I didn’t quite understand what had happened to me until I came across this sentiment online: “I often feel bullied by lactivists just because I had to use formula.” It’s not important where I found that or what that debate was about; the important thing is that when I read that, I realized that I had been bullied this week. For real. By a real bully. She claims that she is a lactivist, fighting for better education about breastfeeding and less manipulation by rich and powerful formula companies. (Have you ever seen a formula commercial? They are manipulative, and that’s just the beginning.) I don’t want to give space to her options, mostly because the thoughts of a bully don’t deserve space, but also because they don’t really make any sense.
The Bully’s first email appeared to be a fair question, supportive in tone. That’s how she got me to engage. I answered her question. I explained (apparently it was too much to ask that she read the blog post I wrote about my heartbreak over not breastfeeding) why the medications I take, in combination and at my dosage, might make my milk supply dangerous. A baby fed with milk I produce might fall asleep and find herself unable to wake up. His brain might not be able to properly regulate respiration.
The Bully pointed out that Klonopin, the medication that worries me most, is not listed as a “do not breastfeed while taking” medication on the reputable website InfantRisk. Now, I knew this. I brought this to my doctors’ attention. The problem is the combination, I repeated, of Klonopin and Effexor, which is completely unstudied. I have explained that to true lactivists, and they understand. Even if they think they might make a different choice, they at least understand that my terror of harming my potential child with my breastmilk is too much anxiety for me to bear. They understand why I am asking for donor milk, particularly from a friend whose baby girl is due in June who happens to be the healthiest person ever. They offer support. Not the Bully. Donor milk isn’t good enough, says she. Not feeding the baby from the breast will increase the risk of death by SIDS! Not exactly true, by the way. There’s a correlation between not breastfeeding and a higher risk of SIDS, but no causation could possibly be proved. Women who breastfeed are also more likely to be educated about how to prevent SIDS, which rarely happens anymore, anyway.
But then, she threw this grenade:
You clearly have not tried hard enough to find an alternative medication.
That just mad me angry. And I told her that I was angry that she had questioned, after she read a few websites, the decision that I made about my family after I talked to all those doctors and did all that research. I also told her to stop contacting me and to seek professional help. Of course, she didn’t stop. Bullies don’t stop. She laughed at me. Finally, she said this:
Good luck being a mother. I’m sure you’ll be great at it with such an inflexible attitude.
I wrote back, which I probably shouldn’t have done; more importantly, I blocked her email address. Those words sting. In my own deep dark places, I will never have tried hard enough. At anything. Ever. I will, according to my own worst fears, fail at motherhood. I engaged with this bully because she said out loud the things I fear when I am being irrational and hating myself. I understand that she is wrong, however. I know that I could not have tried harder, and that I will be a good mother.
The point of this post is that bullies will find a way to keep getting at you, to keep going until they find a weak spot.
Breastfeeding activists will suggest that you find a second, third, fourth opinion if anyone tells you that you cannot safely breastfeed, that you should give up trying if it’s painful or that you should give up trying to increase a low supply. They will happily and calmly discuss statistics about infant and mother health. They will concede that, in some cases, breastfeeding is not possible for medical reasons. They will point out that many women give up because they do not receive enough support and ask me if I feel supported. Then, they will offer any knowledge they have about alternatives (like donor milk). These women are not bullies. They simply want to roll back the influence that formula companies wield over new mothers. They simply want breastfeeding to be made easier for women. They are not cruel. They do not call other women terrible mothers.
The 27th World Health Assembly in 1974 noted the general decline in breastfeeding related to different factors including the production of manufactured breast-milk substitutes and urged Member countries to review sales promotion activities on baby foods and to introduce appropriate remedial measures, including advertisement codes and legislation where necessary.
The United States is not among the countries who have pledged to abide by this code. American formula manufacturers are not held to these rules. And this is why we need breastfeeding advocates. This is why I do not mind when women ask me if I am sure, if I double or triple checked, that the milk I will produce will be unsafe. This is why I am determined to use donor milk as exclusively as possible. I say this not because I want to pick a fight with any mother who uses formula. It’s going to be really hard work to collect and safely store donor breastmilk. I have the time and resources to do that. But I do not want to support any corporation who breaks rules specifically designed to encourage better nutrition for infants. And even formula companies admit that breastmilk really is better.