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.
This is absolutely wonderful! I met Elena at LLL and my baby and cole had many play dates before we moved. She was a huge support for us and I am so glad she has such a supportive dad! Great great post! Thanks for helping normalize breastfeeding!
Thanks, Vanessa. Gosh, I love my daughter and grandson. The son-in-law ain’t so bad either. I had fun writing the post and am glad it landed for you. Peace, John
This was both wonderfully entertaining and spot on!!!! 🙂
Thanks, Emily. I’m really glad you found the piece accurate and truthful. I was hoping to say something helpful and snag a couple of laughs along the way. Peace, John
I like the beard. It suits you, and I like the post. I breast fed my daughter, but not my son, due to circumstances beyond my control. I think you know me well enough by now to guess my ideas on the subject– If it makes you uncomfortable, look away.
I’m not trying to give you a lap dance, I’m feeding my kid.
Oh but my in-laws were so uncomfortable. OH SO UNCOMFORTABLE. And it’s not like I was brandishing my boob like a weapon, I was modest about it, and they had fair warning. Still, we were sent off into another room during feeding times; cast off like lepers, and I will always be sad for that.
Anyway, before I’m off on a tangent, you have once again written a beautiful post, and I hope you keep the grizzly beard. Does Kathy like it?
Hey, there. My grizzle continues. Kathy pretty much takes my facial hair arrangement as it comes, knowing it will change before long anyway. You know, that being in quarantine for nursing makes me sad, too. I didn’t put this in the post, but I think men sometimes have a bizarre energy that’s way out of proportion to the reality. Breastfeeding is one example. Another is getting the old digital rectal for a prostate check. What’s that about, anyway? Women regularly have to get examined south of the Mason Dixon, and docs use something that I gather feels like a car jack to hold things open. Guys have it made. Anywho, thanks for commenting. Your comments / presence mean a lot. Peace, John (P.S. “brandishing my boob”–you’re in good form!)
You should have seen my father in law’s face the first time I whipped it out to feed K at their house. I’m not sure what came first, whether his eyes bugged out so far they actually physically removed themselves from his head, or his head whipped around so fast that his eyes didn’t have time to come with it. It was really weird. I think when I said that I was going to feed her, he thought I would just naturally get up and annex myself in some dusty cupboard somewhere away from any human contact.
For real, you’d think they were driving a mack truck up there the way men go on about their prostates. You all can talk to me after you squirt a bowling ball out a hole the size of a grapefruit, and then had a colposcopy (that’s the step after they ram in the car jack.).
Thank you for thanking me for being present John, however I’m always here, whether you like it or not.
Men! Of course, the squirmy observation I didn’t mention is this: Do men dread the ole prostate palpation because they’re afraid they might kinda like it? Oh gosh, now I’ve gone too far–except I think I might be right. Anywho, thanks for hanging out with me in blogworld without needing to be thanked! Ha!
I dunno, are men really so repugnant that they could find some weird sexual gratification from the proctologist?
Could men be that repugnant? Goodness! Actually, I’m just thinking they’re afraid they might like it (i.e. they might be gay), the slippery slope, oh dear Lord! I’ve discovered that the worst thing about the exam is the ten seconds after it’s over and both doctor and patient are both living with what’s just happened.
Hear, hear! As you noted in point #2: it’s a breast. Get over it. 🙂
Your comment included an unexpected correction. For years I’ve been writing “here, here.” Doh! Thanks.
I suspect many of us make/made that error! I did up until approx. 4 years ago when someone pointed out the correction to me. 🙂 The origins of the phrase, “hear, hear” are actually interesting – and make perfect sense for why it’s ‘hear, hear’ and not ‘here, here’. 🙂
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