Not trying hard enough

Not trying hard enough is a phrase that has haunted me most of my life. For a long time it’s been applied vaguely at me in regards to weight loss. Despite my counting calories, and measuring or weighing most everything I eat and seeing no results. I bought into the idea that I must be doing something wrong and that I wasn’t trying hard enough. Now that I’ve finally (finally!) been diagnosed with PCOS I can give myself a little bit less of a hard time.

When breastfeeding went wrong and people actually said to me that I needed to work harder and that I wasn’t trying hard enough (also see: lazy, uneducated, and so on) I again bought into the idea that I wasn’t trying hard enough and it ate me up inside. I mean so many people were saying (mostly without knowing the specifics) that there must be something I was doing wrong.

Thing is, in a normal situation these things are not rocket science. They are simply not that hard. When you aren’t in a normal situation though, all bets are off. There are lots of variations on not normal, so be cool and give support.

This time around has been a really different experience for a lot of reasons. If I had more time I could write guides about horrible sleepy fussy babies with oral particular-ness and how much more this low supply gig sucks when you also have a toddler.  Most importantly though I know this time I am totally awesome and actually pretty damn hardcore for being able to do this.

I ran into some internet comments the other day espousing the same old tired bullshit that low supply is ultra rare and that people who say they have it are all a big bunch of lazy liars and blah blah blah. It made me a bit weepy because I’d forgotten how many of that type of ‘lactivist’ there still are. Here I’d been thinking that recent media exposure on the prevalence of breastfeeding issues had somewhat changed the landscape in the past two years. Ha, I say. Ha.

Someone else in the same stream of comments said something along the lines of ‘Well 99% of pancreases work so diabetes is ultra rare and you only think you have it’. Someone else countered with ‘Don’t eat 50 donuts a day and expect your pancreas to work’. I then thought, if anyone told a type 1 diabetic that eating donuts caused their disease they would just be convinced that person was a moron. Put it all in perspective for me. Anyone who ever thinks I didn’t or I’m not trying hard enough I can automatically dismiss as a moron.

Phew.

Becoming a pariah: Breastfeeding’s underclass

I was a member, as previously mentioned, of a large parenting forum. I had a journal there which I started shortly after my baby was born. In that journal I documented our ups and downs with our breastfeeding issues. I’m considering how best to showcase those posts, often very raw and unhappy, on this blog. Anyhow, I titled my journal our journey with low supply as I thought that was our issue for 8-9 months. I keep digressing, but the main topic was about our struggle with low supply.

First off it made me hugely unpopular because the noisy breastfeeding advocates exclaimed that low supply was so rare and here someone was living with it, struggling with it, being public about those struggles and emotions, and apparently most aggravating, finding a way to keep breastfeeding despite it. Somehow being a successful combination feeder was a huge insult. I guess it’s easier if people fall into the breast feeder or formula feeder camps. It seems that once someone has fully gone over to not breastfeeding and they say that they did because of low supply it’s easier for those vocal people to tut and say that that wasn’t the issue. Far more difficult for them to do so to someone who has kept breastfeeding and has not managed to increase supply. Anyhow, as long as I didn’t argue the party line (all women can breastfeed; try harder!) too much I mostly got left alone; ignored even. But until I changed the title of my journal to something more general, at least three separate people came into my journal for the purpose of arguing with me about how I was wrong. I was told that if I’d been better educated, if I hadn’t doubted my abilities I would have seen that I was wrong about having low supply and I would have been a successful breast feeder. Now, at the time I tried to be nice and civil. After all they weren’t quite that blunt (ok, one person did tell me that if I’d believed I could breastfeed I would have been able to do it). People hardly talked to me in there as it was. I was trying to be sociable. But it got to me. I spent so much of that time plagued with extra doubt because of the things people were saying to me. By openly labeling myself a low supply mom, I publicly invited scorn from those breastfeeding advocates indoctrinated in the belief that 99% of women can breastfeed. One of the most hostile to me now has a blog herself (possibly one of the more hostile pro-breastfeeding blogs I’ve ever seen, not that I go looking) and is very much a ‘I did it why can’t you’ type.  I gave her latching advice and other support and she threw it in my face because after she ‘educated’ herself she decided my low supply wasn’t ‘real’.

I continued to offer advice and support to women who were also experiencing similar issues. During this time I noticed an upsetting trend. I am a member of other open breastfeeding support and information sites and networks and I saw it there as well. It was acceptable to treat women with breastfeeding issues as second class breast feeders. Talking about what problems looked like was ‘not ok’, ‘scaring women’ and the like. Those who had issues were dismissed as uneducated and failed by the system, those who succeeded were hailed with a ‘job well done’. This further glossed over what symptoms of breastfeeding issues look like. Who needs breastfeeding information and advice most? Those with issues, yet these areas are frequently dominated by passionate women with breastfeeding as their cause. Those who had issues, with pertinent advice to give, are most often relegated to the back seat while those who have overcome, or did it without too much fuss, become the first line of offense for those looking for help. The feelgood message is all very well and good, but it’s not appropriate for anyone with an issue beyond ignorance. So yes, know what a normal newborn feeding pattern is like, but also know when things are verging on abnormal and do not apply the protocols for ‘normal’ to that.

I know this is overflow from the dispelling breastfeeding myths movement. Dispelling myths is all well and good since our cultures need to relearn what normal breastfeeding looks like, but preventing knowledge of what problems look like to keep from ‘scaring’ someone hurts us all. No wonder when breastfeeding fails women feel so lost. They don’t know why or how things went wrong. There’s rarely any closure. On top of  not being able to access adequate help that is able to competently discuss the issues and come to a satisfactory resolution, you have these freaking mommy wars pushing that it was all about toughing it out. Advocates pushing that it’s all about the mother’s ability to stick with it and it becomes a spiral of what-if and if-only long after the fact.

I spent a long time feeling really bitter about how I couldn’t get any meaningful advice. Then I realized, those who had it to give had long since distanced themselves from those who only had platitudes because the self proclaimed bearers of breastfeeding wisdom feel continually justified and vindicated in what they are telling people (most of which is more or less true and nonetheless helpful and reassuring to those who are simply ignorant of what normal newborn behavior looks like), while those who have advice to give on problematic matters get shot down, belittled, accused of scaring or misleading women and other negative things. So they, though they may crave the providing of proper information and support, slowly withdraw because frankly it’s a demoralizing atmosphere. Like me. So now I’m part of the problem. At least I’m preserving my sanity.

Regret for information not had, and tears shed for the wrong reasons, are most bitter indeed.

My least favorite phrases

If you spend any time in the breastfeeding trenches of the internet you’ll come across a few phrases used again and again.

Own your decision:

I hate that saying by amateur lactivists. As if the point where you, determined to breastfeed, desperately start using formula feels anything like a choice, let alone one you supposedly need to ‘own up to’ (like you are guilty) and take responsibility for. I’ve found most people who feel a sense of relief at stopping breastfeeding are not shy about sharing, but ‘own your decision’ is most often said to those who are, for some bizarre reason, seen to be making excuses. Those who chose to feed their babies and not suffer. I don’t know how ‘my baby was losing too much weight’, ‘latching was agonizing (and there was no help)’, or ‘I couldn’t get out enough with a pump’, and so on are excuses. Explanations, yes. Excuses no. That would imply that something wrong was being done, as opposed to explaining why this situation you’ve found yourself in isn’t going the way you’d like.

Nearly all (or some numerical variation thereof) women can breastfeed:

I hate this one so much I devoted an entire post to it. It’s a phrase designed to imbue confidence and empower women, which is fine, but it ends up used as a shaming device, which is not fine. It’s vague and imprecise and unhelpful. Unhelpful because people are told that ‘statistic’ and thus never become aware of the signs and symptoms of what ‘unable to breast feed’ looks like.

Happy mummy=happy baby:

What if you aren’t happy with needing to not breastfeed? This assumes that breastfeeding is most often some awful thing to be tolerated. Like there’s never going to be some situation where you love it and need to not do it. It’s almost the flip side of every baby deserves breast milk (self flagellation ahoy!)

Breast milk is right for every baby/every baby deserves breast milk.

Just no. First off there are babies intolerant to proteins in mother’s milk. And it’s never worth it to compromise the mother’s health or sanity completely. A little bit, ok, because any baby can be demanding and deprive you of sleep, but when it’s a question of continuing to live or being able to care properly for your baby, then no, it’s not worth it. I also strongly dislike this one as it implies that all the mother is for is for the baby. Mothers are people too. Since when did lactivism supersede feminism?

Formula should be prescription only

Ok. You think that is going to improve breastfeeding care? No. It’s going to punish women for needing to formula feed. I wish everyone wanted to breastfeed and was able to. I do, but I don’t want to punish anyone for not doing it.

You did so well to get so far, most women would have given up.

This drives me up the wall for so many reasons. Foremost is that I could easily have been one of those ‘other women’. I don’t want to make those who did not meet their goals feel any worse if I can help it. How do those women that did ‘give up’ (more like give in) feel when someone says that near them or even to them? It must be like a million tiny slaps in the face. I wince when I encounter it. It’s a guilt inducing  phrase and a backhanded compliment all in one. Backhanded because I most often see it applied to women who have been struggling for months and are stopping because things are not working and it’s impacting their life and mental well being too much. Hey, maybe it’s what they need to hear and they are relieved at stopping, but then again, maybe they are not happy with stopping but don’t see any way to make it work.  This phrase also assumes that the end goal of breastfeeding is how long can you go, not getting babies fed and not being miserable about it.

I’m strong on breastfeeding because I care about babies.

Those who say this apparently want to promote the emotional wreckage of mothers in favor of helping babies. I’m sure most mothers care more about their babies than you do. You’ve just made her feel like she doesn’t because of breastfeeding. Good job! [sarcasm] Besides, the tactics that often go along with this one (I’m only this way about breastfeeding because I care about babies) are another one of those tactics aimed at the whole of breastfeeding failure or success being on the mother’s shoulders. Nothing about outside support, having issues recognized or corrected or anything else. Those who spout variations of this are pretty much like walking breast is best posters. All why you should and no support or recognition of issues.