The Equality and Human Rights Commission came under fire from lactivists for posting a picture on Twitter of a father feeding his child in honor of International Men’s Day. Alison McFadden, the director of the Mother and Infant Research Unit at the University of Dundee asked the EHRC to “please not use images of bottlefeeding” because images like the one used don’t help to “normalize breastfeeding.”
Supporting mums & dads! Ahead of #InternationalMensDay we’re pleased to announce that our #WorkingForward campaign has been extended to include working fathers. https://t.co/AANw5ZgOYL pic.twitter.com/dYuc795Tmb
— EHRC (@EHRC) November 17, 2017
That’s right; screw you, dad, and your desire to feed your child. Don’t you understand the breasts of the U.K. are at stake?!
McFadden’s response to the image was patently absurd and called out as such by readers on Twitter. The conversation got me thinking about my husband’s experience night feeding our firstborn son (by bottle, of course; we’re a biology-respecting household). Quite soon after my son’s arrival it became very clear that breastfeeding was not going to be for me. Thinking back on it two years later, I can honestly say that what bothered me the most was that I was not bothered by the fact that I didn’t breastfeed. Sure, I tried; I went to clinics, consulted with lactation experts and had my son evaluated for the usual suspect tongue-tie. In the end, breastfeeding just wasn’t the way my son and I gelled. I was just as content to feed him with a bottle (formula!) and get on with the more fun aspects of being a mom like playing and exploring outside.
As it turned out, it was my husband who truly bonded with our infant son over feedings. Not a natural communicator, my husband is a doer and a fixer. On nights and weekends he rapidly took to diapering, feeding, bathing and all the other rote chores of parenthood that physically drained my still-healing body. When he volunteered to do the night feedings, it was without a second guess. His ability to run on very little sleep for months at a time, and to fall back asleep the minute he hit the pillow, was what saved my sanity as a new mother. And truth be told, when that season ended my husband didn’t quite know what to do. He’d lost a channel to connecting to his son and would have to find a new way to bond with him as he grew.
In the meantime, I bonded with my son in other ways. We’d converse incessantly; I’d refer to him as my sous chef while babywearing in the kitchen, and relished in narrating our daily walks around the neighborhood. Some folks probably thought I was going batty being in the house all day with no one to talk to, but I’m a writer by nature. I simply spoke my narrative instead of typing it. Over time the talk turned into simple play, first with fingers, then toes, then toys. Over time my son and I bonded through experiences that only he and I could share. I used to think that was because I was the one at home with him. The reality is that I’m not the doer and the fixer; I’m the communicator. That’s the way I bond.
Both mother and father are going to find their own unique connection to their child. While the connection is forged through doing, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to do the same things. If I had given into new mom guilt, social pressures, pseudo-science or lactivist propaganda and insisted on breastfeeding, I would have deprived my husband of what was, to him, a powerful way of bonding with his child.
In our endless pursuit of human perfection, we get lost in obsessing over the minutiae of raising a child. How you feed a child isn’t half as important as is making sure your child is fed well. Feeding your child well is a way of showing him how much you love him. You don’t need to fall back on the joke of grandma’s endless buffet for the proof; you just need to watch your bleary-eyed husband get up at 2 a.m. to happily feed his hungry, growing boy.