Tag Archives: Breastfeeding

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.”

and

[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 So because of some outdated wording in LLLC policy that doesn’t reflect the current gender landscape we inhabit, Trevor can’t be a leader because he doesn’t identify as a mother.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.

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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.

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… 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