Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Moral imperative

So today I got a text from my brother that went like this:

"So that you know, I WAS interested in a girl. Then she said that breastfeeding was gross. Thanks for turning that into a deal-breaker."

My buttons nearly burst.

I have long been a (very, very) vocal proponent of the only normal infant feeding. I sometimes resent the Breast is Best campaign, whether or not it is well-intentioned, because the subtext actually undermines breastfeeding; nobody will be (or hopefully expects to be) the "best" parent. Folks, especially folks grappling with a newborn, are probably more in survival mode than perfection-mode. If breastfeeding is "best", that must make formula-feeding normal. And, as we all know, that is plain nonsense.

The hospital environments in which many women give birth vary in their hospitality and facilitation of basic human needs: to give birth in a supportive, empowering environment, and to feed their newly emerged offspring. It's a damn shame. Lots of moms who think they "can't" breastfeed are simply ignorant victims of a very subtle system that, albeit unwittingly, jeopardizes the health and safety of moms and babies. Consider homebirth, is all I'm sayin'. I don't even know who I am preaching to. But if my twenty-three year old brother considers a non-lactivist ineligible for his affections, I can rest assured my preaching has not gone unheard so far. I guess I better keep it up, maybe for someone else's little brother's sake.


missy. said...

i had a really proud moment once when i heard my 17-year-old brother discussing how a breast pump works with his girlfriend. i think there's magic in the fact that every woman who chooses to breastfeed is NORMALIZING the act of breastfeeding, and then her brothers and sisters and friends will see it as the normal and commonsense way to feed a baby.

Jen said...

There is a midwife who delivers at the hospital in my area, and I am considering going to her next time. Luckily, I don't have to agonize over this for a couple of years, though.

I feel certain anyone who knows even one tenth of the benefits of breastfeeding would never consider the alternatives. Even most adults hate powdered milk. Talk about getting your kids to have serious issues from the beginning. Keep up the good work, woman.

Katie M. said...

I have to say I'm rather uncomfortable with the idea of applauding the making one's position a deal breaker. Perhaps I'm just not such a big fan of deal breakers in general. wonderful people sometimes have quirks that others might find offensive, but some people can embrace, and look past to their other wonderful qualities. Perhaps I can think of deal breakers that your brother would not appreciate being applied to him.

And perhaps I find it a bit personally insulting, because really, while I know breast is best, and plan on breast feeding, I think breast feeding is gross. It's a baby sucking on your boob for food. What is beautiful about that? It's parasitic. It's a human function. No grander than pooping. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I'm pretty great and it's sad to think that your brother might miss out on a cool chick like me because she disagrees about breast feeding.

While I appreciate the fact that you are passionate about these issues, your stridency often borders on the insulting of anyone who disagrees. Deeming a woman unworthy of romantic interest because she thinks breast feeding is gross and considering that a laudatory decision, really demonizes anyone who disagrees. Your tone on these issues is so abrasive that it turns off those who might wish to become educated but cannot get past the "your with us or against" tone. Surely there is room for nuance in these discussions. I was formula fed and I'm quite healthy, even bright! And this is true for millions of others. And millions of men adore their circumsized wiener. Is there any room for dissent or respect for the other sides of things? At the very least, can this girl simply be given sympathy for perhaps not being educated on the issues? Could it not be better to simply give her the benefit of the doubt and a good book on breast feeding?xx

I'm sorry if this comment is exceedingly crabby, but I guess this got stuck in my craw.

Katie M. said...

Sorry for the grammatical errors...I'm running at the door at the moment.

amy said...

hi katie, thanks for being honest about your response to my post. i, of course, have a few thoughts to share as well.

i have had many friends tell me that my experience and research have been valuable for them and have helped them to make important parenting decisions. i like to think i have had a positive impact with my friends, their babies, and a few of their babies' foreskins. i am sorry you have felt alientated, or worse, personally offended by what i have written. i have made a great effort to be understanding of those who make choices with which i disagree, but i am sure that my impassioned opinions can be overwhelming to some. for the most part, however, people seem to have found my information (and willingness to share it) helpful and supportive, for which i am glad. i am sad you have not felt this way.

i am willing to listen to any person's opinion about any birth issues, especially any person who has any more information than i do. if their argument is sounder than mine i will change my mind without hesitation. that is, in fact, how i developed my current views; by being willing to listen to things i had never heard and change my mind. if new information or insight proves me wrong, i would welcome the new information and start posting on my blog accordingly!

i would like to speak to the issues you mentioned. i do not think breastfeeding is worthy of particular glory, laud, and honor, and i do not think it is best described as beautiful. i also do not think it is gross. i think it is normal. the research overwhelmingly indicates the detriment of formula feeding to mothers and babies. i am a supporter of what i simply view as normal infant feeding. i am proud that my brother recognizes that breastfeeding is the only way to go and respect that he may view a different opinion as a deal-breaker. most of us have deal-breakers. i wouldn't have married a child molester, to use an extreme example. i don't see anything wrong with viewing ideological differences as indicators that a future with someone might not be best. that said, if he marries someone i like half as well as i like you i will be tickled pink, and don't you forget it.

as for circumsized penises, i too know men who are satisfied with their's. i also know men for whom the scar feels like a tragedy for them and their wives. i know intact men who thank their lucky stars. again, i simply look to the research for the basis of my opinion, and, as circumcision is not medically indicated (and is, simply put, a cosmetic surgery) i disapprove of it. i don't hate people who do it, but i think they have made a mistake. if i am wrong, please let me know why. i am always open to reconsideration. but from the information i currently possess, i have to say i think a person's genitals are their own to surgically modify if they deem necessary, but nobody else has a right to do it without their consent.

i am sorry if i have felt unapproachable. i have many friends i respect and hold dear who have made decisions (parenting and otherwise) i think i would not have made. i presume all my friends feel the same about me. i am always happy to hear why someone has made another choice and why, and to change my opinion if it is warranted. however, i feel well-educated on these topics and feel a moral responsibility to share information i was grateful someone shared with me before someone makes a choice they will regret out of ignorance i might have prevented.

thanks again for being honest. i have always respected that about you. and my favorite book about breastfeeding is http://www.drjacknewman.com/proddetails.asp?ID=11
in case anyone is interested!

Katie M. said...

Such a respectful and judicious response to such a cranky comment. Exactly what I would expect from such a gem as yourself.

I do not have other information to present to counter your views; I actually believe them to be quite sound. I was simply arguing that the tone with which you sometimes present the information can perhaps make someone (and maybe I'm the only one) feel defensive. It's one thing to argue that something is the best decision for one's baby, but another to label it a "moral imperative." If that's true, it implies that a woman who acts differently is thus "immoral." Unwise? Perhaps. But immoral?

You are right that everyone is entitled to deal breakers, and certainly we would applaud a lack of interest in someone who touched little kid's private parts. I simply submit that one's opinion on the yuckiness of breast feeding is not a very accurate gage of that person's worth. It may turn out to be, but it's not really sufficient to judge your future computability with someone on such evidence.

At the end of the day I very much respect your passion on these issues. But at the same time it also prevents some open dialouge between us. For example, if i know you think circumcision is "torture" and "sickening," I obviously will feel quite uncomfortable telling you I had made that decision (which I haven't by the way, I'm simply using that as an example). Nonetheless, I understand if having a few fewer conversations with me is worth educated the many others out there. Honestly.

Jami said...

Amy, this post made me smile, and not just because of the wonderful photo. I want to chime in on the discussion you and Katie are having, if you ladies don't mind me being a bit less eloquent than either one of you.

I think women who are vocal about the necessity and normalacy of breastfeeding can come off as being over-the-top and dramatic because it really is bizarre that the argument should even be happening. The 'argument' was started by the agressive and, I believe, evil campaigning and adverstising of the formula companies. So, when Amy responds with what may feel like a combative energy, I don't think it is a reflection of an attack on a non-breastfeeding individual so much as it is an attack on the undermining of breastfeeding.

The relationship between a nursing mother and baby is one of the most
fundamental we have. Formula companies has done a really great job messing that up (especially in developing countries). I guess what I'm trying to say is, "they started it."

I also wanted to say that I've been nursing my sweet baby for 17 months and it has been an experience far from gross. Nursing may seem strange until you are actually doing it, but I believe that is because we so rarely see women in our culture nursing their babies (and if they are, they're covered, so that doesn't help). Babies get milk from their moms. When my daughter wakes at night, she nurses for a few minutes, smiles at me, and goes back to sleep. I'm so grateful for our nursing relationship, and to Amy for all she did to educate and support me in those early-nursing days.

Briana said...

I too would like to add my thoughts, although in rough draft form.

I have been through my fair share of social blunders due to what my friends and family might have previously called 'a militant approach'. I know in the past I have alienated whole swaths of people at public speaking events by being less than accepting of opinions differing from my own. But I have learned a thing or too since then.

When we lactivists, intactivists, vbactivists, and plain old birth activists talk about moral imperative, we must use extreme caution to explain whose imperative we are referring to.

For myself, and I think you as well Amy, I mean MY OWN moral imperative. There are many, many individuals in this world and almost as many levels of education or understanding on a particular issue. It is wrong for me to assume that another person or woman or mother is able to take responsibility for her decisions in the same way that I am.

For example, the woman who has never even heard of circumcision and simply signs a stack of papers in her postpartum blur, has done no immoral act (even though the removal of her son's body part is a great tragedy). If, on the other hand, I participated in the same paper signing, I would consider myself hell-bound.

The point I am trying to make is that we cannot be held accountable for information we do not possess. If that is because the information makes us uncomfortable and we shun it, then that's a different issue. But for the most part, we as American people/parents/women willingly give our 'agency' or personal decision-making power to authorities in whom we trust and most often this is blind.

Once we have educated ourselves, been educated, or have known a different way, and we see a clear 'right' and 'wrong', it IS our moral imperative to act accordingly and to do our best to helpfully inform and not disenfranchise others.

I'm happy to hear that your brother is engaging the female gender in a romantic way, and even happier to hear that normalcy is part of his prereqs.

much love, and thanks for the picture

Julie said...

Amy and all wonderful readers,

I wanted to get in on this discussion as well. This picture made me smile because the little baby looks so delighted. My own daughter Joyce who is almost 9 months old just recently started to pause during breastfeeding to press her entire face into my breast and take deep breaths like she just needed to inhale her mama for the sheer delight of being breastfed. So I personally have had a really good experience with breastfeeding - even though the beginning was tougher than I imagined. It also helped that my mom breastfed all eight of her children so I had that model.

The dialogue going on here in the comments made me think about discourse in general. That's probably explained by my current graduate student status in a communications and culture program. My department emphasizes the way culture creates and naturalizes things and how alternative discourses circulate around dominant ones.

A professor recently talked about how the term "formula" (as in baby formula) is a perfect example of the way scientific discourse set up its primacy during the 1950's. This was a time in America when all things scientific and technical and medical were best, so when creating a supplement to feed babies - it became "formula" invoking science, technology and medicine and thus linking itself to the dominant and preferred discourse. It seems so obvious but I never picked up on that which goes to show how naturalized dominant discourses get. It's no wonder that breastfeeding can seem unnatural or disgusting.

Language is powerful and stuff like this makes me think about Katie's excellent point:
How do you take a strong position on something without marginalizing other voices especially when you feel really strongly about them? Especially when you want people to be persuaded and join the ranks? I think this is a tough thing to do - I certainly don't know how to do it well.

I think all who know Amy can agree that her passion is one of her most beautiful and compelling characteristics - I for one am grateful that she has information behind that passion. Thanks for sharing it Amy.

missy. said...

Katie M, my favorite breastfreeding book is "The Politics of Breastfeeding" by Gabrielle Palmer. It is one incredible read, and I highly recommend it.

amy said...

i should post about evocative topics more often; what a conversation! i feel like i have had my own thoughts articulated better than i could have done myself, and have had a good opportunity to reflect on my own feelings and approach. i hope i can make a better go of it next time. the last thing i would ever want is to cut off conversation with people whose opinions i not only respect but hold dear; katie, if you're still reading, i hope you will feel encouraged to talk to me about any topic and, more importantly, to tell me when i am off-base. i want to be a helpful and understanding friend and, in general, i value my relationships more than these causes, even if this is not always directly reflected in my actions.

many thanks to all for the food for thought and respectful, insightful discourse. i learned a great deal of my best stuff from you people, and i intend to keep right on learning!

Dave said...

I feel like I should have a lot to say, but I don't. All I would add is that, in all reality, the "deal-breaker" was not so much to be found in the fact that she said she would not breast feed (which I have to say, I still think is a singularly bad call) but that she would not even participate in a dialogue about it. I felt inappropriate telling her what she should or should not consider, being a man (which is its own travesty), but I wanted her to reconsider the prospect. No luck.

She also told me, after some brief discussion and acknowledgment on her part that breast feeding may in fact be the more healthy option, that it was a social construct. Breast feeding was. A social construct.

I suggested that perhaps the breast did not produce milk out of peer pressure, but that there was in fact something more to it than a sense of obligation. I was met with a cold and vacant, "Yeah, whatever. I'm still not doing it. It's gross." THAT was the true deal breaker. I just couldn't see lasting compatibility with someone who felt so differently about DISCUSSION from me. No willingness to genuinely acknowledge valid points or compromise. It irritated me. Couldn't see it panning out.

She was, however, a very nice girl. Just not my cup of teat.

Aaron said...

Hot Damn do I miss you Pamy!