Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fool Me Once...Only Once? You're Clearly Not Trying Hard Enough

It was a lovely day toward the end of the school year. The students and I had hit a bit of a groove—a groove that is only really possible toward the end of a relationship when the stakes are lower. Spring had sprung, the end was nigh, and class had started to be more fun than work.

So, when my paper grading was interrupted by cries of, “Ms. O, you have to see this!”, I jumped up and trotted eagerly forth to see what grand teachable moment awaited on the other side of the bookcase—a spiderweb? A butterfly? A really cool drawing of a spiderweb or a butterfly?

It was a turd in a bucket.

The story of how the turd came to rest in the bucket is sort of long and twisty and maybe better suited to a blog about the dark, early days of charter schools and my views on adequate funding for public education so, I'll forgo the explanations.

The point is that I'm the sort of person who thinks that a group of giddy 13-year-old boys, the same 13-year-old boys with whom I had spent the greater part of the previous 9 months and had proven themselves capable of producing a stench that could melt the skin off your face, would get excited about a butterfly.

I am trusting and naïve. I also happen to think that a turd in a bucket is funny but that's beside the point.

If you tell me that I have to see something, I will come running to see it. If you tell me something is true, I will believe you.

C doesn't take after me in this regard. She's a natural skeptic and an accomplished liar. Last week, after viciously squeezing a younger playmate/rival's nose to avoid having to share, she told me that Baby X had kicked her first. I told her that there were many eyewitnesses who couldn't confirm her story. She shrugged and brazened it out, “Baby X is a bad kid.”

A bad kid! Sometimes I just have to pause and admire the set on my daughter.

She gets this talent from T, aka, Mr. Mommicked, who can BS with the best of them. Like most people who can spin a good yarn, he assumes that everyone else is full of shit. Even when he sees a butterfly, he suspects it might actually be a turd in disguise.

And so, his first reaction upon reading this post was to check the date on the linked article and to note that the story was likely an April Fool's prank.

Turds. Turds! (shakes fist angrily at unsympathetic sky)


I've been ruminating on Mel's post refuting the "Breast is Best" campaign over at Stirrup Queens. I'm just a hack at this blogging stuff, so this isn't any sort of academic or scientific rumination, I'm just trying to figure out my own thoughts on the topic.

My only experience as a mother is well outside the norm. When I try to insert myself into conversations about pregnancy/birth/baby stuff with other women I make all sorts of weird blunders. I talk about death and NG tubes and how much newborn C's cheekless butt reminded me of a hairless cat. But reading Mel's post about the milk that never came in and the unwelcome, ill-informed advances of lactavists made me think that I may actually have a worthwhile contribution to a discussion that I usually avoid.

As the proud owner of one producing boob and the less-than-thrilled owner of one deficient boob, I feel like I have a special view of the world--one person with two completely different perspectives.

Lefty and Righty were raised in the same house under the same circumstances. They're more or less symmetrical. They were both present for all stages of the pregnancy and every step of our painful breastfeeding journey. But, they couldn't be more different from each other in terms of milk production.

Because I see butterflies instead of turds, I believed the LC when she suggested herbal supplements and pumping between feedings to improve my dismal production. When C was big enough to co-sleep, we piled into bed and tried nursing through the night. After 4 months of constant cajoling, Lefty managed to produce 4 oz....once...during a pumping session following an 8 hour gap in feedings. Righty never, ever got above 1.5 oz.

Same body, same regime, same baby, major difference.

I suppose it turns out that my entire life is a bit of a controlled experiment—half of a uterus, half of the expected fallopian tubes, half of a set of functioning breasts. Half of my children. The view from both sides. Sappy and had.

3 years ago, however, I had no perspective on the issue. I was in a desperate struggle to keep C alive and healthy and to hold onto my own sanity. Even though I was surrounded by friends and family who supported my quixotic lactation quest and agreed that supplemental formula-feeding was necessary, I was still terrified that I was damaging my surviving daughter. It probably didn't help that C's identical twin, R, succumbed to NEC which can be aggravated by formula-feeding--information that is mentioned in all of the materials I read about breastfeeding preemies.

I know dozens of women who successfully breastfed, a scant handful of women who tried and failed, and an even smaller set of women who tried, failed, and are willing to talk about it. While I was muddling about trying to get Righty to do anything useful at all, I read and studied and landed at the bizarre conclusion that I was doing something wrong (with Righty but not with Lefty). If I couldn't even believe myself when I told myself that I did everything I could, I can see why some firebrand lactavist might have trouble believing me.

I think that some lactavists really suffer from a lack of tact (does that make me a tactavist?). I completely agree with them that breast is best. During the 2-3 days when Lefty was really on her game, it was friggin' glorious. I felt like some sort of wizard. Breastfeeding was easier, cheaper, faster (breastmilk tastes way better than formula...ahem). It's just better in every way. But what kind of crappy person celebrates her ability to breastfeed by lording it over women who are struggling or just plain can't?

Advocacy is fine. Boldness is fine. Casting formula-feeders as misinformed women who got railroaded into bad decisions by big pharma is both rude and wrong, sort of like squeezing Baby X's nose and then calling her a bad kid to cover your own ass.

Of course C was partially formula-fed...


At some point in early 2006 I trotted eagerly forth toward parenthood. I'd heard great things about pregnancy and babies. I had grand plans. I was going to trust my body and do the best for my baby. I expected butterflies because that's all anyone ever talks about. When my personal experience with parenthood turned out to be a little more like a winged turd, I blamed myself for failing my daughters.

Fortunately, somewhere toward the bottom of my downward spiral I read about a woman named Elizabeth Goodyear. She had been born prematurely, her twin had died, her parents kept her alive with whiskey and cream fed through an eyedropper. As of 2008 she was 101 years old.

A less trusting sort might assume that this is a turd in disguise, maybe even a ruse put together by the Evil Formula Empire. I prefer to think it's a butterfly.

In the article Ms. Goodyear says, “I think I only remember the amusing things; I don’t remember any depressing things. I think I just put them out of my mind. I know everybody has things that they want to forget, but I don’t even have to forget. I just don’t remember.”

I think I'm going to take her advice.


  1. Ironically, I was reading your post on my phone while breastfeeding, and had to stifle guffaws, which led to a kind of hiccuping church laughter, which then promptly caused Thor to stop feeding and stare at me like a traitor. So, talk about formula sabotaging breastfeeding. (I am joking.)

    Tactivist is about the funniest thing I have ever read, and I love the Ms. Goodyear story, maybe because starting your life with a dropper full of whiskey and cream, wow. Just wow.

    But about the real point of this post...Funnily, I was going to write about this too, because I also share this unique perspective in that I also can only breastfeed out of one breast, and am feeding Thor that way, and did Beezus that way. With Beezus, I supplemented here and there, because I had to, but it is absolutely privilege that I can breastfeed and can be a stay at home mother. If I worked, there would be no way I could. Thor, just like Bea before him, literally taps out my boob every feeding, and I have nothing left to pump. I have managed to pump an ounce this baby. One. Measly. Precious. Ounce. In the beginning of trying to breastfeed, the Lactivists and lactation consultants were berating me for not trying hard enough on my right breast, which I named Rosita. (Lefty is Mariposa). They kept insisting I put Bea on that boob, though she was clearly starving and crazed and frustrated. She wanted milk and she wanted it now, and the Rosita well was dry, man. I kept explaining that I actually had the nipple removed and ductectomy was mentioned, and tumors, and pre-cancer. The Lactation Consultant that came to help me said, "OH, so now you are a doctor." She cut me down, made me feel shitty, told me I would ruin all breastfeeding chances if I formula fed her, and I knew, because I survived the surgery and biopsies, and have the angry scar to prove it, that the breast cannot release the milk, dude. Not to mention, it just hurts to keep stimulating a breast that isn't releasing milk. Think about it. Using formula to supplement my pawdry milk supply actually helped me breastfeed in the end. So, yeah, it is a strange perspective.

    Sorry for the book-length comment. I have never met a fellow Amazon. I would suggest nipple tweak would be our preferred greeting, but that is kind of creepy.

  2. Perhaps a modified chest bump...but I don't know which side to favor.

    I'm sure Rosita and Righty both wish things could be different.

  3. I'm also not one who ever sees the turd in the bucket coming over the horizon. Although you'd think I'd know better by now. And C is going to go far. Baby X is going to have to up his, or her, game.

    Breastfeeding. Geesh. I'm definitely in the weird blunder school of motherhood myself. NG tubes, death. Yup. One stumble after another.

    J was also partially formula fed. I just couldn't keep it up. I still feel upset about it now. I think that having a premature baby and knowing about NEC adds another layer of complication to the whole issue and I can't imagine how difficult and loaded it must have made the issue for you due to R's death. When Jessica was in hospital, I often felt as though my entire self worth hung in the balance as I attached myself to the pump.

    Although I didn't have the clearly defined Lefty/Righty, Rosita/Mariposa, dichotomy as experienced by you and Angie, I DID always get more from the left. Do I see some sort of pattern emerging?! Forget breast. Perhaps left is best.

    'what kind of crappy person celebrates her ability to breastfeed by lording it over women who are struggling or just plain can't?' you've summed it up perfectly. Sadly, this particular crappy brand of person frequently seems to be employed as a lactation consultant, like Angie's above.

    I love the story of Elizabeth Goodyear. One to tell J when she's a little older.

  4. Another champion lefty here as well. What is up with the rightys?
    I was mesmerised by Mel's post. I happily and easily breastfeed but I just don't get these women who continue to berate the women who can't, and certainly not through lack of trying or simply don't want to. I care how I feed my baby, but I don't really care how anyone else chooses to.
    Great post.

  5. T, this is a killer post. How is it you make me laugh and cry and pump my fists in the sky all at the same time? With words like this:

    "I suppose it turns out that my entire life is a bit of a controlled experiment—half of a uterus, half of the expected fallopian tubes, half of a set of functioning breasts. Half of my children. The view from both sides. Sappy and had."

    I don't think I would ever be mistaken for a tactivist, but that is an awesome word.

    I have no idea how my boobs would work. I was able to smush and stifle and wrap so I had no lactation to deal with, but part of me wonders if there was anything there in the first place. Hard to say. I do know that before we started on the maybe baby adventure I was pretty firmly pro-formula. Simply bc I was convinced my milk was poisonous. Vemon waiting to underfeed and fuck up my future kid after years of chemo and radiation and ahem, self-medication. I remember how much me talking like that upset M. so I tried to change my language and eventually, my thinking around it and by the time the twins were due I was ready to drown the world in my milk. Who knows how things would have turned out. Who knows.

    One thing I do know is that my thoughts around breastfeeding are the same as birth plans: live baby = success. That's the benchmark. That's the list.