Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Helpless Princess and the Knight in Shining Aluminum

I was just thinking about how, if you try to speak up on a topic with more information, or even more importantly, if you try to affirm a mama, you're shouted down as intolerant, judgmental, mean, crazy, whatever the buzzword is these days. See, I was thinking about this one mama who is making many choices right now, some of them without awareness of their consequences.

And I know from seeing it over and over and over for years how the end will be...short of her somehow beating the odds or pulling out suddenly with a change in her life. (Which is always possible. You know what I say: women get up off those tables in the hospital and leave. It's harder the farther you go but it does happen here and there.)

Anyways, so she went through this pattern with birth and now she is onto the next choice about breastfeeding. And the way things are going, here's what will happen. Her baby will lose weight due to the changes she's recently made. She takes her daughter into WBV (Well Baby Visits) so this will be duly noted and the doctor will tell her she's failing at breastfeeding and needs to supplement with formula.

The doctor won't tell her that her body does work or suggest that she needs to rethink her decisions. The doctor will just confirm her worldview: that's she's inferior, a failure, broken and that the doctor knows better and is going to save her baby from her. Since she's already internalized those thoughts in this cycle, she won't feel anger. She won't feel doubt about the doctor's recommendations. She won't think about how the doctor doesn't know diddly shit about breastfeeding. She won't consider that she is empowered and makes her own decisions and that her choices might be playing a part in the situation.

She'll agree that she's a failure and go out to buy some formula. Her baby, who has been EBF (Exclusively Breastfed) to this point, will have a more drastic reaction than someone going onto it routinely/earlier. She'll suck up too much of it, and it'll be like swelling puffs in her gut, making her feel sickly, lethargic and overly full. She'll start drinking less of the breast milk, maybe even refusing it.

The mama won't think that this is due to the baby being harmed by formula or confused over bottles. She will interpret it within her worldview and decide that this is a sign her milk is truly inferior, that she isn't making a enough, that the formula is better and the daughter prefers formula. She'll add more and more formula, and less and less milk for roughly 4-6 weeks. Then at the end of the 4-6 weeks, she will cry some tears, and decide that her 6 month old is fully weaned.

She'll go around telling everyone platitudes such as:

"My baby self-weaned."
"My milk just wasn't enough for her." 
"I tried my best but I wasn't making enough." 
"She refused my milk; I guess it didn't taste right." 
"The doctor saved my baby's life by recommending formula." 
"Formula saved my baby's life." 

Now, the interesting contradiction in this situation is that despite freely participating in this cycle without hesitation or question, she still retains extreme sensitivity, since the cycle is based on a negative self-image, an inherent belief that she is inferior and a failure. So even if she is fully willing to go along with the advertisements from the formula companies and the advice from her doctor, she remains in a constant state of anger, defense, grief and regret. Everything she sees or hears has to be interpreted to fit into this cycle.

If I go to her at any time in this process and mention to her that actually she is capable, that she is able to be better educated than the doctor, that she is able to make different decisions, that her body is competent, that her milk is good, that her baby needs HER milk and not formula, that she isn't broken or inferior.... I'll just be informed that I'm a judgmental asshole who is putting her down and making her feel bad and lying to her for my own agenda.

I'll be told to back off, that I don't know what I'm saying, that I don't know what's happening, that I'm just uneducated on the topic and being pushy and trying to manipulate and pressure her. She'll shout at me, telling me I'm being judgmental, calling her a bad mama, attacking her when she only did something necessary for her baby. Even if I don't say anything directly to her or about her, and instead publicly discuss some related topic such as contaminants in formula or GMO formula, she will still interpret that as a personal attack and a judgment upon her.

Now, wait, did you catch that? Everything the doctor (and the surrounding culture, media, formula companies, etc) did to her is what the mama accuses the one person who isn't participating as doing. The one person who affirms her power, who stands by her, who offers concrete information or who trusts her and her body is the one person she kicks to the side. The person offering freely, offering without gain, without profit, is the one accused of ulterior motives and agendas.

When we talk about a negative self-image, or about how people internalize abuse, or the results of a broken will, or the influence of our rape culture...are we seeing the consequences in parenthood? It doesn't only effect the person's childhood, or teen years or status as a single adult. It comes with her into her parenting journey, changing everything from birth to breastfeeding, bonding to discipline.

In fact, discipline appears to be central to this ongoing cycle of abuse through generations. Laugh all you want but punitive parenting with a goal to force obedience will continue to play a part in your child's life for her entire life. And your grandchild's life. And your great grandchild's life and so on. Is involuntary obedience really worth developing a child intent on believing she is broken?

This chart talks about domestic abuse. But hold on a second.
Have you thought about using this chart to
review the relationships with your OB and pediatrician? 

Is it really worth it, this culture we've made where right is wrong and wrong is right? Where standing up for someone is judgmental but profiting off her is helpful? Where affirming her inner strength is seen as making her feel bad but kicking her on the ground is noble? Where demanding that professionals provide better service and companies provide better products is considered attacking but abusive service or harmful products are life saving?

And if you right now relate to the mama in this story, I ask you: does it benefit you or your children at all to remain in this cycle? Do you truly find happiness and love in a game where others denounce your worth and save your baby from you?

Is it really that comfortable to your mind and heart to stay with a negative self-image as opposed to breaking out into new territory where you find out just how wonderful, strong and beautiful you are and how far you can go for your children?

Feeling devalued, patronized, even taken advantage of by others might feel right to you, or make you feel more comfortable because it's what you know, but it doesn't feel as good as demanding respect, humane treatment and equality. If all you know in life so far is how inferior you are, how badly you fail, how lowly you feel about yourself, you might trick yourself into thinking that it's good enough to continue feeling that way but it's not. You're worth more than those feelings and so now are your children. If you can't bring yourself to believe this then take the first step by focusing on your children and deciding to change for them. One step at a time can break this cycle. You're not broken goods, you're not worthless and it's time to step out from underneath the pile of profiting industries who rely on you thinking such things.

Related articles:

Is your care provider a professional assistant or an abusive boyfriend?

Breaking the cycle of abuse in circumcision:

Confessions of a Punitive Parent:

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