Last July there was a facebook image circulating that showed a blue-haired woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter breastfeeding her baby. The image came from this post on a blog called Strawberry Mohawk. The image was intended to be “for all my fellow breastfeeding moms out there struggling with our nursing rights and image.”
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the original image of Rosie the Riveter, you can see it here.
This image spurred an interesting conversation initiated by a friend and colleague, Shira, on facebook about its meaning: whether it undermines the original image by reasserting that a woman’s place is breastfeeding her baby or re-imagines what it means to be a powerful woman, whether it suggests opening up or closing if the doors of what is possible as a woman.
I tend to land on the side that such imagery suggests that women can be strong and feminine, powerful in work and as mothers…but I do also think that runs the risk of encouraging mothers that they can do everything and normalizes the notion that there is only one “natural” way to feed your baby.
I am super pro-breastfeeding. I was breastfed for around three years. I tried for nine weeks to get Ezzy to latch…working with three lactation consultants…until it seemed to stress both of us in an unhealthy way. That whole time and for many weeks after I pumped and fed her breast milk from a bottle…until she was about to be labeled “failure to thrive” and we were told that a prescription formula might help her (which it did in the short-run, but caused all sorts of other problems in the long-run…but that’s another story).
I saw it as my duty to my child to try everything I could to give her the nutrition that is best for almost all babies–I say almost all, because I am still uncertain if it was the right nutrition for Ez…and because I now realize that it is impossible to say what it “best” for all babies, especially those with compromised health. Although breastfeeding is what is “natural,” at a certain point I had to recognize that I had a baby who would not have survived if her only option was breastfeeding.
This realization was difficult as a parent who leans toward “natural” models of parenting. For awhile the disappointment–and down-right anger–I felt about not being able to breastfeed made me seethe when confronted with breastfeeding mothers (or those who could breast feed but didn’t like it), honestly. I think had Ez been able to eat well from a bottle I might have felt less intense about the whole thing initially…but my feelings of inadequacy around not being able to feed her with the equipment “God” gave me for this purpose were wrapped up with my inability to feed her with the equipment Dr. Browns, The First Years, and Medela gave me.
I was constantly deeply afraid that she would starve…
When Ez aspirated so badly soon after switching to that prescription formula we realized that her lungs had been filling with milk and then formula…causing double aspiration pneumonia and bringing her frighteningly close to death. She wound up with an anti-reflux operation (a nissen fundoplication) and a feeding tube. It seems crazy now, but I struggled with this mode of feeding her too…wanting it to be very temporary, wanting to hide it.
Now I forget that it is different. I am not sad AT ALL about her tube. I am proud of it. It keeps her alive. It shows what a fighter she is. And, frankly, it is super convenient–no joke.
When Shira brought up the image of the breast feeding Rosie I stalked the discussion with interest for awhile…acknowledging that I should hold my tongue because it reminded me of some old wounds: both from how hurt I was in my failure to breastfed as well as in looking the politics of breastfeeding and bottle feeding in light of having a tube-fed child. Rather than directly address how I felt about the image, I suggested a photographic response with me dressed as Rosie tube-feeding Ezzy.
Shira, very wisely, said that it was Ezzy who should be Rosie…and she was so right, because it is Ezzy who is the hero of this particular feeding story. This story is not about my perceived inadequacy or about anyone’s “failure” to thrive…It is about her success. It is about her thriving despite the odds. Ezzy can, and has, done it.
Without further ado, here she is, Ezzy the Tube-Feeder: