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On Expertise and Advocacy

Coffee apparently causes cancer.  Or does it?  Pending appeal, everyone in California may have to be warned about the risk every time they grab a cup.  The scientific community seems to be pushing back on what appears to be a silly overreaction, and a media corrective is in progress.  The source of the controversy is a study purporting to show that exposure to a compound released in the process of roasting coffee beans increased the odds of lab animals developing cancer.  It seems that the classification of the substance as a carcinogen isn’t controversial among scientists.  However, whether or not and how this study applies to humans remains hypothetical, and inconclusive.  Nevertheless, public policy has stepped in half-cocked due to the misleading use of science by advocates in a court system often ill-equipped to understand it.

Seeing the news reports around the dubious coffee-cancer connection reminded me of an incident, or rather series of incidents, in the first week of my son’s life.  The birth was tough for my wife.  There was a long induction, a lot of labor, and finally a C section.  I won’t go into additional detail.  That’s her story to tell, not mine.

During my wife’s pregnancy, I became vaguely aware that there is a bitter dispute around the efficacy of feeding babies formula, as opposed to breastfeeding them.  Thankfully, as a man, the mommy wars and similar inter-female conflicts are far away from me.  I don’t have much at stake in the cultural arms race that seems to plague modern motherhood, but I do want to be a good dad, and a supportive husband.  I tried to do my part to prepare, along with my wife, for what to expect in delivery and with a new baby.  One thing we didn’t learn until too late is that a delivery like the one my wife went through can screw up the hormones and other processes that cause the female body to produce milk.

For those who aren’t parents, the first days with a new baby are a parade of doctors, nurses, technicians, shepherds, kings from the orient, and various relatives, all poking and prodding mother and child.  In our case, among the visitors was a woman described to us as a “lactation consultant.”  My wife had planned to breastfeed, at least initially, and the consultant told her she was doing a great job.  According to her the latch was great, the baby was eating, and everything was going splendidly.  Like most new parents, we took every positive statement as a good sign.  However, the day before we were supposed to leave the hospital, we were told that our son had started to lose weight at a rate bordering on dangerous, and was becoming jaundiced.  After an intense night of an extremely hungry baby, we asked for some formula, which temporarily calmed him down.

At first things seemed to be improving, and my wife and son were discharged from the hospital.  Unfortunately, upon returning home, the feeding issues resumed.  Every free second was spent frantically googling for solutions.  The internet is teeming with wild-eyed claims about babies and feeding them.  Many fiercely oppose feeding baby formula to infants.  Children fed formula are, according to these sources, much more likely to have all manner of health and developmental problems.  There are of course countervailing opinions, which say that the benefits are overstated, and complicated by demographics and socio-economic status.  Deciding which of these narratives to believe feels more like an act of faith than a rational decision.

At the baby’s first doctor’s appointment, our son had lost more weight.  My wife went to the “lactation consultant” referred by our pediatrician’s office seeking advice.  She went to that appointment alone (looking back I regret not going).  This is where things got really weird.  The consultant told her that the baby was severely tongue-tied.  We would need to see a specialist, and corrective surgery was necessary for the baby to eat.  Further, my wife would be required to go through an intense pumping regimen for hours every day in hopes of maybe, at some point, producing sufficient milk.  Needless to say, we were both quite upset by this news.

We made a follow-up appointment with the pediatrician to verify that what the consultant said was true.  In the process of explaining the situation to my son’s doctor, my wife said she was open to abandoning breastfeeding.  Suddenly there was a sea change, and everything was A-OK.  Our pediatrician said she saw no reason to seek a specialist.  Relieved, we went to Costco, bought a tub of formula the size of a smartcar, and have had no feeding issues since.  This episode quickly faded into the chaos of the first few months of having a kid.  At 6 months, my son eats constantly and is generally large and in charge.

Things ended well for us, but it’s strange to me that these consultants are permitted to embed with the actual caregivers.  In retrospect, it’s clear that they are advocates, not clinicians.  There are no circumstances where one would have told my wife that breastfeeding probably wasn’t going to work out for her.  Worse, the assumption that my wife was hell-bent on feeding the baby this way had colored the behavior of the actual experts.  Had we (and my wife in particular) not kept some semblance of wits, we could’ve ended up pursuing an unnecessary surgery and made my wife spend her maternity leave hooked up to something from the dungeon of Madame Van Der Sexxx.  All that for what amounts to uncompromising pursuit of a lifestyle choice despite an abundance of reasonable alternatives.

A dangerous combination of statistical data, poorly understood scientific study, and media designed for short attention spans seems to plague society.  We are constantly bombarded with information we’re assured is “scientific,” but rarely does that information come with critical context or caveat.  On top of that, well-meaning entities and institutions deploy scientifically informed advocates along with their experts in ways that aren’t clearly distinguishable to the average person.  I see this as a problem, but I have no idea how to resolve it.

Data from the scientific method has been used to produce outcomes even our relatively recent ancestors would have seen as miraculous.  However, people trying to navigate day-to-day decision making can’t scrutinize every nugget of information on which they rely.  How do we as individuals use information to our benefit but avoid overreactions?  Where do we temper facts with concepts like diminishing returns and making the perfect the enemy of the good enough?  How do we avoid crafting policy based on the possible but highly improbable, when it isn’t always easy to tell the experts from the advocates?   I don’t believe in censorship or official information filters, but I’m also not sure it’s realistic to expect everyone to become coldly rational and well-informed on everything.

Maybe breast milk is marginally better than formula, even if it isn’t worth risking malnutrition or a medical procedure (I demur regarding the kinky pumping devices).  According to Dr. Google, for families like mine the science is a wash, but I don’t have the expertise to truly know.  What I do know is that something you do every day, among many other factors, is statistically increasing the odds of you developing cancer, your kids being delinquents, and complete catastrophe for you and everyone you love.  There’s also an army of people out there using that information to support some agenda.  Somehow we need to find a way to benefit from our knowledge, but without using it capriciously.  On top of that, we must be vigilant to avoid manipulation by those who would use data as a cudgel.  There’s a coffee on me for the first person who figures this one out.

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I'm an attorney in the greater Washington, DC area. When not busy untangling obscure questions about the American healthcare system I spend my time pondering law and public policy, working on the perfect dead-lift form, and praying that my dedication to the Washington Redskins doesn't result in a heart attack.

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53 thoughts on “On Expertise and Advocacy

  1. I’m not sure if people were better off or more informed in the past. Snake oil salesman were always a thing. If we did have a brief period where snake oil salesman were not a thing then it was because of a combination of the federal and state regulatory sweet spot and a lack of access to media for advertising. Most likely, it was mainly the lack of media access. Snake oil salesman were limited to disreputable sources with low reach from about Theodore Roosevelt’s admistration to the Bill Clinton admistration when the Internet emerged. People have always been gullible in aggregate and as individuals though.

    There really isn’t that good a cure for this problem that isn’t highly illiberal and undemocratic. Education isn’t a solution because under the right conditions even well-educated people can be drawn to snake oil. The anti-vaxx movement or the many people avoiding gluten that don’t have to are prime examples of this. Trying to regulate snake oil out of existence doesn’t work and you can’t stop people from advocating snake oil without hurting free speech.

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    • I definitely don’t think it can be regulated out of existence. I do wonder if there isn’t a way to dial back from what seems like an unending state of total cultural panic combined with near religious faith in The One Right way (which of course must be evangelized to the most absurd lengths possible).

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      • Find a way to regulate the Internet like the old public broadcasters were regulated and make sure that the people spreading cultural panic don’t have broadcast ability. Really teach skepticism and critical reasoning in kids so that we get fewer people that go by gut tribal instincts.

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      • This is where Hanley’s Anti-Rent Seeking amendment could probably do a lot of good. As maddening as I found La Leche, I wouldn’t want to legislate them out of existence. Because whatever mechanism that could be leveraged to legislate them away could also be leveraged to legislate those who seek to balance them away. No dice. So let’s minimize the ability for groups to turn their preferences into policy.

        I’m a bit uniquely situated to observe and partake in the “Mommy Wars” and a big take away is that the notion of “The One Right Away” seems uniquely pernicious there with the vast majority of “combatants” actually being victims of much larger forces. In short, society demands that mothers’ identity AS mothers is much more core to their self-concept and, therefore, every aspect of motherhood is that much higher stakes. So it’s not enough to say, “Yea, I prefer organic but it’s okay if you eat conventional. At least our kids sometimes eat fruit, AMIRIGHT?!” Instead, there is this intense pressure to think, “I am a mother. Mother is what I am. And I must lean in and be a perfect mother. So deciding between organic and conventional is a Very Important Matter and there IS a right answer. And if there IS a right answer then there must also be WRONG answer. VERY wrong answers. I’m not convinced my answer is right but I think it is and I really *hope* it is and one thing that will help is if I make REALLY clear how WRONG all the other answers are. So, yea, I feed my kid organic and you’re a monster for doing anything else.”

        So everyone looks bad, everyone feels bad, and the cycle perpetuates. I know the pressure of modern parenting… I’m a parent myself and in my professional capacity I work with parents. And I have some glimpses of modern mothering… both through that professional work and as a single dad with joint custody, I sometimes bump up against that world. It really just seems cruel what we do to moms (which is really just an extension of how cruel we are to women in general).

        But now I’m wondering if I just mansplained motherhood…

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        • I think the One Right Way stuff is a coping mechanism for the realization that no one really knows what they’re doing. There’s also a bit of a Bowling Alone aspect to it. People need to find something to attach their identities to and certain lifestyle choices seem as good as anything else.

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          • The point that it’s a coping mechanism seems completely reasonable to me. One of the most terrifying things for me about adulthood is how you are literally pulling nearly every decision you make totally out of your backside and are utterly flying by the seat of your pants.

            So I think half the people in the world are walking around with barely-stuffed-down terror that I Have No Idea What I Am Doing (like me) and the other half have convinced themselves that they have every single answer and are absolutely right.

            When I was a child I actually, earnestly believed that there was an instruction manual you got at age 18 so you knew how to be an adult.

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              • I got one from my dad, it was short. All it said was, “Life isn’t fair. Suck it up, buttercup.”

                A true sentiment, but not very helpful when it came to managing personal finances, etc.

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                • True, but I learned that one pretty early in life.

                  What I really wanted was a book with guidelines on car maintenance, make-up application, what shoes go with what kind of dresses, how to write a sympathy card when you have to, how to walk in pumps, how long leftovers keep before they go bad, how to wisely invest money, and how to rewire a lamp.

                  Oh, and maybe couples-dancing, too. I mean the real kind, not the stupid Virginia reel thing they made us do when we had a substitute gym teacher.

                  I know, YouTube tutorials exist for some of those things now, but I wanted the manual when I was 18.

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                • That reminds me of the advice my dad gave me before my wife and I went to the hospital.

                  ‘Try not to see anything you can’t unsee.’

                  I’m not saying there’s no wisdom in that but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.

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  2. Babies need to eat: breastmilk, formula, whatever. Anybody who makes the process of feeding that baby more difficult (and especially for understandably disoriented new parents) deserves to have that aforementioned coffee cup thrown directly into their foreheads.

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  3. Ugh, carcinogens, the new favorite bugaboo of the woo caste. Everything causes cancer and if you stuff a hapless lab rat with enough of it it seems you can get a tick on cancer rates. Screw those idiots.

    As to the rest, alas busibodies and know at alls, like the poor, will always be with us.
    The internet just lets them network and swarm.

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    • The internet just lets them network and swarm.

      This is why I’ve been toying with the idea of completely cutting off social media for myself. I’ve never used Twitter because the whole concept offends me. Still, I worry that sending facebook down the toilet would leave me out of important tailgating activities.

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  4. The good doctor was invaluable in helping Zazzy and I during Mayo’s first few months. She had no problem feeding and he had no problem eating, but when she returned to work around the 3.5 month mark, she couldn’t keep up with the enormous demands of full-time work, co-parenting, pumping, and feeding. She would regularly fall asleep while feeding him after work or otherwise be unavailable to him for anything other than feeding. But she bought into the “Breast is best… AND ONLY!” mantra. Hell, I did to. The La Leche Mafia — and that’s what they are — basically told us we’d be poisoning our son if we fed him formula.

    Thankfully, Dr. Russ wrote her a letter giving her a much more nuanced understanding of the research on feeding and she was able to shift her perspective. Yes, breast is probably best… but formula is really good to. Whatever slight benefits breast milk might have over formula do not outweigh the physical and emotional stress or lack of bonding she could take part in due to being a slave to feeding. We slowly transitioned towards formula, repeated the process with LMA, and it made a world of difference.

    Part of what really frustrated me about the whole process was that our hospital — an otherwise amazing institution that Zazzy now works for — had some official certification as “Baby Friendly”. This meant, among other things, they were pro-breast feeding. Which is fine! Lactation consultants can be helpful. Encouraging women to breast feed and helping them develop healthy habits around feeding their children is a good thing! But when you advocate dogma above all else… you’re no longer friendly to anyone other than yourself.

    I remember during Mayo’s first few hours, he and Zazzy were having trouble securing a good latch (in the end, it turned out she needed a nipple guard which was an easy solution and made a big difference). At one point, there were no less than 6 different hands on her breasts and his head — none of them belonging to her and I — trying to get him to latch. I saw the anguish on her face and eventually told everyone to leave the damn room. Even if they were right… fucking Christ… can you be right without driving this poor, exhausted, depleted woman bonkers?! Apparently not.

    Sadly, a friend of mine went through a similar situation as you described, right down to several rounds of trying to address the tongue tie (which may or may not have existed). The mother worked herself damn near to death trying to feed the kid. But she refused to budge of breast feeding because “Breast is best!” and “Formula is poison!” I really felt for the family. And the husband — my friend — felt really powerless because the role of fathers/men in these decisions feels a little fraught in many ways.

    So, yea… let’s use good science in responsible ways with a bias towards looking at all available evidence.

    Thoughtful piece. Thanks.

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    • Part of what really frustrated me about the whole process was that our hospital — an otherwise amazing institution that Zazzy now works for — had some official certification as “Baby Friendly”. This meant, among other things, they were pro-breast feeding. Which is fine! Lactation consultants can be helpful. Encouraging women to breast feed and helping them develop healthy habits around feeding their children is a good thing! But when you advocate dogma above all else… you’re no longer friendly to anyone other than yourself.

      This is exactly the part that I found to be most troubling. I know law and medicine aren’t the same thing, but I feel its part of my professional duty to tell clients second best/imperfect but maybe more practical options. I like the hospital and our pediatrician but it seemed like no one was ready to throw that out there until we sort of stumbled into it.

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  5. Your experience sounds very similar to ours. Induction, difficult delivery, C-section, parade of lactation consultants who ranged from bad to WTF is wrong with you. We decided to make breastfeeding a priority, but neither of us was opposed to formula in a pinch, and we were quite forthright with the consultants about that. We did finally talk to an RN who helped mothers struggling, and she thought Bug might be tongue tied, and told us that the local specialist would be in our clinic in a few days, so we should make an appointment and have him looked at.

    Turns out he was, and the procedure is extremely minor (a tiny nip with a pair of surgical scissors (you’ll bite your tongue or cheek and do more damage), and then he goes immediately on the boob). The effect was immediate, as he started nursing right there and didn’t stop until he weened himself off at about a year.

    Of course, he had lots of formula after that day as well, because let’s face it, powder doesn’t go bad at room temp, and a person can find potable water almost anywhere. So if it was a day where mom wasn’t going to be able to nurse, and refrigeration would be an issue, he got a bottle of formula, and neither of us felt even a little bit bad about it.

    But yeah, lactation consultants are a very mixed bag.

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    • Glad you guys got through it, and I definitely don’t want to come off as saying there’s no value to the consultants or that they’re all bad. I like to think I was never a particularly judgmental person, but every day I’m a parent I find myself even less ready to criticize what other people do with this stuff. My operating principle is you really dont know what you dont know.

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  6. That sounds like a rather unfortunate experience.

    Our one experience with an LC was totally different – a parade of doctors and nurses with a variety of explanations of why the baby wasn’t nursing but kept falling asleep the moment she was on the boob (tongue tied? nipples the wrong size and/or shape? breathing poblems? sleep disorder? too much / not enough let-down?). The otherwise amazing NICU folks refused to take the baby off formula until she could drink some number of ounces of milk per hour for some number of consecutive hours.

    Finally we got an LC to come in, and she pointed out that the baby wasn’t nursing because she wasn’t hungry because she was always full of formula. When she got a boob, the thing she was actually getting from it was a nice snuggle, so off she went to sleep every time. The LC had the necessary position of authority to get the formula feeding stopped long enough for the baby to develop an appetite, and everything was fine.

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    • That is so absurd it’s funny!

      Why won’t the baby take a boob? Because it’s not hungry. What does that have to do with nursing?

      LOL!

      Honestly, Bug would do that all the time. Sit in moms lap, start nursing for like 30 seconds, then pass out because he wasn’t really hungry. That’s how we knew it was time to ween, when that was how almost every nursing session went down.

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    • That indicates a lack of coordination and communication among the staff. Which can easily happen if “the staff” is not just different groups of folks but actually entirely different orgs all occupying a shared workspace. Many hospitals function this way.

      ETA: What I mean is that sometimes in hospitals, many of the folks you interact with are not employed by the hospital itself. They’re individual actors coming together. It’s amazing anyone lives.

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      • I don’t believe that’s often the case in Canada. The physicians are on more of a contractor model – fee for service – while all the RNs and NPs and LCs and social workers and unit clerks are all wage employees of the health region. Same employer (slash client in the case of physicians) for everyone.

        I think there might be individual physicians’ practices with their own employees in the same building – but in a big unit like the NICU or whatever.

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  7. I’d love to have “advocates” required to disclose they are advocates and not necessarily specialists with advanced training. Tell me who you are, what you believe, and if I say “no” let me go my way. Your particular brand of “religious zealotry” may not be my cup of tea, and I ultimately am responsible for the kid, not them.

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    • That would be better but this is where what Kazzy says above comes in and why it has the potential to be really pernicious. The medical staff all went along, including outside of the hospital, until we challenged a recommendation. Obviously there’s some authority everywhere that could mandate transparency but that might jeopardize some of these certifications they get. It’s all part of a big web.

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      • I think this is where you have to remember, even though it is a special circumstance, that YOU are the customer. Is the advice given obviously not working? Move on.

        My wife attempted breastfeeding with our first (born ’94) because that’s the line she got in the hospital. Besides, why throw away free food, right? Anyway, after a week of frustration on her part, and starvation on our daughter’s, onto the bottle the baby went and everybody lived happily, and healthily, after. Plus, it had the added benefit of allowing me to participate in the feeding process, memories of which I still cherish.

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  8. For some reason I thought the thought “everything causes cancer” and that made me think of Denis Leary and that made me think of his song “Voices in my Head”.

    So now you can think of it.

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  9. I might be dating myself terribly, but I, and most of the friends my age and social group, were fed formula from day one. My mother herself never breastfed me, not once.

    Later in life -like in high school-I witnessed the rise of the pro-breastfeeding movement, and I was perfectly able to understand that -all things being equal- breastfeeding was better for several reasons. But better doesn’t mean that other options are bad, just less good, and the differences might be small or large, it depends.

    Having witnessed a whole generation of formula fed children grow into healthy, productive, well balanced individuals, I’d be perfectly fine to feed formula to my child if needed, or, as described above, as an alternative when breast feeding is not feasible/practical.

    Most things work more or less well. It rarely is a matter of life and death. Let’s focus the panics on things that truly are life or death.

    Or it might be the engineer speaking (mansplainning??) here

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      • If you dig into the history, you’ll find not only that the pendulum swings but that there are some very discomforting racist and classist undertones. Back in the day, formula was a brand new, exciting scientific ADVANCEMENT on breastfeeding. If you loved your baby, you spent your dough on the best thing money could by to feed him/her. It helped if you were rich. And being white helped you be right. It also helped women enter the workforce… something that was easier for white, well-to-do families. While the pressure was nothing like now, the perception was that women who didn’t breastfeed were somehow backwards, ignorant, or both. Such such, rates of formula use among the poor and families of color were much lower. Over time, they caught up.

        Then what happened? A swing back to “natural” parenting. BREAST IS BEST! Who can breast feed? Wealthy women with time on their hands. Women with time to read every thinkpiece on nipple shape. Breastfeeding rates are much higher among white and wealthy women. Poor women and women of color are lazy or ignorant or out of touch.

        I don’t think the explicit intent was any of this but, golly, it sure did follow that path!

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        • “While the pressure was nothing like now”

          I’m … not so sure about that. I mean, I know I don’t know what it’s like now, except 2nd hand where I’ve seen moms be extremely pressured (but other moms be supported by medical establishment *and* friends in making their own choices) … but I do know my mom was shamed mercilessly by family members and others for breastfeeding. Formula was definitely The Way To Go And Any Other Way is Bad Mothering where I grew up, even in the late 70s.

          La Leche league, for her, was a bolstering force against those messages, not a bunch of fervid people demanding she MUST breast feed. It’s a pity (though not shocking) to see how they’ve diminished over time.

          You’re totally right, IMO, about how the pendulum works and the consistency of the classist/racist messaging regardless of what side the pendulum has swung to.

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          • I may be misrepresenting the change over time. It’s possible that what seems like increased pressure is really just the amplification of existing pressure by social media and other forms of new technology. And what increasingly feels like a whole “industrial complex” around parenting (Can I copyright the phrase “Parenting Industrial Complex”?).

            Any way you slice it, we’re really shitty to moms. And women.

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            • (Many people have already used that phrase, my friend, going back to at least the 90s in my awareness, so, er, no, can’t copyright it.)

              My mom had like, whole bookcases full of parenting books she’d bought used / on sale. The Parenting Industrial Complex was in full swing by the early 80s at the latest… and was also in full boom in the 2000s when I worked in a bookstore (by then the pendulum was already in the middle and women would read a half-jillion books that favored either method VERY STRIDENTLY and have no idea which one to choose).

              It just didn’t take place on the internet so it was easier to ignore if you weren’t paying attention to it. But I have parenting friends of all ages that shudder when remembering the obsession other people had with telling them how to parent, and as I said I observed it first-hand with my mom. (She was actually a really good parent with my younger sibs until about the time they were weaned – a good person with babies in general. It was just kids she didn’t know what to do with, increasingly so as time went on. plus the whole disappearing for days on end thing… sigh. thank goodness for the parenting industrial complex, on some level, even though it is also awful. without it how would I have learned what to do with my sibs??)

              Agreed that we are shitty to moms. I’d actually argue we’re just pretty shitty, in general, on that level – ie trying to make people feel like utter miserable failures for not being like ourselves is a very general human trait… It certainly shows up in full-force when it comes to mom-policing, no question about that.

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                • More seriously, I’d be curious to hear if *everything* was a battle ground as it seems to be now or if there were just certain war zones (e.g., nursing).

                  I mean, at this point, it seems you can literally find people willing to fight to the death over anything parenting related or even parenting adjacent. Think pieces and backlashes and counter pieces and backlashes to backlashes on topics ranging from juice to vaccines.

                  A friend-of-a-friend (not in the “rumor mill probably untrue” kind of way but in a “My actual friend linked to her actual friend’s Facebook posts” kind of way) got literal death threats because she posted what she thought was a clever way to pass the time in a diner with her kids by playing Tic-Tak-Toe with sweetener packets. Little did she know, she was history’s greatest monster because people were starving somewhere in the world or foodservers don’t make a living wage or… something.

                  Apparently even the use of free sweetener packets are grounds for death threats.

                  Were their offline analogues to that type of crap back then? I hope not but, obviously, my scope is limited.

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                  • OK, the literal death threats are just way over the top and definitely something I would class as “how the internet can be idiotic” rather than thinking of them as mommy wars (though i can see how you would; OTOH my mom was a teacher in the 80s and death threats were definitely a thing teachers experienced back then, kids getting their older siblings to call and whatnot, so it’s not like the internet invented the death threat…. but at least (???) that was personal (???) in that it was the kids’ teachers, not random strangers, that they were calling.)

                    As for the parenting wars more generally, I don’t think there were as many of the totally trivial things there are now but there were a LOT of things. Some of the ones I can remember being the cause of Major Drama and feuding among various parties, off the top my head (most of these are obviously still huge, some were of their time):
                    – co sleeping vs cribs
                    – letting the baby cry vs picking it up (OMG the horrible, fear-mongering things I heard various relatives say to my mother about that, even the ones who normally were not at all horrible, and on either side of the debate)
                    – when to start solid food
                    – IF breastfeeding, when to wean
                    – various potty-training methods and how all of them except the Right One were abysmal and would probably lead to a kid who couldn’t make a friend, let alone have a relationship, later in life
                    – natural vs artificial fabrics (not kidding)
                    – cloth vs plastic diapers
                    – taking your kid with you everywhere, or not
                    – childcare, or not
                    – different types of strollers
                    -handmedowns vs store-bought clothes
                    – teaching your kid to be friendly to strangers vs teaching your kid to fear strangers…

                    OK, there’s actually a lot more but I have to get back to work.

                    Still it was quite the litany. Possibly in part b/c I grew up on an island that was big enough to be gossipy and small enough to be gossipy…. so… MAX GOSSIP. Like fb before fb :P.

                    Fortunately enough my mom had some likeminded slightly older friends who also had had multiple kids and thus were prone to repeat, “Every baby is different, do what seems to work best for you and the baby,” at every possible opportunity. (Now that I think about it I wonder if part of the reason my mom stopped being a competent mom wasn’t just the obvious effects of abuse and overwork, but also the way my dad drove off most of her friends… my mom was really extroverted and needed community to thrive… sigh.)

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                    • What stands out most about that list — besides my obvious lack-of-understanding of some of the history here — is that many of those topics remain battle zones.

                      As is probably clear, I have opinions on various matters related to parenting… some of them rather strong. I just don’t really have the “evangelical” streak in me. I mean, sure, I share opinions here and if asked, I’ll answer. But (as I think I said upthread), I don’t see the battle as “Breastfeeding versus Formula Feeding”… I see it as “Feeding versus Not Feeding”. So if you’re feeding your kid something other than Drain-O, I see no reason to get all up in your grill about stuff.

                      In fact, even in my professional capacity when I’m often tasked with “Having an opinion” or even “Knowing the *right* answer”, I do a lot of equivocating (in part because at least much of the more recent research I’m seeing on most of these topics is largely coming down to, “Ehhhh… we don’t really know… maybe this thing is better but probably best to just avoid doing active harm.” So I can advocate the big grey middle, back it up with some data, and sound smart. More than anything, I often think of my role as, “Help everyone calm the F down,” rather than, “Tell them the ‘right’ answer.”

                      And I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how male privilege gives me much more latitude in these areas. If I so choose, I can wade into the “mommy wars” if and when I want to and emerge largely unscathed socially. Dads parenting badly are either clueless or possessing some weird charm. Dads doing the bare minimum of parenting get medals bestowed upon them*. Moms who are kicking ass get shamed because they have a hair out of place.

                      * A fun “game” some mom-friends and I used to play was, “What’s the least impressive thing Brian can get praise for?” Once it was, “Going to a bagel store.” Literally. The door hadn’t even closed behind me when multiple people raved about my parenting because I had the squirts with me. Sigh.

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    • I’m 49. I was bottle-fed. I think it was much more common in my generation than it is now. But a few things my mom has said over the years also makes me infer that for some reason breastfeeding was not a possibility. (She grew up in a rural area, and working-class, and so I think breastfeeding would have been a commoner thing there.)

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      • During most of the 20th century, the Western medical establishment looked down upon breast feeding as unhygienic and not modern. Bottle feedings and formula feeding was seen as more scientific and modern.

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    • I’m a female one with kids, so let me assure you you aren’t mansplaining (although I’m also an engineer so I can’t say for sure on that one).

      I’m old enough my mom wasn’t even given a choice. The maternity ward nurse came in, gave her a shot and told her it was to dry up her breast milk. (This was probably the worst thing about the anti-breastfeeding/pro-formula movement since those shots may be a contributing factor in increases in breast cancer among her generation). However, on the flip side, breastfeeding was the expected route for my grandmothers’ generation, and that didn’t work for either of them. One had difficulty producing milk and the other was widowed when her youngest was 3 weeks old, forcing her to go back to work and workplaces in 1942 did NOT accommodate breast feeding.

      It is a personal choice, and like most choices that have to do with a woman and her family’s own health and circumstances, one that shouldn’t be driven by people offering judgement rather than helpful advice/experience.

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  10. Semi-OT but Matt Y. strikes out against Facebook for three reasons.

    Reasons one and two, that Facebook promotes fake news and destroys journalism’ traditional business model relate to this post. This makes it easier for misinformation to spread and real experts to inform the public because they lack a medium that most people will access.

    The third point is that Facebook and other social media makes people lonely and sad because people just spend too much time posting on it and trying to present an idealized version of their life rather than living their life. I’m of a divided opinion on this. Thanks to the Internet and social media, I probably know many more people in a pen pall sort of way that I wouldn’t have met in real life. There would be many social events that I would have missed out on. Yet, social media can also make people feel really isolated and excluded. People see gatherings of who they know in real life and wonder why they weren’t invited.

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    • Yeah, I have divided feelings on social media. I am not on Facebook but am on elsewhere.

      On the one hand: I have distant friends that it’s easy to stay in touch with. Some of my friends are terrible at writing or even e-mailing, but easy to message on Twitter or somesuch. And I am “friends” (FSVO “friends,” they are not the friends who would show up with their pickup to help you move but they are still friendly towards me) with people I’ve not met in person.

      This is huge for me because I remember being the little kid eating her lunch alone in a dark corner of the lunchroom, and I also still feel kind of “weird” sometimes in my in-person social circle because I’m sometimes the only one who has never married or had kids…

      And yet. And yet. It’s not so much seeing people who seem to be “happier” than me (because I know that’s a lie, and also, for the people I really care about? Finding out something good happened for them makes me happy too). But it does seem that you hear an awful lot more about human depravity, stupidity, and venality since social media exists, and sometimes it is just like a millstone around the neck of my heart.

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