Yes, I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. I finally decided that I was probably going to offend someone with my thoughts, so I might as well get it over with. It wouldn’t be the first time. 😉
The original post I’m commenting on can be found at Playgroup with Sylvia Plath. I stumbled across it through a BlogHer sidebar on another blog. This post discussed the implications and impact of a somewhat recent study that recommended 90% of women should breastfeed exclusively for at least 6 months. Her contention was that this was unhealthy, in that it required too much of women and would lead to a number of negative effects. She connected breastfeeding to problems with mental health, the inability of the woman to work outside the home, and, ultimately, marital difficulties and divorce.
I agree with part of her argument. Here’s a quote that almost every mother can identify with: “It was novel, it was never elegant, and it always struck me as more science fiction than biblical.” True. Very true. Breastfeeding is weird for the one who has to do it. And it’s the one task that, unlike diaper changing or cuddling, cannot be shared with your husband. And, yes, when I get up to heaven I will have a few choice questions to ask about how fair all this pregnancy, labor (oh, labor), and then breastfeeding stuff really is.
In fact, I can’t imagine a better analogy than Rick Moranis facing a hungry, blood-thirsty, decidedly carnivorous alien plant. There’s just something about ‘Feeeeeed me, Seymour!’ that I can identify with.
But let me make my position on breastfeeding clear. I fully advocate whatever that mother in that family in that situation is able to do. With Laura I breastfed for about 9 months, even though there were difficulties with feeding her too much and then too little. (All the people at the hospital and pediatrician’s lied. They said that babies never get too full, they never eat too much, they have some innate wisdom that they actually listen to when they’re busy doing their favorite activity of their life so far. Bull. Puckey.) With Max, the stress of ending a semester and difficulties with nursing led me to put him on the bottle after two weeks. He was very easy-going as long as he got fed something. I plan to breastfeed when wiggler-in-the-womb comes out but freely acknowledge that circumstances might dictate otherwise. Much like my bizarre desire to do a natural birth.
However, I reject the inherent selfishness in these next few statements:
“I do not resent breastfeeding, my children, or my nearly perfect husband. I do resent the expectation that after carrying a baby for nine months, that American women should surrender control for six more months.”
“If that weren’t enough, the real rub is what women give up psychologically during that time.”
“Blue-ribbon breastfeeding goals could — in the extreme — lead to increased divorce, depression, and long-term damage to the delicate ecosystem of gender roles in our families, workplaces and society. At the very least, the effort sanctions the message to women that their children and domestic duties come first. For women and researchers for whom long-term breastfeeding is the answer, the question certainly needs to be asked, at what cost?”
Okaaaay. Somehow I don’t think it’s breastfeeding that we’re talking about anymore here. Breastfeeding, much like domesticity, is often held up as the shackles that bind the ‘modern’, ‘feminist’, ‘liberated’ woman.
The easy answer: If you feel children will stifle your independence in some way, don’t have any kids that you brought into this world and are solely responsible for. I’m sure you’ll have the perfect life and marriage.
The longer answer: families and marriages have survived for the entire history of the world despite the overwhelming number of women who breastfed exclusively for at least 6 months. Seriously, all the cool kids (and even the rest) were doing it. It is only in modern history that our priorities have become so skewed that breastfeeding can be a danger to some ‘delicate ecosystem’ in the family and society. Honestly, the family is pretty hardy. I think it can survive nursing of all things. Harder for a family and marriage to withstand: death, miscarriage, infidelity, infertility, etc.
I think there must be something wrong when children are seen as impediments to happiness, or success, or whatever. But without getting into the argument of what a woman’s role in society and the family is (oh, please ask me about that sometime), I advocate a little common sense. Like I said above, the world will go on if you nurse. If it makes things in life hard, remember that many things in life are hard and it’d be pretty silly to avoid all of them. Heck, you already went through labor.
On that note, it should be noted that females are literally, biologically made to have children and nurse them. That is a scientific fact. You don’t even have to bring religion into it. Shouldn’t we give some credence to this fact? It isn’t just society or rules on breastfeeding that dictate a woman’s role, it’s science’s fault. And, since we women are made this way, shouldn’t it inform our opinion on breastfeeding and childbirth? Is it truly ‘enlightened’ and ‘liberated’ to reject how God or nature has made us? No doubt, formula is a blessing. But just because we have formula doesn’t mean we have to use it. (Plus, formula costs the equivalent of a small army. I’d rather breastfeed and save my money to buy a few companies of mercenaries, wouldn’t you?)
I guess my basic opinion is this: suck it up. Whether you breastfeed or not, it is the most natural thing in the world to do so. Because we are made that way. Just as Locke theorized that law was created by early man to promote general happiness (and protect private property), you could reason that adaptation/God/nature/the big shiny mumbo-jumbo made man and woman the way they are to promote the general happiness and well-being of the species.
Therefore, I just can’t see that breastfeeding is inimical to the marriage or the family. In fact, I think that that charge can be laid at the door of radical feminism. But that’s another post for another day.