Oppressive or Impressive?

A few weeks ago, a firestorm was set off in the arena of birth and breastfeeding by the article “A Case Against Breastfeeding” by Hanna Rosin. I have avoided this topic because my feelings were so strong on it, but I think I have had a bit more time to mellow out, so maybe I won’t come across as a breastfeeding Nazi. 🙂 Also, so many other bloggers have chimed in and said what I thought, and better than I could have said it. Another reason I hesitated is that I’m socially and politically conservative, and my personal views may not always be welcomed with open arms in the socially and politically liberal sphere that dominates the field of birth; so I was pleased to find that many women who consider themselves to be liberal and liberated feminists say the same things I thought. It was nice to find the same conclusion among so many women, even if it came from a different perspective. Also, many people have taken issue with Mrs. Rosin’s statement that she couldn’t work and breastfeed as well, since these women have done it and/or are doing it. While they agree that it is hard, and more difficult than breastfeeding while not working, they say, “It is doable, and I’m doing it,” with great pride — and I cheer them on for their commitment to breastfeeding.

In the course of the past few weeks, I’ve read the Rosin article at least twice, perhaps more, and I’ve read excerpts from it in the various posts about it, and contemplated it quite a bit. At first, the “take home message” I got from the author was that breastfeeding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — about the only thing it has really been proved to do is to reduce the average rate of diarrhea by one episode in the child’s first year. While I take issue with the studies she selected to “prove” her point (and I will insert here that some studies I’ve read on breastfeeding lumped all babies in together on the “breastfeeding” arm of the study if they were nursed at all after the first 4 weeks, rather than, say, dividing babies into exclusively breastfed for the first six months and exclusively bottle-fed for the first six months), what really got me was her horrible attitude about the whole thing.

It seemed like she nursed out of guilt. She found nursing oppressive. She felt tied down to her baby, and as if her baby were sucking her life, rather than life-sustaining milk, out of her.

This is where a little perspective and attitude change can come in handy. Instead of finding nursing oppressive because only women can do it so looking at men as if they have more freedom because they can’t do it, she could have looked at nursing as impressive because only women can do it, so she could have looked at men as if they were missing out on this awesome ability because they can’t do it.

This topic transcends birth, breastfeeding, and women’s issues, because it really is something everybody on the planet should take to heart. Call me Pollyanna, but when you look on the bright side of things, it’s just better. Hanna Rosin chose to feel oppressed by staying at home and breastfeeding. I can choose to feel oppressed by staying at home, taking care of my children, being the only one who can get pregnant, the only one who can give birth, the only one who can breastfeed… or I can choose to feel impressed by the fact that I am making a huge difference in my children’s life by taking care of them myself, as well as being totally in awe of the wonderful female body that can grow another human being inside of her from one cell that can barely be seen by the naked eye into a whopping 7-9 pound, 19-21″ long baby and then continue to completely sustain that baby through this wonderful liquid that my body automatically makes for my baby. “I am woman, hear me roar!”


6 Responses

  1. I haven’t read the article yet, but I loved your take on it. I ask Dan all the time if he is jealous that I am the only one that can feed our baby. I so look at it as a sacred gift between a mother and a baby. Yeah, pregnancy is not always easy but I LOVED it. I remember feeling sorry that Dan would never experience it like I was. It is a miracle to experience. It’s sad that it can be such a negative thing for some women.

  2. I got to attend one of Rae Davies’ (of Bradley method fame) doula classes this weekend, and she talked a lot about the concept of ‘reframing.’ She’d love your example of oppressive/impressive; I’m going to pass it on to her. (-:

  3. Beautifully put!

  4. Great post. I was wondering when you were going to address this article. Very well put.

  5. I have not read the article, and probably won’t due to the fact that it will make me angry. I am a Chiropractor, a college instructor, and I have a 10 month old baby that I breastfeed. I pump while at work and I do so with the same love that I give to my child when I nurse her. It is such a wonderful thing to feed and nourish my child. As much as I would love to be a full time mom, I also love my job. I am so thankful that I have been able to do both, and quite sucessfully.
    I do not put down mothers that choose not to breastfeed, but I do feel bad for them, because I feel that they are missing out on one of the most wonderful bonds that someone can have.
    However, please don’t ever breast feed out of guilt. If the loving bond that you make with your child is through bottle feeding that has to be better than the emotions of resentment that may come about by breastfeeding.
    I choose to be IMPRESSED and IMPOWERED by my wonderful body!!

  6. This is great, Kathy. I think it would be interesting to study women’s attitudes toward their own biology and bodies. How is it that some of us (controlling for income, privilege, disability, health… however you would do that) seem to be at-ease with our bodies and their functions and others seem to not be? Cultural attitudes and expectations? Past experiences?

    Coincidentally, the baby just started crying so I’ll have to cut this short. Gotta go nurse. Happy Easter!

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