Yes, you read that right. Thank Goodness for the Mommy Wars. Thank goodness for the ability to communicate with each other, whether we are reaching out for support or to tear each other down. That's not to say that I think we need to be fighting with each other, of course not. Let me paint a picture for you.
In 1997, I went into a hospital in the Midwest to have my first baby. I was a new mother and a teenager still, at the age of 18. But I was surrounded by my in laws who had several babies and I had plenty of support - not to mention my own mom on speed dial. At the hospital, right after my son was born, one of the nurses asked me what type of formula I wanted to feed. I paused, knowing nothing about formula or feeding a baby. I looked at the two choices she was holding up and pointed at the yellow label, Enfamil. Nifty.
After we passed our second day check ups we were sent home. Within two days, I knew something was very wrong. My baby cried constantly. My in laws knew that this wasn't normal, but they couldn't tell me why he was crying so much. I seemed to be doing everything correctly. I took him to the doctor and was told that the formula I had him on was too hard for his system. He told me to try a different one and so I did. No help. Per doctors orders, I tried another. Again, no help. Over the course of our first three months, we tried five or six different types of formula, as our pediatrician would advise. We wound up on lactose free, and ultimately soy and my child still screamed bloody murder whenever he was awake. I spent so much time and energy rocking and bouncing, singing and soothing, just trying to keep him asleep because that was the only time he wasn't in terrible pain.
On top of that, he developed angry red eczema patches on his cheeks, which I was told were part of the allergic reaction. Finally, a doctor confirmed what I was beginning to suspect. My baby was allergic to baby formula. Not a certain kind, but all infant formula. By the time I figured this out, my mothers milk was long gone. I admit, I was quite a bit angry that I had never been informed such a thing could occur. There was no disclaimer at the hospital when the nurse held up the two innocent looking formula samples and told me to pick one. There was (and still is) no warning on the label. I had no way of knowing that my first choice as a mother could be such a huge mistake!
In 1999, I had my second baby. I knew I was going to breastfeed. The nurse rolled her eyes at me when, once again, I was asked what type of formula I wanted and this time I told her none. I was treated quite a bit differently after that. I remember the nurses kept coming into my room at night and trying to make off with my newborn. They told me it was hospital policy to not allow mothers to keep their infants in the rooms while they slept.
Bullshit, I knew they were sneaking him off to the nursery to give him a bottle behind my back. But I didn't know how common that was or that I had the right to stop it. As I was leaving, a nurse hastily pressed a card into my hand and told me, "We have to give these out to all the women who say they want to try and breastfeed." It was a card with some L's on it, and it was clear that she thought the whole thing was silly. There were no lactation consultants at the hospital. The books I read, even with their cute little diagrams, did little to explain the true realities of breastfeeding. I had no idea what I was doing and no one to show me how.
So I spent the next month trying to learn to breastfeed out of a book. The Internet existed but it was like stone-etchings compared to the world it is today. We did not have Kellymom.com, Nursingfreedom.org, or even Cafemom.com or Justmommies.com. There was no expansive online community of mothers to give advice, educate or even slam us if they didn't like our choices. It was a very isolated world back then, kids. If you didn't know someone who breastfed, you were on your own. And women like me were stuck trying to sort it all out, having no idea why our nipples hurt so much or if that white film on our babies tongue was supposed to be there (thrush!), or what it means when your breastmilk turns pink (bleeding milk ducts).
I gave up after a month, breastfeeding was making me sick and I didn't know why (raging case of mastitis that left large patches of scar tissue inside my breasts). My husband begged me daily to give it up, he could see how miserable I was and he didn't like the idea of me breastfeeding anyway. He didn't understand why I was so hellbent to nurse and seemed to take it as a personal affront to his ability to provide food for his child. Not to mention a highly squeamish attitude, having grown up in a culture who views a womans breasts as man-toys. Within a week of giving up nursing, my baby had blood in his stool from the harsh nature of the manufactured milk. We began playing musical formulas again and with in the month, the angry red eczema welts cropped up on his cheeks and were worse than they had been on his brother. As if to taunt me with my breastfeeding failure they would crack open and bleed, and no solvent or balm I tried could get rid of them or make them less painful.
We got through the bottle months (this one too wound up on soy, for all the good it did), but my failure to learn to breastfeed was a constant regret. When my third child came along, we had the Internet. When I discovered message boards and online communities of parental support, it was simply amazing! There were so many people who could answer my questions, give me REAL advice and even listen to me complain when all I needed to do was blow off steam.
There were claps on the back when I was successful at something. There was understanding when I fucked something up. And I was able to offer advice that others found useful. I joined a mommy group, and we bonded so securely that we still talk to each other six years later - even though we've long since moved out of our old "Playroom". These women are my friends for life, even though we all make extremely different choices when it comes to how we raise our children.
There was SO much information was available to me now that I was able to find it's not so uncommon for babies to be allergic to infant formula (can we get a friggin warning label about that, please?), I was also able to look back on my past breastfeeding issues and see what went wrong. I wish I could say that I was successful nursing my third baby, but I was gun-shy (you bleed out of your milk ducts and judge me for that), and on top of that, I got horrendously sick shortly after I got home from the hospital and it just wasn't happening. I did everything I could to "relactate" and spent three months popping pills that my gyno gave me, ate oatmeal several times a day, and milked my boobs constantly (I learned with this baby that I'm unable to use a breastpump - something that probably would have salvaged my nursing relationship with my second child). Ultimately I threw in the towel again and cried for days about it.
I then had a fourth baby and with my past experience - but mainly with the support and advice of my online mommy community, FINALLY had the knowledge, confidence and support to breastfeed my daughter successfully for two years.
This online thing isn't perfect. People here can be incredibly rude. They say things to each other that they would never say in real life. Things can get hairy, as people scream at each other in ALL CAPS, embolden their text to emphasize strong emotions, they take things the wrong way or fail to read each others tone of voice. They unfriend each other from Facebook out of anger. They rip each other apart for not agreeing with each others choices. They stand up and shout. They use their online voice, a voice they didn't have until a decade ago.
So scream at each other. Make yourself heard! Stand up for what you believe in and be grateful when you do that you have the ability to do so. Honestly, I would much prefer all the fighting to stop. I wish people would stop and think for an hour at least before they post something nasty. I wish we would all be as reserved online as we are in person, or get up and walk away when we get too upset to play fair. But when I see all of these people arguing and bickering and "warring" with one another, I cannot suppress a tiny grin that ten years ago these people wouldn't know each other - they wouldn't know about each other. They wouldn't be standing up to argue or educate or speak softly and teach, because they had nowhere to stand.