Tuesday, June 2, 2009


As a doula, I like to tell the mothers with whom I work that part of my job is to give them the confidence they need to ignore the old ladies in Fairway (a local supermarket) who will criticize every aspect of their parenting.

“It’s cold, you should put a jacket on that baby”
“Why is that baby dressed so warm in June? Don’t you know babies overheat?”

I got both of these comments within a 10-minute span while shopping yesterday. For the record, it was approximately 75 degrees and my daughter, who was being worn in a sling against my body, was wearing jeans, a light shirt and was barefoot, having lost her shoes and socks somewhere along Broadway. Trust me, had she been uncomfortable with the temperature, she would have let me know. Hallie does not suffer silently.

To the old grannies at Fairway, I am quite capable of politely thanking them for their interest while giving them a glare that keeps them from offering any other “help.” Strangers on the street would never think I am anything but utterly confident as a mother.

While working with a family last week (one of 4 babies born in under a week!) I was doing a home visit while some of the family’s friends stopped by to visit. The mom was having trouble breastfeeding and we were working on latch and helping to maintain a comfortable position for mom and baby when the friend piped up with her own advise.

“Just have your doula give him some formula and hang out with us for a while,” the friend offered.

The new mom hesitated and looked at me. I explained that, because of existing supply issues and problems with the baby’s latch, giving bottles this early could disrupt the ability of the mom to properly feed and was likely ill advised.

“Ugh. You’re not going to be one of those breastmilk is best people, are you?” the friend chided the new mom. “That is so annoying. I was formula fed and turned out fine. Don’t be ridiculous.”

With great reluctance, the mom handed me the baby and went to join her friends.

As a doula, sometimes my job is to keep my mouth shut. I did not want to start an argument between friends and fed the baby. After the friends left, the new mom apologized for her friend. I told her that I supported whatever decisions she made, but felt concerned that she had felt pressured by her friend.

“I don’t know what it is,” the mom explained. “I have no problem telling the hospital staff when I don’t like what they are doing, but friends are harder to deal with.”

I counseled her as to polite ways to handle friends, but as I did so, I flashed back to a dinner party I attended recently. Four couples, all with young children sat around a dinner table on a rare child-free evening talking with the hosts who were expecting a baby this fall. The expectant parents were asking me about cloth vs. disposable diapers. While my family uses cloth diapers, I understand they are not the proper choice from everyone and ran through the pros and cons of both choices. I did tell her, however, that my family loves our cloth diapers and would never go back to disposables.

One of the other woman at the table overhead the conversation and chimed in with her opinion.

“With all due respect, Sara,” she began. With that opening, the other woman began a statement that in no way could have been considered respectful and began to criticize my use of cloth diapers.

“Well,” I countered cautiously, “we are really happy with our choice and if we ever have another baby, we are going to continue to cloth diaper.”

“Oh, don’t listen to Sara.” The other woman turned to the expectant mom. “I mean, she still breastfeeds.”

I sat there in stunned silence. I could have countered with the fact that my baby, like all the other babies of couples at the party, is less than a year old and that the World Health Organization recommends “infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond” and that “the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months.”

I did none of those things and my eyes welled with tears. I composed myself and the evening continued. As we went home, my husband looked at me and questioned why I did not give the woman at the dinner party the same treatment as I do the strangers at Fairway. And the answer is, I don’t know. It’s easier to politely tell strangers to mind their own business than it is to tell friends for some reason.

So, as I counseled the new mom whose friend complained of her breastfeeding, I realized that while I am able to give advice about how to handle such situations, it’s not something that is easily resolved, even when you are a doula, a mom to a not-quite one-year old and able to yell with woman at Fairway.