Part 2 of why I’m so irritated at Mel’s breastfeeding series

“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…”
–Pam, comments

“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. 

Really. 

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.

But.

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.

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15 thoughts on “Part 2 of why I’m so irritated at Mel’s breastfeeding series

  1. My experience leads me to read something quite different in Mel’s posts, than what you appear to be reacting to.
    I don’t read the message “don’t waste your time on BF”. Not at all.
    I read the message as follows:
    “Science supports BF. Get a LC to help if you want a fair chance of it to work. Circumstances are sometimes hostile to BF (medical, social, …). Automatically badgering all women who formula feed is counterproductive to the campaign to promote BF.”

    I think she makes some valid points. I think she is misses some points.

    ‘Breast is best’ is a slogan. A simplification of enormous proportions.
    The same is true for ‘breast is not best’.
    I think Mel’s intention was to show how untenable both positions are if you take them literally.

  2. Breast is, all other things being equal, better. That is the view of WHO, UNICEF, the Health Depts of virtually every country in the world and also of nearly all paediatricians. In my view this is what makes Mel’s post’s title inflammatory which admittedly she accepted although I noted that she didn’t want to see inflammatory comments the other way on her blog (see the one she says she deleted). Absolutely breast cant be best if you are one of the rare women who physically can not breast feed, or or if you need to be on drugs which pass into breast milk, or there are other medical reasons for needing supplementation, and then formula does save lives but to describe it as also not best for someone with an undefined “personal reason” for not wanting to breastfeed is disingenuous and a failure to understand the comprehensive research and weight of medical and scientific opinion the other way. As I said before if someone erroneously thinks not b/feeding will keep their boobs perky then go ahead bottle feed but its not the best for the child or mother.

    I did not feel that I could comment in the way I wanted to on those posts as a breastfeeding advocate. I definitely felt it would end in the usual firestorm when a big blogger makes a statement on a hot topic and the comments are all in favour and if someone says the opposite they get leapt on.

    More studies showing a benefit to breastfeeding appear all the time – there have been two in successive days here in the UK – each time there is a chorus of commenters saying and I paraphrase “vile lactivists making me feel guilty and breast isn’t best” – get over it. It really is best for the vast majority who currently dont breast feed.

  3. I’m really proud of you for being so successful with bf your little guy. It’s impressive! I wish I could have done the same with Eve. I hope you are counting me in your 2 friends who bf longer than two months. Despite not being able to go to breast, I was hooked up to the mooochine for months. 🙂 Not sure if you realized that or not.

    I happened to agree with this post immensely. So, here’s my “Amen.”

    I miss you. Let me know if you want to go to the pumpkin patch tomorrow. I’ll give you a call and email today.

  4. i am so with you on both of these posts.
    i breastfed my son for over two years. i’m now nursing his four week old sister.
    mel’s posts upset me as well. i kept pouring over them for days in my head. i felt i couldn’t comment. i felt completely alienated by the posts, and many of the comments made it worse. i feel Mel *does* have a larger responsibility than most other bloggers. she is in a position of authority wether she realizes it or not, and in my mind those breastfeeding posts were an abuse of that authority.

    i also kept feeling mad and sad that i felt i had to be so careful about what i wrote as a comment. i wasn’t going to slam women who have to formula feed their babies (choice is a different thing for me that i’m not going to get into right now) – i would never do that. nor would i say something snarky about the similac recall…
    i’m SO tired of offending people simply by the way i feed my babies. i’m SO tired of being on eggshells around people because of the way i feed my babies. i GET that it makes momma’s sad when they can’t breastfeed — i would have been devastated. that said, i worked really, really hard to establish nursing with my son. really hard. it was NOT easy, but i did it and i’m proud of it (and the fact that we nursed for over two years) and i’m tired of people making me feel like i have to hide it because it might make them feel bad. YES, i’m sorry for people who can’t nurse their babies and i understand that formula is sometimes necessary, but why do i have to feel guilty for feeding my baby in the way my body was intended to do so? so many mommas using formula are so quick to say “don’t judge” but do so while judging harshly themselves.

    thanks for these posts. they really made me feel good.

  5. I’m not going to comment on the whys or why nots or Mel’s post being “inflammatory” or not. It certainly does depend on which side you fall on – cause I’m weary of women being pitted against one another. I’m going to wade into these waters…even though I did not give birth to my child. As an adoptive mother, I was vaguely aware that I could attempt to breastfeed via certain drugs. I did get advice and encouragement from a couple of bloggers, but since I was never 100% sure the adoption would come to fruition, I was hesitant to make the commmittment. There was a certain regime I would have to follow months before the child was born and after 4 IVF’s attempts, I was done with manipulating my body with drugs. I couldn’t even find a milk bank that would take me. I had mentioned I was going to adopt to my doctor, but she never mentioned anything about adoptive breastfeeding and I didn’t ask.

    Had I been pregnant and safely delivered a child, it was a given that I would breastfeed. I do have to share that ALL of the women that I know who have had their own children, all of them breastfeed and for quite some time. Where I live anyway (in Canada), that’s the first question women ask – breastfeed or bottle. And if it’s bottle, you get THE LOOK.

    Sometimes, it would be nice if women could just share their experiences or opinions without feeling alienated, vilified or offended.

    I’m learning that having children polarizes women in the strangest of ways.

  6. As you may already know, I’ve come back to these past two posts a couple of times (if you use stats) and I’ve given it more thought then I think I should have. I hadn’t read Mel’s posts until just today, but I found your initial post a bit harsh regardless of who you were referring to.

    You say that if someone does all they can, then there’s nothing to feel guilty about. I think guilt is the wrong emotion that gets mentioned. It’s regret. Guilt assumes that there’s wrongdoing and formula feeding, whether by predetermined choice or upon succumbing to whatever “failure” a mother perceives isn’t something to feel guilty about.

    Using your argument, if a woman doesn’t do everything possible to get pregnant (sex everyday, temping everyday, accupuncture, dye-free dieting, excercise, organic foods, etc., etc.), then she SHOULD feel guilty for not getting pregnant. She DESERVES to not be pregnant, is that what you would say in that case, too?

    Is this argument inflammatory? Yes, it’s meant to be. From your recent posts, Sharah, I would have never guessed you to have been someone who struggled herself to become pregnant and to know what it is to have your body fail time after time.

    I easily breastfed my daughter. My daughter conceived through donor’s egg because I couldn’t use my own. My ovaries failed but my breasts succeeded. Ironic, no? And there are those who condemn me for that choice as well.

    ~DD

    • DD, honestly you’ve lost me a little here. I think we’re saying the same thing actually. To me, guilt as ALL about “Hey, I did something wrong. I knew it was wrong and I did it anyway.” I was trying to say that a mother who decides, with full information/knowledge/consent that breastfeeding is not right for her and her family, should not feel guilty. And THAT is the part I don’t understand — women talking about how guilty they feel for something they don’t feel was wrong. Like you, I completely understand regret and anger and sadness; I can see where anyone who was forced into a decision they didn’t want to make can feel those things. But guilt? To me, saying you feel guilty == “I did this thing that I knew wasn’t right and I did it anyway.”

  7. I believe that breastfeeding IS the same as Nazism in other Internet circles because everyone loses their minds on these discussions.

    Honestly, once I saw what Mel’s posts were going to be about, I just decided not to read them. Every female dominated board on EARTH succumbs to the same flaming once the breastfeeding vs. the bottle argument occurs. There is no way to discuss this without everyone losing what little sanity and civility they have had in the past.

    I am saying this as someone who has been around the Internet since the days of Usenet. I have moderated my fair share of these debates. If they come up on any board I moderate I lock the thread. Why? I have never seen it debated or discussed without spiraling into a diatribe of discord.

    Am I surprised that everyone and their sister has come up on one side or the other? Nope. But, Sharah, yours was the only feed that brought me over to read about it.

    Maybe because in some ways I’m just old now, but relying on professionalism in others doesn’t really work without pushing them into it. And, occasionally you will run into some topic or area where the great professionalism that has been displayed before dissipates.

    I know this from email correspondences I have received from supposedly big-name professional authors. The said emails showed the maturity of a 12-year old (and I am being generous).

    When it comes to this particular topic and women, it is best to walk away and say nothing. (Not that I’m taking my own advice here.) I realize why you are getting worked up. I was a bit dismayed that Mel was even broaching this topic on her blog since it is supposed to be a safe place for infertility, but it is her blog. I have sensed in her writing of late a certain desire to move forward onto other topics as well.

    To constantly write about infertility, to take on community building, and to broach what are some pretty controversial topics to begin with, is difficult. Lord knows I am never going to be as popular a blogger as Mel. My stuff is way too depressing for a great number of people. But, I have found that even I write on a variety of things and walk away at times.

    Let’s consider that Mel hasn’t walked away from her blog in at least the 3 or 4 years I have been reading her. That takes a toll.

    I may be coming across as defending her, I’m really not. I’m just saying that I think, whether she realizes it or not, her writing and focus is changing to some degree – as is her audience. Much the same thing happened with Tertia from what I hear at the IVF Connections Veterans board folks who remember when she was the Queen of the Infertility Blogosphere.

    I’m not so sure anyone can remain the key person in that realm for very long periods of time. I think her series of posts on breastfeeding might actually be a sign of a shift in her blog.

    This, of course, could all be me nattering on in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping as well. Take it with a grain of salt – except where I said that Breastfeeding (as a topic) in any woman-dominated online community is the same as mentioning Nazis in the general internet world.

    • MLO, you’re catching the same thing that I think I’m seeing and putting words to it where I couldn’t. I have loved Stirrup Queens for years, and it served as a “home base” of sorts. But especially since her book came out (and I too have seen this with other authors), it feels less “hey, I’m Mel and this is my blog and my story” and more “hi, I’m Mel, professional writer/author/mother and this is my authoritative view on such-and-such subject.” Which I understand, and most of the time still enjoy. But this time, that authoritative view chopped the legs out from under a chunk of her audience — and for someone who (appears to be) building an online brand built on community, that’s uncool.

  8. Hey Sharah,
    I’m late to the conversation, but I’m reading with much interest your post and all of the comments from most of my favorite bloggers. Much to mull over here. I’ll be back with more after I’ve had a chance to get my thoughts in order…

    • I actually think in most instances people become more themselves the longer they write. As I went from a pseudonym to using my real name I initially felt hemmed in worrying about how far I could go in expressing my thoughts — concerned about what colleagues, friends (and potential publishing types) might think if I allowed myself to be too opinionated, too me. In time, I realized that no publishing types were paying attention anyway, and I knew that being vanilla/neutral wasn’t very interesting to read. Without the governors I grew more confidant about why I was writing in the first place–to express a new point of view and prompt society to engage in a conversation that wasn’t happening. In Mel’s case I think she tried to maintain a level of objectivity in her early posts but it’s hard to hide what you really think. Accustomed to her sugary sweet writing tone it was a shock to meet her in person and realize she had some with very strong opinions. Her writing today is more of the Mel I got in our face-to-face meeting.

  9. I’ve been so out of the loop I had no idea any of the was going on. MLO is right, this sort of discussion makes people lose their minds. Why can’t we all just do what’s best for us and our kids? Why bring a community that normally supports each other into such a bitter debate? I’m disappointed that Mel went this direction. Hmpf.

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