29 October 2013

I'm Sorry, Mama

I've got more to say and an outlet for sharing it. Oh dear!

After my post yesterday, I feel compelled to apologize. I don't apologize for the content of that post, but for the fact that not only did I get defensive, I actually transitioned into attack mode. I thought I had escaped the "Mommy Wars." It is now apparent that I have not. Deep down, I truly wanted to add a voice to the conversation that just wasn't being expressed and I hope that my response can help to support another mama in her journey.

I've read and re-read the blog post on Banned from Baby Showers, my post and several comments and replies to both. My first reading caused me to feel attacked and shamed for the method in which I fed my baby for her first year in life. After desperately trying to breastfeed my baby and making uncountable sacrifices to keep my daughter on breast milk when breastfeeding proved to be impossible for us, I felt like I was being told that I hadn't tried hard enough, hadn't spent enough time, read enough books, spoke to enough lactation consultants or cried enough tears. That even though I had found a way to give my breast milk to my child, that because I did not hold my child to my breast, I wasn't good enough. On top of that, I got to read about all of the breastfeeding moments I had dreamed of but never experienced. All the pain and insecurity came flooding back. I became defensive and, in that spirit, I fought back. I entered the "Mommy Wars."

Let me be clear that it is I who entered the Mommy Wars. I continue to believe that the author intended to support breastfeeding, not tear another mama down. It is my insecurities and experience that fueled my response. I went so far as to say I was "outraged" by the original post. At the time I was outraged, but I'm not any more. And I don't want you to be outraged either.

So, here it is. My apology: I'm sorry. I'm sorry for jumping to conclusions. I'm sorry for assuming that you were writing at me. You don't even know me. Why should I assume that? I'm sorry for responding too quickly and for letting emotion fuel my words. I'm sorry for not slowing down to process it a little more. I'm sorry for not putting myself in another woman's shoes. In my response, I stated, "Please don't assume you know the whole story." I needed to take my own advice. I'm sorry for failing to do just that. I'm sorry for making it all about me.

This morning I read this post from the Momastery blog. This is a blog I enjoy because of the author's transparency in her flaws and her unwavering support of all moms. She doesn't sugar-coat her stories or experiences. It helps us, mere mortals, remember that we are not alone. She shared, this morning, that the "Mommy Wars" represents an internal struggle with our own choices and insecurities. And, in order to feel better about ourselves, we must tell ourselves (and sometimes others) that we are right and they are wrong. I previously thought that I had avoided the "Mommy Wars" because I was surrounded by such wonderful, non-judgmental mamas. But now that I have this understanding, I realize that I may not have escaped unscathed. Despite preaching non-judgment, support and encouragement, I'm not immune to judgment and superiority (and inferiority too). I don't usually share these thoughts publicly, but they have caused me to cast other mamas (at least internally) in a bad light. And this is a reflection of me, not them.

Again, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for secretly judging you, mamas. I'm sorry for allowing my insecurities to cause me to avoid you. I'm sorry for ignoring you, rather than supporting you, if we have differing views or methods.

Now, before I'm done, I do feel the need to go on the defensive again. There have been times that I have been inconsiderate, judgmental and unsupportive, but I do hope and pray that this is not my norm. I believe that, more often than not, I have lended an understanding ear, given an encouraging word, and offered a helping hand. I aspire to live my life with humility and kindness.

I'll end this post in almost the same way as I did yesterday's (I removed one sentence) because I believe it is worth repeating. Thanks for reading and joining me on this journey.

All this to say that it is important to support the mothers in your lives; to encourage them; to listen to them; to congratulate them; to tell them they are doing a great job; to offer advice when it is requested; to be sympathetic to their story and their struggles; to celebrate their triumphs and commiserate in their struggles. We’re all in this together.

Please take a minute today to tell a mom, “You’re doing a great job!” Chances are she really needs to hear it.

28 October 2013

In Defense of Exclusive Pumping

I am disappointed today. I have only ever witnessed the “Mommy Wars” from afar and in hypotheticals. I am baffled at all the moms who live their lives on the defensive, as though every person is constantly judging and attacking them. I am still blessed to be surrounded by supportive moms (online & in real life) who are thoughtful, encouraging and non-judgmental. To borrow a line from High School Musical, “We’re all in this together,” despite any differences in backgrounds and parenting styles.

So, back to my disappointment—I found myself on the defensive this afternoon upon reading this blog post. Feel free to click over. It’s nice and quick. The author, a natural childbirth instructor, is responding to a woman’s question on how to encourage breastfeeding among this modern “trend” of pumping and bottle-feeding breast milk. While I believe that she (and the original inquisitor) had the best of intentions, the response was lacking in understanding. Both women based their view on exclusively pumping on their belief that it was a practice done as a means of “convenience” for the mom. I cannot speak for everyone, but I can tell you, from my own experience exclusively pumping for nearly a year, that it is hardly a “convenience.”

I am going to respond to several of the statements made in this post.

“The trend seems to be, and this is not limited to just my circle of friends, but pumping and giving breastmilk in a bottle. Simply because its faster or they're having trouble latching their babies.“

In my experience, pumping and bottle-feeding took up a great deal of my time. For much of the time I was pumping, I would pump for 30 minutes at a time, every 2-3 hours. Eventually, the longest stretch I went was 4 hours, and eventually I dropped my overnight pumping sessions resulting in a decrease in my milk supply. On top of the pumping, there was the act of making bottles, cleaning my supplies and then feeding my baby.

“I want to help them without overstepping my boundaries. Any tips on how to help encourage true nursing? I've suggested books and lactation consultants, but I don't seem to be getting through.”

Put yourself in her shoes. I would guess that there is more to the story than a simple decision to pump and bottle feed. In my case, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my struggles (or at least all the nitty-gritty details) with everyone I encountered. There was a lot of raw emotion involved, along with disappointment and insecurity. It felt like everyone expected me to be delighted by motherhood; I was ashamed to let it be known how much I struggled. It was a deeply personal struggle and I had neither the courage nor energy to share it with very many people. In public, I put on a brave face as I explained, “breastfeeding never caught on,” holding back tears as I recalled the intense struggle I had endured in my attempts to feed my daughter and help her grow. It’s possible that these people have read all the books, met with lactation consultants, and, like me, never achieved that dream of holding their child to their breast in that beautiful, natural, idyllic moment. Perhaps each additional piece of advice brings back the flood of emotions she has already endured. I know that was the case for me. I can’t count the amount of tears I have shed over my experiences long after I thought I had come to peace with our situation. Please don’t assume you know the whole story.

Many of the statements in this post are some of my triggers. I know that a woman who is successfully breastfeeding, is not personally attacking me, however, every time I hear of their success, I am reminded of my own insecurities. I am delighted in their success, but it still has a a bitter taste—that is usually because of my own insecurities, not because of anything they have said or done.

“*Feeling milk let down and my baby relax as milk flowed into his/her mouth was priceless.  I had a magic superpower!“

I would argue that all moms are superheroes and each has her own unique and fantastic superpowers. Seeing the popular comment, “I make breast milk. What’s your superpower?” originally made me feel like less of a mother because I struggled so hard to make enough breast milk for my daughter.  I still have to remind myself to not take it as a personal attack and celebrate the successes of my fellow moms (even when they are different from my successes).  We need to support each other.

“If you are one of these women that pump and give your baby a bottle, you are missing out on a truly unique and special life experience.”

I agree completely with that statement. I felt it deeply each time I sat down to pump, each time I fed my daughter a bottle, and many times in between.

The author seems to assume that a mother who exclusively pumps and bottle-feeds, does so out of convenience. (After re-reading the article, this may be more perceived than explicitly written.) I can tell you that exclusively pumping is anything but convenient.  The exclusive pumper will lug around a pump, storage bottles/bags, bottles, coolers with ice, along with all of the supplies required for caring for a baby on the go—and the baby too! The exclusive pumper turns down all kinds of social invitations because it would be impossible (or overwhelming) to keep her pumping schedule or to find a place to pump. While breastfeeding is completely acceptable and expected in many public spaces, it would be quite another story to pull out and use my electric breast pump in public. The exclusive pumper is not only required to find a private space in which to pump, but an electrical outlet as well (there are exclusive pumpers who use manual pumps and that’s another level of commitment altogether). I could share a hundred stories of how inconvenient exclusive pumping is. I’m proud to have been able to feed my daughter as much of my breastmilk as I could in her first year, but it was anything but convenient.

All this to say that it is important to support the mothers in your lives; to encourage them; to listen to them; to congratulate them; to tell them they are doing a great job; to offer advice when it is requested; to be sympathetic to their story and their struggles; to celebrate their triumphs and commiserate in their struggles. It is a great thing to be a breastfeeding advocate, but please do so with a spirit of encouragement and support, not with a spirit of superiority. We’re all in this together.

Please take a minute today to tell a mom, “You’re doing a great job!” Chances are she really needs to hear it.