Jul 9, 201012:00 AM
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Food for Thought
After my blog last week, I got an e-mail –– a very nice, respectful e-mail –– from a woman who felt hurt by my resistance to feed my daughter formula.
I wrote her back, but I’d like to clarify here, too: Judging other women’s choices about how they feed their babies –– or anything else –– was so not my intention.
If you leave your baby in a hot car while you gamble, yes, I’ll judge you. If you discipline your child by placing his or her naked buttocks on the red-hot element of an electric stove, I’ll judge you. If you have meth in your refrigerator right next to baby bottles, that’s not OK.
But sending your kid to daycare versus staying home, feeding him or her formula versus breastfeeding versus extended breastfeeding, spanking versus time-outs: None of that is any of my business.
As long as children are cared for, fed and taught basic standards of acceptable behavior, I am completely unconcerned by anyone else’s parenting.
I personally was –– and still am –– a huge advocate of nursing. I loved nursing my daughter. I liked the closeness; I liked the hormone rush; I liked thinking I was giving her extra immunity; hell, if I’m being honest, I liked the calorie-burning benefits for me, plus my boobs have never looked better. I never wanted to stop, for reasons both selfish and not. But that’s just me.
When other mothers would tell me what a good thing I was doing by nursing, I’d always laugh a little uncomfortably and then say, “Oh, no, I just do it because it’s easier and cheaper than formula.”
But then, in an article in The Atlantic in April 2009 (long after I’d stopped nursing), Hanna Rosin said something that’s stuck with me ever since: “The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women’s lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let’s say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That’s nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is free, I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.”
Nursing is not easier than formula; I knew that even when I said it at the time. And using Rosin’s reasoning, it’s not cheaper either.
So again, the truth is that I nursed my daughter for as long as I did because it was important to me.
I had a high-risk pregnancy that required me to take thyroid pills, iron pills, 16,000 times the normal amount of B12 and 800 times the normal amount of folic acid (in addition to a prenatal vitamin), a daily 81-milligram baby aspirin and two daily injections of heparin. Twice during my pregnancy, I also had to get injections of Rhogam. And then my daughter was breech, so I had to have a C-section.
When my milk came in normally, without any medical intervention, and I was able to put my daughter to my breast and feed her, I cried. I cried because it was the first time in nine months that I felt like my body was doing what it was supposed to, like it was working with me instead of against me. Nursing her, watching as she grew on only my milk, was a huge, huge step in my learning to like and trust my own body again.
Without the medical science and technology that got her into the world, though, I wouldn’t have had that experience.
I absolutely adored the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and when I was in the midst of the nightmarish pregnancy with my daughter, I was haunted by a scene in The First Four Years in which a childless couple tries to buy Laura’s baby, Rose, in exchange for, I don’t know, butter or something. “You can have more,” the man of the couple tells Laura. “We can’t. We never can.”
One night, hugely pregnant and in a hormonal fugue state, I screamed at my husband, “If I’d lived back then, that would be me! I’d be trying to buy other people’s babies with butter!”
I guess what I’m getting at is: Sure, nursing your child is natural. But nature doesn’t work for some people.
And even if you just prefer to feed your baby formula, that’s fine, of course. It’s not like you’re giving the baby Kool-Aid or gin or something. You and your pediatrician can discuss it together; I am not interested in that conversation at all, and I’m sorry if I implied in my last post that I was. I was talking strictly about my own choices and neuroses, not anyone else’s.
As far as I’m concerned, thank goodness for in vitro fertilization, for blood thinners and Rhogam, for surfactants and NICU technology and C-sections. Thank goodness for formula. Thank goodness for car seats and Baby Einstein and DVRs to record every episode of Ni Hao Kai Lan. Thank goodness for a lot of things definitely not found in nature.
As I was responding to the original e-mail I received, I saw, in a nice burst of Internet synchronicity, the following post on my favorite Mommy blog, and I’m copying and pasting the key points here.
1. When you see a mother with a baby, say, “Wow –– your baby looks so healthy and happy! You must be doing a great job!”
2. If you’re a breastfeeding mom, and you have a choice about where to feed, sit down next to a mom feeding a baby from a bottle, and start a conversation about something not related to feeding.
3. Don’t hide your breasts when you feed your kid, whether you’re nursing or using a bottle. Be as discreet as you personally want to be, but don’t cover up just because someone told you you should.
4. If you’re out in public and you see a woman feeding a baby, give her a smile. And a piece of chocolate, if you have one.
5. Defend and protect. If you see a feeding mom being harassed in any way, step in the way you would if you saw big kids picking on little kids at the playground.
6. Talk about feeding babies with your kids, so they grow up knowing that babies need to be fed and that you fed your children and they’ll feed their own kids. The circle of life.
I can’t say it any better than that. And no one knows more about feeding people –– babies or otherwise –– than New Orleans.