“The posts are tricky in my mind for a few reasons but one of them is that Mel is undoubtedly the queen of the IF/ALI world and so her words have weight and power and there is a different dynamic when that’s the case…”
“What we write or say really does matter … Which is why I take offense when someone tells me in a comment that I have a larger responsibility than others.”
–Mel, Part of the Whole
I’m going to paraphrase the fabulous Aunt Becky here — none of us owe the internet shit.
Any one of us who blogs, we have the power to decide that we don’t want to do this any more, close down our site, delete the archives, and disappear into the ether.
From that point of view, I don’t think that Mel has any more responsibility than any other blogger. She can shut down stirrup-queens and walk away and no one of us could say anything about it.
Most of us don’t blog as the voice of a community. Most of us don’t have readerships in the thousands. Most of us don’t come up at the top of a google search for “infertility blogs”. Most of us don’t have published author credits in our resume.
Mel doesn’t write as “just plain Mel, mother of twins and infertility survivor.” Mel writes as the self-described Stirrup Queen. So when Mel titles a post “Breastfeeding Is Not Best,” it carries more weight than it probably should have. Mel isn’t a lactation consultant, she doesn’t have any official medical credentials — she only has her experience as someone who could not breastfeed. But despite that when she gives advice, people listen. And she acknowledges that, “People understand when they are reading a blog post that it isn’t a medically-vetted source of information, but that doesn’t give us a right to be sloppy. What we write or say really does matter.”
Which is where I have to ask — if you really believe that, then why do you think it is appropriate to give a post a title that is not medically accurate? Is it true sometimes? Yes. Is it a lie sometimes? Also yes.
The secondary layer to this discussion is that Mel writes as a community-builder. So when I, a mother who is committed to breastfeeding, who has worked damn hard to breastfeed per the AAP Policy Recommendations, opens that post and sees that title — it was like a big flashing neon sign: YOU AREN’T WELCOME HERE. And after reading the comments, which felt like pretty much a pile-on against breastfeeding mothers, it was pretty obvious that no, I was not welcome there. It’s incongruous to create an online presence based on the idea of building community and strengthening relationships and providing support — and then come back and say, no, wait, those are only for THESE people over here.
And I keep coming back to the fact that Mel is a professional writer. She KNEW what kind of impact that post title was going to have, that it was inflammatory, that it was divisive — and she published it anyway. And she continues to defend it. I could almost understand it if she was using it as a literary device — the shock value of “Breastfeeding is not best” as the anti-message of the “Breastfeeding is best” campaign. But that concept working would be dependent on breastfeeding being the majority position. I think it’s pretty clear that that is NOT true. So instead, it feels like an attempt to shame the minority group, to silence a position that is medically supported just because she feels differently.
A parallel example: Young girls are being encouraged to go into math and science careers, where the majority population is male. The slogan is “Girls are great at math!” A popular male blogger, who was an English major with bad past experiences in math, publishes a post titled “Girls are no good at math” in which he complains that girls aren’t always good at math, that sometimes boys are better. And that it’s rude for the slogan-writers to exclude how good boys are math from their fancy slogans.
It’s not an edgy, thought-provoking perspective.
The last thing that has me bothered (that I’m going to talk here about anyway), is that women don’t search for Mel’s blog when they are strong and in control of their lives and able to make informed decisions. I think I can say with some certainty that by the time that we start searching for infertility blogs, our lives are usually spinning out of control and we’re looking for some semblance of normality to bring us back to earth. And when the “voice of reason” in that situation tells you that breastfeeding isn’t best? It might not sink in at the time, but it is another voice that you’ll remember (consciously or not) down the road.
Mel says “And before you start gasping and saying, “but women won’t choose breastfeeding if we don’t point out how evil formula is!” I’m asking you to pause.
Are you calling women stupid?
Are you saying that women can’t make an informed choice based on information presented to her by the medical establishment — who should be performing an impartial dissemination of the facts agreed upon by the medical establishment based on research?”
I have to point out here again that women OVERWHELMINGLY DON’T CHOOSE BREASTFEEDING. And I also have to point out that the medical establishment does not perform impartial dissemination of facts based on research. I have been told, at various times that “it won’t hurt to give a bottle” (which it does if you don’t pump to stimulate the missing demand, which can lead to decreased milk supply, and thereon to premature weaning), that my son “would always be hungry as long as [I was] breastfeeding,” that breastfeeding is just “gross”. I’ve had to cancel travel too soon after I returned to work, I have had to explain to my boss and then to HIS boss about how breastfeeding works and what accomodations would have to be made for me. I’ve had to be my own advocate for pumping, for creating my own schedule, for yelling at people through my office door and finding them later. I’ve endured contempt, pity, and exasperation that I am “STILL doing that.” I AM THE ONLY MOTHER I KNOW IN MY OFFLINE LIFE WHO BREASTFED MORE THAN 2 MONTHS.
Mel’s post, if it stood on its own, balanced by breastfeeding support and factual information and success stories, would not be that big a deal. It would just be another voice. But it’s not. Mel has a big voice, a big presence, and her series of posts gives more credence to all those voices in our offline lives who undermine efforts to breastfeed successfully. And it reaches women who are already vulnerable and looking for guidance and more susceptable to listening to anyone who can help them at all. And tangentially, seriously? After all the horror stories that we have all heard about medical professionals in dealing with IF, you really believe that medical personnel are going to give good answers regarding breastfeeding? A process that requires you to trust your own body (which has already let you down through IF) and trust that your child (whom you struggled mightily for) will be okay?
So where does this leave me? I keep thinking back to a recent post that Julie wrote about her breastfeeding experience. She, like Mel, had a premie and an unsuccessful-slash-hellish experience with breastfeeding. But when I read her post, even though the content is much the same, I don’t feel excluded. I feel encouraged. I feel supported. I feel like I could say, “Hey, look, I worked my ass off to be able to keep breastfeeding and I’m really proud of myself!” and it would be okay. What’s the difference between the two? To me, it comes down to tone. When I read Julie’s post, I “hear” acceptance of however we feed our children. But when I read Mel’s post, I “hear” contempt. And though the words themselves speak of acceptance, I don’t feel like it’s backed up with the actual emotion.
I’ve met Mel. In person, she was kind, empathetic, funny, forgiving that I showed up an hour late because I forgot the stupid time change from going to DC. For the past 5 years, that is the person and the voice that has inhabited the Stirrup Queens blog. And honestly, that’s the only reason I haven’t unsubscribed yet. I think for any other blog, I would have already been DONE after a similar series of posts. I’m going to see where Mel goes, and from there, decide whether or not I want to continue to follow.