Tag Archives: Breastfeeding

How To Talk To Pregnant Women (or, everybody just relax)

10 Sep

I don’t know what’s in the water these days, but it seems like a ton of my friends are having babies this year. I’ve been to three baby showers in the past two weeks alone.

Of course, since I am a super self-involved person, all of this baby time has brought me back to those oh-so-special days when I was gestating Theo. Watching my friends get advice from other friends and acquaintances (and sometimes total strangers) has reminded me of the things that I found super unhelpful to hear while pregnant, and  also the things I actually found helpful.

So! I’ve made this useful little guide for you!

First of all, let’s start out with the basics:

1. DON’T: assume someone is pregnant, unless they actually, like, TELL YOU THEY ARE PREGNANT.

I know that this one seems obvious, but, sadly, it still needs to be said.


(A brief anecdote: the first time I went out without Theo was about a week after he was born. I went to a fancy baby store to buy a fancy nursing bra. I was trying to figure out my size when the clerk helpfully told me that my chest would be bigger once I had the baby and my milk came in.

If you ever want to see a woman who is recently postpartum cry horrible hormonal tears in public, please go ahead and ask her when the baby is due. It makes her feel really great!)

2. DON’T: talk about how huge your friend’s belly is.

Some women probably (maybe?) like this, but definitely not all of them. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to be sure which category someone falls into until you actually say it, so it’s best just to keep your mouth shut.

DO: tell her how beautiful and glowing she looks. Basically every woman loves to hear this. I know, I know, a while ago I was all, try not to give people appearance-based compliments, but I think pregnancy might be the exception to that rule.

3. DON’T: tell her, Wait until the baby comes! You will feel so differently about everything! 

While this is probably true (although maybe not – everyone’s experience varies), it is super annoying to hear. Also, it’s totally unhelpful – it’s really the kind of thing every parent has to figure out for themselves.

DO: share your experiences of what your expectations were like while pregnant, and how things were different once you had the baby. It’s helpful to hear stories about specific things that people have gone through, and it’s much better to hear it phrased as here’s how I felt rather than here’s how you will feel.

4. DON’T: tell someone how bad worrying is for the baby.

I heard this a lot whenever I tried to communicate my pregnancy-related anxieties to people. I found it really unhelpful because, while I understand that what these people were trying to do was get me to relax, what they were actually doing was give me one more thing to worry about . Like, great, I’ve still got all these other things I was feeling anxious over, and now I have to worry about whether all this anxiety is hurting the baby. DOUBLE WHAMMY.

DO: ask your friend about specific anxieties they are having, and, if possible, talk them through. If you have something from your own experience that you can relate this to, that is super helpful! If their anxieties seem overwhelming or debilitating, suggest that they talk to their doctor. Above all, remind them that being anxious while pregnant is very, very common.

5. DON’T: talk about how figuratively shitty everything will be once the baby comes.

It’s true that things will be super nuts once the baby comes! But chances are your friend already knows that, and doesn’t need to be told to get in all their sleep/having fun/quiet alone time before they pop. Also they are probably happy that they’re going to have a kid, so it’s not really cool to make them feel as if they’re making a huge mistake. They’ll have plenty of time to figure that out on their own (kidding, kidding).

DO: tell them how literally shitty everything will be. I feel like the copious amounts of poop my offspring produced was a huge surprise to both of us, especially Matt. I remember him looking at the meconium and saying, it’s like a jet of concentrated evil coming out of his backside.

6. DON’T: tell pregnancy horror stories.

No pregnant woman wants to hear about all the terrible, horrible things that could possibly go wrong while the bun is still in the oven. Sure, some people enjoy hearing these kinds of gruesome tales, but there is a time and a place for everything. Talking to your knocked-up friends is neither of those.

DO: try to keep things positive.

If the desire to tell scary stories comes up as the result of a pregnant woman confiding in you about a specific issue she’s having, please, please don’t tell her that a friend of a friend experienced exactly the same thing with tragic consequences. Try to keep in mind that it’s pretty unlikely that you’re a medical doctor (and if you are, you should be dispensing medical advice, not anecdotes), and b) you’re almost definitely not this specific person’s doctor. Instead of scaring your friend, reassure her that everything is likely fine, while at the same time urging her to talk to her doctor or call the hospital.

7. DON’T: go on and on about how happy your pregnant friend must be, or else say things like, gee, you don’t seem very excited about this baby.

DO: keep in mind that pregnancy can be an emotionally conflicting time for a lot of women. Many people find pregnancy to be traumatic for all kinds of reasons, ranging from  body image issues to past complications or losses.

Just offer a warm congratulations, and then follow your friend’s lead. Making them feel like they should be happier than they are can add an extra layer of guilt onto what might already be a complicated situation.

8. DON’T: be judgmental or rude about parenting choices.

This goes for everything from formula feeding or hospital births to co-sleeping or having a round-the-clock nanny.

Here’s the thing: you don’t know what in this person’s life has lead them to this decision. Sure, maybe it’s a decision you wouldn’t have made, and maybe it’s something that you disagree with – but as long as they plan to keep their child safe, warm, happy and fed (and chances are that they do), then it’s none of your business.

DO: offer advice and resources if the person seems open to it. Tell them about your own experiences if they want to hear about it. If not, just bite your tongue, and keep in mind that things change so dramatically with the arrival of a new baby that many of your friend’s plans will probably end up flying out the window anyway.

9. DON’T: just flat-out contradict someone if they say something that you know is wrong or inaccurate.

Honestly? This will just make them feel stupid and maybe a little defensive.

DO: explain to them why it’s wrong and offer information and resources to back your claim up.

For example, I had a friend who was told that if the baby only nursed on one side per feeding, she should pump the other breast once the feeding was done so that she didn’t get mastitis. I explained to her that up until about six weeks, milk production is hormonally driven, but after that point it becomes supply and demand. If you are nursing your baby AND pumping, then you are signalling to your body to produce more milk. This is fine if you want to keep frozen milk on hand for a babysitter, or for when you return to work, but it’s not necessary if you’re feeding on demand, and definitely won’t prevent mastitis.

I also told her that she should do whatever she feels comfortable doing, and that she’ll figure out what works best for her once the time comes (this sentence in particular is key).

Also, keep in mind that there is a study to back up just about everything, so your friend might already feel like they are well-educated on whatever it is you’re talking about. If they aren’t interested in what you have to say, then maybe just let this one slide. Pick your battles.

For example, if a person has decided after a lot of research that they think it’s best for the baby to dangle out a second-storey window from a Jolly Jumper harness, that argument is definitely worth pursuing. If it’s something more minor, just let it go.

10. DON’T: stick to only pregnancy and baby-related topics.

Seriously, this gets really annoying. When I was pregnant, there were days when I felt like I was nothing more than a gestating uterus on legs. It’s not that I never wanted to talk about pregnancy and babies (because I totally did!), just that that wasn’t all I wanted to talk about. Sometimes I wanted to feel like a smart human being with a smart human brain who thought about smart human things.

DO: keep in mind that your friends are people first, and pregnant ladies second. Try talking about a range of subjects, including but not limited to: books, movies, food, deep philosophical thoughts, Shakespeare’s plays, why Richard III maybe wasn’t such a bad guy, the weather, interior decorating, Wes Anderson films, why Wes Anderson should make a film about Richard III, etc.

Now go forth and converse like a normal human being with your pregnant friends!

Also, feel free to add suggestions for additions to this list in the comments.

“Hmmmm I’m feeling a little TOO content with my pregnancy. I wish someone would say something SUPER JUDGMENTAL to me right now.”

An open letter to Stephanie Fairyington (or, breastfeeding and feminism)

1 Sep

Dear Ms. Fairyington,

Before we start, can I just say that you have an awesome last name? Your last name is totally rad. It has the word fairy in it! I bet you hear that a lot. Anyway, just wanted to get that out before we move on to the more serious stuff.

So. This article that you wrote for the New York Observer, Time for Feminists to Stop Arguing About Breastfeeding and Fight for Better Formula – I just read it, and now I feel like I have a few things that I want to say to you.

First of all, I should probably give you some idea of where I’m coming from: I am a breastfeeding advocate, who is still nursing her 19 month old son, and I am a feminist. Oh, and I also run a yoga studio, which, as you pointed out in your article, would totally be a pumping-friendly environment if I was pumping. Which I’m not.

Second of all, I want to tell you how wholeheartedly I agree with the first part of your title. It is time for feminists to stop arguing about breastfeeding. Boy is it ever.

I’ll be totally honest with you – I do truly believe that breast milk is superior to formula. I would be thrilled if every woman chose to breastfeed, and was physically able to do so. I think breastfeeding is the best start in life that you can give a kid (well, that and a killer wardrobe), and I really wish that there was more in the way of education and resources dedicated to breastfeeding.

But I realize that some women are physically incapable of breastfeeding. Some women aren’t able to pump at work. Some women find the act of breastfeeding triggering due to past sexual assault. Sometimes formula is actually better for the baby’s health, in cases with severe health issues or allergies. And sometimes women just plain don’t want to.

As a feminist, I respect any choice that you make with regards to your body. If you want to terminate a pregnancy, I respect that. If you want to earn money as a sex worker, I respect that. If you don’t want to breastfeed, I respect that. Know why? Because I believe in bodily autonomy.

Which means that you should extend the same courtesy to me.

Which brings me to my second point, namely the fact that you believe that breastfeeding “stymies the progress of feminism“.

The first thing you mention in conjunction with this idea are some concerns you have with regards to the Latch On NYC initiative.

You begin by saying that,

Under the new rules, about two dozen hospitals will discourage new moms from formula-feeding by educating them on the benefits of breast milk … ”

This actually isn’t a new rule. According to this, it has been New York State law for the past three years that new mothers must be provided with accurate information regarding breastfeeding. So that actually has nothing to do with Latch On NYC, or Mayor Bloomberg.

You then go on to say,

” … [hospitals] will not provide formula unless medically indicated on the infant’s chart or requested by the mother. The rules will also prohibit formula freebies and ads in hospitals.”

I honestly fail to see how anyone could think this is a bad thing. Formula won’t be provided unless the mother asks for it – meaning that the staff can’t give the baby formula without the mother’s consent. Which does happen, believe it or not.

Furthermore, formula companies have no place advertising in hospitals or offering mothers free samples. Do you think that they do this out of the goodness of their heart, so that babies don’t starve? No, they’re looking for customers. I would think that you, as a future buyer of formula, would actually be happy that they will no longer be spending money on advertisements and freebies. Those “freebies” aren’t really free – they’re paid for by the company’s revenue, which comes from consumers like you.

Next, you say that,

The notion that “breast is best” simply because it’s natural sounds ringingly similar to the arguments made by pro-lifers and even contraception opponents, all of which begin with the same basic premise: women should be shackled to their corporeal destinies.”

There are many scientific studies proving that breast milk is nutritionally superior to and more biologically advantageous than formula. But that’s not the whole reason I decided to breastfeed.

I also decided to breastfeed because I’m cheap and lazy.

Breast milk is free and, living in Canada, I had a full year of maternity leave and thus was spared the cost of a breast pump. That being said, even a one-time investment in a breast pump is less expensive than buying can after can of formula.

And as much as I hate getting up in the middle of the night to nurse my son, I would hate even more having to get up and make him a bottle. Plus, I don’t have to do any of the sterilizing and cleaning of feeding supplies.

So please don’t think that all the pro-breastfeeding arguments boil down to “but it’s natural!”, because there’s so much more to it than that.

Next, you bring up the idea that breastfeeding is anti-feminist because,

A bottle positions men and women equally over the care of infants, while breastfeeding cements the notion that women are central to the process of nurturing children. Wasn’t feminism all about de-emphasizing our corporeality by arguing that our bodies should not define or limit our rights and responsibilities?”

No, my husband doesn’t breastfeed our son, but we do try to share our parenting duties equally. Yes, earlier on I was doing more work – all of the feedings were my responsibility of course (although we did decide that all of the diaper changes that happened when my husband was at home were his job). All of the gestating was also my job – shitty deal!

But, as my son grew older, my husband was able to take over more and more parenting duties. For example, he takes care of our entire nighttime routine – he’s usually the one to feed our son dinner, since I’m often working in the evening, and is always the one to give him his bath and put him to bed. It’s true that our roles in our son’s life remain somewhat different, but then “equal” does not mean “exactly the same”.

And, I’m sorry, but I thought that feminism was all about giving women choices – the choice to have children, or not to have children, the choice to breastfeed or formula feed, the choice to manage a yoga studio or be a children’s therapist who sees an exhausting number of clients. The point of feminism is that we work together to achieve equality, instead of tearing each other down over every little thing.

Finally, you complain that breastfeeding is holding women back because it reinforces women’s “parental centrality” and “undervalues fathers”. You say that this is holding women back in the work force. You also mention how difficult breastfeeding is because many workplaces aren’t equipped to deal with women who need to pump.

Wouldn’t a better idea be to work to change how society views motherhood, and to fight for better regulations regarding pumping at work? How is limiting women’s choices in any way, shape or form a feminist idea?

You write as if formula is somehow under attack when, in fact, it’s still the status quo. By 6 months of age, 52.8% of all infants are formula-fed. Trust me, you’re not a dying breed.

You write as if formula feeding doesn’t, in many ways, reinforce the patriarchy – for example, the idea that women shouldn’t expose themselves while feeding their child in public. Or how about the idea that a woman’s milk simply isn’t good enough or sufficient for a growing baby? In spite of the evidence to the contrary, this myth still persists. Or, my favourite, the fact that so many women and their partners want their breasts to remain exclusively sexual. If that’s not patriarchal conditioning, I don’t know what is.

And finally, I do agree with you that we should continue to work to improve formula, to try to make it more like breast milk. But I also think that we should continue to educate and encourage women when it comes to breastfeeding. Because, unlike you, many women go into parenthood wanting to breastfeed, and we should be offering them the support and resources they need to do that. I would hate to see a woman be forced to wean her child just because she lacked knowledge or support for her breastfeeding.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ll dismiss this whole letter as “nostalgia and conservative orthodoxy”, and that’s okay too. You can certainly believe whatever you want, just as you can do whatever you want with your own body. Just as I can do whatever I want with my body.

And that, Ms. Fairyington, is feminism.




Postpartum depression (or, hey, let’s do some oversharing!)

22 Aug

I wanted to start this post off with something very dramatic like, when Theo was six weeks old, I was contemplating suicide. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Edgy, yet thoughtful. The problem is, it would be a lie – by the time Theo was six weeks old, I’d gone way past contemplation and was firmly into planning territory. It’s just that “planning” doesn’t have quite the same literary panache as “contemplating”, you know?

It would be pills, I decided: the percocets I had left over after my c-section, and some sleeping pills that’d been sitting around since before my pregnancy. I would have to do it while Matt was at work, but close enough to the end of the day that Theo wouldn’t have to be alone with his dead mother for too long. I would get some formula, I decided, and sterilize some bottles – that way Matt could feed him immediately, because Theo would likely be hungry by the time I was found. I would write a note, a good one.

Planning things out step by step like this made me feel better; it made it seem as if I had some kind of control over my life.

I didn’t want to die because I hated Theo. In fact, I loved him ferociously. I wanted to die because I knew that I was totally and utterly incapable as a mother. I wanted to die because I knew that if I lived, if I had to continue to be Theo’s primary caregiver, then I would continue to fuck things up horribly. I wanted to die because if I did, someone else would have to step in as his mother, and whoever it was would surely be more competent than me.

At that moment I sincerely believed that even random people I passed on the street were more qualified to raise my son than I was.

I tried to tell people how I felt, tried to convince them that I was an unfit parent, but no one seemed to believe me. They dismissed my worries as normal, and told me that every first-time mother felt the same way. I knew that what I was feeling was far from normal, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I thought about running away, packing a suitcase full of warm weather clothes and boarding a plane, but that seemed crazy. Suicide, however, seemed totally logical.

Although I’m referring to what I went through as postpartum depression, my anxiety and fear had been around for most of my pregnancy. Here I’d gone 27 years only having to take care of myself (and often doing a pretty poor job of it), and now suddenly I was 100% responsible for this tiny life inside of me. It seemed like that should be enough to drive anyone around the bend.

Was I eating enough, I wondered? Was I eating the right things? Did I need more iron? Was I getting enough omega 3 to ensure healthy brain development? I started carrying around a list of fish, rated from highest mercury content to lowest. I would whip this list out at restaurants and do a few quick calculations in my head – had I already ingested any potentially mercury-laced fish this week? How big of a portion could I have? It didn’t seem fair that Matt didn’t have to change his life at all while his son gestated, but I had to watch every bite that went into my mouth.

And then there was the alcohol. See, I hadn’t known I was pregnant for the first few weeks, and I’d had maybe two or three glasses of wine, total, in that time. Midway through my pregnancy I became convinced that my child was going to have fetal alcohol syndrome. I hadn’t even given birth yet, and I’d already ruined my child’s life. How could I be such a selfish, terrible person?

By the end of my pregnancy I’d become incredibly paranoid about everything, so it was almost with a sense of relief that I greeted the news that, at 34 weeks, I had to be hospitalized and put on bed rest. Here I would be in a place where I was eating a doctor-approved diet, where I would be hooked up to a big, clunky machine twice a day in order to monitor my son’s heart rate, and nurses were only the press of a button away. After months of fretting over taking care of myself and the baby, suddenly I could put myself in someone else’s hands.

And then Theo was born, at 36 weeks, via c-section. I’d thought that once he was out of me, once I could hold him in my arms and know for certain at any given moment that he was alive and well, things would be better. It wasn’t like that, though. I held him briefly in the operating room while they stitched me back up, but then they whisked him away, concerned about the grunting he was doing (a sign of laboured breathing, they said). Matt went with him, and my mother went off to call my grandmothers and aunts and uncles. I sat alone in the recovery room and waited, wanting only to hold my son.

They brought Theo back to me and let me try to nurse him, but he wouldn’t, or couldn’t. He started grunting again, so they took him away again, this time across the street to Sick Kids for an x-ray of his lungs. You need to prepare yourself for the fact that he might end up in the NICU, the nurse told me. I knew that wasn’t the end of the world, but still, it was scary. On top of that I’d read so many things about how the first few hours of a baby’s life are critical for bonding and creating a breastfeeding relationship – would missing this time with him have an effect on the bond we had?

The thing was, I was already having doubts about our mother-son bond, even that early in the game. When I’d been pregnant, I’d felt like Theo and I had intuitively understood each other. He would kick, and I would ascribe meaning to those kicks. I would rub his feet as they poked my ribs, and I felt like he just knew that my actions meant, baby, I love you. But once Theo was born, I realized that he was a total stranger. I didn’t know what he thought or wanted at all, and he didn’t give a shit about my feelings.

That first week things went from bad to worse. I couldn’t get Theo to latch, and every attempted nursing session was a nightmare. His weight dropped down to 4 lb 12 oz, which, while still within the range of normal, seemed frighteningly low. I felt like I’d failed at having the birth I wanted, had failed at properly bonding with my son, and was now failing at providing him with even the most basic necessities, like food. I couldn’t believe that they actually trusted me enough to let me take my kid home a few days after his birth.

There was something else, too. During my c-section, I heard my doctor say to his intern, look at this, here’s why he was breech. I asked him what he’d found, and he told me that I have a bicornuate uterus (like a cat! he said brightly). This means that instead of having one large chamber, my uterus has two smaller ones. Theo’s head had been stuck in one of the chambers and he’d been unable to flip into the proper position.

Of course, as soon as I could, I googled bicornuate uterus. Wikipedia had the following to say:

Pregnancies in a bicornuate uterus are usually considered high-risk and require extra monitoring because of association with poor reproduction potential.

A bicornuate uterus is associated with increased adverse reproductive outcomes like:

  • Recurrent pregnancy loss: the reproductive potential of a bicornuate uterus is usually measured by live birth rate (also called fetal survival rate).
  • Preterm birth: with a 15 to 25% rate of preterm delivery. The reason that a pregnancy may not reach full-term in a bicornuate uterus often happens when the baby begins to grow in either of the protrusions at the top. A short cervical length seems to be a good predicter of preterm delivery in women with a bicornuate uterus.
  • Malpresentation (breech birth or transverse presentation): a breech presentation occurs in 40-50% pregnancies with a partial bicornuate uterus and not at all (0%) in a complete bicornuate uterus.
  • Deformity: Offspring of mothers with a bicornuate uterus are at high risk for “deformities and disruptions” and “malformations.”

So here I’d been worrying about stupid things like omega 3 and iron while, deep in the dark recesses of my body, my own uterus was secretly working against me. This whole time I’d been afraid of the wrong thing – I was like France, setting up the Maginot Line, while all along the Germans were planning to attack from the opposite direction.

I was clearly (biologically, even) not meant to be anybody’s mother.

The first few weeks of Theo’s life were awful. I’d always been a bad sleeper, and now it was worse. Theo wriggled and grunted in his sleep, and it kept me awake. Every little sound that came out of him made all of my muscles tense up, making rest nearly impossible. Whenever I complained about how tired I was, people would say, sleep when the baby sleeps, as if that was some great revelation. As if it was something that I couldn’t come up with on my own. Breastfeeding continued to suck, and I began to dread feeding time. I would push it back by 5, 10 or 15 minutes, as if that made any difference. My days were lonely, boring and frustrating.

It was the carrier that finally pushed me over the edge. See, we live on the third floor and our building doesn’t have an elevator. I’m not strong enough to drag our stroller up and down the stairs. So, whenever we went out, I used a carrier for Theo. And whenever he fell asleep in the carrier, he grunted with every breath.

I asked everyone about the grunting – my mother, my sister-in-law, friends with kids. Everyone assured me that it seemed totally normal. Then, while obsessively googling “grunting” “breathing” and “baby carrier”, I found one lone site that said that grunting was a sign of laboured breathing (which I already knew), and prolonged grunting could mean that the baby’s blood oxygen level was low. Which could lead to many health complications, including brain damage.

The thing is, I’d known something was wrong. I’d known. I’d asked everyone and yes, they’d reassured me, but why hadn’t I trusted my own instincts? Because I stupidly and selfishly wanted to be able to leave the house, that’s why. If I was any kind of good mother, I would have stopped using the carrier as soon as he started grunting. I would have stayed home until Theo was old enough for the grunting to fix itself. But I wasn’t a good mother. I was a terrible mother. Not only that, but I was a clear danger to my child.

When I read that part about the brain damage, I handed my sleeping son to my visiting mother-in-law, went into the bedroom and cried for three hours. How could I ever undo this? How could it ever be fixed? It wasn’t as if I could just have a new kid and start fresh, having learned from my mistakes. A baby wasn’t like a paper that you could crumple up and toss in the garbage. I was stuck with my sad, damaged kid, and would be stuck with him for the rest of my life. He would be a constant reminder of what a terrible person I was.

If I’d been home alone at that moment, I likely would have killed myself then and there. But I wasn’t alone, so instead I confessed everything to my mother-in-law, hoping she would call the CAS and have Theo taken into protective custody (or, at the very least, have me arrested). Instead, she convinced me to go to the doctor.

And I did go to the doctor, and joined a program at Women’s College Hospital specifically for women with PPD, and I went on medication, and saw a therapist. All of that helped, but I think what helped the most was seeing Theo grow up and realize that no, in fact, he wassn’t brain damaged. He’s a totally normal, lovely, happy kid. And these days I’m mostly a totally normal, lovely, happy mom. And we have a pretty decent bond, I would say.

I still have my moments of fear and paranoia. I still occasionally freak out over little things (just ask Matt – I make him do all my baby-related googling now). I will probably always be a somewhat high-strung parent, but I can live with that.

What makes me sad is that I will never get those first few weeks of Theo’s life back. They will always exist for me in this cold, dark haze. I will never be able to think of Theo as a newborn without associating his early babyhood with that terrible time in my life. And that sucks. It sucks big time.

What also sucks is that I feel like I can’t talk about my experience with PPD. I often dance around the issue, saying “I had a tough time at the beginning,” or, “things were really hard for me”. I’ve never said, “being a new mother made me suicidal”. Well, not until now.

But I want to talk about it. I want to share my experience so that maybe someone else will think, hmmm, maybe I’m not bonkers and/or a terrible mother, maybe it’s my hormones. I want to feel like I’m not the only one who went through this, and I also want other women to feel like they’re not alone. I want them to know that things will get better, that they should talk to their doctor, or call a suicide hotline.

Most of all I want them to know that they are, in all likelihood, fantastic mothers.

Theo and I a few hours after his birth

For anyone who is in a state of mental health crisis, here is a link to the Mental Health Crisis line. You can also call Telehealth, if you’re in Ontario. If you are experiencing any kind of depression or are having suicidal thoughts, please, please call one of the numbers above, or else contact your doctor or local mental health crisis line.

The Manly Art of Breastfeeding (or, hey, LLLC, I think maybe you need to be less transphobic)

20 Aug

Full disclosure: for the first year following my son’s birth, I was a member of the La Leche League Canada, and I still occasionally attend meetings. Back in the dark ages when Theo was an itty-bitty newborn, we had a hell of a time breastfeeding, and without the help of an awesome support system which included LLLC, I doubt we would have been able to persevere. So first off, thanks LLLC, for all the amazing work you do. My personal experience with you has mostly been nothing but positive.

Given the fact that I owe the LLLC a huge debt of thanks for my (still ongoing) breastfeeding relationship, it was with a great deal of surprise and dismay that I read about their rejection of Trevor MacDonald’s application to become a leader.

Trevor is a transgender father who gave birth to a son 13 months ago and has been breastfeeding him ever since. Due to past chest-reduction surgery, Trevor has issues with milk production, and uses what sounds like an SNS to supplement with donated milk. Because of this, Trevor initially struggled with breastfeeding, and credits the LLL with providing him with the help and resources he needed. Like me, Trevor would likely have been unable to breastfeed without the help of LLLC. Unlike me, the LLLC will not consider him as a potential leader. Why? Because he self-identifies as a man.

So, let’s break this down: here we have someone who brings a wealth of breastfeeding knowledge, has personal experience with milk production problems and supplementation systems, has navigated the tricky world of milk donation, and wants to share all of this with others who are in need. So what is LLLC’s problem? Well, according to a spokesperson for LLLC:

“[T]he roles of mothers and fathers are not interchangeable. Since an LLLC Leader is a mother who has breastfed a baby, a man cannot become an LLLC Leader.”


[Trevor] acknowledge[s] that some women may not be comfortable working with a male Leader. A Leader needs to be able to help all women interested in breastfeeding.”

Er, what? So because of some outdated wording in LLLC policy that doesn’t reflect the current gender landscape we inhabit, Trevor can’t be a leader because he doesn’t identify as a mother. Oh, okay. That makes sense. No wait, it doesn’t. Why can’t they just change the wording to say that an LLLC leader must be a parent who has breastfed? Surely it’s the breastfeeding experience that’s the most important qualification?

Next, what’s up with that thing about the roles of mothers and fathers not being interchangeable? What does that even mean? Hey, LLLC, if you’re listening, I’d really like some clarification about that! Do you mean that biologically, fathers are far less likely to become pregnant, give birth and then breastfeed a child? Because less likely does not equal totally never happens. Or do you mean there’s something inherently different about the way that mothers and fathers parent, and therefore a father could never dispense parenting advice to a mother? If so, I, and a lot of people, have a bone to pick with you.

And then there’s that second quote, about the fact that Trevor, as a transgender male leader, would women uncomfortable – that quote actually makes my skin crawl. Know why? Re-read it, but substitute something about race or religion or sexual orientation in place of male. Now do you see it? Transphobia is just as awful as racism, or religious intolerance or homophobia, but because society is really only just starting to deal with the idea of trans men and women, it is tolerated way, way more frequently.

And finally, Fiona Audy, chair of the organization’s board of directors, said the following:

“La Leche League is about supporting parents who wish to breastfeed their babies, and we don’t want to get drawn into a discussion about gender issues, which is not our focus.”

I hate to tell you this, Fiona, but your organization’s ignorance and intolerance has already drawn you into this discussion. It’s what your organization chooses to do now that will define how you will be seen by me and millions of other people.


Trevor MacDonald with breastfeeding guru Dr. Jack Newman

Trevor has a blog, Milk Junkies, in case you’re interested in checking it out. He has also started a Facebook group called Birthing and Breastfeeding Transmen and Allies.

Theo at 19 months (or, you guys, my baby is so old now)

18 Aug

Dear Theo,

You’re 19 months old today! I meant to write a post about you when you turned 18 months, but then July got a little crazy and by the time things settled down, you were almost not 18 months old anymore, so I apologize for that. Lucky for me you’re still illiterate, so hopefully you’ll never know about my little faux pas. That is, unless I post it to some kind of “web” that is “world wide” that never forgets anything you post on it ever. Oh wait. Well, maybe the internet won’t exist by the time you’re old enough to Google your own name.

You are a super rad kid. You are so full of mischievous energy that it’s hard to keep up with you sometimes (okay, most times). I love you so hard.

You’ve got an adventurous streak a mile wide. You’re totally happy to run off in any direction and just assume that a responsible adult will follow you. You are becoming more and more interested in testing boundaries, but you’re so funny and cheeky about it that it’s hard not to smile instead of correcting your behaviour.

You’re talking all the time now, and starting to put together a few small (as yet verbless) sentences. One of my favourite things is to ask you what your name is, because you will proudly point to yourself and say “baby!” I love going for walks with you, because you point out so many things to me – we have lengthy discussions about every fire hydrant, bus and tractor that we pass.

One amazing thing that has happened in the last few days is that you are starting to become interested in letters. Your favourite is the letter O – you point it out everywhere you see it and say “ooooooh”. When you see a D, you say “woof woof!” because D is for dog. I’m so excited that we’re jumping into this world of letters and words and reading. I hope you’ll love books as much as I do.

I love the names you make up for the people around you. I’m Mama and your father is Dada, of course, and then there’s Gaga (your grandmother), Nana (either our friend Nathalie, or Anna who works at the Early Years Centre), Mimi (Nathalie’s daughter Marine, who babysits you), and Gack (Jack Layton, who I have totally taught you to recognize). Now if only you would learn to pronounce Catherine and Claire, you would have a pair of very happy aunts.

You’re finally starting to become more interested in solids, although you still nurse quite a bit. You’re tall and a little on the skinny side, but you come by that honestly from your father. From me, you got your love of all things carbohydrate. Every time that we go to the store you demand that I buy you bread. That’s my boy!

You love reading, playing with your train set, playing “house” with your little people, and above all, you love any toy with wheels on it. You love music and dancing, and your two favourite songs are The Perpetual Self, Or What Would Saul Alinsky Do? by Sufjan Stevens and Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. You will specifically ask for each of these songs.

You love going to the park, donning your “yark” (shark) bathing suit and splashing around in the wave pool. You go to the park several times a week with Marine; now when I take you I feel like you’re a celebrity, because everyone there knows and loves you. You adore Mo, a little girl we often see at the park – when you catch sight of her you call out “Mooooooooohhhhh!”

You’ve definitely got a budding sense of humour, and you’re nearly always in a good mood. It’s very rare for you to cry, even if you fall and hurt yourself. You’re curious, crazy stubborn, and above all, you’re so much fun. I love you so much.

My little yark

The so-called Mommy Wars (or, what I learned from watching the X-Files)

15 Aug

If you are a person living in the world who has children, knows people who have children, or has ever spent any time on the internet, you’ve probably realized that people like to debate various parenting ideologies.

Now, for most of human history, I would say that the dominant parenting philosophy has been do the best you can with what’s available to you and hope that your children survive until adulthood (and also it would be nice if they didn’t turn out to be serial killers or Rob Ford or whatever). In fact, this same philosophy is still employed in many parts of the world today. However, for those of us living in the western world, most of us have more options when it comes to how we raise our kids. More options should equal everyone is happier and has a better time, right? Wrong.

Maybe I should rephrase that first sentence: if you are a person living in the world who has access to the internet, you have probably heard of the (sigh) Mommy Wars.

Can I just take a moment to say how frigging much I hate the term “Mommy Wars”? Like, a lot. For one thing, who put the mommy in mommy wars? Yes, every child has a biological mother (I mean, probably – but I’m not super up on science or whatever, so I could be wrong), but many children have other styles of parents or guardians, mostly fathers, but also sometimes grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. So why the focus on mothers? Oh right, because women are crazy and can’t control their emotions society loves to crap on women.

Full disclosure – I watched a lot of X-Files growing up. Like, I could probably still recite entire chunks of dialogue from that show. Because I am aware of Mulder’s lasting influence over me (paranoia! the unexplained! the government is up to something!), I am hesitant to be all THIS IS A CONSPIRACY. But, you guys, I think this might be a conspiracy.

Here’s the thing: I really do believe that one thing holding women back from achieving equality with men is the fact that we’re too busy fighting viciously amongst ourselves. The energy we spend snarking and nitpicking and flat-out attacking each other could do so much good in the fight against the injustices that we face, if only we could see the bigger picture. And who does it benefit the most to keep women from seeing the bigger picture? Well, you know, the patriarchy.

Although men don’t often participate in the more vitriolic discussions surrounding parenting, many of the things that perpetuate the “mommy wars” (you have no idea how much it makes my skin crawl to have to keep typing that out) come from men. Men in the media who continue to remind us that breastfeeding beyond a certain age is weird and gross (for example, Martin Schoeller, the photographer whose contentious oeuvre recently graced the cover of Time Magazine), men in politics who think they should tell us how, when and why to have children, male doctors weighing in on parenting philosophies that really have negligible impact on children’s physical health, and even the frigging Pope who somehow thinks that he gets some say over our sex lives.

The patriarchy doesn’t want us to be better mothers; it wants us to become so consumed by the idea of doing it “right” that we don’t notice how little power and agency we have in our lives. It wants us to continue to be distracted by busy work so that it can continue to do what it does best: try to run our lives.

Let’s face it – most of the debates that fuel the “mommy wars” (stay-at-home mom vs. working mom, breastfeeding vs. formula, babywearing vs. not babywearing, bed-sharing vs. cribs) are just one valid choice pitted against another valid choice, with the same arguments being repeated over and over, ad nauseam (no, seriously, I actually feel a little nauseous sometimes). The thing is, all of the above parenting choices are fine. No one is a bad parent because of ANY OF THESE THINGS. Every parent is different, and every kid is different, and same style of parenting isn’t going to work for everyone.

So let’s all step away from our computers, take a deep breath and realize that being a parent is really fucking hard work. And you know what the best way to get through these tough times is? Supporting each other, and supporting the choices other people make. Let’s all hug it out and promise to have each other’s backs, okay?

Oh, and let’s get out there and kick the patriarchy right in the balls, you guys.


… that it’s possible to be a parent and not be a dick about it

It’s not about you

11 Aug

If you are a woman who chose to feed her children formula, then listen up: it’s not about you. I promise. I mean, yes, this specific post is about you, but that’s it, okay? Are we cool now?

Here’s the thing: every single freaking time I participate in an online discussion about breastfeeding, it ends up being derailed by people who want to complain about how badly they’ve been treated because they chose formula for their children instead of breastmilk. Look, I’m sorry someone was mean to you on the internet about how you choose to parent (because that doesn’t happen to any of us, ever!), but that doesn’t mean that every time breastfeeding is brought up, it’s a slight against you.

At this point, I should mention that I’m not talking about women who want to share their experiences of trying to breastfeed and being unable to do so for whatever reason, or even women who chose formula from the very beginning and want to talk about why they made that choice – those are all valid issues regarding breastfeeding and how we raise our children in general. The people I’m referring to here are those whose only contribution to the discussion is to bemoan the fact that someone (usually an online someone) said something shitty to them about formula-feeding.

It’s not about you. It’s not. Seriously. Get over it. Or, start your own discussion about how mean the internet is. Whatever. But for the love of God, please stop derailing the conversation – I JUST WANT TO TALK ABOUT BOOBS IN PEACE, OKAY?

I am just so tired of the fact that every time I talk about breastfeeding, it turns into me feeling like I have to apologize for the entire breastfeeding advocacy movement and/or prove that I don’t think formula is evil.

First of all, please realize that in any movement there are going to be zealots who a) are bigoted and ridiculous, and b) do not speak for the entirety, or even the majority, of the movement.

Second of all, formula is fine. Formula-fed babies turn out great (see: me!). You don’t need to feel bad for giving your kid formula. I don’t judge you. I promise.

That being said, I do firmly believe that breast milk is nutritionally superior to formula, and I do believe that there are advantages to breastfeeding. No, I don’t think that my kid will turn out to be a super genius because at 18 months old he’s still a boob fiend, nor do I think that he’s more attached to me than any other kid is to their parent, or anything like that. I don’t think that breastfeeding makes me a better mother than you. BUT, I am super happy that breastfeeding has been such a big part of my journey as a parent so far, and I want to encourage women who WANT to breastfeed to do so.

I also believe (and I have statistics that support me) that formula-feeding is still the status quo in North America today. There aren’t a whole lot of people who would give someone the side-eye for whipping out a bottle in public, and most people don’t think that bottle-feeding is “weird” or “icky”. So hearing criticism about formula when you’re out and about, just trying to feed your kid in peace, probably isn’t the norm for most people. On the other hand, a total stranger recently saw me breastfeeding my son, asked me how old he was and then declared, “he’s too old for that!”

And, finally, I believe that there is a serious lack of education about breastfeeding, both among parents and health professionals. A lot of women end up weaning based on misguided notions about breastfeeding, or bad advice from a doctor or nurse. When we talk about breastfeeding, it is often an attempt to help educate people who want to learn about it; it’s not an attempt to shame or blame anyone.

Look, as women, we ALL face a ton of criticism about how we parent our children. We’ve all been bullied by someone over some issue or another. And it hurts to be treated like that – I’m not saying that it doesn’t. What I am saying is that it would be really great if we could all work together to defeat this bullying. It would be extra awesome if we could all just be super supportive of each other’s choices, instead of looking for hidden criticism. And then maybe we could hold hands and sing kumbaya. Please?

Oh, and the next person who says “boob nazi” gets a punch in the face. Just sayin’.

Nursing my son