Saturday, April 10, 2010

When the breasts hit the fan

I haven't blogged in a while (sorry!), but this week the blogosphere has been exploding and I can't NOT write. A study came out this week that concludes that breastfeeding saves lives and money. Obviously, it met with a LOT of contention as it touched on that most sacred of all mommy-wars topics, breast vs. formula.

How sad it is that we as a society, and as women, have come to such a silly dichotomy. Instead of addressing the issue head-on of WHY more women don't breastfeed exclusively for 6 months (currently <14%), we bicker about guilt trips, power trips, and egos.

I've been following The Feminist Breeder for a long time, and her post on the issue hit the nail on the head, in my book. Yet glossing over the comments, there are still women who got angry at Gina for her statements. If breastfeeding is physically impossible for you, why would that make you feel guilty? Allow me to throw out my own crazy analogy. If you happened by a car wreck, and saw someone trapped under a 2-ton truck, would you feel guilty that you couldn't lift it up off of them? Of course not! And I'm sure you would do all you could to help - calling 911, talking to them, giving the police your witness - and then go home and feel good about what you did. So the same can be said of mom's who tried, really, really hard, and still couldn't do it.

Now let me flip that example on it's head. Say you're a body builder, and your trainer and everyone else in the world expects you to be able to lift 2 tons, easy no problem. Except your trainer hasn't been helping you with a good weight lifting program, and your nutritionist said it was OK to eat junk food and skip the protein and carbs, and your family made it almost impossible for you to get to the gym every day. So, you SHOULD be able to save that person's life by lifting that truck, no problem. And everyone looks at you and says, "hey she's a body builder she should be able to do this." But you try, and you can't. You keep trying and give yourself a hernia. But you fail. THIS is what (in my best guess) over 90% of women who don't breastfeed experience. They should have all of the tools and support, yet they are undermined and simply not up to the task when it's presented to them.

I was one of those moms. Incredibly ill-equipped to handle breastfeeding. I had a terrible c-section, an awful recovery, and a post-op infection that saw me bedridden for over a month. But guess what? I did it. My baby is now 13 months, and still breastfeeding like a champ. I saw two LCs in the hospital. When I was discharged, I was still clueless. He just wouldn't latch. We had to feed him formula our first night home because he was screaming from hunger. The very next morning, we packed up and went back to the hospital LC. Rented a pump and got more private instruction. Went home and I still managed to fail. Saw the pediatrician (and my OB) the next day and asked for more help. Went home - and did just a little better. Returned to the hospital for a group class the next day. Failed at that, and had to return the next day. All this time I could barely walk, or function, but I was determined. The next week we had to return to the pediatrician again, because DS's weight had dropped so much. I saw an LC because we were still having tons of pain and latching issues. She gave me 2 cans of formula. We returned to the hospital, brought back the rental and bought a pump. I gave myself oversupply and that caused another host of problems.

The pain and problems didn't let up until I was almost ready to return to work at 12 weeks. But they did resolve. We persevered. It cost a lot of money in LC fees, pump rental and purchase, and a lot of stress and sleepless nights. I probably cried several times a day, and I am NOT a crier. Once a month when the hormones get to me, I might shed a tear. That's about it. My family and friends were at a total loss as how to help me, because they'd never seen me like that before. My own mother - who breastfed all her kids - kept telling me to give up and give him formula.

How do we expect women to succeed in this type of environment? I know I persevered, in part, because I HATE IT when people tell me I can't do something. I like to be contrary. And I'd already failed at birth, so I wasn't going to let this get to me too. But not everyone is like that, and not everyone should HAVE to be like that in order to make something natural work out.

So next steps? The addition of pumping space requirements at work in the Health Care legislation is a start. Getting free formula out of hospitals is another step. And establishing paid maternity leave across the board will help immeasurably. But at the end of the day, we need a dialog change. We need to stop the bickering, look at the facts, and then re-frame the issue and argument. Only then will we save lives and protect our bottom line.

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