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Judith Warner, we love you, but you’re bringing us down.
Oh, Judith. You and Hanna Rosin both bring up a lot of great points. Pumping may not be the perfect answer to a working mother and hungry baby's needs. Breastfeeding advocacy can go way too far. Women should be given some flexibility on the question of what to feed their babies. Pressure and guilt are bad.
But your piece was laced with such disgust! Words like "grotesque" and "undignified"? How do those sound to the man on the street? To a pregnant mother, who’s thinking about whether to nurse or not? Who cares if your argument was ostensibly about pumping, not breastfeeding? The image of a lactating woman as a cow will linger a lot longer than those tiny disclaimers about how much you loved nursing. You say you wouldn’t have traded breastfeeding for the world. But you may well have made that trade for the women who read this piece and think, hmm, dignity vs. breastfeeding… maybe not.
We know there’s a strident voice out there saying “breast is best,” and we know it can royally suck to hear it when you’re struggling. But there’s a reason for that liquid gold fetish you’re talking about. It’s a defense against the much bigger fetish: breasts. As sex objects, not food sources. It’s easier for people to think in terms of science and statistics than think about where that fluid comes from. And let’s put this into perspective: Formula has been the primary food for the majority of babies in this country for more than half a century. There’s still a very squeamish attitude about nursing from the sexist camp (Bill Maher) and the old schoolers (Barbara Walters). If our New York Times feminist hero is telling everyone breastfeeding is disgusting, what will happen next?
We are more than sympathetic to the plight of the pumping mother. We have enjoyed many a bovine joke. But the pump is more than just a tool of oppression to help women strive toward some impossible standard of exclusive bf perfection.
Pumping is part of the reality of breastfeeding for lots of reasons: a premature baby; a job that resumes while supply is still being established (within the first 6 weeks postpartum); a life that includes random time away from the baby during which the mother doesn’t want to ejaculate milk on flight attendants, develop mastitis or otherwise suffer through engorgement. For these people, and for other women who may just like the idea of sustaining their babies on the milk their bodies produce, your piece was offensive. Is it necessary to take down breastfeeding to make it okay to not do it some of the time?
Pregnancy and breastfeeding challenge how we define our bodies and their purpose, and force us to see ourselves dually as we move forward as both mothers and women; animals and citizens. Pumping can make us painfully aware of these dualities. It can be annoying, emotional, enraging. Oxytocin—the bonding hormone—floods a woman’s body when milk is released. To feel all that bonding with no baby present can be hard. So is the solution to throw away the pump? Or throw away the job? Or throw away the baby? Or write letters to your congressperson demanding more maternity leave? How about women are given the choice to pump and/or feed formula as they see fit while we wait/fight for all the maternity leave and flexibility we deserve. What we don’t need is a guilt trip from the “breastfeeding Nazis” in one ear and a sneer from the New York Times in the other.
Yes, the breastfeeding zealots are a nightmare, but so are the backlashers.
What about the real women caught in the middle of all this?
harvard med student engorged and enraged
This is a bad week for breastfeeding. I just read that a judge has rejected a Harvard student and breastfeeding mother's request to be given a pumping break during her nine hour medical licensing exam. (A medical exam no less!) The AOL report I read includes a poll and at the moment the majority of readers are agreeing with the judge. So sad. This + Bill Maher = serious disconnect between much of the country and the reality of breastfeeding mothers. I think even those who consider themselves supportive of breastfeeding really DO NOT understand what it takes. And the only way they will is to institute some kind of basic national education campaign that doesn't JUST talk about the benefits of breastfeeding but literally explains how milk supply and demand works. It's sort of pathetic to have to get to this. But I can't see any way around it.
How about this: From now on ALL HIGHSCHOOL STUDENTS are taught how breastfeeding works in either sex education or ninth grade biology. Take your pick. But make it mandatory. It's too exhausting for us to have a debate with a public that just doesn't know the facts.
rich people can afford more things!
I just listened to this NPR report about how wealthier families are having tons of kids: "In the world of the wealthy, 4 has become the new 2." Women interviewed in Darien, Connecticut claim that jealousy and baby lust are part of what drive them to get knocked up again and again. One mom says she feels the otherwise thankless job of raising kids is "validated" when there are four to handle. And Jill Kargman, author of Momzillas, suggests this is rerouted "career ambition"; that these moms are engaging in "competitive birthing." On some level it's happening just because it can: money does make a difference. And it's not just childcare (poor people use childcare all the time; they have to work). It's being able to hire someone to come over and put training wheels on all the bikes. It's being able to afford 100K for school tuition each year. Little things like that.
playing with kids, it's just NOT NATURAL
Rebecca and I were just talking about how hard it is to get down and play with cars and trucks and knights and "guys" with our sons. I was somewhat pathetically pitching the idea that building things (with blocks) can alleviate some of the boredom- you can channel energy into an awesome fire house instead of fighting fake fires all morning. But the truth is we both find it weird, boring, awkward... It's not coming to us in some organic, natural way: should we really be pretending to be three-year-olds? When my kid first started saying, "Moooooommmmmy, come and play!" I regretted not having conceived a playmate sooner. Only MINUTES after our conversation, I read this. And learned that maybe playing with preschoolers is, indeed, not the most natural thing in the world. But yet another trapping of my abysmally thoughtful middle-class life. Not sure what my options are though. Really, he gets plenty of TV and is ignored as much as human(e)ly possible. And, on that note, there's a fire in the hallway I need to go put out.
the family that orders together stays together
Last week in the New York Times, Leslie Kaufman wrote all about how she manages to actually cook for her family. It was somewhat of a throw-back article from a career woman, but I was truly inspired to follow her lead and get back to the cooking I once loved. I actually planned the week's meals on Sunday- I really did! We made it through two nutritious nights of home-cooked food (granted both involved cous-cous, but the idea is this is supposed to be doable). Day Three we were slotted for veggie burgers but after a long, late afternoon romp in the park involving me and another mother shouting, "Who's the dirtiest?" as our kids competed for how disgusting they could get (mine figured out he could mat his hair with dirt and may have won the prize), I gave into to two jumbo slices of pizza on the way home. Sorry. It's New York. I am pregnant and have a three-year-old and when he called out, "PIZZA!!" I was right there with him. So, I couldn't make it to Day Three without take-out. But hey, I read an extra book to my son with the 5 minutes I'd saved by not having to steam the cous-cous! And the veggie burgers haven't spoiled.
stats show dip in working moms
Get to Work author, Linda Hirshman breaks down recently published stats about working moms. She wrote a manifesto, so we know what side she's on... still, she argues a good case and reveals some surprising data.
Mothers are working less than in recent years:
60% of married moms of young kids work (down 4% from 1997)
53.5 % of married moms with babies work (down 6% from 1997)
New mothers with husbands making a lot of dough work the least.
Moms work 42.2 hours a week not the oft-cited 80 hour work week
(hmm, I get work-related emails from my mom colleagues at all hours of the night...does that count?)
As Hirshman points out, working mothers took a huge hit with the recent ridiculous "reports" about the dangers of daycare. Even with Emily Bazelon and Judith Warner shouting out LIAR, LIAR, the (wrong) message is out there now. As a friend of mine with a child in daycare, pointed out the headlines could have just as easily read, "Daycare Linked To Higher Verbal Aptitude." Grr.
striving for imperfection day after day after ....
We're all about striving for imperfection over here at thenewmom. (In fact, "strive for imperfection" is one of the "anti-rules" we lay out in From the Hips.) And we're so happy to know that Judith Warner is there every week to help remind us exactly why it's so important! Today in her Domestic Disturbances column, she considers the positive influence a little early rejection may have for the kinds of super high-acheiveing, "amazing" girls profiled last weekend in the Times.
Many, I think, never figure out how to handle the emptiness that comes when the rush of achievement fades away, or the loneliness — the sense of invisibility — when no one is there to hand out yet another “A.” The fact is: when you are narrowly programmed to achieve, you are like a windup toy with only one movement in its repertoire. You’re fine when you’re wound up; but wind you down, and you grind to a halt. I think this is partly why so many grown-up amazing girls with high-earning husbands find themselves having to quit work when they have kids. They simply can’t perform at work and at home at the high level that they demand of themselves.
When I was pregnant I overheard a new mother answer that question about 'how she does it all' and she said, quickly, and with a smile, "Oh, it's easy: I suck at my job and I'm a terrible mom." It gave me great hope.
a completed task of one's own
This is literally late-breaking news (as in, it's late, it was broken on March 27th) but I have to blog about it because it applies to parenting and to women especially. The NY Times reported that multitasking is actually inefficient. When I read this I started waving my arms around and ranting at my husband, "See, there's proof!" I've always been cranky about multitasking but I've been even more cranky about the idea that women are *natural* multitaskers. I think it's been used as a tool of oppression. And I don't think it's true.
As a young woman it meant that I would be well-suited for an assistant/admin/"great organizational skills"/secretarial job or hosting/taking care of the house and career, etc. As a mother, it means I should have no problem shuttling from a toddler breakdown over a "crumped" cowboy hat, to writing a paragraph on the complicated issues raised by elective c-sections, to a call from UPS about a lost package. I hate this. And as the article points out, you screw up when you're juggling. Don't get me wrong: I'm not raging against multitasking mothers as individuals-- I'm one of them. Multitasking is quite simply the way my life is arranged. I cannot comprehend how parents/mothers survived without wireless 12" powerbooks for ordering groceries/conducting work from home/googling "red rash three year old". How could those moms have made it happen in Colonial Williamsburg??? (I guess they were shuttling between candle-dipping, fire-stoking and scarlett fever-tending.) I just object to the idea that us mothers are meant to be so divided. And that we don't crave a neatly compartmentalized (male) life where we can actually get things done (one at a time). Didn't Virginia Woolf once write an essay about all this?
Nancy Pelosi's To Do List
Thank you Judith Warner for always driving the question of motherhood stress and anxiety away from playground politics and back to real politics:
"... if, as Ms. Pelosi has repeatedly said, she’ll be taking up the speaker’s gavel 'on behalf of America’s children,' there’s a lot of work to do. For children can’t thrive if their families are stressed and, at every point on the socioeconomic spectrum now, it seems that American families are cracking at the seams. read more"
Forget the senate race in Virginia, forget rubbernecking Rummy's downfall and please turn immediately to the Style section of the New York Times for this important story: There are some affluent moms who like to get together on Friday evenings with some other affuent moms and their children and have a couple-- are you ready?--glasses of wine!
These suburban ragers are apparently a kind of rebellion against perfection. Is it really that big of a transgression? This kind of behavior to me is like, bare-bones civilized life (luckily a few moms and some sort of alcohol anthropologist from Brown chime in with words to this effect).
The article questions whether these parties are a throw back to the mothers-little-helper vibe of the 1950s. As I was reading about this parallel, I must say I wanted to reach for the vodka. The tone of the argument conjured a kind of Victorian cautionary tale of the mother who went "Gin Mad," abandoned her children and jumped in the Thames. Such a buzz kill. I guess there's some issue about motherhood not being fulfilling enough which is exactly *the point* of the wine-cooler community throw down.
My only real beef with the cocktail mother scene is, do we really have to have a "momtini" garnished with a pacifier? I'm not sure that represents a departure from parenting. And if there's some issue about the driving, where are the working dads on Friday night? This seems a perfect opportunity for them to "pitch in"!