The stressed mom sought advice on what to do about a neighbor who won't accept "no" for an answer.

By Maressa Brown
Photo illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Getty Images (4)

Every breastfeeding mama faces her own unique challenges, and sometimes, that involves a supply and demand issue. But, in general, that "demand" is coming from a little one. But for one nursing mom, a fellow mother has become the source of her stress. Writing into Slate's "Dear Prudence" advice column, the frustrated mom explained that she's struggling to set a boundary with a neighbor in need of breast milk donations.

The reader explained, "My neighbor feels entitled to my breast milk: I have lived in the same apartment building as 'Tara' for two years, but we have never been more than acquaintances. We started talking more when we both got pregnant, although still casually." She explained that she saw Tara a few days after she gave birth, and she asked how it was going. Tara "burst into tears and told me that she didn’t think she would be able to breastfeed. She sounded so heartbroken about not nursing (with comments like 'my baby is unlucky to have me for a mother') that I offered to give her a few of my stored bags of breast milk to at least ease her mind," the reader explained.

Tara accepted the offer "enthusiastically," and the reader gave her four bags of milk that day. It was only a matter of hours before Tara's behavior took a turn for the aggressive. "The next morning I had more than a dozen texts from Tara, wanting to set up a schedule for me to drop off more milk," she wrote. "The texts made it clear that she expected me to provide her with enough breast milk to feed her daughter exclusively."

That expectation was understandably well beyond what the reader was prepared to meet. "I tried offering excuses, none of which she would accept," she shared. "If I said I didn’t think I could produce enough milk for two babies, she replied that mothers of twins do it all the time. If I said I didn’t want to spend any more time pumping or nursing, she said I could pump on one breast while feeding my son on the other."

She said that Tara soon resorted to guilting tactics, sending "pictures of her crying daughter with captions like 'Faye is so sad that her bottle has yucky formula! She misses her yummy breast milk!'" The reader lamented, "I don’t know what to do. Tara won’t stop texting me, and I’m worried that if I block her number she will start coming to my apartment to confront me in person. My wife and I do not have the ability or desire to move, but I can’t live with this." She hoped that the advice columnist, Daniel Mallory Ortberg, could offer some words of wisdom.

He responded by reassuring the reader right off the bat that her neighbor's behavior was "absolutely beyond out of line." He advised, "Before you block her number, you need to make it clear with Tara just how unwelcome her behavior is: 'These messages are totally inappropriate and need to stop. I will not talk to you about this again.'"

He also recommended looping in the landlord "if she starts showing up at your doorstep," writing, "My guess is that your landlord does not want someone harassing their tenants for loose breast milk any more than you do. You don’t need to move, but you do need to make peace with the idea that Tara is not going to be happy. As long as you get what you need (peace and quiet) it doesn’t matter if Tara thinks you’re the cruelest, most unfeeling mother in the world—she’s an unreasonable person with deranged expectations and horrifying judgment."

Ortberg went on to reassure the reader that "anyone who hears 'I’m sorry. I can’t give you any more of my breast milk' and counters with 'But mothers of twins do it all the time!' instead of 'Oh my God, I’ve made myself a nightmarish imposition on a very friendly person and need to apologize and leave the room immediately' is not a person whose good opinion you should solicit or whose approval you should worry about."

He encouraged the reader to tell Tara to "never text her again" and to then block her number. "If she tries to make you feel guilty when she sees you in person, decline to feel guilty," Ortberg shared. "Her baby is fine (formula-wise, at least); you are not actually hurting her in any way, and she has lost the right to engage you in neighborly conversation. Tell your wife and friends if you’re worried Tara is going to start hassling them next. If you see her on your way to your front door and she tries to wave you over, don’t talk to her."

Ultimately, he said the mom should remember to "stop getting into negotiations with Tara where she thinks the two of you are having a free-flowing exchange of ideas about parenting. You two aren’t friends suffering from a disagreement; you’re neighbors, and she happens to be a terrible one. No, it’s not fun to walk past someone who makes giant weepy eyes at you because you won’t give her your bodily fluids, but it’s certainly better than reading her texts."

For the most part, Slate commenters were on the donor's side but also wanted to offer the neighbor more appropriate resources. One encouraged the reader to "look into the breast milk share programs that might be in her area and share that information with her neighbor."

Another believed it was completely inappropriate behavior, writing, "Why are there so many people who think it's ok to just DEMAND things from others??? Why do we have so many toddlers running around impersonating adults?"

A third pointed out that "a combination of postpartum depression and frustration" could be linked to Tara's behavior at least "partially."

That said, Ortberg's assessment seems to be the most on-point of any. As much as it takes a village, no mom should feel pressured to give more than she feels comfortable with. Every mom should feel empowered to set boundaries that will require others to respect her physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Hopefully after hearing from Ortberg, this Slate reader did just that.

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