I’m so excited to be blogging over on The Bump, one of the largest online communities for expecting and new moms. My latest: http://blog.thebump.com/2015/05/27/working-mom-breastfeeding-goals/
I have written a lot here (want proof? see posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7) about that loud little subset of pro-breastfeeding people (other mothers, lactation professionals, people in the media, etc) who cross the line from “supportive” to “judgy.” But I also keep saying that the majority of pro-breastfeeding people are normal, kind people who have no desire to make you feel like shit.
I want to introduce you to one of those people. Lina Martin is a certified breastfeeding counselor and doula who Just. Gets. It. For a little restoration of your faith in humanity, read on to hear what she has to say about her approach to supporting women – especially working mothers – and their varied experiences with breastfeeding.
Last year, I wrote a post about being kicked out of a so-called breastfeeding support group on Facebook for asking for advice on gently weaning my 13-month-old daughter. It was a sad experience – one that really depressed me about the state of the breastfeeding wars, and about how even our attempts to re-create the village of maternal support can go horribly wrong.
Well, fast-forward almost a year (my baby girl is turning TWO next month!). I discovered this weird spam-esque inbox on my personal facebook account. (If you’re curious, go to your Facebook inbox and look for a tab called “Other”. That’s where messages from people who are not your FB friends end up.) It was a year-old message from a stranger, all about the Great Getting My Ass Kicked Out of a Breastfeeding Group on Facebook. And this message made me SO happy, I just had to share it. This total stranger came and found me on the internet to tell me she supported me and had my back and is part of my village. Oh my God, yes. THIS IS MOTHERHOOD. THIS IS SISTERHOOD. You have to read it.
NOTE: This is a work-in-progress looooong post that I’m considering as a new first chapter for my book (www.workpumprepeat.com) . I’m posting it here in the spirit of crowd-sourcing. This topic is SO difficult to navigate, and there is no clear answer to what is “good” or “bad” messanging about breastfeeding, for women who are struggling with it. I would really love and appreciate feedback – including critical feedback – about whether this hits the mark, or is way off, or is somewhere in between. THANK YOU!!
You’ve noticed, haven’t you, how it seems like everyone has something to say about breastfeeding?
- You should do it, for a specific length of time (which varies depending on the particular bully), and you’re a narcissist and unfit mother if you don’t do it.
- Also, you definitely shouldn’t do it in public, or in a way that interferes with your job in the slightest, or in a manner that asks for any sacrifice, patience, or even just tolerance from any other person on the planet. Otherwise you’re trampy and entitled and a drain on society.
- You shouldn’t supplement breastmilk with anything, no matter how hellish your emotional or mental state is, or how demanding your job is. Definitely give only breastmilk until your kid is a year old.
- Once your kid turns one, you must stop breastfeeding immediately, so as not to be an incestuous weirdo. And if you breastfeed beyond when the kid can “ask for it,” you should do prison time.
- You shouldn’t drink alcohol or caffeine. Also you should only eat organic whole foods; otherwise you’re poisoning your baby.
- Oh, also: you have to really, really enjoy it, otherwise you’re a broken un-woman who is missing out on the greatest gift of her entire life.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how the hell to make milk while doing your job, we need to talk a bit about the people and messages you will encounter on this journey of trying to breastfeed and work.
Throughout this book, you will read stories about amazing people who make life easier, saner, less scary, and more welcoming for working women who are breastfeeding. And you’ll read about bullies and jerks in all shapes and stripes, who will try to shame, intimidate, intrude, pressure, and judge.
It’s the tail end of #ISupportYou week, and I wanted to share what I think is the best video ever made about motherhood for our generation. I never cease to sob a little when it gets to the “Now I tell you love each other as I have loved you” part.
LOVE YOU, MAMAS OF EVERY STRIPE!
My wonderful friend Ellie Stoneley, a popular blogger based in the UK (and a Bruce Springsteen fanatic, which won this Jersey girl’s heart straight off), wrote a piece this week that has gotten love from both HuffPo and UNICEF. In essence, Ellie notes a recent study that found that PPD “is more than double in women who planned to breastfeed and then were unable to, whereas the women who planned to breastfeed and then did are 50% less likely to be affected.”
Ellie goes on to talk about how essential it proved to be that she prepared for breastfeeding, through classes and reading, before the birth of her lovely little sprite Hope, and how important postpartum support was. She advocates strongly that every woman, in every country, have ready access to ongoing support in the early weeks and months of her baby’s life, because, let’s all say it together: BREASTFEEDING MIGHT BE NATURAL, BUT IT AIN’T EASY.
Ellie’s piece resonated with me on a lot of levels, and I am so proud of her for advocating for something that ALL women and babies, of all socio-economic levels, everywhere, need and deserve. But it also got me thinking that something continues to be missing from this conversation. (I can say this, knowing that Ellie will have my back!)
When I was in business school, I had a classmate and friend named Josh, with whom I worked on every group project. Fortunately for me, he is one of those people who will always tell you the truth about yourself. He called me Captain, and if I were sugar-coating it I would say this name came from my demonstrated leadership abilities, but in honor of Josh, I’ll shoot you straight and tell you it was probably because I’m bossy.
Anyway. One day, we were arguing about what needed to be done on something we were working on, and I wanted to do more, more, more. And Josh looked at me witheringly and said, “Captain, your problem is that you let perfect be the enemy of good.”
I’ll admit it took me a solid 36 hours to understand what he even meant by this. Because in my mind, perfect has always, ALWAYS been the thing to strive for. Especially when it was something measurable, with grades, scores, rankings, or numbers of any kind. But when I did finally get it, it changed my life.
This tendency toward perfectionism and neurotic need-to-measure-itis came into full flower when I had my first child. Breastfeeding was something I could be perfect at, if I just worked at it hard enough. And it was something so rife with measurables, I was practically giddy with anticipation. Ounces (of milk pumped or fed, and gained by the baby, and frozen in the freezer). Feedings per day. Hours of sleep at a stretch. Weeks until baby slept through the night. Count count count. Measure measure measure.
And then there was the “Exclusive Breastfeeder” badge.
I just got off the phone with a friend who is three weeks into her first baby. She was eating breakfast while talking to me, her baby asleep on her chest in the baby-wearing-thingie, dropping crumbs into the baby’s hair as we talked. She sounded happy – exhausted, but happy, and as at ease with being a first-time mother as one could expect.
All that changed when we started talking about breastfeeding. “I can’t leave the house,” she told me. “My husband is great and keeps telling me to go take a break, take a walk, whatever. But all I hear in my head, the whole time I’m gone, is the baby screaming with hunger. What if she gets hungry before I get back? I hate being the only way she can get food.”
GOD, I have been there. Being someone’s sole source of nutrition is one of the most physically and mentally taxing temporary jobs I have ever taken on. You get your “break” and all you do is stress that the baby got hungry before the normal feeding time, and next thing you know you’re texting your husband constantly – or worse, cutting your massage (side-lying, because your boobs hurt too much to lie on your front) or pedicure or coffee with a friend short and racing home to bring your boobs back within firing range of the baby’s mouth.
So, this friend and I got to talking through learning to use her pump, then beginning to build up a stash of milk by pumping once a day, immediately after the morning feeding. We talked about giving the baby a single ounce of formula to make sure she could tolerate it, and then having the can of formula on hand in case of absolute emergency and for some mental relief that there is a back-up method if it’s needed. We talked through introducing a bottle to the baby, and how she shouldn’t freak out if it didn’t go well at first (when my son first seemed to be rejecting the bottle, I went immediately to a dark place of I’m Never Going to Be Able to Go Back to Work, I’m Going to Be Tied to This Baby Until College). These tactics, together, create a tiny space for independence: get to the end of the pedicure, sip the cup of coffee slowly, take an extra loop around the block with the dog. Little victories that can lead to bigger ones later. And, for working mothers, these things also set up skills and resources for the back-to-work bonanza.
In the midst of this conversation, the second big thing my friend said to me rang just as true: “Why don’t any of the books tell me how to do this?” I asked her what she meant specifically, and she replied, “You know, they say ‘start pumping to save up milk for when you go back to work’ – but they don’t ever say HOW to do that. They say ‘introduce the bottle’, but they don’t tell you what that’s going to be like. You’re just totally on your own.”
I am having a holy-shit breastfeeding insight this week. Here goes: Guilt = response to what one does. Shame = response to what one IS. Which one is at work for me, and for other breastfeeding mothers?
Guilt played a huge role in my breastfeeding struggles, and in those of many, many women I’ve interviewed. Or at least, I have always thought of what I experienced as “guilt”.
Recap: Guilt = response to what one does. Shame = response to what one IS. As women struggling with breastfeeding, are we feeling guilt?: “I had a hard time balancing breastfeeding and work/older siblings/whatever”? Or – so much scarier – are we feeling shame?: “I’m a failure.” “I’m not a good mother.” “I’m not enough.” “I’m not fully a woman.”
I remember exactly what I said to my husband when breastfeeding my first child was ridiculously painful and hugely anxiety-inducing: “I’m a failure. Women have done this for all of human history, yet I can’t do it.” That was shame. That was me feeling that who I was just wasn’t good enough for my baby. Or, maybe, not good enough, period.
I’m working on a post about the growing use of the term “exclusive breastfeeding” / EBF as a source of anxiety, guilt, or shame for new mothers – and as a (sometimes) subtle form of peer pressure from other women. Please share your thoughts in the comments! If you want to share more, or anonymously, let me know and I’ll figure out a way for us to connect. Thanks!!