Saturday, October 25, 2008

Milk, Money, & Madness

This week I finished reading Milk, Money, and Madness. Dia Michels is one of the co-authors and I've actually heard her speak twice--once in 2003 when I was pregnant with L and then last fall at the LLL of MO conference. Anyway, it seemed like it was well past time to finally actually read her book! It was quite good. I'm surprised at how riveting a book about the "culture and politics of breastfeeding" can be! (It did remind me a lot of The Politics of Breastfeeding that I read a while ago.)

I only have time to share quotes today, not much evaluation:

"Babies need holding, stroking, dressing, bathing, comforting, burping, and, within a short time, feeding solids. Dad can do every one of these. The desire to participate should not be confused with the need to give the baby the best of what each partner has to offer."

I liked this one because I hear from people SO often that they want Daddy to be able to participate in baby care by giving the baby a bottle. There are LOTS of things that fathers can do for their babies, other than feeding.

A good one with regard to public breastfeeding/breasts as sexual objects:

"When the attitude is taken that a woman’s breasts belong to her and no job is more important than caring for one’s young, the confusion between breastfeeding and obscenity goes away."

With regard to the argument that bottle feeding "liberates" women from the tyranny/restrictiveness of breastfeeding:

"The liberation women need is to breastfeed free of social, medical, and employer constraints. Instead, they have been presented with the notion that liberation comes with being able to abandon breastfeeding without guilt. This 'liberation,' though, is an illusion representing a distorted view of what breastfeeding is, what breastfeeding does, and what both mothers and babies need after birth."

With regard to how women are treated pp in other cultures, etc…

"An entirely different situation exists in societies where technology is emphasized. The birth process is seen from a clinical viewpoint, with obstetricians emphasizing technology. A battery of defensive practices are employed, some of which are totally irrelevant to the health of either mother or infant. Skilled technicians spend their time and the family’s money on identifying the baby’s gender and performing various stress tests. All the focus is geared toward the actual birth. After the birth, mother and baby become medically separated. The infant is relegated to the care of the pediatrician, the uterus to the obstetrician, the breast abscess to the surgeon. While the various anatomical parts are given the required care, the person who is the new mother is often left to fend for herself...All the tender loving care goes flows to the infant; the mother becomes and unpaid nursemaid."

The quote continues:

"This may appear to be a harsh evaluation, but it is realistic. In western society, the baby gets attention while the mother is given lectures. Pregnancy is considered an illness; once the 'illness' is over, interest in her wanes. Mothers in 'civilized' countries often have no or very little help with a new baby. Women tend to be home alone to fend for themselves and the children. They are typically isolated socially and expected to complete their usual chores, including keeping the house clean and doing the cooking and shopping, while being the sole person to care for the infant..."

"According to the U.S. rules and regulations governing the federal worker, the pregnancy and postdelivery period is referred to as 'the period of incapacitation.' This reflects the reality of the a situation that should be called 'the period of joy.' Historically, mothering was a group process shared by the available adults. This provided not only needed relief but also readily available advice and experience. Of the 'traditional' and 'modern' child-rearing situations, it is the modern isolated western mom who is much more likely to find herself experiencing lactation failure." (emphasis mine)

I think these quotes are important because I think there is a tendency for women to look inward and blame themselves for "failing" at breastfeeding. There is also an unfortunate tendency for other mothers to also blame the mother for "failing"--she was "too lazy" or "just made an excuse," etc. We live in a bottle feeding culture; The cards are stacked against breastfeeding from many angles--economically, socially, medically etc. When I hear women discussing why they couldn't breastfeed, I don't hear "excuses," I hear "broken systems of support" (whether it be the epidural in the hospital that caused fluid retention and the accompanying flat nipples, the employer who won't provide a pumping location, the husband who doesn't want to share "his breasts," or the mother-in-law who thinks breastfeeding is perverted). Of course, there can actually be true "excuses" and "bad reasons" and women theoretically always have the power to choose for themselves rather than be swayed by those around them, but there is a whole lot that goes into not-breastfeeding, besides the quickest answer or what is initially apparent on the surface. Breastfeeding occurs in a context and that context is often one that DOES NOT reinforce it. I often think it is more of miracle that a mother manages to breastfeed, than wonder why she doesn't!

And, a final quote:

"...infant formula sales comprise up to 50% of the total profits of Abbott Labs, an enormous pharmaceutical concern."

And the U.S. government is the largest buyer of formula, providing it for something like 37% of babies. I should have written that quote down too!

1 comment:

Kolbi said...

Amazing and frightening how such an old book could still hold such truths. One would hope that we would have moved past the point that whether or not to breastfeed would be a choice that still had to be made.

Thank you again, Molly for such a good review.