Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reply turned post, on the comments sections of feminist blogs

I posted a week or so ago about the comments on Joy Szabo's case over at Feministing. Dou-la-la noted that the same story, and similar comments, have gone up at Jezebel. I wrote a comment that started turning it into its own post, and Anne said it should just become its own post, so here it is! (slightly revised.)

It seems like so much birth guilt/trauma/processing comes up in those discussions by women who had c-sections. I feel like I see a lot of "My c-section was NECESSARY and I have decided to STOP FEELING GUILTY about it." Hooray! What does that have to do with this case? "My c-section was NOT A BIG DEAL so stop equating it with RAPE!" So glad to hear you were happy with it! And yet your consented c-section has nothing to do with this other woman's situation. So why are we talking about it?

I browsed by (as I occasionally do when I forget my better judgment) Dr. Amy's site and she had reposted from a piece about breastfeeding written by a mother who had supply issues and decided that terrible mean people were making mothers feel guilty about not breastfeeding. Cue dozens of comments like "Thank you, I had to feed my baby formula and then I felt guilty! Shut up, breastfeeding promotion!"

I feel like our culture gets women juuuust far enough ("vaginal birth good", "breastfeeding good") and then dumps them at the gate. "Good luck with your vaginal birth in a country of 30% c-sections and breastfeeding in a country with low breastfeeding rates and no paid maternity leave!" No further education, no support, nothing. And then when those things don't happen, they feel guilty and like failures (because why we encourage women to blame the system when they could blame themselves/each other?) And then to feel like less of a failure, they have to hate on the things that make them feel guilty (see above re: blaming each other). And they process all those feelings in the comments sections of these posts.

If I had a c-section and couldn't breastfeed for some reason, I'd be upset and pissed. But I accept that c-sections and formula feeding (OK, I would probably search out all the donor milk I could, so mixed feeding) are reasonably safe things, and were the best options available to me. That doesn't mean they are a universal good and it doesn't mean they're equal to the alternatives. Nor does it mean that other people need to STFU and do what I did without complaint so that I can feel better.

Just today in class we had a guest lecture by my breastfeeding/LC professor. She does a fantastic job of showing nothing but the evidence and demonstrating that formula kills, in this country and around the world. She showed a slide saying that our attitude in this country is "Breastmilk is best, but there's nothing bad about formula." One of the regular professors said something to the effect of, "Well, that seems reasonable - I mean, is formula poison or something?" You could see the breastfeeding advocate stiffen and then she looked around and said, "What do other people think?"

And me, because I have a big ol' mouth, I raised my hand and said (I paraphrase), "First of all, there have been cases of formula poisoning. The melamine case in China, other instances of formula recalls and formula poisonings. So no artificial feeding method is without risk. However, I would say that I and a lot of people in this room were raised on formula and feel perfectly fine. We are healthy. But as public health professionals, we cannot ignore the evidence. At an individual level, formula feeding may be fine. But we have a responsibility to admit that lack of breastfeeding contributes to infant mortality and that we have to work to promote breastfeeding. You can find someone who smoked every day of their life and never had a health problem, but as a public health professional you know and see that tobacco use is harmful. Similarly, at a population level, YES, formula IS dangerous."

Guilt and mothering and feminism are all tangled up in these issues and I don't want to deny them or say they are not important - they are important and obviously need more outlets for reasoned, informed discussion. But we can't deny the evidence either. We don't ignore the evidence about smoking because someone is addicted to nicotine. We don't ignore the evidence about exercise because someone doesn't like to get off the couch. We shouldn't ignore the evidence about breastfeeding, or c-sections, or anything else just because we do a piss-poor job of supporting women to be as healthy as possible and then make them feel guilty about it.

And that's my rant for the day!

EDITED TO ADD: I read this over and it was appropriately rant-y for a rant, but I failed to say that while I do get frustrated with women who process their guilt by blaming others, I sympathize with them, hugely. They were the ones who got taken just far enough and then dumped. Their pain and regret and anxiety are real, and like I said above I'd feel similarly if the same thing happened to me.

I would also NEVER, EVER tell a formula-feeding mother that artificial feeding kills or any of the other crazy crap people say to formula-feeding moms because they think they know what's going on in another person's life. Like I said in my little rant in class, I was raised mostly on formula and so were a lot of people. It's not a death sentence. It's just a risk, and I am speaking from a public health standpoint, not an OMGZ UR BABY WILL DIE crazy person standpoint.


SuSuseriffic said...

Well said!

Sheridan said...

Very well put!

Dou-la-la said...

Extremely well-said! I love the elaboration. And RIGHT ON for speaking up so clearly and articulately in class. It's really admirable.