A quick bit of background: One of the features on FFF's blog is a weekly slot where women who've used formula can post their stories – their reasons for doing so and the emotional struggles that so often went into the decision. It's a great slot not only for allowing people to vent, but also for dispelling the myth that formula is just for women who are too lazy to breastfeed and those formula-feeding mothers could have breastfed if they'd just cared more/tried harder/done a more efficient job of being Supermum. Unfortunately, it does have one big drawback – reading so many stories of breastfeeding-gone-wrong, all collected in one place, might potentially be offputting to mothers-to-be who are considering breastfeeding but wavering about the possibility. When FFF mentioned this concern, Alan agreed with it, and stated:
This is precisely the reason I offered a
counter-anecdote about the experience my children's mothers had (no need
even of lactation consultants, never any thrush, mastitis, etc.). At
least one person complained that posting this anecdote was insensitive
to all the readers of the blog who have had trouble; but it was
precisely for those newer readers you mention,–who have yet to attempt
breastfeeding and might start to wonder if they could ever possibly
accomplish such a seemingly Herculean task–that I wanted to provide a
competing narrative, one which happens to be just as true and accurate
as the others.
And I think that's actually a good idea – if properly and sensitively done.
Unfortunately, this is how Alan actually did it. Alan, what I want to explain here is why the way you went about it didn't work, why it annoyed people, and why it is, in fact, practically a case study in how not to do it.
The first thing you said in that comment, after the
basic information about number and ages of your children, is that
none of them ever had/is planned to have 'a drop' of formula.
Subtext (whether intentional or not): You disapprove of formula to
the extent that you think it worth avoiding even in the smallest
quantities, and speak approvingly of the fact that you have managed
to do so. Problem with this: It potentially alienates any woman
who's already used formula (with either their current baby or a
previous one). They may become concerned about the possibility of
you criticising them for their formula use, and this may put them off
speaking to you for any help or advice that they might have felt able to seek from you had you
handled the conversation differently. (And, unfortunately, this may extend to making them that bit less likely to seek advice from pro-breastfeeders in general, for fear of criticism. I think the effect of that one line would be a small one, but, when that's within the context of a very anti-formula-feeding society, these effects can add up.)
Following a quick detour onto the topic
of your ex-wife's horrible labours (ooops! just lost anyone who wants
to steer clear of labour scare stories), you make the point you were
trying to make in the first place about how easily breastfeeding all went, and
then promptly move on to boasting about how long your two older
children breastfed for. Now, look at that for a moment through the
eyes of a mother-to-be who's wavering badly on the issue of whether
to breastfeed at all and who isn't too keen on the idea because she
thinks it's sort of icky. How do you think she's going to feel on
hearing about breastfeeding for two or three years? Yes, it might be
inspiring – or it might be daunting to the
point of putting her still further off the whole idea. (And let's face it, the women who'd find that story inspiring are the ones who are pretty keen on the idea of breastfeeding anyway. With a comment like that, you're likely to end up preaching to the choir and putting off the very women you actually most want to preach to.)
even worse when you write about the child who wouldn't take anything
*but* breastmilk for an entire year. The reason many women give for not wanting to breastfeed is that they want somebody else
to be able to feed the baby now and again. For women who feel this way, you've just confirmed their
worst fears about breastfeeding.
Your comment then hits its nadir in the next paragraph, where, in a moment of truly staggering
tactlessness, you let us all know that you don't believe your
children's IQs would have been as high had they been formula fed, despite the fact that this was in response to a post in which a
woman had been talking about how guilty and distressed she felt about
having to feed her baby formula. Without, apparently, the least thought about how that might make the original poster, and the many other blog readers in the same situation as her, feel. Does that answer your question about who you attacked?
all fairness, as Alan has pointed out to me in comments, he has since
stated his regret for choosing that particular post to comment on.]
Following that, there were three
more paragraphs of fairly random points related to general themes of
breastfeeding, formula feeding, and lactivism, by which time I think everybody was at a bit of a loss as to
where you were trying to go with this and
the point you'd originally been trying to make was pretty much lost
in the general rambling.
Alan, you asked why anecdotes of problem-free breastfeeding wouldn't be welcome on the blog. Well, I don't think your anecdote of problem-free breastfeeding was actually the part of your comment that wasn't welcome. I think that if you'd just sympathised with
the OP, made your point, and shut up (“I'm so sorry to hear things
went so badly for you. Sounds like you were really unlucky – that
sort of problem really is unusual. I know my wife and my ex-wife
both managed to breastfeed easily, and really enjoyed it. What you
went through must have been awful.”), nobody would have minded. Instead, you had to not only make it into Random Ramblings Of A Lactivist, but do this so tactlessly that it was completely counterproductive to your cause. And, if you want to be a successful breastfeeding advocate, you just can't get away with that kind of clumsiness. You stated in another thread that it would all be worthwhile if your comment could convince even one person to breastfeed. What you've failed to take into account with that argument is the very real risk that going about it so badly will put off rather more than one person in the process.