Dialogue vs debate : another take on the breastfeeding mommy-war

Lately, breastfeeding has once more been at the centre of a full-blown mommy-war. I'm fairly new to this whole realm of mommy-wars and I was amazed at the amount of debate, passion and thoughtlessness.. Lactivists pitted against mothers who felt picked on. Some amazing bloggers actually genuinely tried to bring the debate back where it belongs: on the barriers that prevent many women from breastfeeding. Annie at PhD in Parenting wants to break down societal barriers and SortaCrunchy momma wants us moms to stop, listen and be supportive. The subject is sensitive, The Feminist Breeder actually saw her site blow up after her post on the subject !

The thing is society has taught us to be competitive and to strive to be better than all others. From primary school we learned that you have to be part of the “popular” crowd or be shunned. It all comes down to “belonging” and so starts the name-giving, the criticizing and the judgmental attitude...When we reach adulthood that’s really the only way we know how to behave, albeit with a hypocritical smile pasted on our faces. Don’t shake your heads, you have all at least once criticized another mom and showed her your best smile when you met her on the street. 

We all want to be the ├╝ber-crunchy mama that does it all: natural birth, extensive breastfeeding, making her own baby food with her home-grown-organic-heirloom veggies, cloth-diapers, sews and knits clothes for her kids, is prolific in arts and crafts and the list goes on and on... I call this the Wisteria Lane hysteria; it leads to the Bree Van de Kamp syndrome: trying to be THE perfect mom. Now, this is where our mistake is: there is no perfect mom, as late psychologist Winnicott puts it, we are merely “good-enough” mothers and that’s what we should strive to be. Each of us has a slightly different style of parenting and we should embrace that diversity. Our kids are different too, with different needs. So, really, the judging, the looking down and making assumptions should stop. We are only perpetuating the “popular girl” pattern that leads to neurosis. We really don’t want that to be passed down to our kids. 

As SortaCrunchy mom puts it, if you really want to advocate, then put your money where your mouth is. I recently met the wonderful mom who is leading the Vancouver ICAN chapter, she is a breastfeeding advocate, a true one. One of the moms she knew was having a low milk supply issue with her little one and was considering switching to formula. Well, this amazing mama of two pumped and donated her breastmilk to help this mom overcome her low milk supply. Guess what? It worked! Instead of bereaving her friend for being “too lazy”, or “not educating herself”, she genuinely helped her over the hurdles. Another amazing mama I know, who just had twins, is spending some precious time showing another pregnant friend of ours how to breastfeed, including showing her cracked and bleeding nipples from one of her twins not properly latching on... 

Advocating with heart is more about sharing than judging. It’s about being honest about whatever difficulties may be encountered and providing supportive encouragement to those who are on the same path. 

Back to dialogue and debate... Dialogue is about sharing the pieces of the puzzle we have to come up with a better picture, it’s about listening for common ground and not for weaknesses to use against our counterpart. It’s about having a conversation. I don’t see that happening as much as I wish. I see a lot of “mommy wars” going on when really we should be ganging up on the systems that are not supporting our independence, not supporting working mothers, throwing us under the surgical knife when it is unnecessary or putting our reproductive rights in jeopardy.
We should start a movement to give a voice to all the mamas around, to allow them to share their stories in a safe and non-judgemental environment. We should start having tea with the moms we feel different from to hear their side of the story. We should learn to respect the choices made by others. We could probably hear many stories we never imagined, the one of the adoptive mom who is trying to induce lactation but needs a little help from the formula, the one of the mother who has a long history of sexual abuse and just can’t, the one of the mother who tried everything and it just did not work out, the one who tried to pump when she went back to work but saw her supply dwindling, the one who ended up in the hospital with many medications that were not compatible with breastfeeding and the one of the woman who already gives so much of herself to her child she feels she just needs to have at least her breasts to herself to avoid post-partum depression...And who are we to judge? 

Breastfeeding always brings about passion, but the ultimate decision should always be the mother’s. As much as I will always support extensive breastfeeding, I know for some it is not what their heart’s desire is. If given the choice and support, many women would probably choose to breastfeed, but some won’t. Just as some women choose to have children and some don’t. If we want to support women’s rights and freedoms, as much as it is important to provide the support and the informed choices, it is also important to respect their decisions. Thoughtless name-calling does NOT help, it just makes advocates sound like mean proselytizers and makes people want to run the other way... Instead, breastfeeding activists should strive to make sure society offers options to women, they should strive to be supportive and keep an open mind and most importantly, an open heart...

I'm aware that this is wishful thinking but who knows what social change could come about if women partnered up instead of ganging up against each other...

Some great posts about this issue:

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