In this day and age

This morning when I dropped the little dude off at creche he went ballistic. Wailing, reaching his arms out for me as I left, crying like his heart was going to break. I felt mine rise up and choke me, I was blinking away tears as I drove off to the desk job.

The transition is not going as well as I’d hoped, but perhaps it is going as well as can be expected. I’m glad to be back in the office. There are lots of perks. A full catalogue of white-collar privilege. I appreciate it more now, contrasting it with at-home-full-time-parenthood; and even more again if I imagine what it would be like to combine parenting with something like low-paid service work. A chance to do work I enjoy without interruption, a chance to have personal space that no-one else gets messy, the ability to do errands at lunch time, interesting conversations with colleagues, and an increased disposable income (even if a horrifying proportion is eaten up by creche fees). I feel like my time is valued again. Also, having a bit less time with the little dude makes me enjoy my time with him all the more. 

Oh, but to walk away and see him cry. To pick him up at the end of the day and have him be overtired because he didn’t nap well at creche, so hard on him, so hard on us both. That look in his eyes when I come and get him “Where were you mama? Why did you leave me here for so long?" 

He’s in three and a half days a week. It’s a bit much for him. But any less and I wouldn’t be able to do my job. As it is I’m feeling the tug-o-war fairly acutely. I left early today, so I have some hours to make up over the weekend or while he naps tomorrow. 

I wish, I wish, I wish that my husband could work fewer hours. With the need to get the whole family up early and out of the house and into town, the little dude is going to bed earlier too, so he barely sees his daddy in the evening. I wish that my parents could also work fewer hours, so someone else he’s closely bonded to could have him for an afternoon one or two days a week, for a bit of quiet one-on-one time (my mum has just started a new job that is more responsibility and less scope for a scaled-back working week). I wish creche wasn’t so expensive – spreading my hours evenly across the week might be better for the little dude but then we’d have to pay for an extra day of care, and while we could do that it’s a big enough chunk of our take-home pay already to make us reluctant to do so. 

This will get easier, he’ll settle in, we’ll all adjust to this new scheme. Being at home with him all the time was starting to get to me, I don’t feel conflicted about returning to my job. I don’t feel guilty. I just feel sad and angry. Sad that it’s hard for him, and angry at a world that presents only two options. Option one: stay at home for several years until all your children are at school, by which time you will need to start a career from scratch. You will be overwhelmed at times, and lonely, and bored, you will be under-appreciated, people will suggest that what you do is easy and isn’t real work. You will fume because they have no idea that your day is so much harder and so much more important than the myriad variations of paperpushing that get rewarded with a decent pay cheque. Option two: walk away from your baby, and try and juggle paid work with still meeting his needs. Your career will take a hit, but you will also be judged for not being completely devoted to your motherhood role. You will be overwhelmed at times, and feel torn, and stressed, and you will be under-appreciated. Some people will suggest that you should work longer hours, that you’re not committed to your job; some will suggest that you shouldn’t work at all, that you’re not committed to your children. You will fume because no-one judges fathers according to the same metric. 

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Evil friggin marketing genius

Have you seen the new Similac advert? I’m not going to link to it (don’t wanna drive traffic), but I can tell it’s already an extremely successful marketing campaign because it’s popped up in my facebook feed from three sources and I live in New Zealand where you can’t even buy Similac and where formula advertising is banned. So, it’s going viral. 

It is suuuuuuuch an awwwwwwful ad! 

That’s not why it’s being shared though, it’s being shared with comments like “love this, no matter what we do, we all want the best for our children”, etc etc. 

Here are just a few of my issues with it:

1) The babies look dead. Wax mannequins? Floppy and weird. And none of them are crying. None of them are doing anything at all. What the hell? This is the first tip-off that this ad was devised by people who have nothing to do with children. 

2) The breastfeeding is not shown, the breastfed babies are all in weird tent sling things, which, uhhhh, what?

3) The dialogue is like this:

Woman #1: “Oh look, the breast police have arrived”

Woman #2: “A hundred percent breastfed, straight from the source”

Woman #3: “Drug-free pool birth, dolphin assisted”

Yeah, it’s just an ad, but the breastfeeding mums turned up and were immediately attacked as though they’d said something judgmental before they’d said anything. Then, “drug-free pool birth, dolphin assisted”?! Let’s equate something normal like feeding a child from the breast with something you might expect to see on South Park. Sure, that makes sense. 

The dialogue continues, each line is individually problematic, together the impression is enough to make you want to punch the screen. “Looks like some moms are too lazy to breastfeed” – ouch, geez, who would say that? No-one. It’s an ad. These aren’t real people. (Aside from anything else, once breastfeeding is established and if all goes well, it’s easier. No prep of bottles. No washing anything. No remembering anything. Super portable. Always on hand whenever mum is there. No measuring. No buying things. Easier. The lazy option. Hell, that’s why I’m still doing it!)

4) The resolution. The parents are preparing to fight, then one of the strollers starts to roll towards the lake, all the parents rally and run to catch it. The baby coos up at us being unrealistically clean and neat, and then the parents are all friends. The words flash up “No matter what our beliefs, we are parents first… Welcome to the Sisterhood of Motherhood… Similac #SisterhoodUnite”

Rights, so a) you forgot about the dads all of a sudden? There was a group of dads but now we’re just about motherhood?; b) don’t you just hate it when giant formula companies explicitly co-opt a feminist-sounding catchphrase like “SisterhoodUnite”?!, c) YOU SET UP THE AD AS A SCENE OF CONFLICT, YOU DON’T GET TO TELL US NOT TO FIGHT. Yeah, that’s right – the first half of the ad was staged. So was the second half. None of this really happened. In real life, we all have friends who do things differently and that’s all fine and no-one is that judgmental. This ad doesn’t get to affirm a lack of judgment when it’s premised on the existence of vicious judgment! That’s bullshit. 

5) It’s a formula ad. So we have to look at it with the cognizance that it is trying to sell us formula. To sell us formula, it has to normalise formula and marginalise breastfeeding (which it does by having the breastfeeding mothers use those weird slings and by introducing them with “the breast police have arrived”). It has to shrug off the fact that formula is a substitute for breastmilk. It has to pretend that there are two equal choices in how to feed a baby. “No matter what our beliefs…” – really, a genius tag line. Beliefs come into play in some areas of parenting, but in others, there are facts. Smoking while pregnant is harmful to the baby. Vaccines prevent diseases. Formula is a substitute for breastmilk. Fact fact fact. Infant mammals consume their mother’s milk. Formula is the food that our ingenious species has concocted to replace breastmilk.

And another thing – the ad has to suggest that formula mums are all totally happy with being formula mums. But some people really want to breastfeed, and they don’t get to, and formula companies like Similac like it that way because that helps them turn a profit. Similac has a section on their website with breastfeeding tips. This is a quote:

Here are common reasons why mothers are unable to breastfeed:

  • Nipple soreness
  • Engorged or “full” breasts
  • Breast milk shortage
  • Plugged milk duct
  • Breast infection

See what they did there? They listed some reasons why mothers are unable to breastfeed. But it’s not that simple. There are reasons why breastfeeding can be very difficult to establish (oh, don’t I know it!), and there are factors that can crop up along the way like a plugged duct, but these aren’t really reasons why mothers are unable to breastfeed. With the right support, they can usually be addressed. So if you wanted to breastfeed, but didn’t, the question that springs to my mind is “who let you down?” Was it your midwife who didn’t notice that the baby wasn’t gaining properly until it was too late? Was it your partner or parents who told you that you should use formula? Was it your GP who didn’t know anything about breastfeeding so couldn’t answer your questions? Was it some feature or several features of a culture in which breastfeeding isn’t normalised? 

6) A little widdle bit of self-righteousness is kinda ok. Not in a mean way, just in the sense that it’s ok to look at someone else’s method and think “hope that works for them, but it’s not for me.” It’s ok if someone looks at me still breastfeeding the little dude while working and feels glad that’s not them, that they’ve transitioned to formula. It’s ok if someone looks at me going back to work when he’s 11 months old and feels affirmed in their decision to stay at home. It’s ok if someone looks at the fact that he still has one feed at around 2am and feels vindicated that they were stricter with night-weaning. The problem is when this becomes an attack. Which, in my experience, is not a real-world problem – it’s a pretend, internet problem. In the real world, there is huge solidarity among parents. We know that other parents with children a similar age “get it” like no-one else does, and we don’t want to judge lest we be judged. The idea that there are camps of parents and it’s all really mean and snarky is manufactured.