quickly offered, and everyone goes back to happy. Even if they are unhappy, and they dare to post about it, they try very hard to make light of their unhappiness. I did. Notice the "emoticon" at the end? Silly little thing, right? Well actually I am on the verge of tears.
Less than $1000 spent on necessary business equipment doesn't seem like much, but for us, it is. And I can not even begin to explain the cost of missing all these days of work. It is unseemly to talk about money and angst in public - but man I think I am reaching the end of my rope.
Ok, not really. All things in my life are now sifted through the filter of babyloss. So I get angry sometimes, and frustrated, and I often feel overwhelmed. But for me, burying Noah was the end of my rope. Anxiously wondering if the money to keep our heads above water - the money sitting there waiting to be earned - will find its way into our checking account...... well that is definitely middle of the rope stuff. It's all relative.
My son died and I have been transformed by the experience. I am better and worse for having carried our son, to have been the source of his life, to have given birth to death. I love my children more. It is difficult to imagine the mother-love that is intensified by death - but it is. Ordinary mother-love is more than enough to nurture a child. Baby-lost mother-love is the ordinary variety on crack. I'm not saying that's all good, and certainly not worth the cost to find. And yet I know now that I didn't really know the depth of my love for my children before Noah died.
And as I mentioned before, I feel shell-shocked. I don't feel like life is as safe as I did before. I feel less capable of protecting my children. I don't feel that our hard work and the force of our convictions can always keep us afloat or safe. I feel the pull of forces completely out of my control, conspiring with my own exhaustion to drag me under. Perpetually treading water, waiting for the sharks...... Of course Noah’s death was only one of the bombs that found our family.
So I am different, but I am still a human mother. I love my children beyond reason. My mind sees in technicolor what intuition only hinted at before - that I would give my life in a second for all three of my living children. I would do it gladly if asked. But I am still a human mother and my kids bug me sometimes. They dump toys and refuse to pick them up. They fight with each other. They scream and have tantrums sometimes. They tell fibs and help themselves to quarters out of my wallet that I've told them 20 times to leave alone. Potty training has taken well over a year. And I'm tired. So sometimes I feel frustrated. Sometimes - perhaps even most of the time - I feel overwhelmed. And sometimes I raise my voice. And sometimes I complain about the beloved children I would die for.
Losing a child has trasformed me - but not into a saint. I am still a human mother.
Today I've been married to my dear sweet loving husband for five years. If I am generous I would say we have known each other for five years, six months, but honesty forces me to admit it has been a bit less than that. Yet I can't imagine finding a better mate if I spent ten years getting to know him. Not perfect on all counts - but the perfect compliment for my own too numerous imperfections. We were meant for each other I believe - meant to be together.
We've managed to pack a lot into our five years together. Seven pregnancies, a thriving business lost, four addresses in three different towns, three schools, foreclosure, a glimpse at homelessness...... yes there is more. We have been stripped clean in many senses - extras left behind to make room for the good stuff - better stuff. We've clung ferociously, even obstinately to our values, scarifying much in their name. I often wonder if we are right.
Lots of good things have happened to us in five years, but I would be Polly Anna's perkier baby-sister if I denied the bad stuff. Or if I lied and said I am better for having experienced it all. Parts of me are better - but it's not "all good" my any means. I feel shell shocked sometimes. A true survivor of war would certainly balk at my cooptation of the term “shell shock”, just as I balk when people compare the deaths of their cats the deaths of my babies. But I don't begrudge them lest I be begrudged.
Someone who should have known better than to be so unkind recently asked me why I “let” some of the particularly difficult things we have struggled through happen to our family. What a luxury to have never tripped on pebble that catapults you into a shit hole. We are an intelligent, educated, and hard-working pair, and it happened to us. I dare say it could happen to anyone. That is why I want to tell our story - it is as American as any Horatio Alger tale - and it happened to us.
Noah has been asking for my attention rather insistantly the last few days. Things I haven't thought of in many weeks pop into my mind - randomly. His birth. Waiting for the contractions. My doctor. No heartbeat. My cluelessness. Being alone. Wailing in me sweet gentle husband's arms. The seering grief. And the guilt.
There are so many things I want to say about our life as a family while I carried Noah. It isn't a pretty story. It ends in such a vicious irony that my mind still reels at the thought of it. How could this have happened in real life? Even the schmaltziest melodramatist would have dared pitch this script - and he likely would have been laughed out of the meeting. But it did happen to us - to me - to Noah.