Or: why I’m not into the formula commercial everyone is sharing.
Infant formula is a life saving gift. Throughout human history, there have been families that could not or did not provide their own human milk for their children. Substitutions were made with varying levels of success. The development of infant formula as a pharmaceutical product no doubt is life giving to to children whose parents cannot, for a number of reasons, provide human milk. Furthermore, families make a number of choices every day based on their unique needs, desires, cultural preferences, and resources. There will always be parents who will desire or require a substitute to human milk, and infant formula is a modern miracle.
But the mommy wars? That’s bull shit.
Let me be clear: I don’t care. If you are not harming your child, I really don’t care. If you think I am judging you when I breastfeed and you use formula, when I refuse pain medication and you loved your epidural, when I whip out cloth diapers and you grab you disposables, allow me to be very clear: I do not care. I have my own family to worry about, my own struggles, my own bodily needs.
The “mommy wars” are nothing more than:
1) Brilliant marketing.
2) A patriarchal ploy to keep us distracted from unifying in meaningful ways to actually improve the well-being of childbearing people and parents.
No parent is safe, we all find ourselves caught in the cross hairs. I had a homebirth, I breastfeed, I bed share. I went back to school at two weeks postpartum. My kids go to day care. I have pumped on soooo many conference calls.
The mommy wars exist because marketers and media want to distract us from the larger issues that keep childbearing people and parents down. The language of choice can easily distract us from a lack of choices with regard to combining work or education, parenting, and infant feeding. If you can call it “choice,” that excuses any societal responsibility for creating more just structures for birth, infant feeding, and infant care. If formula is a “choice,” then we don’t have to make sure everyone has access to high quality breastfeeding support and education. If working is a “choice,” then who cares about paid maternity leave or adequate breaks and space to express breastmilk? And if it’s a “choice,” you can separate people along those lines. And if we are separate, we are less powerful.
Keep in mind that when a formula company makes a commercial that encourages us to embrace the sisterhood of motherhood, they are not a benevolent voice for reason – they are trying to sell you their product. And I’m not trying to vilify Similac, or formula manufacturers in general, but the point of a commercial is to sell a company’s product. And it’s even better for them if they don’t have to pay for airtime, but can capitalize on the “Awww…” factor and get bloggers, Tweeters, and Facebook land to do it for them. (Look, even I’m doing it right now. Well played, Similac!) Just as distribution of infant formula samples are not a benevolent gift from formula manufacturers, they are marketing tools to encourage brand loyalty. Formula manufacturers are corporations, their goal is to make money. Making you feel good about buying their product makes them money. Creating warm fuzzy associations makes them money. Attaching an air of approval from the medical profession makes their product seem like a better choice than others.
Corporations want to make money. I’m not even judging them for that. That is the purpose of a business. But let’s not pretend it’s any more than that. Even the HoneyMaid commercial with two dads, as warm and fuzzy as it made me feel inside, was designed to appeal to a certain consumer (like me) to encourage them to buy their product – and it worked!
In the case of infant formula, who pays? Families that rely on infant formula. And they have to pay an extraordinary amount to subsidize clever advertising and free gift bags. Who benefits from inadequate support for breastfeeding? Formula manufacturers. How is that fair to families trying to feed their babies?
You can keep people busy if you convince them that they need to be on the defensive because someone is inevitably judging them. You can shame people into silence about their choices for fear of being perceived as “judgmental.” You can get people to buy your product. And in it’s own backhanded way, when Similac calls for an end to the mommy wars, it is continuing false dichotomies about who is a good parent and perpetuating the myth that by examining the options presented to us, we are “judging” those who need or want a different path, navigating the complexities of parenting in a culture that doesn’t value caring labor.
Similac is selling one thing: formula. Not sisterhood, not solidarity.
Confidential to formula feeding moms: It’s really, really true. You ARE a good parent. You will not get a whiff of judgement from me. You feed your child with love and care. I trust you – implicitly and explicity – to do what is best for you. I do not second guess. But even more importantly: you don’t need my approval.