So there’s another big to-do about breastfeeding with the publication of Hanna Rosin’s article, “The Case Against Breastfeeding.” There are debates/opinions all over the email list on DC Urban Moms and I’m sure every other moms list out there. I’ve looked over a few posts, but I’m blogging to say that I’m kind of sick of debating this stuff. (Yes, I get the irony.)
Rosin ends her article saying that she isn’t sure why she continues to breastfeed when really she’s tapping her foot, waiting for her son to finish and that if she had to work outside of the home instead of from the home, she’d give formula with no guilt. So why doesn’t she just quit nursing? She can’t explain — breastfeeding is “intimate and elemental,” something you can’t explain with facts and figures, she acknowledges. I don’t think that’s so far off from what many breastfeeding advocates say — that it has immense value that can’t be quantified and can’t be held up against a mom’s potential salary or future corporate power in some kind of cost-benefit-analysis.
So why are we subjecting this kind of thing to a debate — a case “for” or “against” where the people who care deeply about something are fascists instead of just people who live true to their commitments? I am just so sick of this kind of public discussion with people who never see each other’s faces. I haven’t read The Mommy Wars, and though I’m interested in how my feminist background mashes up with my current reality as a rather attachment parenting mom, I don’t know what this kind of back and forth accomplishes.
I saw Hanna Rosin live on The Today Show because a neighbor was kind enough to call and let me know it was coming on. Rosin seems like a perfectly nice enough woman. My neighbor, too, is sweet to my son and has lots of toys he loves to play with. I watched her baby when she took her son to his first dentist appointment. It’s nice to have neighbors who have your back, especially TV-watching neighbors who alert you to stuff you’d never have known about. But it doesn’t mean she or any other mom has to be my best friend.
And that’s what pisses me off about this article — this idea that somehow moms choosing to spend time with people who make similar choices is a cruel practice, a terrible byproduct of the pro-breastfeeding movement that is ripping women apart. The author complains about how breastfeeding, organic-food-eating moms size each other up and reject other moms whose choices aren’t deemed good enough. But who the hell says we all have to be great friends with each other if we have really different values and ideas about how to raise our kids? And if Rosin really feels good about her choices, as she claims she does in parts of the article, what does she care about other people’s opinions?
I’m happy to know lots of people who have lots of different priorities about things. They are great as neighbors and colleagues and family members and friends. But when I want advice for a mothering issue, I’m going to turn to someone who has a clue about my situation and who has either been in my shoes or could have. My close friends are not all identical, and of course we make different choices, but there’s got to be some kind of common ground, right? If you care a lot about one thing and spend a ton of time and energy on it, it’s nice to swap stories with people who’ve been in your shoes.
If, for example, you think that it’s important to use physical means to discipline your child and you’re making that a priority for your parenting, you’re probably not going to be able to share a lot of strategy talk with a parent who doesn’t believe that and, in fact, thinks physical punishment is really yucky and harmful. That’s pretty fundamental. For some breastfeeding moms, nursing is not just a choice but part of a lifestyle commitment that hits at emotional, physical and spiritual levels, so of course they aren’t going to feel as close to someone who blithely throws off a comment about not doing it. If we believe in something, we believe in it.
That doesn’t mean anyone should be mean to someone who has struggled or who is struggling to breastfeed. But if the person cares about the same stuff, then they tell you — you learn their story and find out what makes them tick. Friendships are about getting to know people and what they care about. I cared a lot about having a natural birth. When people ask where my son was born, I explain that we had a c-section because of his breech position and short cord, making it clear that was a bummer for us but that we knew it was the right decision. If a pro-homebirther wants to judge me for what they don’t understand, tough. Then they’re not someone I want as a friend. If in my description of my experience, the person shares that she’s pro-surgical delivery for any reason, then I know where they stand and that we don’t share the same commitment. They don’t have to be wrong, but they also don’t have to be someone I’m going to share my feelings of loss with (or my hopes for an eventual VBAC).
So sure, you can choose not to nurse your kids, and we can be friendly. But if I want to hear, “I know what you mean,” I’m going to look elsewhere. I refuse to believe that makes me a bad person or a pawn of pro-breastfeeding paraphernalia.