Attachment Parenting, Redux

Okay, my post about breastfeeding has stirred some controversy, which I expected.

Now, I want to talk about WHY lactation activists, like myself, can make other moms feel judged even when we focus on the information (which I linked to), concentrate our fight on the barriers to breastfeeding, and make sure we point out our belief that not ever woman can, or wants, to breastfeed and that is fine because “that does not make them “bad” mothers” and assure the reader that there “is no SINGLE best way to parent for all families.”

Even with that, feeling can still be hurt. That sucks.

I can see being torqued at a Molly Better Mom who sneered at your formula feeding, but why is there almost always a feeling of being found wanting when breastfeeding is defended or promoted? Let’s look at this comment:

I still believe that I made the right decision for our situation. And yet I sit here and feel shamed and diminished by the way this post is phrased. Am I choosing to feel that way? sure, I’ll grant you that. But when you make a choice that goes against what every doctor, every lactation specialist, every birthing class teacher, and many glowing maternal friends tell you is the “best” thing for your baby, any reference to it makes you cringe and doubt yourself.

This is obviously a mom who loves her children, and like all of us, is trying to do the best thing for her family. So why does she feel inadequate when choosing formula? There may be some individuals who are asshats about formula, but I maintain that the majority of attachment parents (and pro-breastfeeding sites) are understanding of the socio-cultural pressures and personal needs that motivate, or require, the use of formula.

The reason why moms feel judged, and why they, no matter what parenting style they use or how they have feed their kids, then have to “fight” to defend their choices, all comes down to the patriarchal insistence that woman have to compete for the “approval” of the power structure, which awards only ONE “ideal”, and thus correct, version of womanhood/motherhood.  Women are expected to duke it out for this coveted honor, and this idea is reinforced and encouraged though socio-cultural messages, especially via “agents of the media … actively try to pit women against one another”.

(The patriarchy does this shit to men, too. Men are told to fit into the mold of hegemonic masculinities, or they are girls, and it is a pernicious assault on their personhood.)

The plot thickens. Since “authoritative knowledge” is often the voice of the patriarchy, and medicine/science is considered authoritative knowledge, then women who bring up the fact breastfeeding is the medically proven best option are inadvertently sending a subliminal message to other women that breastfeeders are the “winners”, because authorities say so. If pro-breastfeeders are the winners, then women who don’t breastfeed are, by logical extension, “losers”. Because the patriarchy has drilled it into us that there is ONLY ONE way to be a “good” woman/wife/mother.

Ergo, this is the frequently the discussion between breastfeeders and formula users —

What the Pro-boobs faction says: “Breast is best. We have evidence. You should do it if you can and culture should make it a reasonable option for all women.”

What we mean = Breast is best. We have evidence. You should do it if you can and culture should make it a reasonable option for all women.

What Formula users hear = We are the ideal and if you don’t want to be a bad mother and/or a bucket of pus you better breastfeed too, bitches. You didn’t breastfeed? Well, then you are Mommy Dearest. Where do you keep your wire hangers?

How offended Formula Users respond: “Fuck you! We are too good mothers.”

How the now offended Pro-Boobs camp responds: “We never said you weren’t, so eat a bag of dicks for being so rude.”

Formula users: “ You were SO judging us, you patchouli-smelling saggy-titted hippies! At least we have jobs and sex with our men.”

Pro-Boobs: “Kiss our ass, you uppity twats! We have jobs and get laid, too. You are just bitter because you know you are sperm-dumpsters who don’t love your kids enough to nurse them.”

Formula users: “Oh, it is on.

Pro-Boobs: “Bring it.”

*The sounds of Armageddon while the patriarchy eats souls in contentment*

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, our culture makes it really difficult to breastfeed, so lactivists (breastfeeding advocates) are trying to encourage breastfeeding and fighting for the rights of mothers who want to nurse but are being thrown out of stores and mocked on twitter. Yet every time we start to foment for change … POW! Backlash from moms who feel judged. This backlash makes us really testy, since we are not out to crucify formula users and resent the accusation that we are, plus we are the ones being publically castigated for our choice to nurse. 


I need amaretto. I already got milk.

About Betty Fokker

I'm a stay-at-home feminist mom.
This entry was posted in Feminism, health, I've been thinking too much, motherhood, shit I think y'all should know. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Attachment Parenting, Redux

  1. lora96litdiva says:

    okay the saggy titted hippies was my favorite part. I am so one.

  2. katemgeorge says:

    Here’s how emotionally charged this topic is. My youngest Child is TWELVE YEARS OLD, and whenever this argument comes up I still feel the angst of being a bad mother.

    I nursed my oldest child (now 18) every two hours, night and day for a year. I simply did not produce enough milk but I didn’t know any better, didn’t really have anyone to help me. I got mastitis too. Awful. When the twins came along it was quickly apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to feed two children, so we did both bottle and breast until they simply refused to nurse at five months old. Truthfully, I was re leaved- although I felt really guilty about it, because even with bottles nursing two babies was really time consuming. My youngest weaned herself at three months. She didn’t have the patience of her oldest sister.

    I felt so inadequate when I realized I’d been starving my first baby. Obviously she’s fine now, but she literally cried for a year. And it wasn’t colic. I had many women tell me that it was impossible that I didn’t have enough milk. I must not be doing it right. (Well I’ll tell you, having been raised on a cattle ranch I know that not all cows give the same amount of milk. I believe it’s very possible I didn’t have enough milk. Oh to hell with that, I know my oldest was hungry all the time.)

    We all want to do the best for our babies all of us. But when we feel under attack for the choices we make, or the situations life throws at us, we attack back – just as you said Fokker. It would be a fine thing if we could learn to support each other. Yes mothers should be able to nurse any damn place they please. I believe that. And Formula Mom’s should support that, in my opinion. But the reverse is also true. there is room in the world for many different styles of parenting. And it’s hard enough raising children without feeling judged by every person with a different opinion.

    I think we should start a campaign. Mothers for Mothers.

  3. Alis says:

    I’m with Kate. I think “Mothers for Mothers” is about the only way we can get anywhere on this subject. I firmly believe that in every human mind there is an identifier of “Self” and “Other.” If we see an arbitrarily defined “correct way” (defined by the patriarchy or not) and that way is not how we define “Self” there is conflict. Those feelings of conflict then turn into either offensive or defensive social triggers, and the square-dance-of-finger-pointing begins while we try to reconcile “Self” and “correct” until we’re so dizzy we’re ready to puke.

    Maybe if we frame it all as “Mothers for Mothers” we can stop obsessing over the differences in the details and see that we’re all just a bunch of moms trying to do our best.

  4. The same kind of dynamic happens between home school mothers and mothers who send their kids to public school.

  5. Toni says:

    If the focus were more “women should be able to feed their children wherever they are when the child needs feeding, regardless of *how* she feeds the child” and less “breast vs. formula”, women could truly work together on this. I was lucky enough to be able to breastfeed my sons, while my best friend (who gave birth 6 months after me, both times) was not. She was and is an amazing mom, and we didn’t rag on or judge one another. At times, we each thought the other had the easier way of it, and maybe we felt a little guilty about *that*, but we were smart enough to realize there is no one way to be a mom. Surely that’s the point.

  6. londonmabel says:

    As a vegan… I can relate to this whole “how do you talk about x when people will inherently feel judged, but you’re not judging them?” In my experience, in re any hot topic where you want to effect change, you have to change your discourse based on your audience. If I’m talking to someone who eats meat three times a day, about my only goal is that he walk away with the idea “Wow I know a vegan who is NOT an asshole!” In fact, I usually don’t reveal that I’m vegan (or any ism) when I first meet people, because… I’m all about the strategy. But if I’m talking to a vegetarian, this is someone who might be interested in one day becoming vegan, so I can be more honest.

    This happened at the store where I worked. This new staff member was an activist vegan, and as I was a vegetarian I was interested in talking to him, talking about practicalities, and it helped me make the final step. But he was the same with everyone. One guy in shipping actually said: “I’m gonna eat MORE meat because of that fucker!” He was a bad strategist.

    For blog writing, you just have to decide where you think the majority of your audience is, I guess. I was blasted once by a Real Vegan for being pro-Michael-Pollan. She wasn’t a regular reader.

    NO idea if any of this is applicable to your question in the previous booby post on “Well how the fokk am I supposed to talk about this??” But… it’s my sincere assvice. ;-)

    • Bethany says:

      Amen on the vegan thing! I’m not vegan (very selective pescatarian due to very weird protein responses) but what got me to decrease my meat consumption was not certain four letter groups who force the idea and claim eating chicken is the same as having human slaves, but friends who said “well that’s fine that you need to have x, y, and z, want some of my tempeh, too?” and answered my questions about why with straight forward answers about their ethical choices and why not eating meat reflected their beliefs. My boyfriend no longer eats pig in any form and has dramatically decreased his general meat consumption for ethical reasons. Not because I ever forced my beliefs on him but because he’d see my books lying around the apartment and read them, he heard my teeth grind as I managed a polite response to my brother’s snark about “but it’s delicious!” and saw me make economical sacrifices to ensure that the meat our cat eats is as ethical as possible (not factory raised chicken, sustainably caught seafood). He has since decided that when he does eat meat, it’ll at least be humanely-raised and has had conversations with his mom about why he will or will not eat certain meat. When he told her that he’d stopped eating pork she looked at him like he was insane. When he said it was because they’d been shown to be as smart as dogs and if he wouldn’t eat a dog he didn’t feel he should eat a pig, she actually looked thoughtful. Being non-pushy is often a very good strategy.

  7. Jill says:

    It’s so sad to see parents at each other’s throat about this issue and others. We end up just undermining each other and making things worse. Or to see women at each other’s throat about what being a “lady” or “woman” is like.

    Successful breastfeeding mothers should be allowed to breastfeed wherever and however necessary without anybody taking notice. (Who the fuck cares anyway. If you do, you’ve got problems people). And, women who have genuinely try out the breastfeeding and it didn’t work (or knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t work for whatever reason), hold your head high and don’t EVER be ashamed about your decision for you and your family. Being ashamed and overly guilty about a parenting decision that you can’t change or do anything about will end up undermining the good parenting you do right now. We all need to take care of OURSELVES too and our children. I think realizing that society WANTS us to be ashamed when breastfeeding in public AND if we don’t breastfeed is a catch 20/20 that once we realize is in place, we can dismiss it for the pile of shit that it is.

    • lunarmom says:

      Being ashamed and overly guilty about a parenting decision that you can’t change or do anything about will end up undermining the good parenting you do right now.

      Perfect, Jill.

      And yeah, I’m on the Mom Team too, Mothers for Mothers is SO needed. As we all shout together, while NOT fighting or competing:
      be as good a mother as you can be. Period.

      Thanks Fokker, and thanks Reader.

  8. Sign me up for Mothers for Mothers. Most of us are doing the best we can and need each other’s support.

  9. twila choy says:

    Ok, here’s the deal – when the pro-boobers say ” “Breast is best. We have evidence. You should do it if you can and culture should make it a reasonable option for all women,” the offense comes in at the “breast is BEST.”

    I am a breastfeeder, I would encourage all mothers to breastfeed…HOWEVER…my experience has taught me that what is truly most important is that I be the best mother possible, to give my baby the best life I possibly can. That means considering all factors – considering personalities of mom and baby, phisiological issues such as mastitis (Sp?), psychological issues such as PPD, financial considerations, support of spouse and family…considering all these factors and more, and then making the best choice you can.

    Therefore what I choose to say is “Evidence supports that there are many benefits to breastmilk/breastfeeding – not just nutritionally for the baby, but also physiologically for the mother as well. So, I believe you should do it if you can, and that culture should make it a reasonable option for all women.”

    By taking out the word best, and inserting your willingness to understand/see that there are other factors which are also important, people don’t get so defensive, start opening up, and then we move to mothers supporting mothers.

  10. “*The sounds of Armageddon while the patriarchy eats souls in contentment*”

    Oh, how I love and have missed you, Fokker. <3

    Kate's right, it needs to be Mothers for Mothers and fokk the patriarchy right in the ear.

    FWIW, I did not breastfeed. I tried with my first, but after a few days gave right the hell up, stuck a bottle in her mouth and heard the first blessed sounds of silence in nearly a week. After the PPD, I didn't even bother trying with the next two. I figured the odds were already stacked against me. My BFF went breast with both her boys – #1 weaned himself around 8 months and #2 had to be dislodged like a gigantic tick somewhere around 2 1/2 years when it became apparent she was a 5'4" self heating pacifier. Since I was the first to wade into the Mommy Pool and based on my own harrowing experiences, I judged her. Happily, she ignored me. Recently I asked how she put up with me and she just smiled serenely and said, "I know you were only trying to help and wanted what was best for me even though it was what was best for you."

    I am an advocate of knowledge and choice; the more knowledge you have, the better choices you can make based on your personal circumstances. I support a woman's right to breastfeed wholeheartedly and I support nursing mothers having the ability to do what they need to do when they need to do it. Society needs to calm the fokk down already, let women hang up of their metaphorical burkas sow e can get on with our lives.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s