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One of the most confronting things for me so far about motherhood is the judgment or the perceived judgment. I feel like I’m constantly being graded, and am likely coming up short. In any new job, as Terri pointed out to me, it takes a good few months to learn the ropes and figure out what you’re doing. But mostly, unless you’re in a medical field, education or emergency services, you tend not to hold someone else’s life in your hands whilst figuring it all out.

Which is all fine. Mostly it’s not an issue – things can be washed, inconsolable crying can go on crying, adults can eat dinner at 10pm and so on.

But mostly I feel very wary of criticism – not advice, mind you, and I think there is a difference. Advice is helpful, criticism is judgey. And for some reason, I’ve become aware that I really seem to care about “what they think”. I don’t know who they hell “they” are nor why I care what they think. Or even if I’d know when they thought that. I’ve found myself very tied up in this concept of them and what they think and how they’ll judge me which is completely removed from what those around me who know and love me think about the decisions I make. I suppose part of it is the really strong lobbies that seem to surround birth and childrearing. And the dichotomies that get set up. I’ve been reluctant to post about a lot of my experiences here for fear of attracting attention from hardliners. Which is balanced by how much that pisses me off – that I feel like I’d rather just be silent than risk having the hate comments thing. I hate the way the art of discussion has been lost in favour of a world that has become right or wrong, black or white, with us or against us. Discussion has been dumbed down and we’ve lost the ability to appreciate complexity and nuance.

I guess I have to put big girl pants on and use a strong moderation hand, if necessary.

Choice is such an interesting thing. It’s not really free if the options are presented to you in such a way that clearly there is a good one and one that makes you a bad person for taking. That’s kinda how I feel about the whole breastfeeding issue. We took our baby classes prior to the bub’s arrival and were very amused at the one on feeding. At the top of the hour, the midwife says there are two options – the breast (breast is best) and bottle feeding (and it’s totally *your* choice and *up to you*). And then she spent the next two hours only talking about breastfeeding. There was a half hour on all the studies proving how breast is best with all the pros of this option and how awesome you are if you go down this road. And then a whole heap of other things about breastfeeding. It wasn’t til I was in the car on the way home that I realised there had been nothing at all, whatsoever, on bottle feeding – not how to do it, not how to find out how to do it, not the reasons why you might do it and what you might need or who to ask for help. C noticed this too and we amused ourselves on the ride home and many times after that how clearly biased the presentation had been: it’s totally your choice (BUT PICK THIS ONE).

Now, I’ll say up front, I was totes convinced on the breastfeeding long before the classes. Apparently (I learned this in that class), girls have decided whether they will breastfeed or not by the time they are 12 years old and very little after that will make them change their mind. I find this “fact” fascinating  – I didn’t read the paper it was quoted from. I’m sure I hadn’t thought about it at all by 12 or 16 or even 18. Anyway, the advantages of breastfeeding certainly sound convincing, and being a germophobe myself, they had me at increased immunity etc.

Cue to several weeks into the whole shebang and the bubs is not losing weight but she’s not fattening up as much as they’d like. OMG do not tell a Jewish mother her kid is not getting enough to eat. Oy Vey, kinderlach! I’m not really sure what to think about our local child health care. They seem to be pretty busy in my suburb and getting appointments was really hard (we couldn’t get our 10 day check til weeks later). We ended up visiting a drop in centre a suburb or two over and were taken under their wing. I did the lactation consultant thing, the weigh bub, feed bub, weigh bub thing. Got advice on latching. Had more people touch and prod my boobs than in my entire life ever. Boobs have become as unsexual to me as my elbows. We upped the number of feeds per day. Tried pumping. Some things worked, some didn’t. Bub gained weight in a step function then plateau way. Never really hit her stride. In the end, we got doctor advice during her 8 week check up. Now I am on meds that might not really be doing anything and top up bottle feeds.

I tried everything I could possibly do before eventually giving in to the formula. “Giving in” is such a loaded way to express this (no pun intended) but that’s how it felt. I did everything else to try and get the breastfeeding thing to work. I’m currently on the top dosage for the meds, and in bed today cause of the stomach cramps side effects, and I’m going to give it the full two weeks run before I decide. But at some point, when you’ve spent 20 mins feeding bub and then she drinks the whole of the “top up” bottle, you gotta admit, you ain’t producing no milk.

I had a long discussion with my doctor about it – OMG finally committed to a new GP for the baby and I LOVE her (another of my awesome sister’s recommendations). She said to me “it depends how important it is to you”. And that’s a funny thing really. I mean, obviously it’s important enough to me that I’ve been persevering with this for 11 weeks now. But I’d never really framed it as a “important to me” decision to make. I sat there as we continued talking thinking, “well how important *is* it to me?” and “is that actually how I get to frame this?” My doctor was of the opinion that a) I need to face the facts that the boobs ain’t really working out for me here and b) I should get to enjoy the baby. What a concept! I do like holistic medicine – placing decisions in a context.

Because that’s the thing really, isn’t it? All things *being equal*, breast is best. But all things are *never* equal. And what I’m really angry about is the way this is all set up as though there is a good choice and a not good choice. Yet, if that were true, wouldn’t we have developed an industry of wet nursing over the baby formula product? If it were so terrible? I’m angry that never, not once, did any of the child health nurses I saw – and I saw probably more than 5 – even *suggest* formula, or a top up bottle. It was so out of the scope that *even* at the last check up when it was really “yeah you need to take action now”, the advice was *still* go to the doctor and get a prescription to increase milk supply. Formula was never ever discussed. Which had the effect of making me feel like the worst mother in the world for even thinking about going that way. It made it a loaded choice. It made me feel like I was failing, or if not failing, choosing an option that “was not best”. And “not best” = bad, right? When really, what is bad is not feeding your kid. And I’m angry now about all those nights of “the witching hour” which were probably a starving baby crying for food. And probably I could have tried all those other options for upping my supply and also topped the baby up with formula.

The subtle judgment over women’s choices is another way of controlling them. And I hate that women play into that as much as men do. I chose to have a c-section. And I’ve felt weird about talking about this. But it’s not a free choice to make as a liberated woman if you feel you can’t choose some of the options. I didn’t want people to think I was “too posh to push”. Ain’t that a nice phrase? I spent a lot of time – probably about 7 weeks or more – agonising over this choice. I spoke to my counsellor several times, and people close to me who love and support me. And then, of course, with my OB who said that I have every right to choose and she would support me in any decision. I had reasons to make this choice but even so, it was still an elected one. Whilst they make perfect sense – my concerns included Crohn’s flare up (which today, with drug side effects triggering it, I am reminded how right that was to troubleshoot) and also to manage my anxiety (which both feeds into the Crohns and also depression). Had these not been critical, I might still have wanted to opt this way and that makes me feel like I “took the easy option” (my words). (Yeah, there’s no actual easy way to get a human out of your body. When they invent the transporter a la Star Trek, I wonder if that will still be the too posh to push option.)

All things being equal there might be preferred options, for certain pros. But things aren’t ever equal – that’s why we also have the saying “life ain’t fair”. When we set up dichotomies loaded in judgment they run the real risk of damaging people for no real benefit. There are so many other things that make for actual bad parenting choices – locking your kids in the car on a hot day whilst you go inside to the casino, for example. Surely we have better things to do than add to the stress by making people feel bad about choosing between two options that both mean a baby gets a full tummy? All options being equal and all that.



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12 Comments

  • By Melina D on 17 January 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Oh, big hugs. Personally, I don’t think it’s giving in to mix feed (or formula feed completely), I think it’s weighing up all the different elements and making the best choice for your baby and you – breast might be ‘best’, but not if you’re not getting enough of it! Thank goodness for the doctor who took a holistic view!

    The c-section thing resonates with me too – the ‘too posh to push’ thing is the most awful judgemental statement which completely denies the fact that there’s a thinking, feeling woman behind it (plus, c-sections aren’t particularly posh when you’re trying to stand up after them!) And while people are all fussing about the number of elective c-sections, they’re also chastising people who want natural births and telling them they’re being unrealistic – we simply can’t win! (I have *feelings* about how women are treated through childbirth)

  • By AlisaK on 17 January 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Thanks. Yeah you know, in my case, there just isn’t enough milk so it’s not really a choice. But getting to that point seemed rather laboured and unnecessary in the end. But I also think, if you choose formula for other reasons – like you just don’t want to breastfeed, it shouldn’t be treated as though it’s in the same category as choosing not to feed your baby at all.

    I have to say I had a good experience in the way the medical staff and those around me treated me in my childbirth. For me, the feelings I have are more to do with people beyond that circle of scope. But yeah – so much of this is set up as a no-win situation.

  • By Emma on 17 January 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Similar issues with women giving birth with and without drugs. I had drugs – all of them, and I reckon the epidural probably was the easier option over a c- section given the recovery time!
    Women are classic at judging each other aren’t we.
    I’m glad you are successfully working your way through your motherhood experience. Stay strong and I love the way of looking at it that Chris said. I will definitely miss all the stages of Zac’s growth but there are definitely bonuses at each stage too.
    Em xo

  • By Helen on 17 January 2014 at 7:14 pm

    Whoever says a c-section is the easy option has obviously never had to recover from one! You have every right to make your own decisions with regard to your body and your child. No-one else knows your situation better than you do and I’m glad you’ve found some support.
    My milk disappeared when I was ill – my son was 4 1/2 months old – and after nearly a week of an obviously hungry baby and the infant health nurse telling me just to persevere I unilaterally decided to put him on formula despite the disapproval radiating around me. It was hard to hold to that decision but it was the right one for us both and I’m sure whatever decision you make will be right for you.
    The thing is we always think as mothers that everyone else has it all together and that’s not true because we only see the public face of these other women. I’m sure there are those lucky mothers who do manage everything with no trouble but for the rest of us it’s just managing as best we can. What is right for one isn’t for others and doing our best is all we can ask of ourselves.

  • By Mel on 17 January 2014 at 8:50 pm

    If I had of just stuck with straight breast feeding I think Jadzia would have died .She was struggling to put on weight before we left the hospital and in the end even with breast and formula we had to put her on solids earlier (which we got flack for ). Never got flack for having a caesar (not that I had any choice since she was breech)but did feel slightly sad that I didn’t much of a birth story . I’ve found so many things about being a parent after the fact cos there seems to be secrets mum’s and parents business .

  • By AlisaK on 17 January 2014 at 9:00 pm

    You don’t see your c-section as your birth story?
    I think the thing about parenting is that you learn on the job and by the time you know how to do things, it’s no longer relevant – I think that’s the same for everyone!

  • By AlisaK on 17 January 2014 at 9:04 pm

    Oh for sure that a c-section is no fun in the park! It was though most definitely the right choice for me, which I really felt to my core when I got on the table right before they started. I don’t regret the choice at all – both for how it helped me stay mentally robust and also because my Crohn’s really was under control.

    I agree that we should cut ourselves slack – as long as we do our best, we can’t ask more from ourselves.

  • By AlisaK on 17 January 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Oh I am a BIG fan of drugs. And of medical science! I think it’s fine for everyone to make their own choices but again, pain isn’t an even playing field – it’s different for everyone so how can anyone judge the call for anyone else? My big thing from 2013 is – context is everything.

    Watching them experience things for the first time and get competent at things is awesome. Yesterday she discovered her feet for the first time and I stood and watched and realised I didn’t want to be anywhere else than there for all of those firsts. And yeah – finding out who they are going to be and what kind of person – it’s all very exciting.

  • By Tansy Rayner Roberts on 18 January 2014 at 5:56 am

    A lot of the culture about breastfeeding now has come about because for a couple of generations, doctors, nurses and society in general worked so hard to deny women the choice to breastfeed, and make them feel bad about it, that there is now a mass attempt to compensate for this.

    Unfortunately, it’s gone far too far the other way, so that the earnest attempt to help women with breastfeeding and to build a culture that supports them has become, as you say, massively antagonistic towards bottle feeding.

    Why are we as a society so geared towards making women (and mothers in PARTICULAR) feel like they are making the wrong choice constantly? As if we don’t have individual lives and individual needs?

  • By AlisaK on 18 January 2014 at 11:24 am

    “Why are we as a society so geared towards making women (and mothers in PARTICULAR) feel like they are making the wrong choice constantly? As if we don’t have individual lives and individual needs?”
    It’s an interesting question. I think if you can distract people by making them feel bad, inadequate, wrong, you can control them. When really, people raising other people hold a lot of power …

  • By Mieneke on 29 January 2014 at 9:55 pm

    I know I’m almost two weeks late commenting on this, but this, so much this:

    “And for some reason, I’ve become aware that I really seem to care about “what they think”.”

    That is exactly how I felt after I gave birth to Emma. As for the feeding, I struggled with Emma to make it to six months, because “you have to do at least 6 months to get the best results” and I felt incredibly guilty when I decided I was done after 3 months with Cat because my milk stopped coming in enough when I had to pump due to having to go back to work. Because I’d done six months with Emma, how could I do less for Cat? But you know what, both me and Cat were far happier around feeding time after switching to the bottle and she’s just as healthy as her sister.

    It’s baffling to me how much society seems to think it can judge women for the choices they make in their motherhood, from giving birth, to feeding, to how you raise your child (discipline/no discipline, compliment/not compliment etc.) it drives me bonkers. And I’m going to stop here before going into a rant ;-) But I just wanted to say go you for making the choices that are good for you and bubs and talking about it too!

  • By AlisaK on 29 January 2014 at 10:40 pm

    Thanks for the comment!
    Yeah, it’s funny how the same society that pretends there is equality and choice still really wants to judge which choice you make – making them good and bad and therefore not actually a choice at all.

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