Call me cynical but the findings of the new study “Is Breastfeeding Truly Free?: The Economic Consequences of Breastfeeding for Women” are not remotely surprising.  Short version: Before pregnancy, women who later chose to breastfeed were more likely to be paid more and work longer hours than women who later chose to formula feed their babies. But over time, breastfeeders of “long duration” (over six months) ended up making significantly less than formula feeders.  

Is it just me or is this logical?  It is really, really, REALLY hard to breastfeed and work full-time.  Sure, you can pump, but pumping for that long would make most women lose their minds.  So the women who are still breastfeeding after six months?  They are the mothers who are more likely to be working part-time or staying home.  The fact that they earn less in the long term seems like a big, fat DUH! to me.  

So what does this study tell us?  To me, it is just further proof that the the breastfeeding debate one is counterproductive and just plain dumb.  The truth is, whether or not you breastfeed your child is really a personal decision that has a lot more at stake than the health of your baby.  

I am one of those “long duration” breastfeeders and while the decision was a natural one for me (and one that comes from a privileged position since my family does not depend on my income to pay the rent), I was also aware of the fact that by working from home part-time, I was likely sacrificing a bit of my career.  And to be totally honest, at times that has made me bitter and made me feels as if I am betraying my feminist ideals slowing down professionally.  

I also have friends that have struggled with breastfeeding and have ended up opting for formula.  Do I think less of them as mothers? No.  Do they feel tremendous amounts of guilt about their decision, at times they have.  One friend recently said that now that she is switching to formula, she feels so guilty that she often holds her baby while he sleeps because she feels like not breastfeeding him and taking time for herself while he is sleeping it callous and not maternal.  How awful to feel that way!

So the truth is, neither one is going to be perfect.  Both options have drawbacks and HUGE amounts of guilt associated with them.  So why can’t we just leave well enough alone and let mothers make the decision that is right for their family without putting our moral judgments on them?

Hanna Rosin’s analysis of breast-feeding in the most recent Atlantic is a fascinating look at the pressures and repercussions of nursing babies.  One of the most fascinating concepts put forth is the idea of the pressure of “total motherhood.”  

In her critique of the awareness campaign, Joan Wolf, a women’s-studies professor at Texas A&M University, chalks up the overzealous ads to a new ethic of “total motherhood.” Mothers these days are expected to “optimize every dimension of children’s lives,” she writes. Choices are often presented as the mother’s selfish desires versus the baby’s needs. 

I think this is an amazing description of one aspect of what many of us are struggling with.  There is this overwhelming pressure to be the “total mother,”  to focus all of our actions on what is best for the baby.  

The other side of the dynamic, the one that Rosin doesn’t really touch on, is that we are also faced with pressure to be a “total professional.”  We are expected to maintain and advance in our career while also being the total mother.  At a baby shower this past weekend I was witness to a very uncomfortable exchange between two women- one who has decided to stay home with her children for the next few years and one who seemed to think that the only rational reason for making such a decision would be monetary.  It was all very polite and civilized but the tension (and judgment) was clear.

It seems to me that women at this point are expected to be able to not only balance it all but to master it all- to be a completely devoted and self-less mother while also making partner, getting that promotion or, at least, moving forward with professional development.  At one time, I think there was an understanding that certain things would have to slide- that maybe you wouldn’t be the most involved mother, but at least you would be making the world a better place for women who followed or maybe you wouldn’t be the ultimate professional but you would be providing amazing care to your children- now there seems to be this assumption that things are “evolved” enough that it should be possible to do it all (while also finding time for yoga, nights out with girlfriends, and the occasional mani and pedi).

In the end, what it comes down to is that we are all trying to do what is best for our families.  We are working with our partners (at least most of the time) to make the best, rational, logical, equal decisions we can.  It never works out the way it should, the way we expect it to.  But perhaps those difficulties, and articles like Rosin’s, are what keep the dialogue going and will get us to the next, better stage in this struggle for a true balance between work and family.

What about Mama?

March 13, 2009

So we think that today my 10-month-old son said “Pai” (what his father will be called).  And, more importantly, he said it in such a way as to lead us to believe that he was saying it to and about my husband.  I am very excited both because it is exciting for my son to have his second word (the first was, of course, “Kitty”)  and because it is awesome to see him recognizing his dad like that.  But it also stings just a tad.  Of course I know he loves me and needs me, etc., etc.  But it does leave one feeling a bit peripheral, especially as I just finished the weaning process… True, the I get extra glass of wine here and there is really, really nice but where’s the “Mama”???

Ah, well.  I guess I will just add it to my repertoire of things to guilt-trip him about when he is being a pain-in-the-ass teenager…

Happy Friday!

March 6, 2009

 

This opinion piece in the Times made my week. I am in the midst of weaning the little man.  In fact, this weekend I will be a free (?) woman- the breast feeding will be over.  I am most definitely looking forward to more than a glass of wine.  Not that I am going to get plastered- that (and the hangover the next day) sounds completely unappealing, but to be able to have just a little bit more sounds unbelievable decadent after so many months of basically giving my body over to another being.  So here’s to not losing our ability to be a bit irresponsible!  Happy Friday!

Food, Glorious Food

February 26, 2009

 

The Chowhound

The Chowhound

My son love to eat.  I mean, he really, really loves to eat.  He loves food, he already savors different tastes- taking his time to get to know a new flavor when it is introduced.  It is a pleasure to watch him eat. And he comes by his gourmand tendencies honestly- both my husband and I come from families that love food.  Which made today’s Times piece about children and food fascinating, sad, and a bit unnerving.

It talks about how parents’ obsession with the healthiness of their children’s food- organic, whole grains, no sugar, no soda, etc., etc.- is leading to an increase in children who are obsessed with their diets and base their obsession in a fear of getting sick with diabetes, heart disease, etc., etc.

I confess, I am one of those moms who makes her baby’s food, who uses organic ingredients, and who is very focused on making sure he has a well-balanced diet.  I tried to avoid sugar and to limit salt.  That said, though, I am also all about exposing my child to as many tastes as possible- spices, herbs, sauces, and complicated dishes have all been introduced already.  I was elated when our pediatrician said that he could have cow’s milk.

And yet, I am often hyper conscious of what I feed my child in public (surreptitiously feeding him guacamole at a Mexican restaurant and hummus at a bougie coffee shop).  I am always terrified that some mother is going to descend on me, screeching about what a terrible parent I am by letting my child eat garlic.  

To be fair, though, these beliefs and fears do get rather beaten into us these days… Before the baby is even born you are told what you should and shouldn’t eat during pregnancy.  And then once the baby is born, forget about it.  The number of friends of mine who have cut out dairy and/or soy from their diet while breast feeding is staggering.  And then, once solid foods are introduced, there is so much discussion in baby books about the dangers of different foods, of bacteria, of choking.  It is amazing any of us feed our kids anything!

So I say screw it and let the harpies go nuts.  I’m not going to feed him nuts or shellfish for a while.  But he is happy, healthy, and loves his food.  If I can encourage that type of relationship with food, and encourage healthy eating patterns, rather than a focus on right/wrong types of food, then I think we’ll be ok. I want food to be a source of enjoyment, celebration, and exploration, not loaded by fear and angst.  

Salma Hayek Rocks My World

February 11, 2009

As I was reading through my favorite blogs today I came across discussions of Salma Hayek breastfeeding a starving one-week-old baby while on a humanitarian mission in Sierra Leone.  

First of all, while this could have been a god-awful-holier-than-thou moment for her.  In fact, she was gracious, warm, and just flat out maternal.  It came across as a truly genuine act- not a play for more camera time.  And, really, that is what humanitarian missions should be about (you listening, Angelina, Jessica, etc., etc.). So props, Salma!

It also got me thinking about the raging debate over breastfeeding and the concept of wet nurses.  Now, in this case, I think what Salma did was really wonderful and if I were in a similar situation I would definitely offer up my services.  But overall I think that wet nurses and breast milk banks cross a line. 

 

Can you say "

Can you say "Moo"?

 

I know breast milk has all kind of wonderful nutrients and anti-bodies and I know that it is helpful for babies in many, many ways.  But I just feel like sometimes we get so wrapped up in the virtues of breast feeding that we throw out the good for the perfect.  And that, perhaps, formula serves some important purposes too.  

Our baby has recently started the weening process and I have got to say that the non-breast milk bottles are not only really nice for me (I am increasingly feeling less bovine in nature), but they are great for my husband and baby too.  It gives them quiet and meaningful time together that is not dependent on what I produce with the help of My Friend Medela.

Pump it!

January 22, 2009

 

The New Yorker

Image credit: The New Yorker

There was a fascinating article in The New Yorker last week by Jill Lepore about the historical ebb and flow in the popularity of breast feeding.  One of the points I found most intriguing was how the use of breast pumps has actually hurt women’s chances of gaining truly family-friendly policies in the work place.

She argues that with the rise of pumping, employers have been able to opt for creating pumping rooms and have then not needed to allow for flexible schedules or provide childcare on site or offer more generous family leave policies.  

A number of my friends pump at work and I admire them for doing so.  But in Type-A City it is also an issue.  One friend has talked about her discomfort with the pumping making too much noise and disturbing her colleagues.  Others have spoken of the trials and tribulations that go along with pumping- decreased milk supply, lugging the stuff back and forth, forgetting pumped milk in the bag and then losing it.  All in all, a pain in the breast.

It also got me thinking about something that happened over the weekend.  A friend who has a six-month-old baby was in town from California for the inauguration.  We met for brunch and at the end of the meal she went into the coffee shop’s kid room to pump- a much nicer place to do it than a bathroom stall.  My husband mentioned later that he was surprised that she had done that and had worried that parents would be scandalized to see a woman with her breast exposed.  And the sad thing- he was totally right to worry!  In California, I wouldn’t think twice about whipping out the boob to pump in a coffee shop, but here in Type-A land I would definitely feel self-conscious. 

So here we are, trying to do something good for our kids.  Hell, we are pressured to do it so that we can maintain our careers and parent at the same time, but God forbid we be public about it.  The hypocrisy is staggering.  

So I say we have a pump-in.  Pump in our cubicles.  Pump in the lunchrooms.  Pump in the conference rooms.  Pump during conference calls- and not with the mute button on.  Show our employers what this really requires.  Play on their discomfort- maybe that’s how we can get better family policies!