I haven't breastfed for almost 6 years, and I was never militant when I was doing it, but for some reason I get increasingly annoyed by what I consider to be anti-breastfeeding (BF) rhetoric. Discussions are going on at 11D and Crooked Timber.
Background: I breastfed both my kids, S till she was 14 months and E till 11 months. I supplemented both with formula. I pumped with S (I worked 3 to 4 days a week when she was a baby); I was a department head and had a door that locked and had no see-through windows. The first 6 weeks I breastfed by daughter were miserable. It got better. She slept 8 hours a night starting at 2 months or so. It was easier with my son, but I never felt like I had enough. This is all in the interest of full disclosure. I never got the happy hormones, I never lost massive amounts of weight while breastfeeding, I don't look back at those days as halcyon times with my infants.
OK, so Hanna Rosin publishes an article in Atlantic Monthly, and she is apparently such a brilliant reporter and analyst that this means she, not the American Academy of Pediatricians (PDF), is correct in saying that breastfeeding doesn't matter much. This revelation is accompanied by resentful attacks on the "breastfeeding extremists" who deliberately misled everyone!!!
So why am I so pissed off? Well, first of all, I hang out with those "breastfeeding extremists" on an online list for working moms who practice attaching parenting (which includes BF). They're not cariacatures, scapegoats for whatever parenting resentment you have. They're people, and they're complex. Some of them BF their kids past the age of 1, past the age of 2, past the age of 5. Some of them have nursed other people's children a la Salma Hayek. So on their behalf, may I quote Jon Stewart and say "f**k you."
Second, the comment on CT by Matthew Zuzma that "Breastfeeding is a natural and inherent part of the mammalian lifecycle and if there is any social construct that doesn’t mesh well with it, it’s the social construct that is inconvenient" really resonates with me and explains a good deal of my annoyance. Formula was devised as a solution to a problem, the problem being women who have problems producing milk and children who have problems ingesting it. What has happened is that the technology has become the be-all and end-all.
Harry threatened to mention c-sections. Bad idea, Harry. :) C-sections to me are like formula--a sometimes necessary intervention that has become vastly overused to accommodate people's (I think) unreasonable (or maybe the term is overreactive) discomforts and convenience. Yeah, childbirth frickin' hurts. I was a little luckier than most in that my labors were relatively short (10 hours and 8 hours), but it still frickin' hurt. But you know what? We are human beings designed to reproduce ourselves. I would never have considered having a c-section in order to avoid *potential* problems. To schedule it for my convenience. Because I was afraid of pain. Am I a birthing extremist? Yeah, I guess. Me, I just see it as letting my body do what it needed to do and saving the technology to deal with any problems.
Here's another example: poop. Sometimes you strain when you poop. Does that mean you should run off and take laxatives? Should you take laxatives every day to make sure you poop regularly? I mean, if you've had a problem in the past, BETTER YOU DEAL WITH IT NOW instead of having to waste your time sitting on the toilet TIME YOU COULD BE SPENDING WITH YOUR CHILDREN!!!!
(And if you have never seen Sarah Haskins, her piece on women and poop is an awesome place to start. :)
This evasion of life's unpleasant side (poop, childbirth, BF, pubic hair, leg hair, normal body smells, unpainted toenails, etc.) is that social construct I think Zuzma is talking about--this idea of what a woman is "supposed" to be. Well, life sucks sometimes. Sometimes it hurts when you BF, or it's annoying to be sucked on when you really just want to sit at the computer and play Freecell. Sometimes you have to strain to poop, or wait a little longer than usual to poop. Sometimes hair grows places and it makes you look less attractive than a porn actress. Sometimes it hurts like hell to push out a baby.
I'm not sure it's even really about pain and discomfort but about our idea about how we're supposed to be. Life is messy, but women aren't allowed to be messy. You know, it was *after* I'd stopped breastfeeding that my daughter became repeatedly sick, then repeatedly demanding of a bottle every two hours at night. When I had just started a one-year visiting position with a possibility of getting the tenure-track job. (I know the day care is the reason she started getting sick, not the stopping BF, btw.) The chair of my department wasn't the least bit sympathetic. Yeah, stressful.
I guess my problem is the idea of supporting someone by telling them to stop when it turns difficult. I have no patience for that. And there is way too much of that in the parenting community, and there is such a negative effect on people. You increase the fears that something will go wrong, then when something does go wrong, it seems like it was INEVITABLE and it will NEVER STOP and the woman might as well just give up right now.
Instead we should be saying "shit happens, then it usually passes." True on so many levels.