Just when I think I've heard it all as a mom, a new twist on a hot parenting topic comes along that makes me reconsider everything I know about raising kids. Case in point: In Slate's advice column, "Dear Prudence," a nursing mom accused another parent of begging for breast milk, which is a dilemma on so many different levels.
In case you missed it, quite the Internet scuffle broke out after Slate published an interesting question from a mom writing to the magazine's advice section, aka "Dear Prudence." Essentially, the mom wanted guidance regarding her neighbor who was supposedly pestering her for breast milk donations. And although this might sound like nothing more than a small miscommunication issue, I think this situation is indicative of more.
According to the anonymous mom, the whole thing started when she and "Tara" were pregnant at the same time. The two were casual acquaintances as they lived in the same building, so the commenter was understandably sympathetic when Tara expressed her frustration with breastfeeding.
"I saw Tara a few days after she gave birth and asked her how things were going," the mom wrote. "She burst into tears and told me that she didn’t think she would be able to breastfeed."
The commenter continued, She sounded so heartbroken about not nursing (with comments like 'my baby is unlucky to have me for a mother') that I offered to give her a few of my stored bags of breast milk to at least ease her mind." Kind, right? It's not uncommon for parents to share breastmilk, by the way.
Unfortunately, this simple act of kindness progressed from a one-time thing to the mom receiving frequent requests for milk. This was problematic because breast milk isn't exactly something you just snap your fingers and produce.
"My neighbor feels entitled to my breast milk," the mom wrote in her letter, while noting that Tara texted her day and night and sent pics of her baby to induce guilt.
"I tried offering excuses, none of which she would accept. If I said I didn’t think I could produce enough milk for two babies, she replied that mothers of twins do it all the time," the mom said. "If I said I didn’t want to spend any more time pumping or nursing, she said I could pump on one breast while feeding my son on the other."
Of course, it's fair to argue that Tara overstepped her boundaries here. But all criticism aside, what I see here is a mom grappling with a deep fear about whether she can give her baby enough breast milk to thrive. One commenter recognized this, writing: "I would offer her some resources on breast milk banks, and [Postpartum Depression] as well as making it plain that the topic of her breast milk is closed." She also revealed knowing what it's like to pump for a preemie.
The commenter's suggestion brings up an important point about what it's like to struggle with nursing in a culture rife with policies that discourage long-term breastfeeding.
"It doesn't surprise me to hear this story," noted Suzanne Barston, author of Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t. The book traces Barston's own emotional journey after breastfeeding failed due to her child's breast milk intolerance, and it explores why moms feel so much pressure to breastfeed in the first place.
"There's this new-mom neurosis where everyone on the Internet is trying to look like the perfect mother," Bartson tells Romper. "But there are societies where moms have real maternity leaves, or where your own mom moves in the help. We have unrealistic expectations [on women, vs.] what life is really like for American mom. So while it's great that now there are places to pump at the airport, measures like that are only Step #1."
As a parent who once had a newborn in the NICU and almost lost it trying to ensure the baby was gaining weight, I couldn't agree more. A new mom who is breastfeeding successfully likely has a village helping her out behind-the-scenes, and that's something you don't often see on Instagram.
Bottom line: Until we get more honest about the resources a new mother truly needs, there are going to be issues regarding breastfeeding, and all sorts of mama drama as a result.