Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dare me to send this letter to the editor?

Disclaimer: This post has nothing at all to do with bilingualism. I may or may not actually mail this letter to the newspaper. But it sure feels good to put it in writing.

To the five ignorant, juvenile, and rude men sitting at the table next to me at lunch when I had hoped to eat a rare meal in peace all by myself today:

As the nursing mother of a 23-month-old child, I would like to express my sympathy for your wives, your girlfriends, and your children, based on the comments you made about breastfeeding in voices loud enough to carry throughout the restaurant. You were probably just trying to make each other laugh--you have probably already forgotten about the lady sitting alone with her Oprah magazine who sent you dirty looks and finally asked the waiter if she could move to a different, faraway table--but your comments were were so appalling--and offensive--and inaccurate--that I feel compelled to address them here.

First, let me summarize your discussion for our readers: according to your group, breastfeeding can be appropriate for a while, until the child is 9 months old or so, or until the mother has had a second child, which should occur around that same time. (I believe several of you use the word "breeding" here and another makes analogies to "horses." I'm suprised that you're not comparing penis size and sperm count right here over your chicken curry and saag paneer.) While you concede that mothers' milk brings with it some positive effects, like strengthening the baby's immune system and increasing the child's intelligence, this "peaks when the kid is nine months old." Some mothers stop nursing when their babies' teeth grow in; the thought of babies biting breasts is apparently very amusing! If the child is old enough to convey to his mother that he would like to nurse, he is clearly too old to be allowed to do so. On the other hand, the majority of you would like to be able to turn to your wives or girlfriends in the grocery store and ask to suck on their breasts. Most of you find this hilarious, until a colleague points out that you wouldn't want to do this to your own mothers. Another insightful man emphatically states that Anna Nicole Smith's extended nursing of her son (according to you, until he was six years old) caused the death of both of them. Imagine that!

Please permit me to address your thoughtless comments? First of all, the American Academy of Pediatrics prefers that babies be exclusively breast-fed until the age of six months. They recommend that mothers continue nursing until the child is at least one year old; the World Health Organization recommends that children nurse until age two.

Neither the AAP nor the WHO cites any examples of breastfeeding causing death for mother and child.

As for the humor of being bitten while nursing: please imagine pointy little baby teeth jabbing themselves with enough force to draw blood. Jabbing into your scrotum or penis or other particularly tender area. Repeat several times a day for several weeks. Still funny?

Nursing a child is not about giving women the opportunity to titillate you by exposing their breasts at home, at parties, on airplanes, or in public. Not even Anna Nicole Smith's breasts.

Nor, often, is nursing a child easy. It is a complex biomechanical process that rarely comes naturally to babies and new mothers, but one which brings with it so many benefits that we're willing to struggle through the pain, the frustrations, the awkward positioning, the infections, the clogged milk ducts, the twice-nightly feedings, the dehumanizing breast pump, the trickiness of expressing breast milk at work and at conferences and while traveling without privacy, the continued months of attention to what we eat and drink, the months of not taking medication because it will appear in the breast milk, and more.

My son now only nurses briefly right before bedtime. He no longer drags the Boppy into the hallway when he hears me come home from work. He hardly ever asks for "lolo" any more--and that was one of his first words! In almost two years, my son has rarely been sick. He seems exceptionally bright--his pediatrician said his language development at age 18 months was "amazing"--and he is very loving. My husband and I can't help but think that his being breastfed enhanced all this.

And I can't help but think about the women who are unable to nurse their children--like those who go back to work or school after the baby is born and whose bosses refuse to make accomodations for pumping. Those without the resources or time or money to find doctors, midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, or breastfeeding support groups who could help them figure out how to make it work. Those who have chosen to adopt children and who simply can't make milk flow despite how much they wish they could. Those living with physical diseases, mental illnesses, and other situations that make nursing inadvisable or impossible. And those like my dear friend Kelly, who had a double mastectomy several days after being diagnosed with breast cancer and whose baby screamed wretchedly when presented with formula. For weeks.

So to you, you five smug men without children who see women and their ta-tas as your property, I say you need to fall on your knees in gratitude to your mothers who welcomed your hungry little mouths and your pointy little teeth to their aching breasts when it would have been a lot easier to pour some formula in a bottle and go take a nap. Go say "thank you" to your mamas. And if your wives and girlfriends ever have children, just shut up. Support these new mothers no matter what. Whether they breastfeed or not. And try to feel a little ashamed about the days when you bachelors joked about how you were studly enough to get a woman pregnant whenever you felt like it; and about the days when you got hard-ons ogling women who nursed in public as discreetly as possible; and about the days when you made uninformed pronouncements about how long babies should nurse. Go on, try it now.

I make milk. What's your superpower?

PS: No, I'm not on the rag this week.


  1. I do want to make clear that in no way am I intending to disparage women who choose not to nurse their children. My mother didn't breastfeed me or my brother, and that doesn't diminish my love and respect for her one iota.

  2. Amen! Thankfully, I never encountered such ignorance or negativity regarding nursing. It makes me so sad that people feel like they have the right to be so rude when it comes to one of the most natural things in the entire human experience! Kudos for writing and posting your reflections on the incident!

  3. Send it! Send it! I'm so grateful I had my kids here, I never really had to deal with much of that stuff, thankfully.

    If I may share, however, my response when I got the "What about their teeth" comment(both boys only bit me once) which almost always came from women:

    Seriously? Because you don't know how to suck anything without using your teeth? Your poor husband!

    That usually ended the discussion.

  4. I think you should send it too...think of all the young men who will THINK you are writing about them and their buds? I love the PS, too!

    Ditto to what Anonymous said.

  5. I followed a link to this blog after seeing the title, only to read this article and think "WHEEEE! someone else who *hates* that!"

    I'm not nursing my little one any more, but I am a peer supporter and general lactivist. I really don't know why more people don't *get it*.

    Anyway, one more reason to come back and read more often :) I'm hoping that DD will grow up bilingual too - I'm half-French, half-Brit - but with a monolingual hubby and impending migration to New Zealand (his homeland, far from my mum and France in general) this will soon become harder. We shall see!

    Meilleurs voeux :)

  6. @all y'all: Thanks for your enthusiasm and uplifting feedback!

    @Sarah (What, I can't leave a comment for myself?): Also, my grandmother did not nurse my father. Again, this doesn't affect how I feel about her.

    @Kendra: This was the first time that I heard people disparage breastfeeding. Although one comment did surprise me: my brother, who is an occupational therapist and thus trained and working in the medical field, thinks it's "gross" to see his colleagues' breast milk in their shared fridge. Even though he recognizes how important breastfeeding is, he apparently just doesn't want to be reminded of it when he goes for his sandwich. I think that's sad (and narrow-minded).

    @Nicole: Good point.

    Sophie: Bonne chance! Bon courage! Thanks for dropping by. Do come back and visit. Maybe I could profile you and your family in your journey towards bilingualism?

  7. Hi Sarah,
    Sorry I'm soooo slow to respond. Of coarse, I loved what you wrote and would like to give those douch (spelling?) bags a piece of my mind. I can't imagine what I would've done had I been there?!? The WHO and AAP you wrote were correct. DEFINITELY think you should send it to some newspaper- perhaps Boulder since they seem to be a little more granola?
    As far as your brother goes and not wanting to share the fridge with his sandwich and breast milk--I personally wouldn't want my precious breast milk near his stinky sandwich :)
    Keep up the awesome work breastfeeding (is it work at this point for us?! NO!) Breastfeeding rules!
    Happy Early Bday to your smart, adorable, handsome breastfed baby! Love,

  8. My friend Holly is studying to become a lactation specialist, so she knows whereof she speaks! And she's absolutely right--it isn't "work" any more. It was, for months, for Griffin and me, but now it's lovely quiet time with my son (and an excuse to sit down and watch nighttime television. Truly, so many people DO think they can dance!).

    Holly refers to a story I told about my brother's repugnance at finding a colleague's breastmilk stored in the work fridge. He's an OT, so trained and working in medicine, and even though intellectually he understands the benefits of breastfeeding, he doesn't want to have to think about it at work. Holly, I LOVE your "stinky sandwich" comment!

  9. AMEN Sarah! How awful of those men... I like to think I would have told them off to their faces, but that's easier said (or written) than done. Although I have never encountered these types of comments while breastfeeding in public, I've never used a "hooter hider" and have come across others who feel that I should (for their sake). So annoying, considering it makes the whole thing more cumbersome and screamy. Bravo for nursing!

  10. Kudos to you!!! Please send this letter to the editor, and I hope they have the guts to publish it so that some of these obvious ridiculous misconceptions can be dispelled and maybe these men or others like them will feel ashamed of themselves. Thanks for writing this!!

  11. Why would you not send this?

    Little long if you want it to ever see print, though.
    Definitely leave the last two lines, though.  :)

  12. I'm late reading this by forever but agree with you wholeheartedly. Those men should be ashamed of themselves but young men so often think with their penises instead of their brains (which don't full develop until their 30's -- scientifically proven.) My mom used to tell me that men are all about the 3 P's: Pride, Power and Penis. These men basically made comments alluding to each of these things -- power to impregnate women with their penis, feeling proud of themselves for "knowing" so much about infants and breastfeeding and so on. None of them stop to think that maybe they don't know what they're jabbering about. (I hate when women are accused of gossiping/bickering when men so often yammer away without taking a breath.) You're so absolutely right that men in general believe that breasts are their business and property. It's like women got the vote, women are no longer chattal -- oh except for their breasts. Bare breasts get hoots and hollers, mardi gras is full of it, girls "going wild" everywhere and let's not even talk about the pornography -- yet when a woman breastfeeds an infant it is seen as gross, dirty, wrong, shameful. We are one extremely TWISTED society and I am sorry to say that while I believe men have been the engineers of this mode of thinking about sex and reproduction, women have allowed it and gone along with reinforcing the idea that our breasts do not belong to us.

    Finally for the man grossed out by the breastmilk -- I wonder how many men today ejaculate into women's mouths and if they believe this is fine, normal and appetizing. Apparently it's a VERY common thing these days but men don't seem to ever be disgusted by their own emissions which are not in any way designed for consumption -- unlike breastmilk which can keep human beings alive with no other sustenance.

    This is an effed up world we live in.

    BTW I nursed my daughter until she was near 3 (by that time it was just comfort nursing occasionally and she weaned herself eventually. I exclusively breastfed her to 6 months and it wasn't easy but it was a wonderful bonding experience and I am fortunate to have been able to do it. I used to get wacky comments even from doctors when I would tell them I was nursing so they didn't give me inappropriate meds etc. Even they are not enlightened.)

  13. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Momo. Quite the double standard, eh? (I must say, this is probably the first time "ejaculate" has appeared on my blog!)


  14. If you're American, soccer probably isn't your cuppa tea.

    First of all, at all times I used the soccer teams themselves as a starting point.

  15. I totally agree! Men can be awful creatures sometimes. It is also important to know laws of each state when it comes to breastfeeding. You can find everything about laws and discrimination on breastfeedinglaw.com.