I’m not looking to make trouble, but I’ve been thinking a lot about breastfeeding since grandson Cole was born on November 30, 2013. Granted, this subject falls into the None-of-Your-Damned-Business Department, but that’s never stopped me from having my say. I’ll preface my list of points with a few acknowledgements: Nursing is wonderful for women who want to do so and are able. Still, twenty-five years ago wife Kathy, breast-milk fed baby daughter Elena, and I were on a long car trip, and Elena was practically crying herself into a hemorrhage. She was hungry. We couldn’t stop, so we gave her formula. Needs must. So I’m not personally militant about breastfeeding. And while I dig the Earth mother groove, I wouldn’t bury the placenta and plant a tree over it.
All that said, on with the none-of-my-business points. From here on I won’t say I think or I believe or for me. The whole thing is coming out of my neurotic head.
Point #1: I gush with pride in Elena. When Cole was a newborn, she spent a month or so figuring out how to nurse in public, gauging her comfort level, working out strategies for minimizing exposure. Since then, Elena has settled into her ways of being discreet without doubling over in fear that somebody might catch a glimpse of her nipple. When she is over at Mom and Dad’s house, she issues a two-word alert: boob out. This is a perfect approach to every nursing situation because it places the responsibility where it belongs. The woman’s job is to nourish her child. Everybody else’s role is to look away if they don’t want to see. It’s simple. And this leads to . . .
Point #2: For pity’s sake, it’s a breast! Let’s be grown ups. Sure, breasts can be wonderfully erotic. If we took a vote, I would check the “in favor of breasts” box. They get my support. I’m a fan. Golly, breasts are fun. But, come on! I’m writing this in Starbucks, and by my count there are twenty breasts here, not counting men’s poor excuses for them. (Oops, make that twenty-two.) They’re all over the place. I can’t look in any direction and not see boobs in, and, conveniently, they serve a purpose much more important than making men randy. So let’s all work on our ability to distinguish one situation from another. Nursing women are giving their babies not only nutritional gold, but a helping of comfort and intimacy; therefore, if any of us happen to see a kiddo happily tugging away, we ought to give thanks. Something great is happening on our rancorous planet. Bottoms up—as it were.
Point #3: There’s a really cool community formed around the practice of breastfeeding. Elena has found friendship and support in the La Leche League, and I’m moved by the members’ warmth and commitment. A few months ago Kathy, son Micah, and I joined Elena, Cole, and son-in-law Matt for a walk to benefit the League. That’s when my head really started filling with hippie-type information and opinions. Turns out that—big surprise—some women have trouble nursing or can’t produce enough milk to sustain a child. Other women could feed the Waltons and Brady Bunch combined. So the high producers freeze their expressed milk and give it to mothers who need it or to neonatal intensive care units willing to accept it. (Illinois mother of four Amelia Boomker, 36, has donated 16,321 oz. between 2008 and 2013. That’s 816 venti Starbucks drinks. That’s also a world record.)
And if a woman wants to nurse but is having trouble getting the hang of it, a La Leche League member will come to her home and try to help. Evidence of breast milk’s turbo nutrition is compelling, and here’s a community of people willing to give time and energy to making kids healthy. This is good stuff.
Point #4: Okay, this one might push some of you over the edge, but get past your case of the willies and stay with me. If women want to, they should go ahead and use their expressed milk in recipes. You heard me! We ought to have no problem eating—I dunno—lady macaroni and cheese or brownies with woman-milk frosting. Here’s a little perspective. We think nothing of drinking cow’s milk. A cow spends most of its day lolling its own prairie puke around in its mouth. And don’t read this next excerpt from an article on foodmatterstv.com if you’re a milk lover:
It turns out that standard dairy cows are medicated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to stimulate a much higher than normal milk production. This causes severe stress that results in mastitis, an infection of the udders of sick and stressed cows. This infection is, of course, treated with antibiotics, helping to breed more antibiotic resistant organisms. It is literally unbelievable that one liter (a little over a quart) of Californian milk contained 298 million pus cells in 2003, 11 million more pus cells than it contained in 2002.
Mmmm! Make mine a double. But I’m not finished yet. A couple months ago I made a delicious pizza with goat cheese—from a goat, an ornery coot that gives head butts and dines on tin cans and tumbleweed. We eat cheese that’s got veins of mold. We eat Rocky Mountain oysters and lutefisk, which means lye fish. And hot dogs, which are said to contain gonads and snout and whatever-the-hell. And head cheese, which isn’t dairy at all, but scraps from a pig’s head held together with gelatin. And in other arenas of life, we let some genuine nastiness pass our lips—I’ll leave that pasture of ew to your imagination.
So what’s the discomfort with adults consuming a woman’s milk? The problem isn’t with our amiable old buddy the breast, but with three pounds of goo between our ears. Here I’ll break my rule: I believe three thoughts mess with our heads. First, some might associate consuming a woman’s milk with sucking her boob, which leads to a perceived line being crossed. To this I would say, “You don’t associate drinking cow’s milk with sucking its udder. What’s the difference?” Second, we might think drinking a woman’s milk is in a teensy weensy way like cannibalism. Today we’re licking a woman’s-milk ice cream cone, next thing you know we’ll be feeding ourselves like the starving soldiers in Candide. And third, I have to note an ambivalent cultural attitude toward women’s bodies. For some, women are either libido fuel or kind of yucky. Breast milk falls in the latter category. What a shame. To borrow an image from Freud critics, “Sometimes a boob is just a boob.”
I think you’ll agree that we’ve all had about enough of John Coleman’s say for one day. As far as I know, I’ve never had any food made with human dairy, but I’m game. And when a mother is nursing her child, I’m not afraid of seeing too much. Please! I’m reminded that grace is alive and well.