Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Bitch Called Karma

    In the past week, several of my Facebook friends have simultaneously posted an article from 2009, entitled "The Case Against Breastfeeding." I'm assuming it's because of the recent legislation enacted regarding breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. The piece was written by a woman named Hanna Rosin, and it opens with her personal testimony about how today's upper class über-moms brutalize women who decide they don't want to breast feed, ostracizing these heretics and their bottle-fed offspring from their exclusive Lilly Pulitzer-clad playgroups. I've read and re-read it several times, trying to make sense of how something as natural as breastfeeding has become politicized, and the only coherent response I can muster is koyaanisqatsi (Hopi for "life out of balance").
     Although I disagree with most of what Rosin has to say, I totally get her point. God help the woman who chooses to breastfeed in this day and age. You're gonna get it from all ends, long before your baby's even born. If you're a working mother, your only motivation to continue nursing once you return to work may be the guilt imposed on you by the media, your pediatrician, your family, your friends, or those vapid playground moms with their fancy strollers and politically correct toys. Regardless of your motivation, prepare to relegate yourself to months of indentured lactitude. To make matters worse, if you're the one providing the grub, the hub's certainly not going to need to get out of bed to help, right? At least one of you will get some sleep! By making your breasts available for a continuous suckfest, you'll be rewarded with a genius IQ, clear-skinned, immunologically superior freak of a toddler whose shit smells like buttermilk. On the other hand, if you decide not to breastfeed, you'll automatically be labeled an undesirable, an outcast, a sorry, selfish excuse for a mother. What is wrong with you, anyway? Don't you know your baby is going to end up a morbidly obese serial killer with diabetes and heart disease? Jeez! Thank goodness I had my babies before breastfeeding became such a divisive moral issue. Sadly it seems, we women have become our own worst enemies.
      My take on the whole breast-feeding issue is pretty simple: we are mammals and we make milk for our babies. It's really a no-brainer. Breastfeeding is a natural part of being human, and anthropologically speaking, it makes sense to nurse our offspring. As humans, the instinct to breastfeed is imprinted in us; it's part of our genetic code.  Until the Industrial Revolution, breastfeeding was mostly a win-win situation for us. I have to admit, I'm a huge fan of breastfeeding. The sculpture featured on my webpage shows a woman breastfeeding twins, inspired by my own experience nursing my sons, Nick and Rory, who were born eight weeks prematurely. They were in the neonatal ICU for five weeks and pumping my milk helped me feel uniquely connected to them. The nurses referred to mother's milk as liquid gold. I have to say, that attitude really empowered me; I felt like I was doing something tremendously important. Even though my milk was being administered through a feeding tube, I was actively providing my children with nourishment, and no one could take that away from me. When you've got sick babies in the hospital, lactating is one of the few things you really have any control over. It wasn't easy, but I'm glad I stuck with it. I wouldn't trade those eight months we shared for anything in the world. Over the centuries, we've devised ingenious ways to deal with babies who can't or won't breastfeed: wet nurses, baby formula, and expressing our breast milk. It boils down to survival of the fittest. Again, as humans, we've been gifted with technological intelligence which not only serves to propagate our species, it helps to make our lives here on Earth easier.
     Honestly, I'm less concerned with whether a new mother decides to breastfeed than I am with the way society treats her. I'm turned off by zealots of any ilk, well, except maybe those who are strong proponents of chocolate. Breastfeeding is an intensely personal decision. Every woman ultimately has to determine what is best for her and her baby; to hell with those plastic hags on the playground! Until we've walked in that woman's shoes, none of us, male or female, have the right to criticize her sexuality, her choice to have an abortion, or her decision whether or not to breastfeed. There is research supporting both breast and bottle feeding, so there's not a clear cut advantage in choosing one method over the other. It's a shame that our germophobic, homophobic, xenophobic, future-oriented, wasteful society has managed to turn one of the most beautiful aspects of womanhood into a witchhunt. Don't we have enough social issues to worry about?
     What comes around goes around; we reap what we sow. In kindergarten, we learn the Golden Rule, which says we should treat others in the same way we'd like to be treated. That simple principle of reciprocity has worked wonders for humankind. It's amazing to think that when I was a baby in 1962, blacks and whites who lived in this country were segregated. It's only been within the last century that American women have won the right to vote. Less than seventy years ago, my father's father was murdered in a concentration camp, for being a Polish superintendent of schools. As a physician, it's mind blowing to me that the concept of informed consent wasn't developed until after the Nuremburg trials. Do you get where I'm going with this? We've got to start acknowledging our collective value and our interconnectedness on this planet. We have to quit being so mean to one another. As humans, we are at once capable of the most beautiful and terrible things; why can't we focus on the ways in which we're alike instead of what separates us? Unless those moms on the playground develop some empathy and insight into their bullying behavior, their kids are going to turn out exactly the same way, narcissistic and lacking in compassion, destined to be the next generation of haters. Sooner or later, these women are going to run into a bitch called karma; she has an interesting way of turning things around.

The Case Against Breastfeeding 

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