The tree of life, the Skeptical OB, and the idol of outrage

Skeptical OB Amy Tuteur, own-foot-shooter extraordinaire, continues to blur the really quite bright line between living one’s life and cheering for the death of others.

She took her post down after a well-deserved angry backlash, but here’s the image she posted this morning on her Facebook page:


Need a little background? I’ll try, but hold onto your butts. It’s stupid.

A bunch of breastfeeding moms have been using some art app to add a “tree of life” overlay to photos of themselves feeding their babies.

It doesn’t quite, quite make sense to me as an image, in part because I don’t like to think of things growing inside my baby’s head. Too many “a spider crawled into her ear when she was sleeping” stories in my youth, maybe. Also, the root part on the breast reminds me of varicose veins, which are completely non-heartwarming.

Anyway, whatever, whatever, breastfeeding is good and beautiful, overall, and when we show pretty pictures of it, it helps moms and others feel less weird about doing it and living alongside it; and that’s a good thing, especially since breastfeeding is still seen in some quarters as weird or sexually perverted or immodest or gross or backward or too much of a hassle to stick with.

So, in response to this photo trend, a bunch of bottle-feeding mothers decided to share images of a tree growing in their babies’ heads, too, with the message “FED IS BEST.” This message is also fine and good, because in some quarters, women say in so many words that formula is poison, and that there is no excuse for not breastfeeding; or they say that there is sometimes an excuse, but it’s something that should only be resorted to once you’ve basically come within five inches of dying through your pathetically failed efforts to breastfeed. Which is all repulsive, dangerous nonsense. I’ve spoken before about what a wretched, miserable thing this is to do, especially when it’s presented by as a moral issue by Catholics who claim some authority.

(And of course some smartasses have been making images of their babies drinking Pepsi and eating Cheetos, because that’s their tree of life. As someone whose very first blog post from eleven years ago featured my toddler eating out of the kitchen garbage can, I must recuse myself from commenting further on this trend.)


Now, I am quite sure that some women have been sharing images of of their baby’s milk-tree-heads with the overt intention of shaming bottle-feeders. Lots of women really allow themselves to tell other women: This, and this alone, is beautiful. I am doing the one and only right thing, and anyone who does otherwise should have the title “mother” forcibly removed from her, since she is a calorie-provider at best, like one of those auto-feeders you leave with your hamster when you go on vacation. 

But there are plenty of other breastfeeding women who are just . . . showing pictures of their babies nursing because they love their babies, love nursing, and have discovered that when you sit down to breastfeed, you still have one hand free, and can do things like take pictures and apply overlays to them. And that’s it.

Sometimes people are just living their lives. They’re not always living their lives at you.  It’s not “shaming” to simply do what you do in public, even if what you do is different from what other people do.

When we see “shaming” and aggression when there is no such intent, it makes it all the harder for everyone to simply live, because sensible people throw up their hands in frustration and refuse to waste any more time sending rational discourse into a howling whirlwind of outrage. Dr. Amy has made a nice living pushing back against the nonsense that goes sloshing around the world of women’s medicine; but all too often, she and her more strident followers make an idol of their outrage, and end up discrediting themselves and their cause.

Perpetual victim status quickly becomes an idol, and it makes us cruel and self-centered. Idol worship is wrong for many reasons, not least of all because it blinds us to the things and people that really do deserve our time, energy, devotion — or, in some cases, our outrage.

And that’s why Dr. Amy wins the Super Not Helping award for the day! Pbbbbbt. Here’s the real deal: If you’ve suffered some kind of injustice at the hands of others, it should make you more sensitive to the suffering of others, and not less.

Just so we don’t end on an growly note, I have to tell you this: Yesterday, Corrie was nursing, and then popped off, smiled at me, put her ear up to my nipple, and said, “Heddo?”

No response yet from the nipple, but I expect it to have its own Facebook page soon.

FYI, you can buy your own horse’s ass trophy, and personalize it if you like, here.


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12 thoughts on “The tree of life, the Skeptical OB, and the idol of outrage”

  1. You make a great point about the faux-victim status that many people fall victim 🤓 (Há) to if the Internet becomes their primary form of passive aggressing.

    I don’t understand the two images’ similarities at all. Oh well. I really dig that lady’s blog posts about homebirth, though, if it’s the same writer I’m thinking of. The weird Catholic Section of the Internet is frankly too much for me, but I’m sympathetic to those who get swept into it + doubly grateful you’re there/here to speak truth to … asshats? 🤓

    Merry Christmas, from one veteran dumpster-toddler-rescuer to another!

  2. I would like to add a word of praise for mothers who pump in order to give their children (or other people’s children!) the health benefits of breast milk when nursing is not possible. You are definitely making a sacrifice. Pumping is awful, troublesome and time-consuming. I did it dutifully to have a frozen “reserve” supply, just like they tell you to do, in case something happened to temporarily separate me from my baby, or in case I wanted an evening out (none of my babies ever actually took the breast milk from a bottle when I was out). At least, I did it for the first three. By my fourth, I said to heck with this and figured she could just as well not take the formula from a bottle as not take the breast milk from a bottle. My husband was supportive of my decision not to pump–he thinks pumping looks like torture. I will never, ever, say one word of criticism of a woman who decides not to pump, I don’t care how common it becomes or what comfortable accommodations her employer offers. (I know, I know, some people find it easy and are champs at it–but not me.)

  3. We adopted both of our kids because I (dad) am infertile. Breast feeding wasn’t an option. I was told that there were some things we could do to get my wife to lactate (hormone injections, pumping, etc.) and we pretty much decided ‘naw’ to her having to go through all that for a ?% chance that it might work.

    I’m 100% pro breastfeeding, but man, why do some people have to make everything a Cause? There’s a 100 legitimate reasons a woman might not be able to breast feed.

    On a completely selfish side; while I do wish we could have had all the good benefits of breast milk; I really treasure the time I got to spend with both my kids giving them feedings; and allowing my wife a break where I could shut the door to our room and let her sleep while I took care of the kids.

  4. While I quite agree with you on this point, I did want to throw this out there:

    When I was a heartsick, depressed new mommy with no family support, I went to blogland in search of people who understood what I went through in having had an (unwanted, but very needed) c-section and then not being able to breastfeed because oh-so-many-problems that naive me had never thought were possible.

    I started in Catholic mommy world. Hadn’t found your blog yet, alas, and went to one in particular I’d loved before and during pregnancy. I then found that that blogger, like many Catholic mommy bloggers, thought that I was a bad mother because moms need to breastfeed, and moms who don’t universally just aren’t trying hard enough. When I foolishly and tearfully posted my story of how I had literally come damn close to killing myself in trying to extract more than a quarter ounce per day from my boobs, she edited the post to say she didn’t want people like me replying before going on with the whole “if you were honest with yourself, you’d just admit that you were a lazy mom” spiel.

    Silly though it sounds now, I almost left the Church after that interaction. I was so miserable, and in so much pain, and now a major Catholic blogger, the only social interaction I had (no car, no local friends, etc), had just told me that I was a Bad Catholic Mom because I couldn’t produce, even while nursing and pumping around the clock.

    I found Dr. Amy’s blog one night while sobbing through another unproductive nursing session. How? By Googling whether it was possible for me to be a good mom despite having a c-section and being unable to breastfeed. Every NFP book, every book on Catholic motherhood I read, and almost every Catholic mommy blog I could find said “no.” Dr. Amy was quite literally the first place I found that said how I had or fed my kids didn’t determine whether I was a good mom, and she and her commenters were very kind to me when I was in a horrible place. So, while I do agree this was a major misstep, I needed to put in a good word for someone who might have saved my life. She showed me far more kindness than I had ever found in the Catholic blogosphere.

    1. It’s not at all silly that you were very hurt by people who essentially kicked you when you were down. I’m very sorry to hear that you were treated that way, and it’s doubly disgraceful coming from Catholics, who really should know better.

    2. And yet Dr. Amy very much believes I’M a bad mommy because I don’t do everything the way SHE would like.

      It’s deplorable that other moms tore you down for doing the best you could for your baby. That doesn’t make it any less deplorable for moms to tear down moms who do the best they can for *their* babies, when that “best” is different.

  5. What strikes me as funniest/weirdest about this graphic is that the similarities listed are the least significant, since they’re methods of promoting *anything*. You could just as easily argue that promoting handwashing is the same as promoting global thermonuclear war.

    1. I keep getting stuck on her “normalize” comment — it IS normal to breastfeed. We are mammalians, we are designed to breastfeed as a species, we fed our children that way for hundreds of thousands of years. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t normal to bottle-feed. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and say feeding your child in whatever way works best for both you and her is normal.

      1. I think it’s ambiguous. If someone said “The image on the right is bad because it’s trying to normalize the Confederacy!” I’d think they meant “make it (seem) normal,” but if they said “The image on the left is bad because it’s trying to normalize breastfeeding!” I’d think they meant “make it become the norm,” in the sense of a moral norm or a social rule that you *have* to breastfeed. And that would be bad. But I don’t know of anyone who’s trying to make it socially unacceptable not to be a fan of the Confederacy.

  6. What strikes me as funniest/weirdest about this graphic is that the similarities listed are the least significant, since they’re methods of promoting *anything*. You could just as easily argue that promoting handwashing is the same as promoting global thermonuclear war.

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