Saturday, 7 January 2012

I Could See It In Her Eyes...

One of this things I detested, and still detest, about raising a child, is when other people state "I could see it in his eyes."  The first time this was actually used about my child, was when he'd been jumping on a couch, age 3.  A family member had asked him not to jump on the couch.  He'd never been asked not to jump on the couch before.  He was 3.  He carried on jumping on the couch.  When I came in, I took him aside and explained clearly that the rule in the house we were in, was that you didn't jump on the couch.  He looked at me and nodded, and didn't jump on the couch.

At home, I let him jump on the couch.  So he had been really confused by the request not to.

The family member who observed me discuss this with him, then lambasted me for being too soft.  When I explained to her that he hadn't actually understood what she meant, she laughed.  "He's much smarter than you think.  He understood everything I said.  He just knew he could ignore me.  I saw it in his eyes... "

This phrase "I saw it in her/his eyes..." haunted my childhood.  I well remember adults - parents, teachers, family members - berating me for something and seeing my response, in my eyes.  I was rebellious, cheeky, conniving, manipulative, lying... all could be discerned by the look in my eyes.  Confused, was never a feature.

I spent a lot of my childhood confused.  About arbitrary rules and dictates, unreliable rules and guidance and completely confusing messages.  My confusion was never mirrored by the adults, however.  They always knew what I was really thinking and feeling.  They would regularly inform me, they could "see it in my eyes..."

It's such a catch 22.  You can't defend against it, as you are saying the person looking at you is wrong.  And as you are rarely in a pleasant and easy place when this pronouncement has been made.  People rarely say "You are a lovely person, who understands what's going on so clearly, I can see it in your eyes... "  Such statements are usually reserved for the tense, awkward, accusatory silences.  For the moments of mis-communication between people.

For the moment when the other person, is imposing on us, their world view.

For when they speak, they speak what they fear you are thinking.  It's very, very rarely, what's actually going on.  It's that the face you are showing without speech... is being written upon by the other person.  They are writing out their own feelings,. and thoughts, and fear, on you.  Every school child knows this, when they are told to "wipe the smile off your face..."  It's a natural human instinct to smile in certain situations of fear and tension: to try and look innocent and nonthreatening.  How many times were you told to wipe the smile off your face, and to stop smirking, when you were shaking in your boots?  Me too.

The human propensity for reading meaning into an expressionless face has been well known for some time.  In the 1920s, Lev Kuleshov, a Soviet film maker, did a series of experiments that proved insight into this phenomenon.  He filmed human faces, in a bland, non-meaningful stance.  He then inter-cut the same image, on a montage, a sequence, of other objects.   A bowl of soup, a funeral casket etc.  Without exception, the audience raved about the emotional power of the actor.  The same face, inter-cut with different images, was applauded as the face that portrayed hunger, sadness, grief, anger, fear... the face image had not changed.  All that had changed, was the context that face was put in, by the images then put around the face.

The audience would take the clues, and read into the face, what they wanted to see.

The audience would do the work.  All the while, saying how wonderfully the actor had portrayed the emotions.

Truth, is in the eye of the beholder.  Especially when nothing is actually said.  Give a face, even a blank face, and do not speak... and the person looking at you, will say "I knew what that face was saying... I saw it in the eyes...."

Which brings us to this:

I see the breastfeeding mothers watching me as I rummage in my changing bag for the ready-made carton of formula. Those looks speak a thousand words, most of which boil down to, "How could you? We're doing the best for our baby, why aren't you?"
I feel as if they're judging me, looking at me as a lesser mother than they are just because I'm giving my baby formula. Do they feel superior to me? Certainly I feel that I have to defend my decision to bottle-feed, justify my choices so they'll accept me.
They sit at the postnatal groups with their beady eyes peeking over their breastfeeding aprons as my son gulps down his 5fl oz. But I can't help noticing how their looks change – a bit of envy maybe? – when I start to bottle-feed. My guess is they're thinking,"That looks a lot more efficient than breastfeeding." You're right, I want to tell them.
I can almost hear the deafening mental processing in those staid church halls: "She won't have cracked nipples, mastitis, thrush or leaking milk. And her partner probably helps with the night feeds."
But I don't want to fall into the trap of judging them too harshly, either. I'd like to have tried breastfeeding, but medical complications took the choice out of my hands. Now that I bottle-feed, I see the advantages. I'd even choose it again next time. It's really not so bad, I want to tell them, you should try it some time.
It's even anonymous!  How perfect.  A painful and self-contained rant about how those nasty breast-feeders condemn you with their eyes.

Not their mouths.  Not their words.  Not in their actions.  But by their eyes...

In a world where bottle feeding is the norm - the breast-feeder is condemning you.  In a world where breastfeeding support services are abysmal, the breast-feeder is automatically assuming you are a selfish cow, who didn't have any problems.  In a world where bottle feeding is normal, the breast-feeder is outraged you didn't do the thing the least amount of people do...

You know the thing that really drives me wild about this?  It's not the assumption that a woman who breastfeeds has never had any problems.  That they had a free pass on those leaking nipples, the mastitis and the night feeds.  (Note how breastfeeding is so much more work than bottle feeding.)  It's not that the breastfeeding mothers are looking over their aprons.. wtf?

It's not even the silence, as not one person has said one thing to this person.

What REALLY drives me wild about this.... is that the reality of a mother breast-feeding in a room with another mother who is bottle feeding... is far more likely to be...

"OMG, She's bottle feeding.  She's gonna call me a NAZI!"

Because in this world, we go on action, on words, on deeds, as opposed to silent thoughts that are written on faces... in the world of looking at actions/words/doing... we are not in a world where the breastfeeding mother is the oppressor.

She's the invader.  The abnormal one.  The freak.

And by goodness, do we let her know about it.  After all, we know what's she thinking... it's written in her eyes.

Those looks of absolute blankness do speak a thousand words.  They say "Don't hate me because I'm breastfeeding."

And, usually, the next thought is "Oh my gosh, I wonder if she had crap help at the hospital, and she's really upset about it all...."

And the third thought is usually "Oh gosh, I better look over to the door, and not look or smile at her, in case she has a go at me, and thinks I'm condemning her..."

Not to mention that for most of us, the thought would be "Thank goodness she knows to use ready made when out and about, that's fabulous."

And very often it's ... "Gosh, what a pretty baby, and isn't that a lovely top, wonder where she got it..?"

And quite often it's "I wonder if I paid the gas bill on time..."

Prejudice comes from words, actions, deeds.  Not telepathic reading of the eyes.  Of knowing 'what that look means'.

No matter how insecure you are feeling: you need to actually check out the reality you are in, without your fears at play.  And you certainly can't condemn everyone around you for the LOOK you are seeing in their eyes.

And I'm fed up apologising for breast-feeding.  I suspect you are too.  :-)

ps  Don't let the 3 year old jump on the couch.  The 6 year old will destroy it.  :-)


Evelyn said...

Yes, yes, YES!

Apron Appeal said...

Those who feel condemned by others do so because they condemn others.

Anonymous said...

Excellent response to that silly Guardian article - although you missed a few thoughts - 'I'm desperate for a pee', 'Hurry up so I can eat too' and 'Please go to sleep after this so I can get the shopping done'

Kirstylocks said...

Brilliant response to an abysmal letter. Loved what you have written. I am SICK of having to have an apologetic attitude because I bf! This letter might just cause a boob-olution :)

Ali said...

haha I'm with you on that one anonymous :-) I love this article. You have just expressed what I have felt so many times.

Nev said...

Love every word of this. Will share!

Neli said...

I think those who feel condemned by others do so not only because they are the ones condemning others, but because deep inside they condemn THEMSELVES.

Bek said...

Love it!!

cartside said...

That was kind of my thoughts, just you put it much better. That reading of minds, that implied judgement or fear of being judged without reality - we need to recognise it and not mindread so much! I know that i feel judged a lot when I'm probably not, so I can relate to it too, and I know that it's something that's a real barrier in many ways that needs to be overcome. I try not to let my behaviour be guided by fear of being judged. It's not easy because it takes a lot of confidence in ones own action to let go of that fear.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes... this.
And especially this: "And I'm fed up apologising for breast-feeding."

Two Ladies said...

I'm glad I read this. I've been bottle feeding since my son was 2 weeks old due to very low supply (nothing built it up... Tried everything). I am so nervous to feed in front of breastfeeding women in baby rooms as i think i can 'feel' them judging me.... They probably arent, but I fear that, if I were breastfeeding, I might judge. Of course this is a product of what my own prejudices would be if I were lucky enough to be able to breastfeed.

I'm so glad I read this because now I know my fears aren't justified... They're just based on my own disappointments and prejudices.

The breastfeeding women in my mothers group have been so loving and supportive about my failure to breastfeed. I now know that when I see judgment in the eyes of breastfeesing strangers it's me imagining it there.

Morgan said...

Low supply is complete bugger. And no comfort to know how rare it is. Just keep on loving your baby, and being in love with your baby. There are loads of good resources on how to bottle feed effectively, and without forcing too much down. (Whether it be breast-milk or formula, in the bottle.)

Reasons for giving babies control of the pace of feeds:

It allows the baby to drink the amount he wants rather than the caregiver giving him too much.
By not giving a baby too much milk while he is away from his mother, it helps him to breastfeed when he is with his mother. This will help to keep his mother's milk supply.
If you give only the amount the baby needs, the mother does not need to spend as long expressing to keep up with the amount of milk the baby is being (over)fed.
How to pace feeds

Try not to feed the baby every time he is unhappy. A nappy change, cuddle or more attention may be what he needs. If he is obviously hungry though, offer a feed.
Watch for signs that the baby is hungry rather than feeding to a time schedule. The baby will get restless and may start sucking his fingers or moving his head on your chest when you pick him up. If he is past this stage, he may be crying and not stop when you comfort him.
Hold the baby in an upright position. This stops him taking too much milk at the start of the feed. Support the baby's head and neck with your hand rather than with your arm (see drawing at right).
Use a slow-flow teat.
Gently brush the teat down the middle of the baby's lips, particularly the bottom lip. This helps the baby to open his mouth wide, allowing you to place the whole teat into his mouth, like he would if he was breastfeeding. Do not push the teat into the baby's mouth. Let him take it himself.
Tip the bottom of the bottle up just far enough for the EBM to fill the teat. As the feed goes on, you will need to let the baby gradually lean backwards more and more so that the teat stays filled with EBM. Keep the baby's head and neck lined up. At the end of the feed the bottle will be almost vertical.
Let the baby have rests every few minutes to make it more like a breastfeed. This will help stop the baby drinking too much too fast.
Allow the baby to decide when to finish the feed. He may not need to drink all the EBM in the bottle. It is better to do this than to worry about wasting a small amount of EBM.


Muddling Along said...

Well said that woman!

Sadly I suspect the writer of the article won't realise it says far more about her and what she has been through than the fictional breastfeeder she is transmitting these feelings onto

happyjustdoing said...

Wonderfully put! Also heartily "sick of having to have an apologetic attitude for bf", and of the current popular implication that I'm either a martyr to my baby or some kind of leaky earth mother. What part of bf being preferable isn't getting across?

Christian Louboutin said...

Waiting for your more posts !