KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Friday, April 22, 2005

Get Over It Already

A good many Americans have never figured out what women's breasts are for. They've made breasts into sex objects, things to be hidden yet flaunted, bound and pushed into unrealistic shapes, used to sell cars and lifestyles. So these same Americans raise a stink whenever women put their breasts to proper use in—gasp!—public.

Breasts are for feeding babies and children. They house the mammary glands, organs that, in an amazing feat of engineering, don't become fully operational until they're needed by the owner's offspring. The milk they produce meets all the nutritional needs of an infant for as long as a year and provides astounding mental and physical benefits that can last a lifetime:

Women who breast-feed their children have a lower risk of developing breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers and osteoporosis. And for you economists, breast-feeding saves mucho bucks.

So with all these wonderful benefits to breast-feeding, why the attempts to shame women who do what nature intended? It's an odd juxtaposition of puritanical demonization of the human body and oversexualization of it. Thrown into the mix are the big bucks spent by makers of infant formulas, who'd have us all believe that breast-feeding is time-consuming (ever had to clean baby bottles and prep formula?) and ties women down (hey—breasts are the ultimate portable containers!).

I'm perimenopausal and have just finished my twenty-second year of breast-feeding children off and on: my daughter for 3 months, my first son for 3.5 years, and my second son for 3.5 years (he's just about weaned). My daughter would've gotten a lot more breast-feeding if I hadn't been young enough to be really sensitive to our society's shaming.

Breast-feeding a child isn't a sexual event; it's lunch, for goodness' sake! It's breakfast and dinner and "I need comfort" and "I'm sick" and "I'm sleepy" and "I'm still your baby." Would you make an adult go eat his or her lunch out of your sight because you found it shameful? No? Then why make a child do so?

Get over it already!


Journeywoman said...

Oh, good grief...

I breastfed each of my three children for over a year. I remember a friend, who had come to visit my five-day-old son, objecting when I began to feed him: "You're not going to do that HERE, are you?"

In my own home!! I told him that if he couldn't handle me feeding my baby in my livingroom, HE could leave...

When I taught prenatal classes, I was absolutely astonished at how many women said they would breastfeed *if* they had enough milk! A solid 90% of my clients intended to nurse their babies; about 40% were still doing so three months later. That was fifteen years ago. I wonder how all the new mothers are doing these days? Not so well in Florida, one assumes...

KL said...

I come from a pretty conservative (well it was and still in most parts, except the cities) country (India) where good prudent woman means one who shouldn't be wearing body-revealing dresses, but still breast feeding is very common and done publicly whenever and whereever it's required.

In the USA, women wear so much body-revealing dresses, and so I was really suprised when I heard about all those complaints against breast feeding in public in this country.

Katharine said...

Yes, Journeywoman and KL, I think Americans have almost exactly backward. Sad. And if you think about it, such attitudes have long-term consequences for the health of an entire nation.

KatieK said...

Hi, I'm an American editor in Istanbul. I breastfed my daughter (now 12) for 23 months. In Turkey, as soon as the women reach a certain income level (middle class) their bodies cease to function and they can no longer have vaginal deliveries or breastfeed their children! Their bodies just don't work! And their hair turns blonde! Most miraculous!

KatieK said...

I just reread your post. It touched another nerve, so I decided to post again. It's about breast feeding being about comforting and "I'm still your baby" and how I was with my daughter at my mother's house, and how my brother was there with his wife and little son and how they shut him up in a crib in the bedroom upstairs and let him cry himself to sleep.He screamed for forty-five minutes. This was supposed to teach him to "independence." It seemed so barbaric to me. What did it teach him? "You cry, no one will help." And that is completely not what happens in society!

Bedtime when my daughter was little was first breastfeeding, then it was "let's read!" until she was eleven or twelve. Now we talk until she is sleepy.

Katharine said...

Hi, Katie K. Great to hear from another editor! If my husband, who loves to learn languages, were home, he'd tell me how to greet you in Turkish. :-)

I've felt the same pain at hearing a baby scream in fear because of being left alone. Back when my first child (Rebecca, now the most wonderful 22-year-old woman I've ever known) was a baby, I parented that way. It was what I'd been taught by example, and I had no idea that things could be done differently. My first husband thought it was normal to treat babies that way, too. My heart would break every time I put her down in her crib, and I was an exhausted zombie because I got up at least every 2 hours at night when she'd cry to be fed or held. Poor child! What were we teaching her?!

But I read a great deal before Neil was born just over 11 years later. And this time, I had a compassionate man as a husband, one who believes feelings are to be listened to. We put neither Neil nor his younger brother Jared to sleep in a room alone. As babies and toddlers, both boys slept in our bed. And to what would likely be the amazement of those who follow mainstream American parenting practices, we all had fairly restful nights. And are our sons independent? You betcha! Why? Because they're secure that the world will respond to their needs, not abandon them.

When someone defends the cry-it-out method, I always ask, "If your lover awoke from a nightmare in tears, would you tell your lover to go back to sleep and then just roll over?" Of course no one would; they'd offer hugs and comfort and stay with their lover the rest of the night. So why in the world do people think it's normal to leave defenseless babies, who can't talk out their fears or needs, alone all night?

Americans wonder why their society is rather violent as a whole. Is it any surprise, when we teach babies and children that their gently expressed needs won't be met, that we will respond only to vehemently expressed needs? We're teaching them emotional violence.

Keep on keepin' on, Katie K. Your building a good woman in your daughter.

Katharine said...

Ack! Of course, in my last comment, I meant to write: You're building a good woman in your daughter. When will I learn to compose posts and comments within a word-processing program so that I can edit properly?

[begin commercial] Just goes to show that every writer needs an editor—even an editor needs an editor when she writes! [end commercial]

KatieK said...

I have a strong feeling that you and I are on the same wavelength. Actually Ihavee been meaning to write to you and ask you to lightly mentor me as I ease into a bit of freelancing (I edit at a university). I think I'll email you about that. But back to the kid:

My daughter has always done very well at school and is highly praised as a "model individual". All I can think is that she has extra brain energy from not having to struggle with us at home.

I have a blog, too. It's called Bosphorus Ramblings


Katharine said...

I love mentoring, so yes, Katie K, please e-mail me. I am on a monster deadline for the next few days and may be periodically uncommunicative, though. And I will be delighted to peruse your blog when I sneak in nonwork reading at lunch.

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