The cover of Time magazine currently features a photo of an attractive young woman breastfeeding her three-year old son. Ooh, controversial! (I love using that adjective with no further qualification – it drives my partner insane. Apparently the students he used to work with used it constantly, mainly to describe things which were not in any way controversial e.g. “You’re having a rich tea with your coffee? Ooh, controversial”. Hence I now do this all the time.)
The Time magazine cover provokes the same reaction in me as that stupid Oreo breastfeeding advert i.e. I think “that doesn’t look like breastfeeding as I know it”. The woman is upright, wearing a strappy top with no bra, baring one pert breast for her son to drink from while standing on a chair. As you do. There is not even the slightest milk stain on the top, which is the kind of top I couldn’t wear before I’d ever been pregnant, let alone now. I mean, where’s she hiding her breast pads? (This is, in fact, a question I’d like to ask of all women. Whenever I used breast pads, it looked like I’d stuffed two Wagon Wheels up my jumper. I’ve never seen this on anyone else, yet there are loads of companies making breast pads. I can’t be their sole target market. It just wouldn’t make business sense.) The really, really annoying thing, though, is that this isn’t just some model. It really is a breastfeeding mother, called Jamie Lynne Grumet. Hmph. Ladies, the bar has now been truly raised.
Of course, all women should be able to breastfeed in public (I was about to start this sentence with “I think” but how stupid would that be? They just should!). With my first child I was horrendously self-conscious and this made things difficult for both me and him (but evidently easier for some bigots who don’t want to be put off their Starbucks coffee or something). I’d get to the park, he’d start crying and rather than just feed him in front of the swings, I’d walk all the way back home again with him sobbing all the way. Just writing this makes me feel terrible. It wasn’t like that with his brother. Having two children under two just made me think “fuck it”. It tends to have that effect. I fed youngest anywhere and everywhere, and it worked just fine.
I would have breastfed for longer if I could. I had some issues with milk supply which made Youngest lose interest in the breast. Thereafter I couldn’t get him back on. That was quite sad, but not the end of the world. At least not as far as I saw it. I was working as a breastfeeding peer supporter and my “peers” were less than “supportive” regarding my decision to throw in the towel. The breastfeeding counselor suggested that every evening, the minute I got in from work, I should strip off and just lie there, bare-breasted, all evening, bonding with my son, until he felt prompted to try again (my partner could deal with our other child and all the other shit that needed doing). I listened to this and once again thought “fuck it”. Whatever magic properties there are in breastmilk compared to formula, they didn’t seem worth sacrificing our family life indefinitely.
A strong believer in the virtues of breastfeeding, I have sometimes found breastfeeding circles to be a little, well, unforgiving. In our group we were all expected to read Gabrielle Palmer’s The Politics of Breastfeeding; I borrowed it, but I was just too tired. CSI and Take a Break were all I could manage of an evening. We were all expected to be furious about the very existence of formula milk; personally, while I found the marketing tactics of certain companies dishonest and immoral, I found a bit of SMA was often preferable to pumping myself dry. Of course, expressing milk was another thing; even THAT was bad because it would cause “nipple confusion”. But face it, nipples just are confusing – my son only liked my left one anyhow, so that tit was massive while the other shriveled with shame – and there are times when you’ve got to express milk, otherwise how will you ever get to go on the piss? (Sorry, meant to write “how will you ever allow your partner to take part in the wonderful bonding experience that is feeding your baby?”) Breastfeeding is good; all the politics that go alongside it, well, I just can’t always be doing with it.
According to the Guardian, the Time magazine article is to illustrate an article about Bill Sears, “co-author of the Baby Book, which encourages mothers to breastfeed into toddlerhood, co-sleep, and “wear” their babies in an effort to limit their time away from their child”. So basically some man who recommends women bring up their children with complete disregard for any broader social setting and/or emotional relationships i.e. basically some man who can piss right off, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not that I disagree with the specific practices on their own. Hell, I’ve ended up co-sleeping with both of mine (not by choice, mind; can’t get the buggers out, especially since we got the four-poster). But these practices are being proposed in a setting that is in no way conducive to them being widely practicable, and even if that were not the case, they risk diminishing the status of mother to that of mere accessory. “Attachment parenting” doesn’t reduce the child to mere attachment, but it sure as hell risks doing so with the mother.
So in essence, what I’m wondering is, why do we have to link breastfeeding to all these broader political and cultural movements? Breastfeeding IS political, insofar as only women can do it, and Western cultures are wholly failing to make it easy and acceptable for women to nourish their babies (btw I’ve no idea what Eastern cultures are doing; should’ve read the Palmer book instead of the Take a Break Brainwaves Roadshow). But this should be as far as it goes. Let’s not co-opt all breastfeeding women into some wider drive for hardcore mothering. After all, some of us are good at lactating, but just shit at “wearing” their child.
PS I once tried to peg out the washing with my three-week old in a sling. He was screaming his head off and I got us both all tangled up in a damp duvet cover. Believe me, it was not the way forward.