Sunday, March 22, 2009

Don't Tell Me Motherhood Sucks

warning, this post mentions "breasts" without mentioning centerfolds, beer, strip clubs or any of the other items often marketed using womens' anatomy...proceed at your own risk

Breastfeeding an infantImage via Wikipedia

I am absolutely up in arms with the article I read this morning at The Atlantic. I consider myself an intelligent, well-educated woman. I am a feminist, and a card-carrying member of NOW. I also have three children, all of whom were breastfed until they were toddlers. It in no way diminished me as a woman. Breastfeeding is a feminist act.

My biggest beef with the article by author Hanna Rosin is the assumption that because a woman chooses to stay home and breastfeed, she is somehow downtrodden and repressed.

From the article:

In Betty Friedan’s day, feminists felt shackled to domesticity by the unreasonably high bar for housework, the endless dusting and shopping and pushing the Hoover around—a vacuum cleaner being the obligatory prop for the “happy housewife heroine,” as Friedan sardonically called her. When I looked at the picture on the cover of Sears’s Breastfeeding Book—a lady lying down, gently smiling at her baby and still in her robe, although the sun is well up—the scales fell from my eyes: it was not the vacuum that was keeping me and my 21st-century sisters down, but another sucking sound.

Breastfeeding is not a plot by an evil patriarchy to keep women subservient and out of the work force! How ludicrous! The resurgence of breastfeeding began., when La Leche League was founded, by women. It resulted in a way to de-medicalize birth and allow women to take their bodies back. Most of us are too young to recall "twilight sleep" when a woman gave birth half-conscious, strapped to a gurney attended by apathetic nurses. The baby was whisked away, fed formula and slept down the hall in the hospital nursery. It was a real practice, and it stripped women of their dignity.

The move to natural childbirth and breastfeeding allowed a woman to be in charge of herself and her baby. She didn't need to rely on doctors (chiefly male) to tell her to buy a pharmaceutical concoction in order to nourish her baby. She could choose to feed her baby on her own, just as biology lead her to do. Other women could come alongside her and provide support and nurturing. And so it is today.

By fulfilling this "circle of life" a woman can become more confident as a mother and a person. She, in a sense, finds her own power, within herself, not dependent upon any outside influence.With her "tribe" by her side, she finds what it is to mother. By putting the baby back in the mother's arms, mother and baby discover one another. The dyad of mother and baby are complete at the moment of breastfeeding.

The author goes on to state why she resented breastfeeding her third child:

This time around, nirvana did not describe my state of mind; I was launching a new Web site and I had two other children to care for, and a husband I would occasionally like to talk to. Being stuck at home breast-feeding as he walked out the door for work just made me unreasonably furious, at him and everyone else.

It would seem she felt tied down and hoped that refusing to breastfeed would alleviate that feeling. The feeling is valid. Motherhood is a huge transition, and some have said the transition of two children to three is particularly difficult. It may be easy to second-guess the decision. This can result in mothers who push their babies away or want them to become independent at all costs. In this view, motherhood suffocates, and once the child grows to school age, life will begin again. Mother will resume her career and all will be right with the world, and her identity.

But perhaps she is painting with too broad a brush. Not all of us feel trapped by motherhood. Certainly, I could choose to work, I have that freedom. But I also have the freedom to stay at home with my children. I am not insecure in either of these decisions. I do not need to define myself completely by my career, nor by my children. I am still the person I was before I had children. And I am also profoundly different.

I chose to have children in order to spend time with them. They are not a fashion accessory, nor are they an inconvenience (most of the time). As such, I chose to breastfeed. I wasn't concerned with how much time it would take. Even in the beginning, I understood that life is transitory, the only constant we have is change, and that by choosing, for a season, to meet my infant's needs 100%, it did not negate my feminism, it fulfilled it. I was doing something for my baby that no one else could. It was my breasts, my food, my power that was growing this little being outside of my body.

My children are past baby stage now, and I am infinitely grateful that I took the time to breastfeed them and meet their needs without regard to how much time I was wasting. Time spent with children is never wasted time. I have a wise friend who says, "Pay now, or pay later." Meaning: invest the time with the kids now, and you will have less chance of the child acting out or feeling neglected. After all, don't women have children to spend time with them?

The author goes on to state:

The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women’s lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let’s say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That’s nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.

Excuse me? What does this mean, I cannot work in any "meaningful way?" Whose definition are we using? She has made this an either/or proposition, and it doesn't have to be. I resent the idea that I can not make a contribution in terms of work because I breastfed. She is misguided. Sure, I will choose not to go to work for twelve hours as a high-powered executive, but I could pump while working.

However, while breastfeeding, I worked from home, and volunteered with organizations to empower women in my community. Maybe the definition of work needs to be expanded. And remember, even a baby breastfeeds for two years, (or less) the child grows up quickly, and mother begins to add activities into her life. Life isn't over because a woman pushes out a baby!

I am not faulting a woman for making a different choice than I do. (I might have ten years ago, but I have mellowed) I am simply flummoxed with the idiotic statement that breastfeeding represses a woman. To this I say: the woman is repressing herself. It has nothing to do with her breasts, it is about her brain. And choosing whether or not to breastfeed is the least of her problems! Until she comes to terms with her ambivalence regarding motherhood, what it means to her, and where she fits within it, until she figures out how she defines herself and her child, she will continue to feel repressed.

This isn't about breastfeeding, it is about everything else. So your friends judge you. Get new friends! You are upset because your husband can't feed the baby. There are tons of activities that he can take part in...take baby for a walk, rock and hold the baby, and how about loading the dishwasher?

Bottom line, breastfeed. Or don't breastfeed. I don't really care. Just own it and stop trying to justify it. Call it what it is: your own selfishness. Yes I will still be your friend: it doesn't define my social set. I don't have to agree with every decision made in order to offer my friendship.

I truly have sympathy for the author. With her carping and her finger-pointing, she is never going to be content. She is making motherhood harder than it ever has to be.

T, who realizes this article appears to be link bait, but had to weigh in anyway

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13 sent chocolate:

T, blog owner said...

So what do you think? Weigh in. Did you breastfeed? Did you feel it stifled you as a woman?

notruthless said...

You did a great job of explaining issues with article. I felt bad when I read the original, but couldn't articulate why. It made me feel vaguely uncomfortable for having chosen to stay home and to breastfeed my kids for 18 months each. Was I brainwashed?

I appreciate that you were able to point out the flip side.

Everyone needs to make their own choices, but don't patronize mine.

And no, breastfeeding did not make me feel stifled as a woman. Leaving my career to focus on my kids was a great decision. Of course now, 10+ years later I am faced with the fallout, and it's not pretty, but that's a completely different story.

Thank you!

Ruth

Liana said...

Great article, but feel compelled to point out that not every decision to not breastfeed is motivated by selfishness.

alisaterry said...

Since I found you through my blog, you know how I feel, but I thought I'd point out to Liana that the biggest issue about Rosin's article is that staying home with your child and taking the time to breast feed is apparently a waste of a woman's time. It insults every woman who chooses to feed her baby, either with her body or not. Apparently time spent feeding a child is repressive and not real work and unfulfilling, according to this article. That can't be further from the truth for many, MANY mothers.

Jeannie said...

Great blog! I sucked at breastfeeding (pun intended). With boobs as gynormous as mine, you'd think I'd have an adequate milk supply. Sadly, I did not.

TheFeministBreeder said...

Very well stated. I'm sorry to say there are way too many women like Hannah Rosin in the world of "feminism." They think anything "mom-centric" makes us weak. It's a disturbing trend.

Carrie Laut said...

I too think that breastfeeding was very empowering. This backlash against breastfeeding is just that - a backlash. Two steps forward, one step back.

Lenora said...

Great Article, T. Breastfeeding is a beautiful choice and in no way tied me down. I went everywhere with my kids, without having to sterilize bottles or worry about formula - have breasts will travel!! Such a freedom! With my 1st born, I worked while pumping. With the 2nd I just pumped a few times a week for convenience, so Hubby or sitters could occasionally feed baby with pumped milk. Breastfeeding was a special joy and connection and not a burden. I call it "Udder Bliss" :D I am happy that women are empowered to take back their bodies and their freedom to "mother" and give their babies what is naturally their birthright.

Katie said...

I have breastfed all three of my children. I was able to breasfeed exclusively for 6 months with all of them despite working PT and going to school FT with the first and working FT with the second and third. I certainly don't think that all woman could do this, but I did it. I had a GREAT supply of milk and only had to pump 1-2 times per day. I also had a job where I could pump whenever I wanted. I quit pumping at work when each child was 12-18 months old. They received bottles of pumped milk at home until that time, but I continued to nurse mornings, evenings, all night, and weekends until they were 3-4 years old. The only downside is that I've had the beginnings of mastitis about 8 times in my nursing career. I have learned how to treat it naturally and am able to get over it within 24 hours each time.

I absolutely do not feel that breastfeeding stifled me as a woman! I think that assertion is ludicrous. Others have argued more comprehensively, and I agree with them -- don't choose to have babies if you're not prepared for the inconvenience!

Summerm said...

Great post! I certainly never felt repressed by breastfeeding. It was the opposite, I felt even more proud of my body and empowered that I could do this. When she complained that her husband headed out the door while she was stuck at home breastfeeding I couldn't stop thinking "that's not breastfeeding's fault, that's the fault of people like you who insist breastfeeding moms should hide away in the closet!" I never felt like nursing stopped me from leaving the house, going anywhere, or doing what I wanted.

Emily Jones said...

I agree Summerm, I was/am in no way limited by breastfeeding. Mothering IS my job right now, and I really enjoy it. I have a wonderful, busy life with interests outside of mothering too. If the author feels limited, it is only because she lacks imagination.


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kiwispouse said...

i enjoyed your post, but sympathise with both sides. as a full time working woman who took 2 years off to stay home with baby (non-breastfeeding and no, i do not have to justify or explain to strangers the reason i did not breastfeed - it's personal), who then worked a part time (read part time hours, full time workload, something i think a lot of part-time mothers experience to reinforce we don't "count") schedule until child was in high school, i straddle the work/stay-at-home fence. feminism (and i am also a proud, card-carrying NOW feminist) will only be whole when we stop slinging crap at each other and embrace *all* our multifaceted roles as we try to navigate our way through an ever-changing and ever-demanding world. it is ok to stay at home and breastfeed baby. it is ok to work full time and bottlefeed baby. it is ok to do a mixture of the two. it is *all* ok. it is NOT ok to keep telling each other that women who don't do what *we* do are wrong. the great feminist cisoux once said that man's greatest achievement in beating down feminism was dividing and conquering by dividing women up to fight amongst themselves. she was right.

Erin said...

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