Although not affiliated with any pro-breastfeeding organization, noted attractive person Gisele Bundchen perhaps best expressed the sentiment of the most radically mammalistic of activists when she recently called for legislation making breastfeeding mandatory for mothers of children under six months old. This was followed by feminist men quietly celebrating an excuse to google “Gisele Bundchen breasts” with impunity, a backlash against her overstatement, a retraction and apology by the model, and continued googling of her breasts.
On the other side of the issue, while you would be hard-pressed to find any spokesmodels denouncing breastfeeding outright, there are certainly those who think putting pressure on moms to breastfeed rolls back many hard-won advances of feminism, and that the mandatory household appliance for working breastfeeders—the breast-pump—is an instrument of oppression and even torture.
In the spring of 2009, Hanna Rosin’s controversial article in The Atlantic caused a massive kerfuffle in the interblogosphereweb. Her piece, The Case Against Breast-Feeding, questioned the consensus among the medical community and parenting punditry that the benefits of breastfeeding are so clear that to opt out of suckling one’s young is tantamount to child abuse. She claimed that in fact, the benefits are negligible, and, even though she was breastfeeding her third baby at the time (she planned to continue only for a few months), she was convinced that the hassle to the mom was not worth whatever minor advantages it conferred upon the baby: she encouraged moms not to feel obligated to breastfeed if they didn’t want to, and not to feel like failures if they wanted to but were unable.
Even worse than the inconvenience and career damage inherent in having babies attached to the breast like so much fleshy body-jewelry, according to Rosin and others, is the degradation and humiliation inflicted by the execrable breast-pump.
In describing one of her friends tethered to a breast-pump, Rosin wrote that the first-time mom was “hooked up to tubes and suctions and a giant deconstructed bra, looking like some fetish ad, or a footnote from the Josef Mengele years.” Judith Warner, in a post on her New York Times blog , agreed with Rosin about the de-humanizing elements of pumping, and yearned for a day that “books on women’s history [would] feature photos of breast pumps to illustrate what it was like back in the day when mothers were consistently given the shaft.” The language in these comments is incendiary, and suggests an insidious plot by The Man to keep a sister down by vilifying any alternative to breastfeeding. But the obvious power of Big Formula—the samples and coupons lurking in every free diaper bag thrown at parents on Labor and Delivery floors and pediatricians’ offices being its most obvious artifacts—render that theory as toothless as an Enfamil-guzzling newborn.
Clearly, the tactics of both Big Formula and Big Breast Pump are well beyond the bumbling oppression techniques of The Man. The Man wants only complacence and conformity. BF and BBP want to recruit zealous consumers who will march into righteous battle on behalf of their products.
Just a few weeks ago, my wife switched off the breast-pump for the last time after a year of feeding our twins primarily with the miraculous elixir that somehow her body knew how to produce only when needed and roughly in the correct quantities (yet another supremely bizarre aspect of human reproduction that convinces me that no space alien would ever believe humanity was possible if it were informed of our existence).
But my wife is no breastfeeding ideologue. It worked for her, the evidence of its benefits was compelling enough to make up for the time and discomfort, it gave her license to eat with abandon, and it was actually cheaper than formula. As a doctor, she strongly recommends breastfeeding to her patients, but she doesn’t try to shame them into embracing it.
To her, the pump was a necessary inconvenience, not an instrument of degradation. Even when I tried, just for the sake of conversation, to get her to talk about the indignity of being milked by a machine, she rolled her eyes and went back to reading Perez Hilton to the rhythmic lull of the Medela Symphony.
Although my wife was oblivious to the Symphony’s subtle overtones, every night as I went to sleep, every morning as I changed the babies’ diapers, and every day as I gave the lunchtime report to Dr. Mom over the phone, I heard the infectious subliminal message from the mechanical heart of the pump and realized the extent to which companies will go to win over their consumers.
“Good-girl, good-girl, good-girl,” the pump slurred rapidly in Phase One.
And as the pump slowed down to roughly the pace of the human heart for Phase Two, it would repeat, for the next twenty minutes or so, “Breast-milk, breast-milk, breast-milk.”
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