Monday, August 20, 2012

Mayor Bloomberg, Breastfeeding, and Shame

Mayor Bloomberg of NYC has declared a new edict: Next month hospitals in the city will have to keep their formula under lock-and-key, like medication. If a new mother asks for formula, the nurses will dole it out, after first giving a lecture on why breast is best.  

I have breastfed three sons (not simultaneously) and I am a proponent of breastfeeding. In most cases, I do believe that breast is best. But, you know what I am not a proponent of?

Making women feel like crap.

My youngest son recently weaned himself. I was not prepared for it and spent several weeks attempting, with great difficulty, to keep him nursing. He began to lose weight and was soon in the "less than one" percentile. Betcha didn't know that was a percentile.

My milk dried up and I grieved for a few days, but since we were preparing for his upcoming spinal cord surgery, and subsequent recovery (flat on his back for three weeks), something needed to give.
As my friend Catherine says, "Sometimes breast isn’t best. THRIVING is best."

Nolan’s weaning turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as his surgery would have made the act of nursing nearly impossible. The bottle was a gift. Formula was a gift. 

If I had to endure a lecture every time I purchased his formula, I'd throw the can at someone. And I don't have great aim, so there's no telling the damage that I could do. 

baby boy recovering from surgery

Generally speaking, Lurie Children's Hospital in downtown Chicago is absolutely incredible. It's been a privilege to have such an amazing resource so close to home. We've been blessed by the doctors and nurses there. However, during our hospital stay, a nursed asked if Nolan was breast or formula fed. When I told her that he takes a bottle, she actually clucked her tongue at me. I mean seriously, like tsk. tsk. tsk. Do people actually do that anymore?  “Oh, well, " she said, "If you were nursing we would have given you coupons to the gift shop and cafeteria.” 

She might as well have slapped me across the face. I was overcome with this desperate need to explain myself, pleading with her over these stupid coupons…But, but, but, I would have been nursing if he hadn't weaned himself. It wasn't my plan. I tried really hard. I like nursing. I nursed my other sons for nearly a year. I'm a good mom. I’m a good mom. I’m a good mom.

You know what would have been rewarding? If the nurse had said something like, “Wow, we noticed you are a really average mom. Here's a donut." Or not to go overboard, but even "Wow, you have a kid in the hospital? That must be really draining. Here's a $5 bill. Go get yourself a cup of coffee. It's on us."  

A few days later, I made a formal complaint to the hospital administration.

We were at the children’s hospital for one week. We've been in an out for the past few months with appointments and MRI’s, and will continue to be for the next few months. For my son, the situation is fixable. Praise God. 

However, several of our friends have very sick children and they will be in and out of hospitals for the majority of their precious one's lives. Can you imagine the pain and stress those moms are already under? And to have that pathetic coupon of guilt dangling in front of them, Oh, if only you were nursing.  

I was watching the Kardashians last week (I know. I know.) and Kourtney, on a journey to find the perfect way possible to give birth, was checking out water-births. I am for home-births. I have strong female friends who have chosen that route and I bow to their bravery. I chose a hospitalized, but drug-free birth with my first. It turned into 36 hours of a labor followed by an emergency c-section. It was awful. For my second, I wanted the drugs and I wanted them fast. He came out vaginally, but he broke my tail-bone in the process. My third; they saw meconium and a c-section it was.

Even after my third kid—after knowing firsthand that every labor story is completely unique—I was disappointed in myself for not pushing him out. As if that type of birthing experience is the only one empowering, the only one valid.

We pressure each other and ourselves to have these perfect pregnancies, perfect labors, perfect babies, perfect post-pregnancy bodies, and the perfect experience as mothers. Some of us are blessed to be able to nurse healthy children as long as we see fit. But, some of us aren't. Some of us lose babies. Some of us hire gestational carriers because our bodies don’t carry babies. Some of us adopt. Some of us experience post-partum depression. Some of us work outside of the home. Some of us have sick children who are fed from tubes. Some of us ask for formula and don't need a lecture. 

I think the most womanly and empowering thing we can possibly do is to be kind to each other. Carry each other’s burdens and celebrate each other’s victories.

When we put our feminine choices under lock-and-key, under scrutiny and judgment, we bring forth shame. If we are going to labor (and we are), the least we can do is give birth to grace and shamelessness, baby. 

Take that, Mayer Bloomberg. (And I mean that in the most graceful way possible.)


S said...

lovely. beautiful. thank you.

Sara Flores said...

Virtual high five, fist bump, standing ovation and thundering applause. You articulate so well what I have sputtered (often incoherently)in indignation so many times. Thank you for this. Eager to hear the hospital's response to your complaint.

dayebydaye said...

Thank you! For all women, thank you! One of THE hardest moments for me was when I was admitted to the hospital a few days after bringing my baby home- and I had to kiss my husband and newborn goodnight- and they left armed with formula. I am so thankful that my nurses and doctor insisted that I get the care that I needed and that I learned that even though I wanted to exclusively breast feed, it wasn't possible in that moment.
"I think the most womanly and empowering thing we can possibly do is to be kind to each other. Carry each other’s burdens and celebrate each other’s victories." Couldn't agree more! Thanks for a great post!

Nicole Schoychid said...

I agree with so much of what you say here. We put WAY too much pressure on ourselves and other mama's. And i totally agree that no mother should be lectured or ridiculed for using formula for whatever is a personal choice (and for many women who are unable to breastfeed...not even a choice). BUT I have always had a problem with the way that hospitals dole out formula. Each time I left the hospital I was given a bag full or formula samples that I did NOT request. I think it would be better to have a system where women are made aware that the samples are there and available upon request (no judgement) would be way better than just thoughtlessly passed out to ever mother.
It is a fact that, if given the choice, breast milk is healthier for children than formula...but this does not mean that formula is not healthy....or that you are harming your child if you don't breastfeed. We need to get rid of this pressure and judgement but not "throw the baby out with the bathwater" and stop advocating for breastfeeding all together as a result.
Breastfeeding is HARD work and there are many new mothers who never give it a chance at all out of fear or lack of education or confidence. When a hospital gives out formula without me it is a bit like them saying "this is what we recommend" and it makes it all too easy for many new mothers to never give breastfeeding a shot.
In my opinion, if the formula makers want to provide samples to hospitals....then that's great but I do not believe that they should be given out without talking to the parents and asking them if they want it first. So in a way...I agree that they should be put away and given out as needed/requested. In general I believe there needs to be more education on feeding your baby while in the hospital...but I know in my case the nurse tossed a bag in my car full of formula without me even knowing. I know they were trying to help....but I think there can be unintended negative consequences. Great post though...I enjoy reading your work!!

Diana said...

Personally, I think you should send this directly to the governmental personnel involved. What an inane thing to do. I've lived in Africa and know the uproar - and actual heartbreak and probably death - caused by formula manufacturers 'pushing' their formula products on moms who live hundreds of miles from any kind of market. And I do believe nursing is the best option for most babies in this world. BUT it is not for everyone and to flag it like this feels like an invasion of privacy, bigtime. Thanks for these good words - and I'm glad your son's situation is fixable.