Washington Post reporter Emily Wax-Thibodeaux wrote a fantastic essay that outlines why she literally couldn't breastfeed her child and the grief she got as a result. She had breast cancer and chose chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and medication for treatment.
Wax-Thibodeaux describes one awkward incident where she defended her decision not to breastfeed.
"You really should breast-feed," the hospital's lactation consultants, a.k.a. "lactivists," said.
When I simply said, "I'm going to do formula," they didn't want to leave it at that.
So holding my day-old newborn on what was one of the most blissful days of my life, I had to tell the aggressive band of well-intentioned strangers my whole cancer saga.
It felt particularly exhausting because this was the first time in nearly a decade that I could forget about cancer and enjoy having had a fairly easy pregnancy and giving birth to a healthy child.
"I can't. I had breast cancer," I said, looking down at Lincoln and stating proudly: "But I'm just so happy to be alive and be a mother after cancer."
The author had already been through so much at this point in her life that the nosy and pushy busybodies were adding to her stress.
Yet her health concerns and cancer treatments were irrelevant to this lactation consultant and anyone else who isn't the author.
Even if Wax-Thibodeaux was physically able to nurse her child, the reasons for her choice are not only moot but they're none of anyone's business. She is no different than the mother who chooses to breastfeed because she cannot afford formula.
Gently or overtly nudging women to make a "right" choice in a decision as personal as this one is yet another way we convey the message that women cannot be trusted with their own bodies. Pushing a woman to breastfeed because "breast is best" is just as harmful and disgusting as ordering a woman on the street to smile because life can't be that bad or demanding that women be less abrasive in the workplace.
The underlying message is clear: you're not acting in a way I think you're supposed to act so you need to change your behavior to make me more comfortable.
Giving a justification assumes that the request for a behavior change is appropriate. The request is not appropriate; the decision is also none of our goddamn business.
Wax-Thibodeaux could have chosen to bottle feed because a leprechaun told her so. She has the right to do as she chooses for whatever reason she likes.
(If the comments are any indication of reality, I'd love to know why lactation consultants are part of a hospital stay. They shouldn't be unless the patient has requested it. WTF?)