Arguing with Your Real-Life Friends over Things Like Breastfeeding Is Much Worse than Having Online Debates with Strangers.

Someone needs to talk about this issue, and it looks like it’s going to be me.  Women get really, really sensitive over all things pregnancy and parenting related.  That’s not hyperbole.  It’s just true.  Yes, this is a sex/gender stereotype.  But sometimes stereotypes exist because they have a kernel of truth to them.  I have not met a single woman who went through pregnancy, childbirth and the early days of parenting, including myself, who didn’t get her panties all in a bunch over some issue that, at the end of the day, is truly insignificant in the greater scheme of things.  However, in the heat of the moment, when you’ve given in to that internet troll who says that daycare causes violence in children, or overhear some comment by a stranger at a party about how breastfeeding in public is just so gross, nothing is more important than turning red in the face and letting loose a mouthful of just how wrong that person totally is.  And it never feels good, either.  It just feels awful, and you realize that you were reacting to the possibility–however remote–that maybe, just maybe, YOU are the one who is wrong.  Either that or you are confident that you’re right, but simply can’t understand how everyone around you can be so stupid.  Don’t tell me that you’re open-minded and non-judgmental.  Because then you’d be lying.  Because every single one of us has our own opinions, rationalizations, and yes, judgments.

Judgment is not always wrong.  However, even if it’s right, that doesn’t mean it’s effective.  Once the judgee picks up on the judgment, the judgor can pretty much forget about winning said judgee over.  Because most people act out of emotion, not out of logic, even when they say they are doing precisely that.  Our brains find ways to rationalize the things we want to believe, and discredit the things we don’t want to believe.  Subjective reality.

So, are there objective truths to things like breastfeeding?  I don’t know, and I’m not going to pretend to know.  Based only on the information that has been presented to me, I’ll wager a guess that exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life, followed by starting solid foods and continuing to breastfeed, is better for the baby than supplementing with formula, or skipping the boob for the bottle altogether.  That’s not a judgment.  Well, it’s not my judgment.  It is a fact, the truth or falsity of which I am leaving to others to determine.  But because I believe it to be a true fact, based on my own “research” (reading internet articles and books, not conducting lab studies), I have voiced this fact from time to time in what I feel have been appropriate situations.

One such appropriate situation was a Facebook conversation with a nice woman who is nearing her 40’s and, I believe, has no interest in pregnancy, childbirth or child care.  Oh, the conversation with her went great.  She questioned the wisdom of women who accept donations of expressed breastmilk from other women, because they cannot produce their own milk–she thought this was inherently unhygienic and dangerous.  This was in relation to an article about a nonprofit that matches up donors with donees.

So, in the process of explaining to her why this is totally legit, I say something like “donation of expressed breastmilk is preferable to the use of formula.”  Because I read somewhere, probably in something published by the World Health Organization, that the preferences for feeding an infant are:  1) mother’s milk directly from breast, 2) mother’s milk pumped and given in a bottle, 3) ANOTHER WOMAN’S BREASTMILK, and finally 4) formula.  Or something like that.  I’m not going to look it up now because it doesn’t matter.  The point I was trying to address was the underlying question of “wouldn’t it be easier to use formula?”  Sure it would, but kudos to the women who want to try to give their babies breastmilk for the all the extra nutritional yummies it packs compared to formula.

So far so good right?  None of this is judgment.  It is only fact, disguised as judgment.  Because you can’t say “you shouldn’t use formula,” because that’s judgment.  And judgment is bad (see above).  But you CAN say, “the WHO recommends expressed breastmilk, from yourself or another woman, before formula.”  Because that’s a “fact” instead.  But those two statements are kinda sorta that same thing, if you read them closely enough.

Anyway, I was completely blindsided when a friend of mine, L., found my comment on this Facebook thread and proceeded to rip me a new one for being judgmental.  Something about high horses and how we needed to get off of them.  “We” as in me and the other person?  The other person was, again, a woman at the end of her fertile years who doesn’t have kids and as far as I know doesn’t want any, and knows or cares nothing about breastfeeding.  And on top of that, those two were not even connected on Facebook.  So L. had no idea who this person was; she stumbled upon our conversation through the newsfeed.  I thought this was all hilarious, personally.

But what I did not find funny at all was being accused of being judgmental when clearly that was not the intent.  See above re: sensitive women.  It was L. reading too much into a perfectly non-judgmental fact.  And being upset and taking out on me, because she wished the fact were untrue.

L. had previously threatened to unfriend me on Facebook for “talking too much about breastfeeding.”  I still have no idea what she was talking about, but the only instance I can think of was when I mentioned that there was probably a time when daycares didn’t accept bottles of expressed breastmilk when you dropped your kid off.  Instead, they probably only took formula back in the day.  Somehow this was a bad thing to say.  It wasn’t even close to a judgment on formula users, so that one left me perplexed.

But see, the things is, I am too nice.  So sweet and friendly and nice, that instead of dropping her like a hot potato, which people advised me to do, I just said, ok no problem.  I don’t think I apologized (and I’m so glad for that), but I did say hey, to each her own.  We all have our individual forms of crazy.  You can have yours!

So, this time, with the Eats on Feets/WHO comment, I wasn’t surprised when she dropped me.  I didn’t hear from her for a long time but people–our mutual friends–know about the situation and just sort of rolled their eyes and thought it was weird.  Because it is weird.  But no one talks about this stuff out loud, to anyone in a public forum, so our friends go on with their weirdness and we all look the other way.  It’s funny because her and I have spoken recently, like everything is normal.  And in a way, I guess you could say everything is normal.  Much of friendship involves silent criticism, talking about each other behind your backs to mutual friends (who promptly go and talk about you behind your back next, haha!), and carrying on in public like everything is normal and this is the way women’s friendships are supposed to be.

And then, maybe, this is exactly the way they’re supposed to be.  Because can you imagine what life would be like if we directly confronted every single person we encountered and had a relationship with, ever, about anything and everything that ever pushed our buttons?

For example, I have friends who are devoutly religious, and friends who are devoutly atheist.  Where those two circles happen to intersect, you can bet that some fascinating and provoking things get said about each other.  I’m usually somewhere in the middle of it, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t contribute to the gossip once in a while.  But how can you not?  It’s interesting, and a little bit of drama–real or perceived–spices your friendships up just enough to keep things interesting.

Well, I have no idea if L. will read this, but she is welcome to.  For what it’s worth, one of my best friends from college, M., is someone with whom I got into a particularly nasty fight that ended with me throwing and breaking things.  Glass things.  That was scary.  It felt awful.  We’re still really good friends today, and I think that fight was actually a turning point for us that made our friendship stronger.

I have yet to break any glass over issues like breastfeeding, sensitive people, or the innate weirdness that lies within the hearts of women’s friendships.  Maybe, like with M., that would actually help the healing process along.

But I’ll try this blog post instead, as a start.

12 thoughts on “Arguing with Your Real-Life Friends over Things Like Breastfeeding Is Much Worse than Having Online Debates with Strangers.

  1. Melanie – I just went back and read all of your old posts – and had to comment on this one! I have had so much trouble breastfeeding, and as a result for the first few months was feeding my son every two hours and pumping after every feeding (including the night feedings) and taking multiple natural supplements (fenugreek, etc) – even with that, it took me awhile to get my supply to where it needed to be and I relied on the generous donations of breastmilk from good friends and family. While I was lucky enough to know each of the donors, I would have also accepted donor milk from strangers due to the facts you mentioned above. People thought I was potentially putting my son at risk, and I have never felt so alienated from some of my friends – I had never realized what a divisive topic breastfeeding can be! There is so much tension around the topic – from all sides, and it’s really a shame. Regardless – I’m SO happy I stuck with it, because now I look forward to that time with my son, and love nursing him even in the middle of the night!
    Thank you for this post 🙂 (even if I read it a little late!)

  2. Katie- Just be forewarned, in my case, I think breastfeeding made me GAIN weight, or at least prevent me from losing. The saying goes that breastfeeding makes you lose weight because you’re burning more calories … but in my case, I have just been eating more to compensate for all those burned calories! Hope it works for you though!

  3. I am of a firm believer that every woman can do what she wants and as long as she is not hurting the child who am I to judge. There are many times I may disagree with anything from disciplining, sleep arrangements, circumcision, gosh even an outfit but honestly it is not my child.

    I too want to breast feed but and will try my hardest but refuse to think I am doing any worse than other mothers if I can’t. I am a science background and do try to go with emperical evidence but I also know that science changes like politics do so you have to always be checkig up on things.

    The women I know on this blog are all amazing mothers so why do I care to open my mouth as to whether you are breasfeeding or not…I can only worry about my LO. On a lighter note I really want to breast feed for frugal(so much cheaper) and vanity (helps loose weight, hell ya) reasons, does that make me awful, LOL.

  4. @dfleno – Maybe we will run into each other at some point; I somewhat recently started doing contract negotiations, although so far it looks like my work will be limited to the public sector. I work for an employer that is too small to qualify me for the 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA, but I was able to take my 3 weeks of paid vacation followed by 9 weeks unpaid leave, so it was pretty much the same thing. Speaking of sensitive topics, there is a lot of heated debate over the issue of paid leave, and it’s an interesting conversation. I’m enjoying watching this area develop from the perspective we have, working hands on in labor & employment matters.

  5. You all may be interested in the following link:

    This is a great resource that identifies the true problem with breastfeeding: that women who want to succeed at breastfeeding are prevented from doing so not by any fault of their own, but by the “booby traps” (institutional, cultural) that set women up to fail before they even begin. This website seeks to break the cycle of guilt and shame women feel when their plans to breastfeed don’t work out, by supporting social change to remove the barriers to breastfeeding and provide a sense of support instead of a feeling of failure. It’s one of the best websites I’ve seen on the subject.

    I analogize this situation to that of women trying to break the glass ceiling in their careers, but being told, “well you didn’t try hard enough; you chose to have kids; you chose to opt out,” etc. But what’s really happening is that there are social and cultural barriers that prevent most women from attaining the highest eschelons of workplace achievement, and those are the things that need to change before the majority of women can get there. Not that personal effort counts for nothing at all, but personal effort alone is not all it takes.

    Bottom line–and this is straying from the real topic of my post, which was a personal story about damaging a friendship and feeling unable to do anything about it, but–no woman should be made to feel like they “failed” if breastfeeding just doesn’t work out. And for what it’s worth, my exclusively formula-fed husband (his mother said she didn’t want a “little parasite” dangling off of her) has a clean bill of health, while I have an autoimmune disease and all kinds of other health issues, having been breastfed. Breastmilk may be powerful stuff but it’s not some kind of miracle health elixir! 😛

    1. Great website! For me, it was the pumping. I have a great support system between my midwife, pediatrician, family, hubby for pro-nursing, and never cared about nursing in public (I nursed Miles in the Vatican… At least my shoulders were covered!). I only had enough paid time to take 9 weeks off with Ava (though I could generously take up to 12 months unpaid FMLA- said with full sarcasm). The staff at work is compromised of a lot of older men, so we have great pensions, just pretty crappy family leave! Though they were completely accommodating of my need to pump and I have an office with a door, 75% of my work is on the road. Pumping in a car sucks (no pun intended) and though sometimes I could find a Babies r Us mothers room, I always felt rushed. Plus, I was stressed about ensuring that my milk stayed ok in the cooler until I could get home. Also pumping almost exclusively is not the same as baby sucking, and I just couldn’t keep up with her needs. I think that we are just so far behind other nations in maternity leave, moms should have 6 months paid maternity leave before they go back. Though that idea is somehow viewed as disparate treatment by non-moms… I actually had a woman tell me when I suggested we ask for 6 WEEKS paid maternity leave in our next contract negotiations, that she would be fine with that as long as everyone else got an extra 6 weeks vacation time too (As if they were the same), followed by a “since I have chosen NOT to have children.” Ugh!

  6. Dena, I think your reply is well put here. Yes, some things may be “best” for baby but none of it means anything if mom is unable for whatever reason to provide it. There’s no one right way to raise a child, and we all need to find the right balance for our families.

    I think Mel’s point was more about knowing the difference between fact and opinion, though it is hard to separate the two sometimes when certain things feel so personal.

    1. My comment was less on Mel’s original post and more of an empathizing/encouraging comment to Michelle and other moms (myself included) who feel like they have to defend themselves, not just for not breastfeeding, but for every other thing/decisions we do/make. Being a mom is so hard, especially when the world expects us to be super-everythings. We just have to do our best, love our kids like crazy, and pat ourselves on the back every now and again for it.

  7. I breastfed both of my kids, Miles till 17 months and Ava for only 7 months. Funny, how I still feel the need to defend my early (not a full year) weaning with Ava… she was in daycare, I was in the car a lot, and I just couldn’t pump what she needed. She liked the bottle better, and that was that. I felt guilty on one hand, yet slightly relieved on another, because pumping was very stressful for me.

    Probably since I had one kid already and hadn’t managed to scar him for life yet, I was better able to see that I can only do the best I can for my kids. That includes a less stressed Mommy.

    Really, the facts are the facts and yes, nutritionally speaking, breast milk is better than formula. But the benefits are nil if it causes baby to have a stressed out mom.

    The facts also state that it is better to have birthed vaginally than have a C-section, that kids shouldn’t eat McDonalds, have too much ice cream, watch TV, eat peanut butter before they are 2, and a whole slew of other things. There are so many things we feel guilty and defensive for having done/not done for our kids.

    But I have learned that I can only control so much in life…. you can plan all you want and then life happens. We can only strive to do the best we can for our kids and that also includes doing the best for ourselves. If we go through our lives feeling guilty about coulda, shoulda, woulda’s we will miss the moments in between where we are pretty darn good moms.

  8. This is an interesting read. I really wanted to breastfeed. I had every intention of doing so, I didn’t even think for one second I wouldn’t be able to. Then, after my very traumatic birth experience I was only able to breastfeed for about a week before we switched to formula due to postpartum depression/anxiety.

    I know that breastfeeding is better for the baby and it pains me that I wasn’t able to do it, but I literally just could not. I was in the worse condition of my life at that point and we didn’t really have much of a decision to switch. I think that’s why I’m particularly sensitive to feeling like many avid breastfeeding supporters are a bit judgemental of those who don’t because for me, it wasn’t like I didn’t want to. I did want to, I planned to, and then I felt like a failure when I couldn’t.

    It doesn’t sound like you were being judgemental with the facebook stuff, it sounds like you were just trying to state some facts about breastfeeding. However for me (and that’s the only person I can speak for) I feel myself get a little defensive about this topic because I really did want to breastfeed but I couldn’t. So every time I hear that it’s better for the baby I agree, and then feel like I failed…

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