Friday, November 13, 2009

The essay I always wanted to send in to Mothering Magazine...

Blaine and Keaton, Halloween 2008 (Both survived formula. Imagine that!)

This is not a post about breastfeeding. This is a post about judging others. (And why we shouldn't.)

I come from a long line of breast feeders. My mother jokes that we have so many nursing mothers in our family that we could form our own chapter of La Leche League. When I gave birth to my first son, Blaine, I told my doctor I was planning on breastfeeding. He asked me if I was aware of how difficult it can be. I was. It took two months before my little babe could nurse right. Every feeding until that time took an entire hour and medical intervention. It was trying and exhausting, to say the least. But we endured. After conquering our nursing woes, I had a beautiful experience feeding Blaine. It was efficient. It was healthy. It was sweet and tender and lovely. I figured after all that--if I could do it, anyone could do it.

And so, I became a little proud. Arrogant even.

I started to roll my eyes at people who dared to place Enfamil in their shopping carts at Target. I referred to the free cans of Similac that would arrive in the mail as 'poison.' I silently judged the mothers at church who were feeding their babies formula in bottles. (As you might guess, I'm not proud of this behavior, but full disclosure is important here.)

Then things changed.

First it was Beth. Beth and I have been besties since pre-school, and we have a knack for doing things at the same time. We got married the same year, and then we had babes within a couple of months. Beth's baby girl, Keaton, was premature, and had to stay in the NICU for a time. Dedicated to breastfeeding, Beth pumped breast milk around the clock. She wasn't able to nurse her little preemie, but wanted to keep her milk supply up. Finally, when Keaton was able, she began to nurse. But soon, Beth discovered blood in Keaton's diapers. Consulting with doctors, Beth learned that her baby was allergic to her breast milk. But she didn't give up. For weeks she worked with doctors. She altered her diet drastically, cutting out foods until she was practically surviving on white rice alone. It didn't work. The baby was still sick. Beth knew it was time to switch to formula. Keaton's health improved right away, to her mother's great relief.

Then it was my brother's wife, Jill. Just six months after Blaine was born, Jill gave birth to Ethan. She began nursing Ethan, and finished up each feeding with a pumping session. She stored the extra milk in the freezer, knowing she would need it soon. Only in her early thirties, Jill has Rheumatoid Arthritis, which is extremely painful. She manages the pain with a lot of medication, which can't be taken when pregnant or nursing. After a couple months of nursing Ethan, Jill made the difficult decision to quit. Difficult because Jill loves nursing. Difficult because Jill makes the most incredible milk and it seemed like such a shame! (She can pump 12 ounces after a full feeding! If you've done much pumping you know how incredible that is!) But Jill had three other children, and she needed her strength to take care of them. She switched Ethan to the frozen milk and then formula, and started her meds again.

And then. It was me. It was January. I had nursed Blaine for 8 1/2 months, and hoped to continue until he was at least a year old. But he developed a bad ear infection and screamed murder every time I tried to nurse him. (The pediatrician explained that sucking hurts an infected ear.) We got the babe on antibiotics, I tried to nurse him day after day, and I pumped a lot of milk. But two weeks later, after a lot of pumping and spoon-feeding and tears of frustration, one of the lactation specialists I'd been consulting said, "I think he's just weaned himself." Even though his infection was gone, he seemed to equate nursing with pain, and he was done with it. I was devastated. I wasn't ready! Ironically, my child who had never agreed to take a bottle, now refused the breast and reached for one. As I wandered down the formula isle at Target I looked around. There was no one there rolling their eyes at me.

I felt ashamed for being so judgmental as I realized that we never know what someone may be going through or what their reasons are for making certain choices. These are stories about three women who wanted to breastfeed, but couldn't. But it isn't just these type of women I shouldn't have been judging. It's all women. It doesn't matter why someone bottle feeds (or does anything else for that matter!) I may not make the same choices as someone, but how dare I cast judgment?

I'm still a passionate supporter of breastfeeding. But I take a different approach than I used to. I think it's important to educate. I think it's OK to encourage. But judge? Never.



Lynn said...

I just read this post which I know was written forever ago, but I just had to comment. I couldn't agree more. I find Mothering magazine so judgemental. I probably parent according to their stances about 95% of the time but I still find myself offended everytime I pick up one of their magazines. Mothers should be encouraged and lauded, not chastised and criticized!

Rebecca said...

I find this an interesting title for this blog post. I agree with everything you are saying, and I don't always agree with everything Mothering magazine may say, yet I love that magazine and have never felt offended by it, even when I do disagree. I hope that others won't be made to feel that it is a negative magazine, since I feel it has shown, in a very positive way, how many choices there really are for mothers. I have no association with the magazine other than reading it, but it has always been a very positive magazine for me, whether I agree with everything written in it or not.

Rebecca said...

(PS I should also add that I love your blog, your positive attitude about life, and your creative ideas, so I'm not trying to be negative here, just to share that my experiences with that particular magazine have been very helpful.)