Friday, January 16, 2009

bested by breast

Just read an interesting article in the New Yorker about breastfeeding. It looks at the current trend: women pump milk more, rather than directly breastfeeding. The author, Jill Lepore, points out that in the US, this is a government sanctioned activity, and also points out that pumping is a cheaper (though less human) alternative to paying for actual maternity leave. In some cases, this borders on the absurd (like work "pumping" rooms that are forbidden to moms with actual babies.)

I read the article in the light of a recent visit to a close friend who just gave birth for the first time. Her daughter is now six days old and my dear friend has gotten very little sleep. No one really talks about why the first weeks are so hard, and why they are especially hard on moms. It's because we have the breasts.

My first year of parenting produced a real crossroads of faith for me. Being a mom, being reminded every day about the physical abilities that separated me from my husband, being reminded every day how tied I was to this tiny child, made me very much question God's sanity. Why in the heck had he put all of this biological baggage on _one person?_ Couldn't the fathers get pregnancy, and the mothers get breastfeeding? (Or, since I had an easy pregnancy, vice-versa?) I got rather angry that while I was learning to be more selfless than I'd ever really desired to be, I participated in a faith headed by a heavenly Father (and, not being Catholic, very little mama-centric imagery to guide me in a bewildering new life phase).

Sitting with my friend brought all of that rushing back. And the article cemented it. Pumps, very simply, even the equation. I have several friends that don't pump. I respect them deeply. I didn't pump for Lucy, but I'll tell you, I'm planning on it if we have another baby. I needed an out. I'm a little ashamed of that, but principles are less important than staying sane the next time around. And even if my baby didn't take a bottle next time, I'd want to know I did everything I could to take care of myself.

Which leads me back to the article: much as I agreed with it, much as I question our society's dependence on the artificiality of pumping, I think pumping can really help even the playing field. I hated the few times I tried pumping--the techno beat of the machine, the uncomfortable suction, the ADD sterilizing--but if I got used to that, I think it would be worth being able to roll over and go back to sleep every once in a while.

What I end up wondering, though, is whether this dependence on pumping is less about the intrinsic demands of mothering--and more about our culture. If we lived in a culture where new mothers were truly supported, truly prepared, would the beginning be such a trial by fire? Would so many women shudder when they look at the pump--and then reach for it anyway?


LisaBella said...

I looked at the boob versus bottle in my own unique semi-scientific way. I looked at the brainwaves patterns of babies while nursing and while on the bottle. The boobed babies had a noticeable calmer and more organized brain vs being on the bottle. Dunno why but it was the same for all the moms and babies I got the privelage to measure. Go figure.

Heather said...

that's awesome Lisa. Both the results and that you were able to test it so clinically.
I wish I had a brainscanner in my garage for random experiments.
"See honey? You are _definitely_ being irrational."
"It's my brain waves that make me say that."
Nope Lucy: See here? You are tired, no matter what you think.
Can I come over and borrow it sometime?

Diana said...

One thing I had pointed out to me in a post-partum support group was the effect the mother's emotions have on the baby. So while it may be great for the baby to always have the breast, if that commitment comes at the expense of the mom's mental health, you have to sum that against the good that you are doing. I just think it's very important to also consider the mom's mental state. Have an out, whatever it be. Have sanity. It's good for everyone.

Heather said...

Yeah, Diana, I totally agree. Which is why I am going to try the pumping, if possible.