Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Would you like a meltdown with that?

My stats teacher thinks the best idea is to give tests every two weeks. While I acknowledge this makes each test a more manageable feat, while also decreasing the value of each individual test, it does leave me in a constant state of panic because I always have a stats test on the horizon. I had one, today in fact, unpleasant little beastie, but I did some good studying, made a cheat sheet fully demonstrative of my anal neurosis, and went in a little before class to go over the notes once more and see if any of my classmates wanted to review. Naturally, before long, the conversation had turned to women's health issues (why does this always happen to me? I swear I didn't bring it up!). One classmate, bless her heart, said that she wanted to breastfeed but the minute the kid had teeth she was done. Given her background and education on the matter, I don't blame her for a second. It seems reasonable enough. But the first deciduous incisors generally begin to erupt between 6 and 12 months of age, a little early, according to several different reputable sources, to wean (in case you didn't read the articles, the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of two years and the American Association of Pediatrics for a minimum of one year).

The conversation progressed, as I feared, to the even more ubiquitous reason cited as an appropriate indicator for weaning: verbal skills. "As soon as the kid can ask to breastfeed, you know things have gone too far!" comes the clarion call. It is a commonly held belief that verbal skills should stand between a baby and the breast but, I think, a nonsensical one. Lots of kids have verbal skills before they reach their first birthday, and most are communicating well before their second. Some communicate much earlier than others; are they just outta luck?

I couldn't help jumping into the conversation (you know me!) and I said that while I understood the reasonable fear of breastfeeding a teething baby, I knew many women who had done it successfully (two of my best friends are currently breastfeeding toddlers with mouthfulls of pearly whites). I suggested that perhaps there was an evolutionary/design advantage to young babies developing teeth; perhaps it aids in the process of individuation when they bite the mother and (unfortunately for her!) she exhibits a pain response. Who knows (I don't), but what I do know is that weaning very young comes at a pretty high cost to mothers and babies, and the decision warrants greater consideration than only that of the mother's usually momentary discomfort or, I'll admit it, pain. Just my two cents.

Then a man entered the conversation and began to ardently concur that kids with teeth have no place breastfeeding. The conversation became a little bit heated and he turned at me, made that nice aggressive eye contact we all know and love, and said (really, sneered) to me "Do you even have any kids?" I said that while I did not, I had done hundreds of hours of research on the subject and personally witnessed many happily breastfed toothy toddlers. He didn't break the gaze, so I responded "Have you ever breastfed a baby?"

I should have deescalated. It would have made for a more pleasant pre-test atmosphere, but dude pushed my buttons. Them was fightin' words.


"Well, then, it sounds like we have both based our opinions on our secondary experiences."

If left me feeling sick and jittery, as a body flooded with adrenaline is wont to feel. I really don't like aggression, but issues pertaining to women's and children's health are deeply important to me; important to the point that I actually identify myself personally with their defense. I will admit I was strident. I was ineffective. I was pissed as hell. It is so painful to me to be dismissed when I feel like I have worked so hard for the information I possess and it is devalued or, worse, mocked, and I let my emotions, not my more-compelling reason, get the best of me.

In a recent post I spoke about breastfeeding and was accused of being strident and unapproachable--by another woman. Of course, this is not my intent. But at times I come to grips with the complex reality that at times I value my identity as a self-proclaimed women's health aficionado over my relationships with people. My values are important to me, as is the information I have sought and believe is true. But so are people. How do we have successful conversations with people who deride the information we hold so close that it has become part of us?

Clearly I don't know.

I was distracted through my entire test. My mind kept careening back and forth between wanting to apologize to the nitwit misogynist (JUST KIDDING!!! LIGHTEN UP!!!) and recognizing that just because a few people, myself included, were uncomfortable, I don't need to apologize for being knowledgable or honest. It's tricky. Perhaps one day my opinions won't feel so vulnerable that I have to protect them with my rage, but, then again, perhaps a little rage for a capable woman can do some good; heaven knows it wouldn't be the first time.


betsey said...

I like you Pamy, I like your post and your ardent defense of breastfeeding. It makes me happy.

amy said...

thanks betsarino! i like you too :)

Liz Johnson said...

Dude, you didn't back down, and that's AWESOME. And your argument wins - you're both looking at it from secondary experiences, so who the hell is he to try to trump you? While I agree that there are reasons to discontinue breastfeeding before (and after) recommended timeframes, I think women need to be given the facts and make a thorough decision rather than simply stopping because they get bit once. It's a complicated and personal thing, but to make a blanket statement like that is ridiculous.

I could say more (and more... and more...) but I'll stop.

amy said...

liz, why stop? i like what you have to say! keep on going! i know you have it in you...

i also agree that there may be situations where the costs of continuing to breastfeed outweigh the benefits, in which case the mom should stop. i know i am a militant freak, but i'm not that militant! i just think those situations are few and far between, and very personal.

Adriana said...

you shoulda dropped a few breastfeeding stats w p-values... Im proud of you sister

Jacki said...

Next time just call me and I will be happy to drop everything to give a demonstration to the crowd on how to painlessly breastfeed a child with a mouth full of teeth. And, if you think having had breastfed a baby will give you more credibility the next time a debate arises, you are welcome to try out my kid for a few seconds. After all, she does think your milk looks "yummy."

amy said...

jacki, i cant think of an idea that would better flesh out my argument for the crowd, if you know what i'm sayin'.

i hope you read these comments because that was a GOOD one.

Chelsea said...

It's true--breastfeeding with teeth is just fine, it's not like they're sucking and biting at the same time. Although, I did stop breastfeeding Ethan before he could ask for "more boob". not for that reason though. What would that man have said about a baby born with a tooth? "sorry kiddo, you're going straight to the bottle based on your bad behavior of being born with a tooth. Better luck next time..." ?

sterlingandbrandi said...

I think the reason breastfeeding debates gets so heated is because how good of a mother you are can feel based on that fact alone. It makes people extremely defensive of their choices. I know that with adopting Lily I was faced with the two mind frames of "what kind of freak are you that you are breastfeeding a kid you didn't give birth to?" or "how can you deprive this baby of its vital nutrition just because you adopted it?" Neither opinion make you feel like a good mother. So people get heated and defensive. You have to realize that your view of breastfeeding is not necessarily typical and so many people will be in the position to disagree and will feel heated abouted it because it feels like a judgement of motherhood in general. And by typical I mean most of the mommies around you in the Salt Lake valley (and their non-breastfeeding spouses.)

sterlingandbrandi said...

ignore my typos please

missy. said...

i vote that your second-hand experience trumps that guy's :) i am constantly amazed at the misinformation and weird social norms that accompany breastfeeding in american culture. it can be very strange.

while i was reading your account i wondered: has this guy been through a breastfeeding/non-breastfeeding experience with his wife? i know that my husband has felt defensive in breastfeeding conversations in the past, because he was so affected by the trauma that our little family went through over nursing challenges. could your friendly abrasive-man have had some kind of similar experience?

if this is not, though, his experience, and he's just one of those guys who likes to act like an expert on things he doesn't actually know anything about (because heaven knows that i am familiar with some of those guys!)... then he's just a super-duper lame-o.

amy said...

Brandi, thanks for sharing your perspective on this one. I agree that breastfeeding is a hot topic for moms and that things can get real judgmental real quick. I have had two friends who were both as committed to breastfeeding as a person could possibly be who ended up unable (after several traumatic months of emotional and physical excruciation) to develop successful breastfeeding relationships with their babies due to the poor care they received in the hospital. while giving birth at home may have changed their stories, they are not to blame. even the hospital workers are not to blame. the culture is to blame for simultaneously mystifying and degrading what should be among the most simple and basic relationships; a mother and her nursling. i guess it just makes me upset when i offer some actual information beyond "eeew, gross!" to a conversation and people respond with anger and cynicism rather than curiosity. dude was saying it is bad news to breastfeed a toddler. while there may be circumstances that preclude that relationship (which are nobody else's business but the mom's and the baby's) i think his generalization was misinformed. and for this, missy, if his heated reaction to my assertion that moms would probably not subject themselves to being chew-toys for months on end comes from his own painful experience, i feel for him in his hardship but, as we both know, that doesn't make him right. however, i do plan to attempt amends in class next week :) maybe i can even make a convert out of him! i intend to bring my full rationality to this encounter, just to prove i can.

the feminist battle cry that the personal is political comes to mind here. the personal experiences of women and babies who might have benefited from breastfeeding are political because they are stymied by political structures that prevent them with a heavy hand. i seldom (wish i could claim never...) feel judgment for a mother no matter her choices because i assume she did the best with the information and options she had, as i would hope she would assume about me in my inevitable error. but i do judge the system that keeps things working suboptimally.

Julie said...

I think Missy could be on to something, although if his main point is that a woman's breast becomes a chew toy once a baby has teeth, there is no empirical evidence for that. There may be the occasional child who won't stop biting, but the world over women breastfeed without their nipples becoming detached. However, Missy's point about his reaction perhaps coming from a personal and intense experience with his own spouse and child could be a reason for his acting like an asshole. (I highly doubt Joe ever acts like an asshole even if he is defensive about claims about the ease of breastfeeding). I find it strange though that he didn't pull that out to trump you if he was so intent on winning.

Anyway just some musings when I should be writing a paper instead of staying up too late. However, I wanted to give some support here because I find these issues so often polemic and divisive that I don't know how to manage them in conversations. I often remain more neutral than I really feel or would like for lack of knowing how not to make it inflammatory (in some situations).

I also think this particular encounter you describe bothers me so much because it smacks of the misogyny and mistrust of women's bodies and ability to make decisions in their own best interest that I think is at the heart of a lot of the mainstream resistance to alternatives to the technocratic model of birth and by extension breastfeeding etc. I am not saying that this is a man only issue. In fact, I think that it's so polemic because it gets at the core of how we identify ourselves (at least in this culture) - via gender and sexuality and people get VERY uncomfortable and defensive when you challenge their core schemas that orient them to the world. Advocating for extended breastfeeding in a culture that is at BEST ambivalent about breasts being anything other than sexual is difficult because people don't know how to detach sexuality from the female body. That seems simplistic I know and intellectually people are capable of allowing complexity to exist almost always, but often it's more difficult to do on a visceral level (which is where most of us respond from most of the time).

I think it also speaks to the strong individualism that dominates discourse in our culture - the fact that a woman could chose to share her body in different ways with different people (children, husband) is really uncomfortable because somehow somebody loses in our philosophical economy. Okay I really have to stop - not only because I'm not sure this is coherent but I have to get a paper written. Ahhh, procrastination.

missy. said...

julie...nice! check you out! i really liked what you said.

pamy, of course you and i are on the same page. i wasn't trying to criticize you, just bringing one more element into the conversation. i admire you for being willing to go back with your "full rationality," and i think it's great that you show him that you won't back down from his sneering.

i was remembering your story yesterday --and thinking about how quickly exchanges can get heated-- when i was at the gym and i had a little conflict of my own. a woman (actually a casual friend of mine) said that she would never vote for obama because of "his ties to islam, and plus the president of islam likes obama," and when i said there is no president of islam she said "i mean of israel," and when i mentioned that israel is not a muslim country and it's also a u.s. ally she said, "they're all the same over there and they all want obama to win because he's actually a foreigner." WHAT?! then when she went on to say that obama is a socialist and she thinks the wealthy have NO obligation to help the poor, i sort of went off. you can probably imagine what ensued from my end :)

so i am actually not trying to bring up politics here --because i don't think my heart can handle much more of that this week-- i am just mentioning it to say that i came away with the same kinds of feelings you described in your post. (i think i was also disappointed to see that a person i like was so uneducated she thinks that islam and israel are interchangeable terms, and is gullible enough to believe racist garbage she reads on the internet about barack obama.) but maybe if i had slowed myself down, approached it more as a teaching moment and less as a competitive moment, maybe she could have come out of the conversation with some useful information or food for thought. i don't know. it's so hard to do. especially when the person you're talking to is uninformed (or worse, unwilling to become informed in a real way).


Jen said...

I know how you feel, except I usually feel regret for behaving opposite because I can't think of what I want to say until five minutes after the conversation.

Go breastfeeders and breastfeeding advocates.

amy said...

ah, friends. i do love you so.

i can relate to so many of the feelings you mentioned; julie's feigned neutrality, missy's heated defensiveness and jen's pondering all the perfect responses the next day. i think it is natural for women to seek common ground, especially about something like the biology (and implicated social norms) that unite us. it can be so difficult to approach things in effective ways (obviously the goal) when we become personally invested and then, in the interest of survival, emotionally fly, fight or freeze, just like our biology tells us to when threatened.

i will keep working at it; i want to be an agent of change not an agent of judgment, but it will take some time. i like how you described the desirable outcome, missy, like this :
"maybe if i had slowed myself down, approached it more as a teaching moment and less as a competitive moment, maybe she could have come out of the conversation with some useful information or food for thought."

i will make in my mantra on tuesday, my hopeful day of reconciliation. i'll let you know how it goes.

thanks for all the contributions. as you said julie these issues can become heated and polemical and i don;t be the one dividing women up so they end up falling down.

The Copes said...

Coming from someone who names breastfeeding on her list of hobbies, I take even bigger issue with the social isolation that nursing mothers are encouraged to accept. I have no issue with the "mother's room" found in LDS chapels around the world, because it makes sense to have a calm and quiet place to feed your infant, and everyone could use a "justified breather" from Sunday School now and again. It's the whole expectation of "removing" yourself from the center of friends and family to a place of isolation so that you don't horrify the guests with the spectacle of the back of your baby's head that gets me burned up.
"Oh, you'll have to excuse my charming personality and amusing anecdotes while I lock myself away. You see my child, can't live without food. Disgusting isn't it? Carry on without me, I wouldn't dream of insulting your sensibilities with my hungry baby."
Take it from someone who lactates as we speak, breastfeeding isn't always an easy option even if it is the best---especially when women meet with ignorant opposition.
p.s. After Labor, a bite on the nipple is a cake walk!
Go Amy!

amy said...

bless your lactating heart, jode. i always like a good vote of support from someone who i consider saner than i. thanks for your thoughts. i think the overwhelming cultural norm of women "excusing themselves" to feed their babies is ridiculous too, of course. some may say that though the norm is ridiculous, it is still ingrained and makes people uncomfortable to be confronted with the non-sexualized reality of another's breasts. i say, this cultural norm will never change until we start confronting it, though i must say, i wish i had an excuse to head to the cry room myself from time to time...

i should get knocked up and breastfeed during stats. that'd show 'em!

Suz said...

Breastfeeding is important. But as women, we should support one another in their struggles and choices, offering encouragement and asisstance. This is America, and as such it means that women have the right to make their own decisions. I would understand you being overzealous about breastfeeing if the choice to use formula made babies shrivel up and die. You know tons of healthy, thriving breastfed infants and I know tons of formula fed healthy, thriving infants. It is as wrong of you to judge a mother who does not breastfeed as it is for someone else to judge a breastfeeding mother in public. There are many reasons why a mother may choose not to breastfeed their child, none of which is a lack of concern for the baby's wellbeing. Condemning attitudes never help anyone, whether it be a mother nursing in a public place or a baby who is being bottlefed. There are some sound medical reasons for bottle feeding, like if the baby is lactose intolerant or if mother needs a medication that would be very harmful to the baby. Some women also have hypoplastic (underdeveloped) breasts) where their breasts don't have enough milk making tissue. In these cases the mother needs support, not condemnation. I am a woman who due to various health problems and medications, I am unable to breast feed lest I endanger the infant's health. Unfortunately, your posts seem to suggest that women who choose to feed their babies using formula are somehow not looking out for the baby's best interests. The decision to breastfeed is one that should be discussed privately between a woman and her doctor. Let's replace the overbearing and judgmental nature of the lactivists out there, with understanding and care. Whether a mother chooses breast or bottle, woman are trying to do the best that they can. Please view this website. http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2239173.htm

amy said...

Hi Suz,

I'm sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your comment.

I read the article you linked to. I do not appreciate being referred to as a zealot simply because I feel confident it is best to feed babies the normal way. Perhaps if hospitals were more hospitable to mothers and babies fewer women would experience complications with breastfeeding. I am sorry you have had a difficult experience and have felt demonized. I do not demonize you. I presume you, as I, do the best with the information you have. The fact that you had difficulty breastfeeding does not change the simple fact that formula feeding is abnormal and inadequate. I'm not saying formula fed babies are doomed (I am one myself), but I am saying that they are disadvantaged. There is not enough support for women and not enough good information. It is as impossible for many women to breastfeed as it is for others to remain slender in a hostile culture. American culture victimizes women and we turn against each other. It makes me sad.

Sound medical reasons for bottle feeding are extremely rare. I do not judge mothers holding a bottle to their babies mouths, whether there are sound medical reasons or not. It's none of my damn business. But a culture in which arrogant uninformed people behave aggressively to the truth is my damn business. I can't afford to hesitate. I have never demonized a mother, no matter what manner of mistakes I perceive she is making. I feel sad for her.

I think you have misunderstood both me and the lactivist movement. Perhaps you should read my comments again and see if you still think I am OVER zealous, as you said, and judgmental of women who bottlefeed. Perhaps it is you who continues to judge.

I am tired of defending something that shouldn't need defense. The only reason to avoid something is not that it will cause a shriveling death. There is more to being a mother than that.

I disagree that these things are best discussed between a woman and her doctor. This implies that a woman is guaranteed to get good information from her doctor, which she most certainly is not. If we are going to get good information we need to listen and read as much as we can. Breastfeeding is a cultural matter, not a private one. Sorry to reiterate, but the personal is political.

I'm sorry for your struggles and wish you the best in your parenting.

AzĂșcar said...

I know I'm late to the party, but I can't shut it.

My kids have been 'asking' for it the minute they exited the womb. PUH-LEASE. What about the babies born with teeth? Should they never get to nurse?

People are stupid.

And I would have kicked that guy's head in if I'd been in the room.

You can't nurse and bite at the same time, in the parlance of the day, UR DOIN IT RONG. It only takes baby biting once or twice before they realize, no biting=no nursing and that doesn't make baby happy. They're not stupid.

Know what's awesome? When your kid asks you to nurse. Finally! They can tell you what they want instead of you guessing!

aweghioho awo;fao;erh;

People like that guy make me angry.

Now, back to nursing my toddler at church.