I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the word “choice”. It’s a word that is thrown around in many situations where true choice does not actually exist. It’s a word that is often used in contexts where the choices are as limited as a two year old’s choice between a lollypop after the shot or a sticker after the shot.
Those are options, not choices.
Choice is the act of choosing. Of understanding the options available, understanding the reasons why certain other options are not available. Of making a decision based on facts, evidence, knowledge, personal preferences, and the situation at hand.
You are not quite four months old as I write this, and the reason behind this writing is that there is a huge outcry about a decision made by the current mayor of New York City to “ban the bags” which is the catch phrase for “Don’t allow formula companies to market their products to an emotionally vulnerable population”.
The outcry surrounding this decision is amazing. People are screaming from the metaphorical rooftops about how this limits a mother’s “choice”.
There have been no reported plans of New York City hospitals to institute bag checks at the door where formula and bottles brought from home shall be confiscated. There have been no reported plans of New York City hospitals refusing to provide infant formula to a baby on mom’s request. There have been no reported plans of New York City hospitals to train their nurses to refuse to allow mom to feed her baby the formula brought from home in the bottles brought from home.
There have been no limitations passed on a woman’s right to choose to formula feed in advance of the birth of her child.
Going forwards moms CHOSE NOT TO BREASTFEED have the opportunity to research all of the formula brands available, to read up on the pros and cons of each, to research hypoallergenic formulas vs soy formulas vs milk based formulas vs human donor milk. And they have the opportunity to prepare in advance for this feeding choice of theirs rather than being held to whatever brand the hospital chooses to use or whatever they can get free samples of. This is true choice.
Going forwards moms who CHOSE TO BREASTFEED will be provided with support, because now support is part of the policy. Before, when mom was struggling she’d be offered a bag of formula. I know this because your oldest brother was born in a New York City hospital and when I asked to see a lactation consultant I was instead given a black diaper bag with samples of formula inside for “supplementing moms”. This is true choice.
Going forwards moms who already know that they will be using formula will be using formula. Moms who already know that they will be breastfeeding will be given support. Moms who are on the fence or moms who wanted to breastfeed but who are struggling will receive support as the default rather than infant formula done up as a gift. They have the chance to make a true and informed choice, whatever that choice may be.
This does not “take away choice”. This hopefully seals the cracks that many women who wanted to breastfeed still fall through. The system that has been in place for far too long is what REMOVED choice. What set moms up to fail and then rescued them from their failure.
It’s not CHOICE when you make a decision due to a lack of support, lack of options, lack of knowledge, or because someone gave you a gift that sabotages the actual choice that you had already made and that you were trying to follow through with.
Most of my letters to you are sweetness and light. This one is a plea. Do not accept false choices. Do not advocate for false causes simply because someone uses a word like “choice”.
Everyone supports choice. Support the widest range of the best choices with the most access to information, and then you support choice. Anything else is a false cause.