Womb it may Concern

It's your womb. You should be concerned.

Breastapo & the modern woman

with 11 comments

Client of Journey's End Birth Services putting her brand new baby to her breast immediately after birth.

Early one morning as my two small squirrely children tumbled over the quilt, I grabbed my iPod touch from the bedside table. My youngest sidled up to my right breast and, as we do every morning, she latched on. My nineteen-month-old nursed, I logged on to Facebook, and my three-year-old told me for the umpteenth time that she wanted to watch Snow White.

Typical morning in my life. Until I read this.

The entire article on milkmatters.org was so wonderful, I almost forgot it was barely 5 a.m. It was lighthearted, insightful, honest and funny—exactly what I wish that I could write every day of my life. I instantly started thinking of women to send the link to, of using it in Lamaze class, and sharing it on my business page. When I got to the bottom, however, my jaw dropped.

“The breastapo strike again. Propaganda.”

The very first comment on the post likened the author of a beautifully written, factually accurate article to Hitler’s agents of death. She reiterated her distaste by calling the information propaganda, as in a deception or distortion of truth.

Wait…what?

If this article were about the benefits of regular exercise or a healthy sex life, no one would be calling the author a “Fatty Fascist” or “Orgasm Elitist”. We all know the benefits of working up a sweat, whether it’s on the treadmill or in the bedroom, and we do not take exception to the thousands of articles extolling the virtues of bodily health.

From the Yahoo! homepage to the cover of Cosmo, we are deluged with information on how women can “lose weight” and have “great sex”, two things we are biologically designed to do (just like giving birth and breastfeeding!). Scientific studies number in the hundreds showing the long term benefits of regular exertion; working out most days of the week lowers blood pressure and having lots of sex lowers risk of depression.

The benefits go on and on. Daily exercise and satisfactory intimacy lowers the risk of cancer, promotes higher self-esteem, makes you more likely to succeed, less likely to kick the bucket at an early age and in general, happier and healthier than the average bear.

America’s ideas about baring your breasts for nursing a baby are quite different, however. When we begin talking about breasts that are not being pushed down by a sports bra or pushed up by sexy lingerie—when we talk about them in the biological context they were created for—it’s a cultural mine field.

How can we passively discuss the capabilities of the female body in every situation EXCEPT breastfeeding?

Apply America’s cultural philosophy about breastfeeding to exercise, and I should be deeply offended by early morning joggers; I don’t want to nor do I find any joy in cardio, and yet these health nuts insist on running past my window and rubbing their sculpted thighs in my face.

I hate working out. I know the facts about exercise, but there are days when I would rather pull my teeth out with a rusty pair of pliers than get on the treadmill. Sometimes I work out regularly, sometimes it’s months between feeling the burn—but I don’t take offense to articles on being thin. Nor do I ask the fit women in my life to cover up their trim hips, forbid them from talking to me about their morning pilates, or feel insulted by their low-cal chicken lasagna.

Apply America’s cultural philosophy about breastfeeding to sex, and I ought to post comments on every “better sex” article I can find telling the author how offended I am by their insensitive attitude to those of us who, through no fault of our own, suck at sex.

I should be incensed by the promotion of mind-blowing orgasms because I can’t have them!

Sex is painful for me because of endometriosis, but my spirit isn’t broken by “75 crazy-hot sex moves“. Along with birth and breastfeeding, sex is one of the biggest affirmations of femininity. Sex is something women were given the anatomy to enjoy! I don’t feel like I’m “good” at a natural bodily function, and yet…I don’t begrudge my girlfriends who have fabulous sex lives. They have the drive and the ability to capitalize on the biological gifts that I don’t possess, but we can still talk about intimacy and love without me feeling guilty or defeated.

If we can accept and even celebrate such innate bodily abilities as running a mile or having sex in every position in the Kama Sutra, why is breastfeeding such a touchy subject?

When it comes to the biological role of breasts, everyone is a victim or an aggressor. If we support breastfeeding, we are insensitive rabid activists. If we don’t support breastfeeding, we are demonic child abusers. Successful nursers are smug hippies, and those couldn’t or wouldn’t should never be exposed to breastfeeding support or advice because it will make them feel inferior.

Talking about breastfeeding in America is a double edged sword wrapped in a catch 22, leaving a perfectly natural part of life a tangle of regrets, anger, indignation and scorn. Isn’t it ironic that the benefits of bodily functions, in relation to exercise and sex, are easy to discuss, but when the same facts are presented about nursing a baby, they somehow become insipid intimations of unrealistic expectations and ultimately—failure as a woman.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of the guilt, guile and distaste surrounding breastfeeding and just let it be what it is: something that works for mama and baby, or something that does not. And leave it at that.

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11 Responses

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  1. I saw that article, and that comment (I think I found it through a link you posted, actually). Sad stuff. Everyone has a preference, and it’s no one’s position or right to judge another mom on doing what she feels is best for her and baby, and we especially don’t know the details of every situation. It’s true that there are definite empirical health benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding, but man…sometimes people need to be a little more understanding, and a little less touchy about such a sensitive and important subject.

    Relatedly (but somewhat off-topic), a friend of mine was on the fence about breastfeeding, and I told her some of the benefits for both her and baby – and when she found out there’s a chance of losing baby weight faster while breastfeeding, she finally went for it!

    Also, she was venting to me recently about juggling baby and toddler responsibilities (she also has a 2-year-old), so I suggested trying a sling…she borrowed one from a friend, and liked the freedom of movement so much that she ordered a ring sling for herself (she likes to call it the “lazy way of holding her”, haha)! I know if I ever started talking about AP anything her ears would snap shut faster than you can say “oh, please, you freakin’ hippie”, but whatever her reason for doing so, I know she’s wearing that baby around!

    I know that last part has nothing to do with this post, but I thought it was kind of funny, so I shared. 🙂

    Vallery

    December 1, 2010 at 12:12 pm

  2. That is so wonderful, Vallery. And I think it is RIGHT on target. That’s what it’s all about, to me—non-chalantly bringing up options or alternatives, without judgement, and then politely stepping away from the subject unless it’s brought up again. How funny that your friend took to AP and BFing for reasons that are not the typical motivation. But I’m glad she tried, nonetheless. Even if neither of those things had worked for her and her babies, she could say that she gave it a shot!

    Breezy

    December 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm

  3. Fab reply to the breastapo comment! Have shared widely 🙂

    Charlotte

    December 5, 2010 at 6:08 am

    • Thank you! I was so impressed with the “TruBreast” article that I had to say something.

      wombitmayconcern

      December 5, 2010 at 8:34 am

  4. The last sentence sums it up perfectly.
    However, I’m not sure comparing it with sex is relevant: after all, if you don’t enjoy sex, you won’t feel like you’ve let your child down.
    It’s hard to let go of the guilt because it’s irrational: I know that my child can’t go at the breast, because of medical reasons, and after 17 weeks of breast milk ( a good part of it being expressed)I feed her with prescription formula.
    It is no one’s fault but the guilt is there, I certainly don’t blame anyone for it.
    What is unhelpful, though, is advice re BF, or info about the risks of formula when it’s already too late.
    If, like me, you keep searching articles and blogs on these topic then clearly it’s your fault- you’re punishing yourself but it’s your issue.
    But if people get out of their way to remind you of the risks then they’re the ones who deserve to be labelled ” BF dragons” etc.
    Thankfully, it’s a minority, but people sometimes fail to see that, and it’s sad, I agree.

    Manuella

    December 5, 2010 at 8:35 am

  5. Fantastic post – well written and totally agree!

    Steph

    December 6, 2010 at 7:14 am

  6. True, that my sex life doesn’t make me feel like I’ve let my children down. But, the #1 reason for divorce is money. #2? Infidelity (often as a result of an unhappy intimate relationship with a spouse). If my marriage were to break up because of our less-than-awesome sex life, I certainly *would* feel like I let my kids down. It makes sense in MY head, anyway 😉

    wombitmayconcern

    December 6, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    • That is a good point actually, I didn’t think that far.
      Anyway, although I thought that analogy quite odd, I want to emphasize that your article is very good. Also, I had a look at the “Tru-Breast” link and I think it’s, quite simply, the best thing I’ve read about BF- and I’ve read quite a bit on the subject 🙂

      Manuella

      December 8, 2010 at 8:01 am

  7. So glad you wrote this! I found this article through a link on the page you mentioned and my feelings are exactly the same. It’s so tedious, this same old story of “walk on eggshells lest it offend”. Noone should feel guilty for not breastfeeding and noone should feel guilt FOR breastfeeding. End of story.

    Why can’t we all just leave each other alone?

    claudiamonkeyn

    July 9, 2011 at 10:57 am

  8. I read the same article, and love how it looked like a sales pitch!! I laughed at the irony!! After the first comment knocked the breath out of me, I read a few more, and before you know it, I was ticked. I think there were more people commenting on the ‘offensive material’ that was contained than the cuteness of it. It kinda ticked me off. If someone makes the decision or ‘can’t’ to not breastfeed, why are we made to feel guilty for their either lack of effort or sheer inability?? Just because I lost my baby weight in 6 months doesn’t mean I want to be attacked by someone struggling and healing from a section. I don’t deserve that anymore than the woman that wrote that article deserved the crappy comments. That is not fair. Since when is it a crime to be successful at something?? I hope these people just hang out together, because the world would absolutely quit turning if one of them got a pat on the back for something well done.

    Bobbie Hardy

    July 11, 2011 at 6:13 am

  9. Great article, thank you! I just giggled my way through the ‘Tru-Breast’ ad on Milk Matters, but then my jaw dropped at some of the comments below. You have answered them perfectly.

    Kate

    February 8, 2013 at 6:34 am


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