I know that there are lots of issues in the hopper that are politically important. But recently I came across a story on CNN: Is the medical community failing breast feeding mothers?
Well, I have pretty strong feelings on this, and I would say YES! But it's not just the medical community. Personally I believe that our society fails moms, parents, caregivers in general, and I sincerely hope that we have a paradigm shift with regard to these functions very soon.
When I had my kids, I was categorized as a Crunchy Mom or Granola Mom. I know this shocks some of you, but I was and still am, a health nut. I went through natural childbirth with midwives, outside of a hospital, and fully intended to breastfeed for at least the first year, because there are supposed to be a great number of benefits for mother and child. However, things didn't quite go as planned. Follow me through the orange portal if boobies, pregnancy, childbirth and infant care, don't frighten you, or gross you out.
What I discovered is that motherhood, and pregnancy are highly politicized in this country. These are iconic states of being, that make for popular images for selling all sorts of ideological garbage. But that when it comes down to really helping pregnant women, birthing women, young mothers, and breast feeding mothers--I wouldn't count on much. Some things have gotten a tiny bit better, but at the time, for me, people acted as if placing a changing table in the bathroom was some kind of miraculous act, that should cause me to kiss their ass. Honestly, it's just common sense that we put facilities in every public place [with few exceptions] for parents with children, and for breastfeeding women.
But back to the story. The author nailed it. I wonder if they are going through this themselves right now.
That's because lactation is probably the only bodily function for which modern medicine has almost no training, protocol or knowledge. When women have trouble breast-feeding, they're either prodded to try harder by well-meaning lactation consultants or told to give up by doctors. CNNModern medicine treats women's health like a black box. It has only been in the last 20 years that we started covering drugs for breast cancer on insurance. It's only been in the last 20 years, that we consciously realized that using male physiological models for drug testing and studies fail to address women's unique and fluctuating physiological characteristics with regard to health and to illness of any kind. So seriously, even though the quote above is shocking, I have been alive long enough to not be shocked.
They're almost never told, "Perhaps there's an underlying medical problem --let's do some tests. ibid"According to this piece, there are 70 studies on erectile dysfunction in our federally funded database, but only 10 on lactation. Talk about binders full of women. To me what this says is it's a non issue, no one cares.
I had trouble feeding both of my kids, and I got exactly the same advice. And even though insurance will cover little blue pills, my insurance did not cover breast pumps or much of anything else. With the first kid, I spent big bucks on a milking machine/torture device.
Breast Pumps are marketed a lot like tampons. They show happy, bucolic mamas with flowers and unicorns shooting out of their boobs, but in reality, these devices masticate your tits into sausage shaped pain factories. I have new respect for dairy animals of any kind. They make it sound like milk will be extracted with gentle sucking action--but I guarantee you, if a randy curious male got his penis stuck in one of these, there would be a law suit.
Breastfeeding in general is so mysterious that no one knows who should be medically responsible for instruction or diagnosis of problems. This is how NOT important women's issues are. I suffered through several bouts of mastitis, severe enough that I ran high fevers and had to be put on antibiotics. I was told to either keep nursing or to dry my milk up completely and stop.
Both of my kids had colic pre-mastitis and antibiotics [just so we are clear], and it seemed to get worse when I nursed them. I got all kinds of advice on what foods to avoid, and none of it worked.
We tried everything: Warm steam showers, swaddling, I went off of coffee for a long time [and let me tell how pleasant that makes me], no pineapples, or tomatoes, or acid foods, or sugar, omg, it was worse than the worst of crash dieting. It had no effect on my weight and my breast milk must have had the consistency of plutonium waste because it made my children insane.
Right about the end of all that I figured some things out. It took me a long time, because I was malnourished, sleep deprived, and suffered low blood sugar so that when I nursed, that it gave me the shakes. And no one had a damn thing to tell me. Oh I got tested for diabetes like a million times, which I didn't have, because you know that's the only chronic condition "fat chicks" can have, but like it did a damn bit of good. The kids still had colic, and I still had problems breastfeeding.
I love the crap, about when you nurse, it's going to make you lose all that baby weight. Well it had just the opposite effect on me. At the time I thought I must have been a real freak of nature or something, but later met more women who had similar problems. Still, there was no diagnosis, no exam, no help.
The reason I gained weight? Oh it's because I was doing it wrong. I needed to stand on one leg while reciting the pledge of allegiance while wearing a funny hat or something. At some point it began to feel like I was performing some arcane ritual incorrectly, and that was why I couldn't make it rain or something.
Your choices when breast feeding go wrong are: be a hero-mom and breast feed your baby, OR be a looser mom, and deprive your child of success and fulfillment by giving them formula.
Seriously, if you don't breastfeed your child and they grow up to be a serial killer, don't say we didn't warn you!
These choices were not helpful. They made you feel like you were in an epic battle where good is fighting evil, and if you make the wrong choice, your child will forever orbit the death star, and become an agent of darkness along with mom--because any evil acts they commit in the future, any epic failures will be all your fault.
But you notice, there is no practical advice in there.
All parenting choices feel like that at times. And the less supported you feel or are socially, the more defensive you can get about the choices you make.
By then I had noticed that there was no practical advice anywhere, just a bunch of marketing schemes and political hucksters hoping to profit from me, as a pregnant woman or a new mother.
The second kid came along during the celebrity baby bump craze. Now all pregnant women were expected to dress like sexy strippers, instead of fashion-dead schoolmarms. [Oh Joy].
Oh I read books on it all. So many it seemed like my eyes would bleed. I went to support groups and meetings, and it would have been great if I needed tupperwear. I scanned the intertubz for any kind of advice, or tips I could find, and really came away dissatisfied, and disappointed.
I just kept getting fatter and fatter.
The babies cried non-stop
and my tits were like two swollen boulders that at any moment, were going to fall off, and roll into town, killing hundreds in their path while flattening houses and businesses along the way.
According to this piece in CNN, things are changing for the better. That the Affordable Care Act is going to require support and instruction for lactation. And that OBGYNs and Pediatricians are now addressing this issue. I think that's great. Because I wouldn't wish what I went through on any woman. But it doesn't stop there. The entire act of birthing and mothering--parenting, are highly charged topics for people who have children, for people who had small children and for those who never had a child at all.
Everyone has an opinion and on a bad day, they all stink too--just like a diaper pail.
Check out this cry in the dark over at the Huffpo: Do I have to lose myself to be a mother?
Our culture has weird ideas about womanhood, pregnancy and motherhood. I have lots of ideas on why we feel we get lost in this process. But first we need to explore some of the expectations.
When you are pregnant or have a new baby, you get pressured to be "joyful" because "everyone knows that you should just be so goddamned happy, you could shit yourself the minute you find our you are with child, or the moment you push that baby out!"
Right from the beginning you have media and culture telling you how you ought to be feeling, if you are proper and healthy and such. No--no need to form your own opinions, that might drag the masses out of their fantastical comfort zone about what being pregnant or giving birth or rearing infants is like. So if you fall outside of that forced-happy-orthodoxy, best keep your crap to yourself.
The fact of the matter is, being pregnant is hard work and it can be stressful and scary for a woman, whether it's her first baby or her 5th. And pushing that baby out is also very taxing. Delivering by c-section is major organ surgery. New mothers start out with an energy deficit, just giving birth. And we go through all sorts of hormonal fluctuations, in addition to normal stress and just plain old sleep deprivation and exhaustion.
And throughout this entire process, you are expected to have ALL the answers. This is why you read til your eyes bleed. Do you have a birth plan, will you vaccinate, will you delay vaccinations, do you have knowledge of your family history and his? And on and on and on! Just that by itself is exhausting. But you learn very quickly that if you don't learn it all, and make decisions, that some stranger will step in and make them for you. The pressure is quite intense to know everything, even though any rational adult will tell you, that such omnipotent knowledge is impossible for a mortal human.
What you discover is the Black Box of women's health, especially pregnant and lactating women's health. You discover that very little is known about the effects of drugs on your body or the fetus, all sorts of things are forbidden now because it either passes the placental barrier, or is transmitted through your milk, or simply because no one knows what will happen.
That's the best part about being pregnant [snark]. Being ill or injured and having to do without medication or [gasp] take it and hope your baby is not born with two heads.
Every day now for the past 2 years I have been watching commercial after commercial on the television telling women that if they took certain anti-depressants while pregnant, and their child was born with a deformity, they may be entitled to compensation. I guess prescribing these drugs to gravid females was an impromptu human drug trial? That's what it looks like. Yet enough of a hazard for women to try an avoid during their trip through the cultural and medical maze of pregnancy.
The knowledge deficit keeps building with each passing month, as your belly swells, or your child grows another inch, what we need to know and are expected to know explodes exponentially, faster even than the advancement of technology. And there is no shortage of individuals in your life, or on the street, or at the doctor's office or in the media, who are just chomping at the bit to tell you every horror story they can think of that will give you nightmares and make you second guess yourself right into the funny farm.
Meanwhile, we live in a culture, where so many of us do without the help of an extended family, or the instruction of older, experienced, and trusted females. It can be quite unnerving. Because right after birth, chances are you are not operating optimally when it comes to brain function. And as time passes after that birth, it gets worse for a while, because of round the clock feedings which equal long term sleep deprivation. If your child has any medical issues, that compounds the situation even more.
So when the author of the Huffpo piece complains about the new found lameness of her heretofore "Bad Ass BFF", there are things you need to understand:
Giving birth is a rite of passage. You are forever changed by this act. And in the beginning, you might be more changed, personality-wise, to the point of causing discomfort with your friends and family.
You are tired. You are so tired that you are addle-brained.
You have a new focus, a living breathing baby that is entirely dependent upon you for sustenance, cleanliness, warmth, love, and instructions on how to be in this world. And did I mention you are so tired, you cannot remember your own name?
You have this tremendous rush of hormones and they turn your instincts up to a fever pitch. Some people will think this makes you less reliable. On the contrary, for most of us, it is as nature intended, survival of the species has depended upon these instincts for a millenia. But no one said it would be easy or pleasant.
The joy that people try and force on you, will happen. But that happens in a moment, and you will have many moments, that punctuate hours of drudge work, feedings, diaper changings, baths, barfing, burping etc., So you will not be happy all the time, you will be tired most of the time, maybe lonely, and once in a while some happy moment will happen, that will give you the incentive to make it through another 60 hours of poop and barf, and tears. "Resigned to your fate," is a good phrase to explore.
Basically, all the energy you have left [such as it is] is devoted to this one person. So maybe you are a badass, but for now, you are the milk cow. Maybe you can do phenomenal amounts of tequila while partying all night, well for now--that stamina will be put towards other issues.
Maybe you have a helluva sense of humor, well your brain is otherwise occupied and so jokes may be slow in coming, even obvious 12 yr old toilet humor may be beyond you at first.
You are like a space ship, one that has been through the Kuiper belt. Your shields are down, your body has been beat to hell, and everything you got is being re-directed to life support. So don't be expecting anything fancy for a while, you simply do not have the energy.
Welcome to lamo-ville, I shall be your guide, Mrs. Boring.
My friend used to smoke like a chimney and drink like a fish and hawl on blunts like she was bloody Rita Marley. Now, she is just anxious and lame. HuffpoSo you now know why she is lame, let me tell you more about the anxiety. Remember all there is to know? And it keeps growing? The media loves to scare the shit out of new moms, with the latest bird flu outbreaks, and drug side effects, crap in baby food, etc., More overwhelming shit, to add the already respectable pile you got in your head.
She has to make all these decisions and many of them she will have to make on the fly, alone. That makes new parents very anxious. Even when other experienced parents try to help, they overload you with so much information, so fast, that it can melt your brain. Somewhat reminiscent of that nail biting scene in Raising Arizonawhere Dot relays to Ed all the things one simply must do with a new baby to ensure their proper health and development. "We got a child now, everything's changed!"
And as your child grows, you have a new responsibility. You have to teach them how to be in this world. So your drinking, smoking, cussing, sexpot of a friend, who partied like crazy, might suddenly decide that her lifestyle is not suitable in the presence of small, impressionable children. She may lack the energy to do all those things, but also suddenly lack the desire as well, because who wants toddlers getting into your cigarettes, telling you to "fuck off mommy," while trying to steal your beer out of the fridge?
Not cool by anyone's standards.
If mommy is lucky, she may have enough of a support system to get to party down once in a great while, but don't be putting her into hangover-ville when she has to get up the next morning and make breakfast and whatever passes for small talk for jr. That should constitute torture of both the hungover parent and the children.
You do lose yourself in this new ROLE. It's not just a job, this is a new role you inhabit for life. You will from now on, be someone's mom. Whether you do it well or not, the fact remains, you are someone's mom [or dad] period.
I miss my party days, I do. I miss having what seemed at the time, to be unlimited amounts of energy. I hate that the fact, that it takes so long to recover from childbirth, that your friends, often cannot or do not wait around for that to happen. Or you end up letting them go because without children, they simply cannot comprehend just how much your life has changed on a fundamental level--you can no longer relate to each other.
Suddenly the brand of diaper you buy will become important to you. Your method of birthing will become an important topic, especially if you plan to do it again. How you teach your children will become of serious importance as well. And you will sound like every other MOM out there, and be horrified. You will yell or get angry and hear your own mother's voice emanating from your oral cavity, and that will freak you out! And all the things that you didn't comprehend as a child or teen or young adult, will suddenly make sense and if you are lucky--you will have the wherewithall to feel shame as a result, and maybe even apologize to hapless caregivers for your antics, from your misspent youth.
You life has changed. Your life is changing. Just wait til you get old and you find yourself talking about dentures, or E.D. or depends--hey it just keeps getting better!
I would tell you not to fight it, but I think for some of us, that is an impossible request. I fought this tooth and nail. It wasn't even a conscious decision. I embraced my duty and felt repelled and diminished by it simultaneously. I felt fulfilled by the role in my family directly, and yet rejected and ignored by our society, because motherhood= a loss of social status for women.
And so most of the bad stuff, I blame on misogyny that is focused on the act of being a mother. Nothing is more female than getting pregnant and giving birth, and nothing is more associated with the end of a social life or a professional life than these acts of getting pregnant and becoming a mom.
Women and girls are frightened of motherhood, and they should be. It is a role that is used as a chain to keep us from being active participants with personal power in society. It used to be marriage = Motherhood, but with more forms of birth control and better sex EDU and the freedom to chose to terminate unwanted or unplanned or defective pregnancies, that is no longer the case.
In some ways, the archetype of the Mother in this culture is more feared than the archetype of the Witch, because a Witch still has power and worth, she may be hated and feared, but it is because of her power. The mother is hated and feared because she disappears. And she does this because our culture makes her disappear. That is what many of us are really fighting. We are fighting the act of making us disappear upon achieving motherhood.
It's not the babies, or all the indignities that come with making and caring for them. It's the additional, unnecessary indignities visited upon us by a society that wants all the benefits of our work, but is too cheap to truly honor our place in society, much less pay us for it in any meaningful way for the fruits of our labor [pun intended].
That is why lactation is a black box. That is why various groups feel it's okay to decide for us, when we get pregnant, if we stay pregnant, and how we give birth, irregardless of our personal needs or desires. What we want doesn't matter, and what we need doesn't matter either--because we are to some degree, invisible.
Mothers should not be seen nor heard.
So yes, you will lose yourself, because the person your are now will change, even if you vow not to, you will.
And it is very likely you will become lost as well, because this culture doesn't want you to bring the indignities of pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting into the swinging single adult sphere of work. It's a real downer don't ya know!
The actual lame factor of your new life will ultimately be determined BY YOU. If you think that diaper brands and birthing methods and lactation are lame even as you give birth, then you are borrowing more trouble. But if you value the art of mothering and of parenting, it will pay off. It might not pay off in money, in this cheap-ass culture, but it will pay off in terms of your children's quality of life.
And who knows, if enough of us parents take our job as seriously as we should, perhaps in a generation or 10, we might be able to change this culture into something better.
That change could happen faster if we parents and caregivers stick together and advocate for each other, in society and politically as well.