A Clarification, An Explanation: Expounding on My Open Letter To Breastfeeding Moms Who Fail

This blog has always been a safe place for me. Thus far I've either been lucky enough to only draw in readers that are likeminded, or you guys are too scared of me to voice an opposing opinion ... hmmm, I think I'll just let that sit unanswered.

I knew the mommy wars were real, I really did. Sometimes I wondered where they were happening or what exactly I needed to say to finally join the fight. And now I know. My letter to breastfeeding mothers was picked up by BabyCenter last week and while it was a huge honor to be on such a well known and reputable blog, it also sent me straight to the battlefield.

I can't say I didn't know it was coming, the post was indeed a bit of a lighting rod and I knew that. I started responding to some of the comments, but was able to add only a couple before they started coming so fast I couldn't keep up. Add to the fact that BabyCenter doesn't allow direct replies, and I knew any comments I took the time to reply to would be lost - since many of the comments had a few of the same themes to them, I thought I'd take a bit of time to explain myself here.

Let me start off by saying I stand behind my post 100 percent. Every word. But words are open to interpretation, so let me help you draw the ones I meant.

1. The Title: "An Open Letter To Breastfeeding Moms That Fail."
A handful of people had issue that I would use the word "fail" in the title, particularly when you get to the end of the letter and see that I'm really calling them a success. Someone even called it a "BabyCenter editing fail." BabyCenter didn't alter the original post at all and for that, I'm very grateful. I chose the word "fail" very intentionally, because that's exactly what it feels like. I've since added the "(That Think They've)" to the title, simply for clarification. The morning I wrote that letter, I wrote it in an email draft form, and I wrote it to myself. To remember where I had been and just how far I'd come. When I stopped breastfeeding, I felt like a failure. When I chose to post it on my blog, I gave it that title because I wanted to draw in the people that felt like I did - and a post titled, "An Open Letter to Breastfeeding Moms That Are Successful" wouldn't really resonate with those people, would it? So yes, I wanted that word in the title and I'm not sure I would have let BabyCenter edit it if they had asked. Call it a marketing ploy or whatever you want - but a title is all you have to draw someone in - and I wanted the failures - because they needed to hear they were a success.


2. A sentence: "Even if you did go straight to formula: WHO FREAKIN’ CARES?"
This sentence struck a tough chord among a lot of readers. And many, many people said they loved the article, except for this one sentence. I'll be honest, I did debate leaving it in there because I knew this would draw a new weapon in the mommy wars - but then I also knew I'd be playing it safe and I wouldn't be honest with what I believed. A secondary point of the letter is to remind people that what a mother feeds her baby is no ones business but her own. Many people don't understand why someone would go straight to formula without even trying to breastfeed. To provide a few reasons that I've heard (which I also think are quite valid), someone might forgo breastfeeding because: they've been a victim of sexual abuse, are a single mother working three jobs, or heck, maybe they've had a mastectomy. The point is, the reasons (whether they are valid to you or not) shouldn't matter to someone on the outside.

I would say that if I had a friend come to me and tell me she's debating on whether or not to breastfeed, I'd certainly encourage her to breastfeed. To at least try it out, armed with the proper books, classes and websites and most importantly - with the knowledge that you have to really want it, and even then, it sometimes doesn't work - and that would be okay. If she was close with me, I'd probably know her story, be able to ask her reservations and we would be able to talk through her hangups. Because - and this is important - we have a relationship and she asked for my advice.

But when I hear about someone I don't know well (or at all) choosing to formula feed, I let it be. I don't know her background or story - the bumps and bruises of life vast and varied and I can't know the reasons behind her decisions - so why would I try to act like I do? It's not my place to tell her what to do because I don't have a relationship with her and she hasn't come to me for advice.

For both types of women, if they choose something differently then me, it doesn't matter at all. Their life is not my life and honestly the knowledge that I don't have to live with someone else's decisions gives me so. much. freedom. In all areas of life, not just in how their children are fed!

3. An Assumption: I don't support breastfeeding or nursing moms.
This one I wasn't quite prepared for. Because of the above two reasons, some people felt I was bashing those who breastfeed as long as they wanted or encouraging women to give up if they felt even a tiny inkling of wanting to. And for that I'm sorry. That couldn't be further from the truth! I wholeheartedly support breastfeeding, but I also wholeheartedly support formula feeding. And I do believe it's possible to support both! I think many women in support of breastfeeding believe a lack of education is the reason why breastfeeding "doesn't work" for so many women, and many people were disappointed that I didn't offer support in the letter for a woman to continue breastfeeding even when it gets hard. The idea that I'm telling moms they're going to fail anyway, so why not give up now? Or even just putting them in a "delicate mental state" to not breastfeed.

While there will always be a place for more encouragement for women to breastfeed, my personal experience tells me that there is lots of education and resources available to women who'd like to breastfeed. So much, that when it doesn't work, you feel like a total failure because how could it not work with all these resources at your fingertips? I'm sure there are pockets of the country where education is still lacking - but with the internet, I think if someone wants to know how to improve their supply or work on baby's latch, they could find out.

That said, I do agree that sometimes the reason it doesn't work is because of a lack of education. Maybe they didn't receive the right piece of advice at the right time. But once that time has passed, NO ONE can do anything about it. I'll be honest, for me, I believe that's exactly what it was. I sought help, read books, and searched to the end of the Internet and back and I did the best I could with the information I had. Isn't that what all mothers do? I would do things differently with my second child, knowing what I know now - but I don't think there was one solid reason it didn't work. And I no longer believe I should have to live with guilt over the decisions I made. When I stopped breastfeeding, I was told over and over again if I would have tried X, Y or Z, it probably would have worked. Truth be told, I had tried X, Y and Z three times over and it still didn't work and at that point - when I literally had no more milk to give, the suggestions only served to sting an old wound by assuming that I wasn't trying to think of solutions. I would caution anyone against assuming they know where a woman is at on their journey when jumping into providing tips and advice. People's experiences are so very different, it's unwise to make blanket statements and assume their advice would have been the golden ticket. 

When reading the letter and making determinations as to where it is lacking, please keep in mind the audience. It was written primarily to me and women like me. Women who saw the lactation consultants, who Googled their brains out for solutions, who read the breastfeeding books and talked to their fellow mothers who made it seem like nursing was easy. They took the extra time to try to make it work, they struggled, they battled, they knew it would be painful and hard and truly did feel the benefits were worth the frustrations and desperately wanted to give them to their child. But in the end, it still didn't work out for one reason or another and we had to go to formula. And to be honest, I feel the support is truly lacking for those type of mothers. Hence this letter.

Over the next couple of weeks I have a few more posts planned on breastfeeding. They were posts I was working on before this particular letter went bonks on the internet, so I hope you'll stick around for them. If you haven't seen it yet, I do have one post up on the first half of my nursing experience, and I plan to publish the one about the second half this week, so I'd love it if you stuck around.

Overall, from the response to this post, I think 99 percent of us can all agree that how we feed our baby is not a measure of our love - and that's what matters, right? That our babies are cared for, snuggled with, laughed with and loved on, and that we remember what truly matters when raising our children - how we raise their heart.

To those of you who called me ignorant, or said that I was trying to slyly attack nursing moms, or providing a cop out for setting low standards, I know I cannot win you over. And that's okay with me. I only wish that you would hear the heart of the letter and know that my intention was not to hurt or discourage anyone and I'm sorry you felt that way.

To the many, many of you who emailed me, messaged me or commented on the post with support, thanks, and to even respectfully disagree with me, I want to thank you for taking time out to connect with me, identify with me and encourage me. The mommy wars are a real thing, but you showed me there is still kindness in this battle and that maybe, just maybe, the swords and shields will be cast aside for good someday.

Update - A few related post I've written since this one:
Why I Quit Nursing and the Path That Got Me There
When Breastfeeding Becomes and Idol

19 comments:

  1. girl! i am sorry to hear about the backlash! i am not a mom, so i cant speak from experience, but i hope you know your post was an encouragement to me in preparation for the battle i may face someday with my first kid, second kid, ANY kid! so, thanks for the honesty and keep it up :)

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  2. The Mommy Wars are the bloodiest damn battle I've ever seen. I work with mostly all women, and man...people have their serious opinions! I REALLY loved the post and as someone who tried to BF and could not (and also: DIDN'T WANT TO! AHHH WORST MOM EVERRRRR ;) I really appreciated the letter and I'm looking forward to what comes next! Keep it up, Laura!

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  3. I think you did a GREAT job! Often the most negative comments come from those who choose to interpret the article based on the title alone and read it through a lens of negativity and judgement. You were spot on, if you read this article open to it's thoughts, it's comes across perfectly and you should be really proud of your work! Loved it!

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  4. I had to say I found the article very encouraging. I am expecting my first in Sept and actually had someone already tell me they would think I am a horrible mother if I don't BF. I'm barely 12 weeks and already feeling the pressure! My mother couldn't when she tried, I have a friend who was advised not to because she carried a virus that could have been passed on to the baby through her milk, and my sister had a breast reduction many years ago that kept her from BF either of her 2, so I know so many stories of why some women can't even when the want to. It was so comforting reading your post that its not a failure either way, you have no idea how much it calmed me to read it! Thank you for all of your honesty!

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  5. I hate the mommy wars. And I loved your breastfeeding post!

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  6. Oh everyone has an opinion, don't they? I can see where some would be offended or hurt but I thought it was beautifully written.

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  7. I absolutely loved your post. I wanted BADLY to breastfeed, but my little girl had other plans and it just didn't work out. I lost my best friend over this and the mommy wars. I have felt like such a failure and everywhere you turn you find people telling you that if you don't breastfeed you're lazy or you aren't trying hard enough. I tried everything. It just wasn't happening. A friend of mine sent me the link to your post, hoping it would help, and it did. As I keep telling myself, haters gonna hate! Also, you inspired me to finally open up about my problems with breastfeeding in my own blog, and for that I am grateful.

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  8. Thanks Burt - YES, everyone has an opinion. But I suppose it wouldn't be fair of me to say I can have opinions and no one else can, so I'm over it. :)

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  9. Thanks Cate - right there with you!

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  10. Thanks Aisha, I'm so glad you connected with it! It sounds like you have lots of wonderful women in your life who have shown you an up close example that breastfeeding your child is not the end all be all. You'll do great, no matter how it turns out!

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  11. Thanks Beth - you're such a wonderful support for me! I appreciate your encouragement!

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  12. : ) Your comment made me smile Olivia! I'm glad you liked the post!

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  13. I'm glad to hear it Krista! I do wish I would have read some things like this on breastfeeding before I started down the path. Would have probably saved me from a lot of mom-guilt!

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  14. Thanks so much Jamie. I'm so sorry that you lost a friend over a topic like this, that makes me very sad to hear. I'm glad the post helped you out and I'll definitely check out your blog for your post, that's awesome it helped you open up, we need more messages like this out there!

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  15. It's easier said than done to try to ignore the negative comments though...Chin up, publicity and exposure is a great thing!!

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  16. I couldn't agree more that there isn't enough support for moms who have done all they could and more to continue breastfeeding and it still isn't working. Bless you for your beautifully written work.

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  17. Thanks Sydney - that's good to hear you agree! I'm glad you appreciated the post.

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