Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Baby Friendly

There has been a heated discussion on my Mamas email group lately. People are totally fired up about local hospitals and the "formual goody bags" they send home with new moms. Apparently, Mercy hospital downtown is trying to achieve a Baby Friendly hospital status.

I am ashamed to say I have never heard of this before. But, upon reading this argument, I remembered something:

One day, I opened my front door to see a cardboard box from Enfamil on the porch. It contained a canister of formula in a gold wrapper, with happy rabbits on the can. I remember feeling rage upon seeing that canister, and I remember immediately blaming my mother for its being there. You see, she had given my name and mailing address to the store when she bought me maternity pants. I had been getting coupons for Huggies and Playtex bottles ever since.

I angrily took the formula inside, where its presence seemed to whisper, "Just in case your body isn't enough, I am here." It taunted me. I hated it. I vowed to take it to a women's shelter because I couldn't bear to throw it in the garbage can.

But I had a newborn! Who the hell can manage a trip to deliver unwanted formula to a women's shelter with a newborn? It gathered dust on top of the fridge.

Then, as it turned out, I did need that can. One horrible day when I had not slept for weeks and Miles and screamed without stopping for weeks, I got not one drop of milk from my breasts when I tried to pump. Not one drop. I pumped and cried and screamed for hours. I nearly bled. Not one drop. And all the while, Miles screamed.

Corey eventually wrenched him from my arms, prepared a bottle of formula, and I crumpled on the floor sobbing while my baby happily drank food that did not come from my body.

Do I believe Enfamil caused the unfriendly cycle of sleep deprivation and milk supply issues and Miles' strange eating habits? No. Is it possible that the presence of that can of formula in my house was just one more voice in a chorus pressuring me and making breastfeeding a challenge? Yes. Definitely yes.

I still get coupons in the mail from Enfamil. When I read the email messages, I thought that I wasn't able to comment, since I had been given no formula goody bag when I left the hospital. I had only seen lactation consultants and had good, nursing friendly advice. But then I looked at the coupons. My last name on the coupon is smooshed together, all one word. No space, no hyphen. The only people who do that are the folks within the UPMC system.

It seems Magee had indeed given me a goody bag of formula. When I figured that out, I became unspeakably angry. How could the same institution provide the midwives who gave me such support through my birth trauma and then mail formula to my house?

The circumstances surrounding my birth filled me with feelings of failure, with ideas that my body had failed to deliver Miles, and this affected every single moment of my early mothering. Including my breastfeeding experience. When that "failed" to be enough, too, I was in a bad place mentally.

To realize now that my healthcare system played a part of that, that they sent formula to me "just in case I need it," that makes me feel very vigilante-like. It makes me want to find out the addresses of all new mothers in town, go to their houses, and kick the cans of formula out of the hands of the mail carriers (unless, of course, those mothers have ordered those cans on purpose).

Suddenly, I am much more interested in Baby Friendly hospitals and in their mission. I never, ever realized that wanting to deliver a baby through my vagina without medicine and then feed the baby breastmilk made me such a political activist. But it does. You have to fight to be able to do those things. You have to fight long after you have had your baby if you want other women to be able to do those things.

Let me tell you, women and their uteri and offspring are viewed as great big dollar signs. I wish I had realized that sooner. I feel like I was mentally preparing for all the wrong battles before I entered this crazy phase of my life. What I wish more than anything is that I can help younger women know their options, know what their choices are, so they can be better prepared. We should be allowed to make natural choices!

Keep your formula in the stores. When I need it, I will come and buy it. That is all.

7 comments:

Valtastic said...

I totally agree with your decision. But every dollar helps so if they're giving coupons to people that aren't breast feeding or had to give up becuase their body couldn't produce enough then I'm glad for them. There should be an opt in/opt out policy though instead of mass marketing every new mother.

Jen Ellefson said...

I get those canisters in the mail too. I freecycle them--freecycle.org if you haven't used it. Feel the same way you do about all of this. I'm still breastfeeding Tas and he's 14 months old. When he turned 1, people were asking me when I was going to wean him. When I'm good and ready...that's when. None of their damn business!

p said...

I have actually run into more people our age that are militant about "natural" birth and breastfeeding. My experience is that people judge mothers quite openly and vocally for NOT doing it, not trying hard enough, not doing it long enough, or not trying at all.

I guess I just don't understand how the company providing samples and coupons is a personal insult to you. I DONT believe that the hospital should sign you up for such things without your consent and that they SHOULD work with the patient to honor a reasonable birth plan etc. I've written papers on formula promotion in the 60's and 70's, particularly in the developing world, so i don't exactly shill for the stuff - but I guess I find the movements in all directions extremely pushy.

What is is about birth and parenting topics that makes it seem that proselytizing is acceptable? (not aimed at you or your blog, but just asking)

I've had friends attempt to sign me up for breast milk donation, pass on their opinions that I should use Bradley Method, ask me if I will do amnio, pain manage, etc. (all asked knowing what I SHOULD be doing and ready to tell me) Oh and my favorite topic today actually - eating one's placenta. Um. Can I keep that one between myself and my placenta? Thanks.

Katy said...

p, i definitely agree that mothers should have the right to make their own choices. i found the formula and the coupons upsetting because i so badly want to breastfeed and i work really hard to avoid formula. i had a super difficult time breastfeeding and carried on doing it through a lot of challenges. i feel really affronted that the same organization that provided me the lactation consultants and late night advice for how to keep on breastfeeding was subversively sending formula to my house. to send a woman formula, "just in case," feels to me like it's a foregone conclusion that i would fail at breastfeeding. in this age of 24hr grocery stores, there is no reason i would need an emergency jar of formula and i would never have signed up to get one voluntarily. i feel, right now, powerless against the big formula marketers and their sneaky techniques.

Em said...

p, It's been my observation that mother-sto-be and mothers get criticized no matter what they do. It's misogyny's double standards writ in giant smoke letters in the sky.

p said...

not the same but probably how a bald man feels when he gets free samples/coupons for dietary supplements and hair plugs sent to his house after purchasing something for baldness at the grocery store with his discount card...sneaky marketing is all around us. have you seen the stuff that upromise keeps track of? every credit card purchase, every discount card swiped, every book subject you're reading, every magazine, just saying it's marketing, just happens to be on a subject that is sensitive. unless you're paying cash with no discount card at a locally owned and operated business, it is likely that your purchase is tracked in some way. JMO.

and i thought a lot about Em's comment - did you mean that women hate women and feel that they're free to vocally express this in a mother/mother-to-be scenario? sort of a self-loathing distrust of other women to do a decent enough job at parenting?

Em said...

p, you mean projection? Of a sort, I guess. But I wasn't limiting it to mom-on-mom criticism or even to women. I've seen an incredible diversity of people criticize mothers on every conceivable (ha) aspect of their parenting.