Sunday, July 3, 2016

Breastfeeding: The loss of our basic traditional knowledge

"I saw some women had written that the cloning of Dolly* was wonderful since it showed that women could have children without men.  They didn't understand that this was the ultimate ownership of women, of embryos, of eggs, of bodies by a few men with capital and control technique, that it wasn't freedom from men but total control by men."  Vandana Shiva

*Dolly, the sheep, cloned in 1996 from an egg cell and a mammary gland cell. 

Ah, the versatility of the mammary gland in its ability to help men create life and sustain life.  Yet women nowadays seem totally unaware of this power.    Many women reject it-won't or can't breastfeed, but men are so enamored by the mammary gland that they will patent its powers.  Vandana Shiva understood that the cloning of Dolly is about ownership not liberation.  

Yesterday, I slowly walked around the Duck Pond, the many retention ponds created in order to have this housing development built on a swamp.  They had mowed down those dreadful weeds that grow around the pond, so that those who live on this waterfront property, can see the water.  Some of those dreadful weeds they mowed down were blue-flag irises, a perennial native plant of the wetlands in Florida.  Hell who needs them?  Every 6 months or so they pour some herbicide around the pond.  Then all the plants become a sickly brown color that mingles with the stryofoam cups and beer and soda cans that float so well in the pond.  One day I saw a suitcase floating in the pond.  I wondered if the suitcase contained dead body parts.  Yes, I have watched too many Bones episodes on TV.  Yesterday I picked up a pile of school papers matted around the trees next to the pond.  School's out for summer, some child felt so liberated he or she just tossed those papers into the bushes.  I understand that feeling.  When I was a child, I looked forward to summer all year because school felt like a cement cage.  All I wanted to do was run around outside, play in the dirt, pick dandelions and watch the seeds float all over the yard.  My Dad wondered why our yard had more dandelions than the neighbors.  I could have told him.  I understood about seeds, although I never had a science class.

Nowadays, I never see children running around outside.  They have disappeared, like the endangered species of our world.  Shut up in their rooms, with their glowing electronic equipment.  They live in the virtual, like some science fiction movie.  I do see some adults walking around, many of them running with earplugs oblivious to the sounds of nature.  They don't want to hear the owl who meows like a cat or the frog that croaks in the drains.  They don't want to be in the outdoor environment.  They just want to use the outdoor environment. 

I picked up aluminum cans today, some wrapped in brown paper wrappers.  Just call me the bag lady.  I am tired of seeing trash everywhere in my neighborhood.  Sometimes the neighborhood looks like an environmental disaster drive-by; cans and papers jettisoned from cars, cause no one wants their own cars to be trashed.  Likewise the Duck Pond neighbor who pushes his mounting trash of spent fireworks, broken chairs and trellises, broken toys and 2 by 4's closer to his neighbor's property.  No trash on his property. Not his problem.  This is how we live, enveloped in a world that excludes any environmental concerns.

Those retention ponds in this wonderful suburb connect and eventually go into the Mosquito Lagoon.  And the Lagoon meets with the ocean.  We are currently witnessing an environmental nightmare of a huge algae bloom not so far from us.  But it doesn't touch the neighborhood cause we can live in a bubble away from the degradation of the planet.  

So what has this to do with breastfeeding?  Nothing and everything.  We are a people who have lost our understanding of the connections between nature and ourselves.  We live in our artificial environments connected to a web of artificial intelligence.  Yet we are disconnected from our humanity and our consciousness of the real web of life.  We bring babies into a sterile world in which parents are hooked into their hand-held devices.  Yet the baby, who is new to this sterility, does not understand why their parents love their devices more than them and will hold their devices day and night, but refuse to hold them as much as their devices.  Breastfeeding does not work very well, when moms believe that babies are to be held at arm's length, regulated by artificial time.  Or when parents believe that their pets deserve to co-sleep with them but the baby belongs down the hall in another room by itself.  (As an IBCLC I worked with a number of parents who refused to co-sleep with their infants to help make breastfeeding easier to maintain but welcomed their pets into their beds every night--I still find that very strange).

In the past decade, breastfeeding has become more about bottling human milk than breastfeeding.  Mothers let down to the sound of their pumps, not the cry of their infants and yet no one finds that strange.  Many mothers leave their infants with strangers.  What mammal in nature, gives her babies to another mammal to raise?  We know in nature that if you take a mammal baby away from its mother, the mother often will reject that baby if it is returned.  Yet we assume there is no ramification to separating mothers and babies.  Strange this artificial world.

Years ago I was called to help a mom breastfeed her baby.  The mom was in tears, frustrated with breastfeeding and the after-effects of a c-section delivery in which she was separated from her baby for over 24 hours.  The dad who was holding the very contented baby in his arms, told me that lucky for them that the hospital allowed him to be with the baby during those hours.  

Like all first time parents they spent enormous amounts of time changing the baby's diaper.  Which, of course, got the baby crying and then screaming because the parents were new to changing diapers.  Then the Dad held the baby again and the baby settled right down.  I asked the mom if she would like to breastfeed the baby now.  And the father handed the mother the baby while giving the mother instructions on how to hold the baby.  The mother held the baby as far away from her body as possible and her awkwardness increased as the father hoovered over the pair.  The infant began to cry and then scream.  The father obviously felt the mother wasn't doing it right and took the baby back into his arms.  The baby immediately stopped crying and began rooting at his breast.  I sat there in total astonishment.  And at that moment realized that this baby had bonded with his father not the mother.  And the father had bonded with his baby.  But the mother was left out of this circle of love and attachment.  I asked the father to leave for awhile so that the mom could have some time alone with her baby.  At first he became angry with me for asking him to leaveBut then he left abruptly.  The mother started to relax and she began to hold the baby closer.  Just when it seemed like the baby would breastfeed, the father burst in and said he could not stay away from his baby.  And from there the session disintegrated with the mother getting hysterical and saying that the baby hated her.  The father decided bottlefeeding was obviously the answer and I left because the mother accepted the father's decision.  I thought about this case on and off for many years.  At a critical moment after birth, this baby made a perfectly logical choice to bond with the father because of the absence of the mother.  The father happened to be a very domineering person and the mother saw that the infant appeared to prefer the Dad.  When we interfere with attachment at the birth of infants, we can create emotional scars that may last a lifetime.  While I support fathers being at births, I think it is critical for breastfeeding that mothers get to hold their babies before anyone else.  And of course their are circumstances where mothers cannot medically be the first to hold their infants. 

I remember the question I got over and over again with my first baby regarding breastfeeding.  "Are you nursing that baby again?"  I tuned it out because I had attended La Leche League meetings and knew that breastfeed babies nursed often.  But what I still didn't really understand was that breastfeeding was not just about nutrition, about eating.  It was about connecting, the infant's need to be skin-to-skin with its mother.  In reflection this need is just as critical as the need for food or water.  I call it the human need for connection, for love.  I remember my frustration when the baby nursed and an hour later (yes I was carefully watching a clock) the baby needed to nurse again.  Being an adult I made the judgment call that the baby could not possibly need to eat again.  So I walked around, holding an increasingly upset baby. And by the time I realized that very upset baby needed to nurse, the baby was too upset to nurse.  By my second baby, I simply nursed the baby without making an adult judgment call.  Instead I followed instinctual behavior and nursed the baby despite her having nursed an hour ago or 5 minutes ago.  Life became simple the moment that I suspended my rational mind and followed my heart or what I call traditional knowledge of breastfeeding.  

Breastfeeding works quite well, when we understand that babies don't easily fit into our technological world.  Making a baby fit into that world of artificial light, air, food, clothes, clocks and schedules is difficult and sometimes impossible.  When we accept that babies know what they want and need and that this has worked for thousands of years; then life becomes easier.  When we presume to know what babies need and want, we create are own worse nightmares.  Babies are simple creatures, they want the closeness of mom, they want her warmth and milk.  This is basic traditional knowledge (and a La Leche League truism). 

Copyright 2016 Valerie W. McClain