Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tina Fey and the Teat Nazi's

Recently, I came across Tina Fey's funny and true Prayer for her Daughter and I really enjoyed it. This led me to sample her new book, Bossypants, and then decide to listen to the memoir on audio book. The audio book is really wonderful, because Tina Fey reads it herself so you get all her voice inflections and so on. I really enjoyed listening to Tina Fey's accounts of youth, her early career and her life in the TV comedy business. She keeps a light mood in her colorful descriptions about getting her period, going for her first gynecologist visit, and becoming a mother.
Unfortunately, just as I was really laughing along out loud in my car to her book, things took a strange turn when she got to her chapter on breastfeeding: "There's a Drunk Midget in my House."

She starts out discussing how, like most American women, she was overly exposed to infant formula but she also knew that 'breast is best'. She says that she chose to breast-feed, that it was amazing, really changed her as a woman, and is the most gratifying thing she has ever done. However, Tina Fey hit the usual Booby Traps, and only managed to breastfeed for about 72 hours. She supplemented with formula, and then she decided to pump her milk, which she did for about 7 weeks before switching to all-formula. She claims she pumped while watching Entourage while her baby was in the other room, which, while I don't know if this is true, was possibly the reason she wasn't able to pump very much milk.

All in all, Tina Fey felt like she was "trapped," "attached to a tit juicer," and that she had "failed at something that was supposed to be natural." These are, unfortunately, frequently-heard reactions to the modern-day breastfeeding and early motherhood experience. What Tina Fey, and most women, don't know is that they shouldn't feel disappointed in themselves, they should be disappointed in their culture and institutions that are pressuring them to breastfeed but setting them up to fail.

Tina Fey explains the common reaction that women have when they wanted to breastfeed but "fail." She felt defensive and grouchy whenever the topic came up, especially with women who successfully breastfed, or anyone who touted the benefits of breast milk. Unfortunately, she used these emotions to lash out at these women and call them "Teat Nazis."

These are the women who not only brag endlessly about how much their five year old still loves breast milk, but they also grill you about your choices. You can recognize the TNs by their hand-carved daggers:
“Are you breast-feeding? Isn’t it amazing? I really think it’s how I lost the weight so easily. Did you have a vaginal birth? I went natural and I didn’t even tear. Are you back at work already? Do you feel weird about going back to work? I just love my baby so much I can’t imagine going back to work yet. You’re not nursing? She’s only fifteen months; you should try again!”
Now, let me be clear; millions of women around the world nurse their children beautifully for years without giving anybody else a hard time about it. Teat Nazis are a solely western upper-middle-class phenomenon occurring when highly ambitious women experience deprivation from outside modes of achievement. Their highest infestation pockets are in Brooklyn and Hollywood.
If you are confronted by a TN, you have two options. One, when they ask if you’re breast-feeding, you can smile and say, “Yes. It’s amazing.” (You owe it to your baby to lie.) Or you can go for the kill. The only people who can shame the Teat Nazis are the Adoptive Mommies. If you have a friend who has an adopted child, especially one from another country, bring him or her around, because they make the Teat Nazis’ brains short-circuit: “How can I… feel superior… you… bigger sacrifice… can’t judge…” and their big ol’ dinner plate nipples pop off as they crumple to the ground and disappear.

This is where my enjoyment of the book dropped and I felt annoyed. Here was a mainstream icon and mainstream book encouraging women to be annoyed with women who talk about how wonderful breastfeeding is. No one should keep from discussing breastfeeding simply because it makes others feel guilty. This is like saying that a doctor should not discuss why their patient should eat better or exercise so that they don't make their patient feel guilty about being obese. There are true health effects of breastfeeding or not breastfeeding just as there are for being obese. Tina Fey calling women who love breastfeeding and encourage other women to breastfeed "Teat Nazi's" does little for the image of breastfeeding advocacy and in helping women choose to breastfeed. Stories from friends and public icons about being judged, berated or guilted for feeding their babies formula by militant breastfeeding supporters only contributes to anti-breastfeeding feelings and actions. It is a cultural Booby Trap and undermines serious public health efforts to promote breastfeeding.

Now, I do not think that anyone should judge others for the situations they find themselves in. I think anyone who was openly judging Tina Fey or any woman for trying to breastfeed and switching to formula is out of order.  No one should disparage women for bottle feeding, because they do not know that woman's individual story. But it needs to be recognized that a breastfeeding advocate, a.k.a. "lactivist," does not deserve the title "Breastfeeding Nazi" or any other form of such a term.

I also felt sad for Tina Fey and all the women who experience these sort of emotions, because it is not their fault and it is not the breastfeeding advocates' fault, either. Calling each other names, especially one with the word "nazi" in it, is wrong. Lactivists have not killed millions of people, and equating mass murder with breastfeeding advocacy undermines the lives taken during the Holocaust.

Lactivists encourage women to try breastfeeding in the first place (including educating on the benefits of breastfeeding and the risks associated with formula feeding), to keep trying, and give women the skills and tools to do so. The individuals are not to blame, the system is.  To read more about institutional and cultural booby traps that are setting women up to fail at breastfeeding, check out Best for Babes.

18 comments:

  1. While I see your point, Tina's feelings about the TN, are echoed from my heart as well. I felt like I "failed" all three of.my children because I had little to no supply. You name it, I tried it....lactation consultants, fenugreek, oatmeal, reglan, pumping.....to no avail. Only to have the TN make me feel worse....very sensitive subject all around.

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  2. I think Tina is hitting it on the head. I am one of those people that she's making fun of! I totally think it's funny and see it in myself.

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  3. The problem is not breastfeeding or not breastfeeding: it is judging each other and feeling judged by each other. Whether it is breast vs. bottle or natural birth vs. medication or vaginal birth vs. C-Section or work-for-pay vs. stay-at-home-with-kids-for-no-pay... it's the JUDGMENT that hurts us all.

    I love breastfeeding! It was hard for me, painfully difficult, for 6-8 weeks with each of my three children. I stuck it out. I ended up loving breastfeeding.

    And when I meet a woman who is bottle-feeding, I remind myself that I have not walked a mile in her shoes. Anything could be true of her life story. I know nothing about her. I cannot judge. She must be making the best choice for herself.

    I believe this is true at the individual level. At the cultural level, however, I do judge. We are not doing nearly enough to support new mothers, new fathers, and babies. In 2011, it is a MIRACLE that anyone in the United States breastfeeds. In Canada, women AND men can take paid leave for a YEAR after the birth or adoption of a child. That is so much more supportive of breastfeeding than the U.S.'s ridiculous leave policies!

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  4. Wow, you really need to lighten up. I laughed my head off during that particular chapter! Tina Fey managed to make light of a pretty sore subject for me.

    I can't breastfeed due to medication. And the Teat Nazis (yes I will call them that - they brought the title on themselves) STILL tried to judge me. These are the women who feel sorry for those of us who bottle feed our kids. Well guess what, I feel sorry for them! I feel sorry for the fact that they think they're Jesus Christ simply because they breastfeed. I feel sorry for the fact that they have nothing better to do or have no greater personal accomplishments in their lives. It's sad.

    My opinions may seem harsh, but the way the TN's treat and judge other women is beyond harsh. It's cruel and pathetic. They think they know it all because they read a pamphlet! It's like they think they've done the breastmilk research themselves! From my experience, formula fed kids can turn out just as well. I was formula fed and I turned out fine. I have extended education, I'm good at my job and I CAN THINK FOR MYSELF.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with breastfeeding Moms. I would have breastfed too if I had the option. I know that not all breastfeeding Moms are judgemental lactation extremists. They are not the ones I have issues with. It's the select few that decide to take the beautiful act of breastfeeding to a zealous extreme.

    New mothers have it hard enough. I say enough with the Mommy blame game.

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    1. Wow. Enough you say? This is the angriest most insecure post here. Perhaps you may want to find a professional to talk to about this.

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  5. It's all very well to say lighten up until you are the one being compared to a nazi for simply talking about something which you enjoy and is central to your motherhood experience.

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  6. I'm constantly suprised at the anger directed towards people who choose to BF. I was never great at maths but I don't feel that my inability in this area or the choice I made not to pursue the subject is the problem of those that have succeeded. I don't need to make up names for them or assume they are smug and looking down upon me.

    On another note, I haven't found Tina Fey funny before and I doubt her taking the mickey our of people who Bf would make me anymore endeared to her. She is the embodiment of American ideals and BFing doesn't sit with that. Very quickly, anything natural about child bearing or rearing is quickly following suit. In general I find women in regards to motherhood constantly chop each other off at the knees and then if questioned we revert to male stand points of telling someone to get the hell over it. It's a shame we can't support each others choices instead of viewing them as personal slights. on our own experiences.

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  7. Siananigan and Annonymous, you have completely missed the point on...well, everything!

    Siananigan, let's start with you. A teat nazi is NOT a breastfeeding woman. It is a self righteous insensitive judgemental opiniontated small minded idiot of a breastfeeding woman. Read that a few times until it sinks in.

    As for the last annonymous, read my first paragraph. Tina Fey is not making fun of breastfeeding women, she's making fun of the extremists. If this offends you then perhaps you should reevaluate how you present your views on breastfeeding.

    Before anyone jumps on me, I DO NOT HAVE A PROBLEM WITH BREASTFEEDING! Many of my friends breastfeed. They're supportive of me, and I am of them. There. If anyone accuses me of this, well, you're an idiot.

    My biggest beef with a lot of people is that they can't seem to think for themselves. They read a pamphlet on breastfeeding and think they know everything. Well, take a second and ask yourself, "if breastfeeding is so great, why are women formula feeding?"

    Here's the inside scoop (no pun intended) on formula. It's expensive, inconvenient, time consuming, and it doesn't have a lot of the same benefits that breastmilk does. So why do we do it? BECAUSE WE HAVE TO!!! Our babies need to eat! Get off your soapboxes for a second and THINK for yourself. There are many reasons why women don't breastfeed. Mine was my medication that I had to restart almost immediately after childbirth. Do you know how sad I felt giving my daughter her first bottle? Do you know how dissappointed I felt when my milk came in, knowing it was useless? No you don't know. Let me tell you, it was heartbreaking. And then, to have these idiot TN's judging my formula feeding. I felt sorry for those women because they are pathetic. To walk around feeling that self righteous all the time, judging perfect strangers must be tough. Oh, and the best part was when I tell them about my medication, they tell me my doctor's lying to me...and they have a grade 12 education! Yes, my doctor, a medical professional is lying to me. Right.

    Anyway, my scenario is just one of many so think about that before you judge. As for the book, again she's not referring to all BFing women, just the stupid ones. I laugh when people are suddenly "offended" because the word "nazi" is used, like they've never used that type of saying before (soup nazi,music nazi, ____ nazi).

    If you don't want to be called a teat nazi, it's simple...DON'T BE ONE!!!

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  8. Siananigan and Annonymous got it just right.

    Tina Fey was not making fun of a "self righteous insensitive judgmental opinionated small minded idiot of a breastfeeding woman."

    Ms. Fey, just like you, were shredding women who were happy and proud of themselves and including that in conversation.

    When you feel bad about something, consider that it's not the person you're talking with "making" you feel bad. Maybe what the person's talking about reminds you of feelings you already have, but it's not the job of people who you talk with to read your mind and then edit their comments accordingly.

    I agree with with the review of this book. The majority of it was fun to read. The last bit was a surprise given that Tina Fey is such an advocate for women not ripping other women apart. I was saddened that she let the "Mean Girl" in her loose on all the women who don't suffer challenges breastfeeding and dare to talk about a major part of their mothering experience.

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  9. Breastfeeding is what is inconvenient, time consuming and socially judged. This is why many women do not continue to breastfed, many of which get misinformation about the need to supplement from yes doctors and other health care providers. Supplementing is directly linked to poor milk supply. How have we survived as a species with such ramped milk supply issues? It is a huge effort to successfully breastfed. It is emotionally and physically exhausting. Research has shown the best indication to how long a mother breastfeed is her commitment, not any other issues. Any woman should be proud of herself for the accomplishment or even the attempt. It is a wonderful choice for herself and her family. The choice is constantly publically minimized and ridiculed. This is not going to help women to make healthy choices in our country. No one should be made to feel bad about gloating about such an accomplishment. Any guilt felt for not breastfeeding is a personal issue. If you truly know that you cannot breastfeed, then why in the world would you take anyone else’s comments personally? It sounds like you have not come to terms with your own guilt and sadness. It must have been a horrible experience and very emotionally painful, but I am just so confused how a mere 20% of the mothering population (the percent that successfully breastfeed for one year or more) could make the other 80% feel judged for not. Talking about breastfeeding and the health benefits of breastfeeding is a huge step towards normalizing it and promoting public health. Gloat on TNs! Every woman you influence will be thankful!

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  10. I think Tina Fey was dead on.

    And I must say, I'm pretty embarrassed for this Doula who posted this, as her of all people should be aware of both sides to the story. It's sad that she is not experienced enough to realize many people feel the way Tina Fey is feeling when it comes to terrible TN's who talk like they know everything.

    Moms who breastfeed often make moms who formula feed feel like shit about it (whether formula feeding was in their control or not). I don't breastfeed and I don't formula feed. So how do I know this you ask? I know this because I was formula fed. My mother chose this. She wasn't on medication, she could produce milk but she wanted to formula feed.

    While growing up I've had people tell me (from BF mothers or people who hear it from their BF mothers) that I must not be very smart because I was formula fed. I've had people say that "it's a known fact that breastfed children are way more smart" before they find out I wasn't BF and then feel bad. How terrible has our society become? I own a company and make 6 figures... so how stupid could I be? The people who said that aren't nearly as successful or happy, so I guess the jokes on them. It makes me sad that formula fed kids have to hear this and feel bad about it.

    And whoever said breastfeeding is inconvenient is just stupid. There should be a test that woman have to take before they are allowed to become mothers. Obviously "Anonymous" would fail.

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  11. I think Tina is absolutely correct. She does not advocate for formula over breast milk, as you say in your post. She knows that breast milk is healthier and better and that it CAN be a wonderful bonding experience with your child. However, she was not able to breast feed and should not be made to feel guilty about this. She labels some people as TNs not because they enjoy breastfeeding or enjoy talking about it, but because they treat her like a bad mother and encourage her to keep trying. Like she says, if breastfeeding was the only option, you wouldn't have to say it. She also discusses how these women act like they love their children more BECAUSE they breast feed or stay at home with their child or whatever. Some people just can't (or don't want to) breastfeed, and that's perfectly fine -- and their own business.

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  12. I know women Tina Fey would classify as "Teat Nazis," and think she really hits the nail on the head when she says that not all women who breast feed experience this desire to judge others and talk constantly about their breast feeding experiences; it's a phenomenon that occurs when "highly ambitious women experience deprivation from outside modes of achievement."

    I have friends like this. While I feel it is absolutely a wonderful achievement to care for a child and nourish that child with breast milk, the healthiest choice for a baby, some of my friends will talk about it constantly and, whether on purpose or not, make anyone who does not breast feed feel terrible about it. They tend to be the same women who admonish others about taking vacations without their children, working outside of the home, letting their kids play with toys that are apparently not perfect, and so on and so forth. AND....the women I know who do this also seem to share the quality of having previously been very active, involved women in their workplaces and social circles who now focus solely on motherhood. Again, this is a perfectly acceptable choice, but for some women it can manifest in an ugly way. While they are no longer in a competitive, mentally stimulating workplace environment or social situation, they still have the drive to "win" or "be the best," and frankly, there is no one way to "win" at parenting. I think this is what Tina Fey is trying to say. It isn't a competition. Everyone loves their kids, and most are trying their hardest to raise them in the best way they can.

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  13. Thank you, most recent Anonymous commenter. I think you say it well when you say that parenting isn't a competition, and that's probably what she is getting at.

    I still think its unfortunate that she uses the term "teat Nazi"

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  14. I think Tina Fey did do an excellent job explaining the guilt she felt with her failed attempt at breastfeeding. It sounded as though she wasn't able to reach her own personal goal. I think the guilt she felt was then turned into anger towards those who advocated for the topic or who discussed their success openly. This is unfortunate. Like the blogger described, advocates and supporters of breastfeeding shouldn't be labeled as "Nazis", simply for discussing a topic that may be central to their lives and scientifically central to improving public health. Those who continue to view breastfeeding and breastmilk feeding (milk banks now more readily available) as a personal decision are missing the point entirely. Breastfeeding is frequently discussed by all mothers because it is EXTREMELY challenging to be successful and reach personal goals. This challenge comes from an unsupportive culture and Tina Fey's view isn't helping the situation. This unsupportive culture is why breastfeeding "lactivists" vocalize their support frequently. As a bottle feeding nation, where formula has been viewed as the norm for the last several decades, physicians, hospitals, business, friends, and family do not know how to support a mom who will likely face difficulty. Physicians really don't know if medications are okay to take during lactation, research is limited. Hospitals push formula marketing on moms and nurses think the supplements are "helping." There is no "EASY" button to get through the first few months and unfortuantly Tina Fey fell prey to that unsupportive culture. People who try supporting and educating others during their breastsfeeding trials and tribulations, just want to voice thier disgust with a backwards culture, not make others feel guilty. Lactivist are rarely self-righteous and have the intention to help others find their way through to personal success when support is limited. Whether the goal is 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 month, or 3 years, as long as people have the information and make an education decision, "lactivists" are happy. People who reach their personal goals will not feel guilt. Information and conversation regarding breastfeeding does not cause guilt. People make the guilt themselves after feeling failed, and only because they didn't have the tools to be successful. "If only I had know that..." is what people say and then look to place blame on others...Tina Fey style. So to all the moms out there who have faced the bumpy path and reach their own breastfeeding goals, congratulations. It can be very rewarding and you should feel proud to discuss it. You should always have a supportive person to vent and share your feelings with, maybe just pick wisely as to avoid judgment from others. If you don't, there is an internet support system you can find to avoid negativity and judgment from those who may be pressing Tina Fey's same sad and misguided judgment of others onto you. I too thought she was above the mommy bashing.

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  15. I think what Tina took issue to is women using something that is suppose to be beautiful and a natural process as a means to belittle other women who are not or cannot do it, in that very underhanded that all women are capable of doing. Just from how she writes prior to bringing up "Teat Nazi's" (Yeah, I am not pussy-footing around here, people. TN? Seriously?) you have to realize that she is being satirical. She is poking fun of herself for being the very kind of women she loathes. Judgmental and bitchy. None of us are above it. We all do it, often times so underhandedly that we don't even realize we are doing it, or that we've lied ourselves into thinking what we say/do isn't really that bad.(Which in a way makes us very Nazi-esqu really.). The fact that anyone is even commenting on this -myself included- just proves my point. We all need to get over ourselves. It's a boob. Sometimes it lactates. Sometimes it doesn't. It's all a bunch of hormonal activities and cellular responses that give us the ability to do that, as much as it give us the ability to be such "girls" about the topic. We really shouldn't be giving ourselves so much credit. Unless, of course, we are doing it in some impoverished conditions, where we are all undernourished and fighting to keep our child alive. However, we are on this blog, commenting on this, so highly doubt that's the case.

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  16. My apologies for grammatical/spelling errors in my previous post. :-/

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  17. Did a spit take when I heard that section of the audiobook. I'm one of those adoptive moms, so I didn't have to 'make the difficult decision to formula feed'. However, I'm not immune to the TN hegemony. Every time I order my organic formula I see that phrase: 'make the difficult decision to formula feed'. Geez, marketing department, way to make me feel like I should have second thoughts about buying your product.

    It is hard to be a mother. Everyone tells you you should be doing it better.

    Also, maybe it would be more accurate, but less sonorous, to call them Teat Fascists.

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