Thursday, March 3, 2016
Taking Things Apart
"Human science fragments everything in order to understand it, kills everything in order to examine it." Leo Tolstoy from War and Peace
Years ago, I decided to take my 3-speed bicycle apart. I don't remember how old I was, somewhere between 10 and 13? I took it all apart and had little ball bearings rolling around on the ground. I must have lost several of them in the yard. After I took it apart, I had no idea of how to put it back together. But I tried to put it back together and found that parts that should have gone together didn't go back together. And I couldn't remember the order in which I took it apart. After several hours of frustration, I shoved the bicycle out of the walkway of the back yard and left it. Days went by. It rained on some of those days. My Dad wasn't too happy with me for taking it apart, particularly letting loose of all those little ball bearings. And then leaving it out in the rain to rust. My Dad must have fixed it because it was the bike I rode in college. But the lesson I learned from it was don't take things apart without an instruction manual and don't dump ball bearings out of their casings.
I still have a curiosity about how things work and when my dryer broke some years ago, I decided to try and fix it. I took it apart and was quite fascinated. Did I fix it? Nope. It went to the side of the road. I replaced the ropes on my clothesline and decided that the sunshine of Florida was more dependable and less costly than a maytag or whirlpool dryer. And of course the added benefit was being outside and being physically active in the process of cleaning clothes. It also made me more aware of having too many clothes to wash was a real burden. Lugging a basket full of wet laundry outside, makes ya wish for less clothes not more clothes. I do miss warm, soft towels from the dryer but I realize my value system has dramatically changed.
Curiosity seems to be the driving force behind taking things apart. For me it is the essence of science. We take things apart to figure out how things work or to fix what appears to be broken. But if we don't have the blueprint for putting it back together, we inevitably destroy what we have taken apart. When scientists work at the molecular level, then they are dealing with what is invisible to most people. The average person cannot truly see what the scientist is seeing. But is the scientist really seeing everything at the molecular level? Is the environment of a petri dish representative of how these components really work in their natural environment? Does isolation of cells happen in nature? And by isolating, do we understand life better or are we seeing distortions caused by artificiality of isolation?
We have a lot of human milk science and very little breastfeeding knowledge. Human milk science seems to spend a lot of time isolating components and believing that a certain component is the magic bullet to better health. Thus, human milk scientists are in race to discover, isolate and genetically duplicate the miraculous properties of various components. But do breastmilk components work in isolation within the human mammary gland? For that matter should one even isolate the mammary gland from the whole human body or the environment in which that body resides? Does the differences in health outcomes between the breastfed infant and the formula fed infant reside in one component? Or is there a huge synergy between many, many components within not just the mother's body but the infant's body? Are there mechanisms that cannot be seen and may never be known because of the complexity of life?
Who has the blueprint to life, so that life is preserved, protected? It appears to me that that blueprint is still unknown. The science of human milk appears to me to be child-like in its curiosity. Like my adventures with my bicycle, it is a curiosity without responsibility. It creates a value system based on reductionism not wholism. That value system has infected not just the science it creates but breastfeeding organizations. If words matter, and I believe they do, the fact that breastfeeding organizations continue to use breastfeeding and breastmilk feeding as synonymous; reflects the influence of a reductionist science.
Yesterday was IBCLC Day and the IBCLE meme circulating in celebration of IBCLCs on my Facebook page was, "Breastmilk makes the world healthier, smarter and more equal." Breastmilk? Equality? Breastmilk makes things more equal? We have reduced breastfeeding to a milk, a food, a isolated liquid that comes out of a mammary gland. It has to be seen, taken from the mammary gland to be of value. What do we want women to value, when they have their babies? The milk? Or a relationship?
Copyright 2016 Valerie W. McClain