Tag Archives: Breastfeeding

Reply turned post, I’m Mom f*cking TFH round up style

I don’t know how many of you have read this awesome post at Shapely Prose, but if you haven’t, please do. I am loving this wave of posts in which bloggers are proudly taking a stand on being good at what they do, and having high standards and authority. (Not like Technorati authority or Eric Cartman’s authori-tay. Wink wink, Rachel. Stay dry!)

Here is another great post by a blogger I have added to my out-of-control blog reader, That Post on Natural Childbirth on The Feminist Agenda.

And, this bit of awesomeness at Fugitivus. The post is pretty specific to a recent post she wrote about adoption, and how she is sick of putting up disclaimers and catering to reactionary commenters who derail these conversations. But, it is similar to what a lot of these posts are saying. She says:

I’m not catering to anybody else, and I’ve never felt any shame over that, despite how many trolls have tried to make me feel shame by screeching about free speech and limited perspective and your tone is too angry and oh my god she’s using swears.

The whole post, and all of the other ones I link to, are all worth a read. Here is my reply on harriet’s post at Fugitivus:

Wowza. Love it.

Sorry, I am about to go off.

I forwarded your recent adoption post to a friend of mine. She is someone who had a relatively successful adoption, but is so in tune with the major flaws in the whole adoption industry. I am incredibly lucky to have learned about adoption on a deeper level, and been shown the issues of adoptive parent privilege and birth mother (and adoptee) silencing prevailing media and cultural dialogue. The barriers to being able to discover one’s genetic identity and familial history as an adoptee.

I learned what I have learned by listening to the people in my life that are part of the adoption triad, and through my interaction with birth mothers (and adoptive parents, and adoptee infants) as a health care practitioner-to-be. I still feel like I need to tread lightly before I start bloviating on this subject.

One of my pet peeves is when people stumble on to a very technical conversation that involves a layered understanding of privilege just to broach the specific topic, and starts crapping all over it. This happened on Alas A Blog when talking about research on maternal mortality and racism. If you can’t even acknowledge there has been good research on racism and its real effects on health care outcomes, then don’t come crapping on the conversation with a hypothetical “Well, has anyone ever looked into how CLASS plays into this? Hmmmm?” thinking you are coming up with a brilliant new angle that us researchers have NEVER thought of doing multifactorial analysis on, and if you don’t even know what the word “confounder” means and you didn’t even read the article you are bloviating about, I am not interested in having a conversation with you, and I may sound sarcastic when I call you out.

You’re completely right that there is a learning curve to this, and this is not a 101 site. You cannot get into a deep discussion about these topics if you have to put up with derails. It has happened on my site. I am not going to stop a discussion about the intricacies of health care reform because one commenter is spouting off Glenn Beck quotes at me about how taxation is like stealing from your neighbor. I am not going to stop a discussion about pregnancy or breastfeeding because one commenter is saying their experience is more important than the real barriers and layers of privileged fucked up ness and loss of autonomy surrounding that whole experience for millions of people.

There is a conversation going on in the genfemblogosphere about taking a stand on the importance of what you are writing about, and having high standards, and not taking any shit from people who want to say you’re not authoritative on what you really are pretty authoritative on, in your own space, to boot.

There’s nothing wrong with having high standards for the conversation you are hosting.

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Reply turned post, did someone say breastfeeding?

I wasn’t the only one talking about the recent Pediatrics article on breastfeeding. Well, Annie at PhD in Parenting had a post up about the constant refrain that talking about breastfeeding’s benefits is somehow judgmental. People in the comment section kept saying it was a “personal decision”, as it that made it somehow a non-discussable topic. I had to reply:

Sorry I’m late to the conversation, but I am just caching up on my blog reader!

First of all, a lot of these comments are hitting on a key issue I have with these conversations. Every decision one makes, important or unimportant, affecting others or not, is a “personal” decision, so that’s a moot point.

However, here is my favorite explanation of breastfeeding, and it isn’t an analogy. Breastfeeding (or switching to the intervention of formula feeding) is a HEALTH DECISION. It’s not a lifestyle decision, it’s not merely a personal decision (whatever that is supposed to mean – done by a person?), it is a health decision.

Health decisions involve social and cultural aspects, and feelings of guilt, and controversy. But, they also invoke a certain level of scientific conversation and (hopefully!) proper weighing of health benefits and risks along with the discussions of lifestyle, emotions, barriers, etc. Some people may choose to weigh their religion, or some cultural factor when making a health decision, more than the health risks and benefits. That’s OK, and it happens. Also, all people are not able to do operate physiologically equally or able to avail themselves of all interventions equally. This doesn’t just apply to breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is a physiological state, like a vaginal delivery, and formula feeding is an intervention, like a cesarean section. (Or breathing without asthma medication, or supplemental oxygen). Sometimes the intervention is necessary. Sometimes the intervention is coerced by caregivers. Sometimes the intervention is chosen for lifestyle or cultural reasons, not health reasons. That doesn’t mean the very real health effects are not the key issue. Sometimes people will say hurtful or insensitive things about people who have the intervention, whether they really needed it or not. Sometimes people will look back at when the decision was made, and think the decision was wrong or could have been avoided, and feel regret, or guilt, or judged. Sometimes people who have had the intervention think that no one can talk about the intervention but people who have had it, and when people say it is just that, an intervention with risks and indications, and will say “No, stop talking about those facts, and just listen to what women want to choose, you big meanie!”

It can be a cesarean section, a vaccine, a gastric bypass, circumcision, medication for mental illness (especially during pregnancy or breastfeeding, or behavioral modifying meds for children) etc. Health decisions. Also with major societal and cultural influences. Major gender, misogyny, and other privilege issues tied in there, too. Overblowing of risks to the fetus or baby, but also over exaggerating the strength of the evidence that the intervention is effective and risk free happens, a lot.

So, let it be complicated and nuanced. But don’t silence the fact that first, and foremost, it is a health decision, and needs to be discussed with the true risks and benefits to morbidity (health) and mortality (life).

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Things to read

I have a new post up at Mothers in Medicine, my first official post as a contributor, not a guest. Exciting! Please check it out.

There is also some interesting discussion going on in the comments of this post about breastfeeding and shame. I am not as involved in discussions online about breastfeeding as I was when I was breastfeeding. It is still a difficult topic, and I only want to delve into it occasionally, for reasons that are pretty obvious in the comments.

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Reply turned post, same old song about breastfeeding shame

On my Facebook page, I linked to this article asking the president of Facebook to change its policies on breastfeeding. In case you don’t know, Facebook considers photographs of breastfeeding to be obscene, and deletes them as pornography. Yet, they put underwear advertisements from American Apparel on my homepage.

The letter uses statistics from this recently publicized article from Pediatrics that enumerates the risks of our low breastfeeding rates in the United States in numbers of money spent and lives lost. This is a common way to discuss large scale public health issues. But, as usual, someone wants to hold breastfeeding to a different standard than other health issues.

A former friend of mine, who I thought I had blocked on Facebook, but I guess I hadn’t, replied with this comment:

i’m all for facebook changing its policies, but i don’t think that we need to demonize women who choose not to (or cannot) breastfeed.

*facepalm*

OK, I know the post took the mortality numbers and ran with them. I have to admit, they are startling numbers, and there is something about putting a mortality number on something to really drive home how policies can really affect public health. It’s all theory on the internet when we’re bloviating about whether breastfeeding in public is obscene, or whether being “pro-life” really can be reconciled with being against legal and safe abortion, but numbers of actual deaths per year are a powerful, powerful argument. There is nothing inherently different about breastfeeding that makes it somehow sacrosant, however, and therefore we cannot use our most powerful tools to promote it. There was not ONE word in this article that I thought demonized women who choose not to breastfeed. It acknowledged how breastfeeding successfully, even getting out of the hospital breastfeeding, needs a lot of support and education. It needs all the help it can get, and treating photos of breastfeeding like pornography on the most popular, incredibly pervasive social media outlet in the world may be a factor in the public perception of breastfeeding. Period. It wasn’t this post that linked breastfeeding to preventing almost 1000 deaths a year. It was the researchers who were published in Pediatrics, and then the article was publicized by outlets like CNN.

Here was my reply:

I don’t think that this post does that. It is a letter to the president of Facebook about its policy on breastfeeding photos being obscene, and draws attention to the fact that breastfeeding is important by using real epidemiological statistics on the public health effects of the low breastfeeding rates in the country.

I know that discussing breastfeeding’s very real health benefits may make women who don’t or can’t breastfeed feel bad, and that’s a shame. It’s hardly the most important point, however, as the statistics in the article clearly explain, and isn’t a reason to suppress real public health statistics on its benefits. It’s hard to discuss breastfeeding without talking about the true risks of low breastfeeding rates, and how these low rates may be related to how it is treated by various media sources, including social media.

One journal article on why women choose not to even initiate breastfeeding showed that the most prevalent reason was fear of what others, especially their partners, will think of them. The public shaming of breastfeeding is an important topic, even when discussing why some women choose not to breastfeed.

I didn’t see one line in this piece that said women who don’t or can’t breastfeed are wrong in any way. It’s an important health decision with important health consequences, and when I talk about it as a public health issue, I am not commenting on individual women’s health choices, which, when regarding many aspects of pregnancy, birth and parenting, are complicated and multi factorial. I don’t think this piece was, either.

In fact, in the comment section, I think the author answers this point rather well. Mothers, especially first time mothers, cannot make an informed health decision about breastfeeding when the behavior is shamed socially by prominent, pervasive outlets like Facebook. When mothers who don’t breastfeed have their bottle feeding pictures banned from Facebook for being pornographic, then we are talking about a similar issue. Otherwise, I don’t this article has anything to do with demonizing women who don’t breastfeed, but is rather about shaming women who do.

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I want to add, since this is my blog and not Facebook, that this is a major pet peeve of mine, and this person knows it. I hate that almost any internet discussion of breastfeeding is derailed by “Don’t hurt mothers’ FEELINGS!!!” and accuses me of being unsupportive.

I have a very good friend who had an awful struggle with breastfeeding who eventually had to give up and use formula, another who had to stop due to allergies that led to constant GI bleeding and anemia in her child, and a few cousin Susans who didn’t breastfeed after the first feeding or two in the hospital. I was a doula to a mother with MS that couldn’t breastfeed because she wanted to go back on her medications. I find it really insulting to be told that I am not supportive of mothers, since it is something I take very seriously. I have wiped tears off of a mother’s breast while helping her tape tubing of an supplemental lactation system to her breast, and I doubt any of these people who have accused me of that have ever been that supportive of mothers trying to breastfeed without judging them. And, I think crying “FOUL!” any time the subject comes up allows people to have an excuse to not consider the true risks to not breastfeeding, and casts it as a lifestyle decision rather than a health decision. And, I think this recasting of breastfeeding is a major reason why women choose not to do it.

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Reply turned post, that’s a nice welcome style

A reply to Own Worst Enemy, on Mothers in Medicine.

Here is my reply:

I think feminism has made us more supportive of women’s various choices and roles in life. I think women who work outside the home, go to medical school, get divorced, use birth control, have babies when unmarried, wear pants, etc. are judged a lot less now than they were a few decades ago, due to feminism.

I have been hurt by men and women alike. I think sexism and hurt in general isn’t doled out by a single gender.

Yes, women (and men) are very judgmental of women’s choices. Women definitely play along with the patriarchy and tear other women apart. “Female Chauvinist Pigs” by Ariel Levy is a really good book on the subject.

That’s why feminism has a lot more to do.

I am sorry I flounced away from your blog with a seething comment. I am just not a fan of Glenn Beck’s. You linked to a long letter of his I had serious problems with.

I think Glenn Beck is a destructive force in our country, one of those same fringe elements you seem to criticize in this post – like overly judgmental breastfeeders (most of us weren’t or aren’t) or stay at home moms who judge moms who work (most I know don’t). And he isn’t even a woman.

I hope it is less baffling to you now.

What do *I* think we should do?

I think we should be introspective and supportive. I think we shouldn’t give support to hostile fringe elements – whether it be med school friends who talk about someone’s eyebrows needing to be waxed or political pundits who stoke hatred.

I think we should support each other as best we can.

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Collaboration can be cool

I am almost done with this part of reviewing the chapters for Our Bodies, Ourselves. I was really happy that I was able to recruit some help from trans activists, a disability activist, and a female sexual dysfunction activist with whom to discuss some of the material, to help make it more inclusive. I am also passing on some resources to the editors of websites I find useful that deal with size acceptance, including size acceptance in pregnancy, women of color and lactation, and the like.

Although these topics can tend to be difficult, I am happy I have had a mostly wonderful experience reaching out. Spending time in progressive communities, and finding blogs and websites on these issues in the past helped me work with existing relationships that I was very grateful for, and I built a new bridge, too.

Being an ally can be a good thing, and can be really gratifying and worth it. I know it can be potentially irritating for members of these groups to point out obvious things to people like me (e.g. If you don’t have to mention gender, don’t mention it! When in doubt, leave it out. It’s easier than it seems. Pregnant woman Pregnant patient. See how simple? Edited to add: I in no means want to imply that a physiologically normal birth should be medicalized with unnecessary interventions. My chapter dealt with medical procedures and medical conditions, but the changes I made did not use the term “patient”. It was a quick example with an unintended backlash below.)

But, as an activist / advocate / rabble rouser myself, I don’t want to just complain, and I am sure I am not alone. I want to discuss issues with people who want to improve our culture together. No, I don’t feel like educating everyone all the time, and everyone doesn’t feel like being educated all the time. But there’s a great middle ground where we can communicate with each other. It’s a great place.

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Doublethink in health care

A four-month-old exclusively breastfed baby in the 99th percentile for its weight and height was refused health insurance because it has “obesity” as a preexisting condition.

*Shakes head in disbelief*

This story in the Denver Post is a perfect example of the sort of Orwellian doublethink that must exist for people to oppose health care reform because it will add a layer of evil government bureaucracy into medical decision making.

Here’s a great quote from the article:

Health insurance reform measures are trying to do away with such denials that come from a process called “underwriting.”

“If health care reform occurs, underwriting will go away. We do it because everybody else in the industry does it,” said Dr. Doug Speedie, medical director at Rocky Mountain Health Plans, the company that turned down Alex.

This kind of um, logic, for lack of a better term, is what these newly enraged self styled radical libertarians are advocating as a superior framework for guiding medical coverage than the government?

(A tip o’ the chapeau to Hoyden About Town)

Edited to add:

Here is a picture of Z when he was about that age:

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I am sure he was in the 99th percentile, if I cared to measure it. Oh, yeah, and he has always been accident prone, like his mommy.

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