Unrelenting Passion

I love that I’ve found passion in life. It’s an amazing thing to be passionate about things, and to be able to delve wholeheartedly into ideas and topics that mean so much to me.

But where I find passion challenging lies in the sharing of said passion. I sometimes get, well, overly passionate about it all. And even more so after Finleigh’s birth. I know that my zeal for natural childbirth and breastfeeding turns people off. And part of me really wants to say eff it. It’s the way it’s meant to be done, and dammit anyway, you have to try. If you don’t want to have a go at childbirth, then don’t get pregnant. If you don’t want to have a go at breastfeeding, then don’t have a baby. I don’t say these things though, because I risk losing people in my zeal. This comes off a discussion in a group, where I, as a mommy, said something about breastfeeding that set someone else, a mom who had chosen not to breastfeed her child, off. She was bothered by the “digs” that formula feeding moms endure. And while yes, I respect people’s right to choose, and telling women that they HAVE to breastfeed or go through a natural childbirth, to me, is akin to telling a woman that she cannot have an abortion, or telling gay people that they cannot marry, I just wish (and hope that someday) it’s all considered normal enough that breastfeeding or natural birth aren’t considered just another option.

So, I try to tone it down. And really, as an educator, a bigger part of me does believe that women and families have to go through birth in ways that make them comfortable (not talking about physical comfort, but personal, mental comfort). Birth is such a personal journey and I can’t even begin to pretend that I understand all of the implications for each individual. I suppose that I would just beg people to do real research. And by that, I mean REAL, DEEP, INVESTIGATIVE research into childbirth. The methods, the politics AND the practice. A family’s choices go so much deeper than “epidural or natural” which is so often the debate I hear.

And then there’s breastfeeding. Yes, I’ve heard it before: “but I couldn’t”, “I didn’t produce enough milk”, “my baby was allergic to milk”. I don’t entirely buy it. And while I applaud a mother’s effort (because they’re all valiant), I still don’t entirely buy it. Breast isn’t just “best”, it’s normal. If we didn’t breastfeed our babies, civilization as we know it would not exist (hell, if we do, civilization might exist in an entirely different way as well). So it doesn’t jive with me to hear as many women as I do that “can’t do it” for x, y or z reasons.

What I do know is happening is that we don’t support women. We (as an institution) want women to breastfeed, but we don’t help them do it. We want our babies breastfed, but again, don’t support it. We hear of women being kicked off planes, out of restaurants, and being asked to cover up while breastfeeding their babies. I see women all the time covering up with those awful “Hooter Hiders” (kudos for a cute name, but it’s still a lame product), more obvious than the women who can nurse discreetly without one. I even see women covering up in a mommy and me class. What? Seriously? That’s the safest place to learn to nurse your baby in public. A place no one cares if you flash your boobs! And of course, part of me thinks that if those are what it takes to get more women to nurse, then great. Use ’em. But a bigger piece of me, again, believes that we have to walk our walk, and if we’re going to promote breastfeeding, we need to promote it for real. Without coverups or caveats.

And beyond support the breastfeeding mother, how can we support the women who do need to formula feed without making that the norm? Yes, absolutely, women who need to use formula, for whatever reason, deserve to be supported. But how can we support those women, without allowing formula feeding to become “normal”. Because while, yes, it’s ok to use if necessary, it’s far from normal. And it shouldn’t be considered such. It shouldn’t be considered the immediate alternative. And it certainly shouldn’t be marketed as such (but there’s another topic that’s already been blogged about beautifully in so many other places).

I had this post in my head when I stumbled on this post from “Blacktating“. The author describes her experience learning to nurse in public, yearning to nurse in public:

I saw how a baby might start to wiggle a bit and like Houdini the mom had unhooked her bra, lifted her shirt and latched the baby in seconds flat. It looked effortless and it also looked like there was a baby in her arms – no breasts hanging out, no cover ups – simply a babe in arms. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to feel that assured. I wanted to look that smooth and at ease.

And she felt comfortable enough, with her community, to learn and try. Most women today don’t, and I guess I don’t understand that. They feel pressure from all angles to breastfeed, or to have a natural childbirth, but aren’t offered ways to learn to do that. They see the research that shows that epidurals and inductions are dangerous, but hear from friends that labor hurts and the epidural is a godsend. They know that breastmilk is the perfect first food for infants, but don’t know how to get started, or are made to feel awkward about nursing. Where are our communities?

And as usual, women do other women a disservice. We are our own worst enemies. This hasn’t changed since elementary school. We cut each other down to make ourselves feel better. Heck, I may even be doing it right now. Telling pregnant women horror stories of 40 hour labors and tears from here to there, and nipples trashed by babies doesn’t help. No one needs to hear your train wreck story. There’s a time and a place for it, and your pregnant friend is not the right audience.

What she does need to hear is that birth is normal. That feeding your baby, from your  body, is normal; and while challenging, possible. And that being a mama, if it’s something you really want, is the best job in the whole world. Becoming a mama will transform you. It will give you passion for something new.

(A huge part of me feels like I might want to offer an apology for this post. But I’m not going to. Because I’m not really sorry. What I will say is that this post IS NOT at all directed at women who’ve had to, for TRUE MEDICAL REASONS had to have a cesarean, or not been able to breastfeed. Lord knows y’all don’t need to feel any more guilty for choices that you didn’t really get to make.)

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8 thoughts on “Unrelenting Passion

  1. Thanks for posting this, hon. It was beautifully written. I teared up a bit. 🙂 Having unsuccesfully struggled with both natural childbirth and breastfeeding, I think one HUGE contributing factor is health care costs. Birthing is considering a medical procedure – doulas and midwives and lactation consultants are almost never covered by medical insurance, and having a child is the #1 reason people dip into poverty already. Combine that with the unsupportive culture and it’s disaster. To have a post-c-section natural birth (or attempt to have one), I had to drive to a hospital 30 miles away to see one of the two nurse mid-wives covered under our insurance. I also had to have a doctor, also in Berkeley, approve my vbac. I had to do a LOT of research and make it a priority to have a doula – which is expensive and also not covered by insurance. (I was fortunate to find someone fabulous and cheap by contacting doula schools). For breastfeeding difficulties, I exhausted every available free resource, and was still unsuccessful. What I needed was one-on-one help for a lengthly period of time and it cost $100 to even MEET with a lactation consultant, so that was an impossibility. I know there is the argument that you save that money in formula later on, but when you are living paycheck to paycheck, you can come up with $25 for formula every couple weeks, but it’s not possible to come up with a few hundred bucks all at once for a consultant (and believe me, I would have paid $500 if I’d had it – I’ve spend thousands on formula by day). I basically needed an army of assistants, and even then I wasn’t successful. I guess my point is, I feel like a pretty typical woman, and after all that research and money and time it was an uphill battle every day. It felt like our system is set up so a natural childbirth and breastfeeding is only available to those with the discretionary income to access the resources to help them. (Which is ironic because natural childbirth and breastfeeding would save us billions as a country! Hello, a c-section costs like $50K vs $2K for a midwife)! So it’s no wonder many woman opt for the c-section and formula route, even by choice. It’s like a huge percentage of us are just set up to fail, you know? So kudos for trying to change that. 🙂

  2. Katy, I applaud you for this post! I don’t usually leave comments on posts, even if I liked the post but I just had to on this one. Even though I’m not a mommy, I hope to be one someday, and I will be turning to someone with your views when it happens. Even though I’m not a mommy, I am a teacher and a strong advocate for children and natural birth and breastfeeding are things I believe in! I know many women in my school who have done it and are doing it now and I know that it is the best way to go. I get so angry when people talk about how gross breastfeeding is that I just want to scream, but I don’t feel that I have the right because I don’t have any children, but someday I will speak my mind on the subject and I’m sure it will sound a lot like this post. I’m glad you spoke your mind, and I’m glad there are people out there like you who will help many women along their journey to motherhood!

  3. Thanks for the post, Katy! This keyed on so many hot buttons for me; I don’t even know where to start. It is great to see posts like this advocating natural childbirth and breastfeeding. I have to admit that I am so SICK of these “natural” ways being criticized and feeling like I am put on the defensive for having the expectation that, in *most* cases, natural childbirth & breastfeeding should be the normal course of affairs. It especially outright pisses me off when “experts” in the medical profession spew their subtle putdowns toward people who have a preference for natural birth–“there are no medals given out in childbirth” or “it’s not a contest–the health of the baby should come first” or “why would you choose to go natural when we have epidurals now”–as if choosing a natural childbirth is making a selfish choice to compromise the health of my baby.

  4. Hey Kates….

    This was nice. You speak in such a way that we can tell that you’re really passionate about the things you believe in, but not in a pushy way, and I appreciate that. I was unable to do a natural childbirth with both my boys due to a pelvis that wouldn’t expand. Ha…it’s just funny to think about, looking back on it, I guess. My poor little first born was literally stuck, heart rate going down, and had to do a c-section (I literally felt and heard the doc “pop” his head out of my pelvis). Due to this I had a very high rate of failure for doing a vbac. Although sad…I now find it comforting to know that we have these options availible for people like me. Although childbirth is natural, as is breastfeeding, there is a strong chance that many babies wouldn’t survive without c-sections and formula. There’s prob a reason why our population keeps increasing, versus back in the day when population was controlled by women who couldn’t breastfeed, and women with small pelvis bones who’s babies got stuck.

    I appreciate your views…..but I guess I’m a huge supporter of medical advancements. I kinda feel as though I wouldn’t have my two little bubbs if they weren’t there. Oh, And I breastfed too, and loved it (I’m like a milk machine)….but I chose to stop because it was getting to difficult to keep track of my eldest. As soon as he saw that I had a baby on me…he took off….knowing I couldn’t easily run after him. Well….he’s a 2 year old too…so he’s kinda hyper as it is. Love your post, though, and again, appreciate the fact that you’re passionate, but not pushy. 🙂

    • And that’s why I’m always a little hesitant to post things like this. I am a huge proponent of medically necessary cesareans. I’m so grateful we have such surgeries, where 100 years ago, moms and babies may not have survived. Same with formula, it’s an amazing thing for human survival. I just wish we made it easier for people to achieve the others. Thanks Lani…I really appreciate the input and feedback.

  5. I am one of the people who had genuine low supply with my daughter. One of those situations you don’t “buy” happening.

    I am just as passionate and educated about breastfeeding as you but struggled with low milk supply despite doing all that I could to increase it.
    Yes, doing everything to the T; everything on the LLL list and then some. All the herbs, all the teas, all the skin to skin, all the pumping, even the drug Domperidone. Yet I still came up short.

    I ended up nursing my daughter for 9 months utilizing a combination of many things to get us that far (SNS feeder, round the clock pumping, finger feeding, etc.) And it was not without tears or scary periods of her not gaining the proper weight at times. Luckily, the bulk of her needs were met with my own breastmilk and only a small portion of formula. It was something I was (and still am) passionate about and I am willing to do the same should I have another baby and face the same obstacles.

    However.

    I’d like to ask you to pause for a moment and imagine feeling the way you do about the issue but having to be that mother shaking up a formula bottle to supply your daughter with the total nutrition she needs.

    Then imagine feeling clumped into “that kind of mom” category by breastfeeding zealots who know nothing of the battle you fought to give the best to your daughter.

    That really doesn’t feel good. And neither did reading your words of not “entirely buying” that my very real (and emotional) condition exists either. My daughter has been weaned a year and your post still struck a tender chord.

    I doubt very seriously when you see a woman feeding her child a bottle you are stopping to consider why or if she is part of that necessary group or not. I didn’t for a long time either. Even when I was a partial bottle feeding mom myself! Boy, was I arrogant. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know each person’s issues or life. And no one’s life mirrors our own.

    I do agree that there is not enough support for women in breastfeeding and probably a lot of issues that cause women to quit prematurely could be avoided or fixed with proper counseling. But it doesn’t negate the fact that some issues ARE REAL and many women have it much harder learning the ropes than others.

    All I am saying is how about a little grace and humility with all of that passion?

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