Thursday, May 26, 2016

Mothering in the Age of the Comment Section

In case you are new around here, a few months ago, we filmed a video interview for Gerber (the baby formula, not life insurance). Some friends had pitched our family story to Gerber, and after we were selected, they showed up with a full camera crew, which was very exciting and quite the curiosity to our neighbors. Holding my cute three month old Isaiah, I spoke for just a few minutes about our lives, about mothering, and about feeding formula to our son Caden, who is four now, but had open heart surgery when he was born.

Last week, Adam told me not to look at them. But of course, that only piqued my previously mild curiosity. So I hopped over to the Gerber facebook page to see our video, which now has over 1.2 million views. First, I notice all the mad faces, 56 of them (never mind that there are 1.9k likes). Then I scroll through the comments, aghast at the anger and vitriol aimed mostly at Gerber, but also at me and my family. Breast is best, they chant. Followed by cries of emotional manipulation and exploitation. And queries into why in the world I wouldnt have breast-fed Isaiah, since after-all he wasn’t the one who had open-heart surgery. Strangers defend me, and then get attacked, because they are obviously formula-feeders. Also, I clearly just wanted to get that check.

I scroll and scroll, occasionally liking the (rare) kind comment.

My fingers itch to defend myself. I want to explain how I painstakingly pumped every three hours for 4 months straight for Caden, so he could get breast milk through his feeding tube (and yes, also formula for extra calories). And how I breast-fed him for four more months, even though doctors thought I probably couldn’t. I want to explain how I DID, in fact, breastfeed Isaiah for almost eight months. I just also gave him formula sometimes. To announce that my check was actually quite small, that we didn’t even get a life-time supply of Gerber. To ask commenters to please re-watch the video because I carefully stated that the #formulaforhappiness is different for everyone. Because every baby, every momma, every family, is different. With different needs, capabilities, and limitations.

But even if I did defend myself, responding to every comment with thoughtful and gentle rebuttals, I’m not sure that would change anything or anyone. Because what I hear most clearly in the seemingly never-ending string of comments is a whole lot of pain. And isolation. And mommas who hope they are doing the right thing, but aren’t entirely sure and so turn to the Gerber facebook page (of all places) for confirmation and validation. Sometimes putting someone else down makes you feel better, or that’s what my mom always told me when I was getting bullied in school.
The funny thing about this whole Gerber-video-drama, is that I thought quite intently about what I should say when interviewed. The message impressed into my heart was the very same one I need right now, sitting here feeling slightly cyber-bullied and sad. A gentle reminder that every story leans different, and mothering is hard because it’s hard, and also because we never feel quite sure we are doing the right thing. That it ultimately comes down to loving our kids and helping them know they are loved (no matter how they’re fed), so they can love others out of that belovedness.

Honestly, I doubt my parenting at least once every single day. I am exasperated and respond the ways I wish I wouldn’t, or lay in bed at night bemoaning all the ways I failed to connect with my kids, who grow up faster than I would have thought possible. So the last thing I need, or any of us needs, is more people reminding me of how I’m doing it all wrong.

What I DO actually need is a village, friends and family and neighbors that support and help and carry one another through the hard and holy role of mothering. As more and more women find their village online, how can we support each other? How can we make the internet, and even the comment sections, a more gentle place where we celebrate and learn and grow together? Disagreeing on things, of course, but nevertheless loving and celebrating all the different ways we live our lives and care for our kids.

Or maybe Adam was right, and I should just stay far away from comment sections. Maybe instead, I should sit on the front porch, call my friends, or text my sister. I should stop defending my choices and start living them with the understanding that I am doing the very best I can as a perfectly imperfect mommy.

10 comments:

  1. I'm proud of you. Handling a comment section is hard. I don't understand why every logical filter leaves our fingertips but I see it over and over across the intranet. Xo to you and yours.

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  2. How about for those of us that get no milk? I took supplements, pumped every two hours, drank dark beer...all the tricks. I only had enough milk to last 4 weeks with my second 2 kids. The first one screamed from starvation for the first 6 months because I had very little milk and didn't know it. You can't please everyone, you are doing a great job and formula serves a great purpose. Don't beat yourself up!

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  3. How about for those of us that get no milk? I took supplements, pumped every two hours, drank dark beer...all the tricks. I only had enough milk to last 4 weeks with my second 2 kids. The first one screamed from starvation for the first 6 months because I had very little milk and didn't know it. You can't please everyone, you are doing a great job and formula serves a great purpose. Don't beat yourself up!

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  4. Beautiful Becca. Especially love the village and we are so blessed to be a part of yours!

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  5. You get me every time. This is so vulnerable and beautiful and loving, and I'm sure that was no easy balance to strike. I adore you.

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    1. Also, I don't know how to make myself FPFG. ^^ lol

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  6. Beautifully written! I didn't have enough milk for 2 of my 3 boys (but enough to feed the whole neighborhood with the other one!), and I couldn't get over the way formula feeding moms are made to feel inadequate. My doctor referred to our local public health nurses as "breast nazis" because they are so completely against formula, and so mean about it at times. And yet now my boys are perfectly healthy and happy, so why does it matter how they were fed? At least they were being fed and loved!

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    1. So true! I totally agree, thanks for sharing!! :-)

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  7. This kind of hit home. Not the topic of feeding, but the whole mothering in the age of social media. What could be such an asset and bond mothers across the globe often leaves us feeling incredibly isolated and inadequate. I am actually working on an article about this topic right now.

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  8. We are all doing the best we can, right? I think you do so many lovely things for your family. I'm proud to know you.

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