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.