Saturday, April 4, 2009

I wish I could offer Judith Warner my boob

Every Friday, I go to the New York Times to read Judith Warner’s blog-column, ‘Domestic Disturbances’. Sometimes, they are adroit, albeit totally bitchy, self-righteous pieces about the plight of an entitled, middle class mom. As much as they make me grimace (one thing you ought to know about me- I'm not in the least an entitled, middle class mom... Judith should come talk to me about what it's like to be a totally poor, down-trodden, unemployed single mom up to her neck in student loans), I read her column with a fervor... Although I don't see eye to eye with her, I do appreciate the fact that she's articulate, smart, and that, gasp, occasionally, her bitchiness even serves up an idea that is right up my alley... (although I maintain, no matter what great things she might occasionally write, if she were made to walk a day in my shoes, she wouldn't make it down the street to the damn bodega)

Unfortunately, this Friday, Judith managed to miss the mark completely.

First of all, her somewhat smug, one-sided piece is entitled, ‘Ban the Breast Pump’.

Why the call for a ban? Is this some new wave of feminism that is washing over fair Miz Judith?

Hard to say... Although she does leave a few clues.

In the third paragraph of the write-up, she quotes writer Hanna Rosin, who says of breast-feeding, “That was the least favorite thing I ever did in my whole life.”

Judith herself calls pumping a “grotesque ritual carried out behind closed office doors nationwide by beleaguered working mothers.”

“The way your nipples get stretched,” she quotes a woman who remains unnamed (presumably another mother, but who knows?) . “…the nipple gets sucked into the plastic thing”…”and it hurts by the way”…”and you measure your success every day by how many ounces you produce.”

You can almost hear Judith's schoolgirl giggles as she again quotes Rosin, who had just made sounds that produced the most “excellent imitation of a breast pump machine.”

“Who could blame [your husband] for never wanting to sleep with you again?" Rosin says. "It’s the moment that kind of brings together all the awfulness of being a modern mother.”


Um, OK.

But let me try to be open-minded...

I'll buy a breast pump ban, but only if we also ban Tampax and over the counter pregnancy tests. Tampax, you see, are not much fun to insert, and men, I’m sure, find used tampons to be unsightly. God forbid you’re making out with a guy and he moves his hand down ‘there’ only to find a string. Because there’s nothing worse, right? Man, just the idea of them being used might make men view the women who use them as less-than-attractive. And we certainly wouldn’t want that to happen. As far as pregnancy tests- well, what could be more undignified than peeing onto a stick.

And if we’re talking about ways in which we can take away a woman’s power, then shit… we might as well get rid of female condoms, too. And lube. Gotta take away the lube. Wouldn't want men seeing us ladies making ourselves the well-oiled sex machines that lube lends us to be. (hey, I'm not a lube girl, but hey, just sayin'...)

Clearly, Judiths’s article struck a nerve...

See, I breast-fed my kid until she weaned herself. Breast-feeding made me conscious of what I was putting into my body, and I took a great sense of satisfaction knowing that my daughter was sustained solely on my milk. It was empowering. I was doing something that men are not able to do. It was my way, as a modern woman, to remain a woman.

There’s a reason for the expression, “like mother’s milk.” It implies that something is special… that it is a gift of the rarest and most singular kind. (the term also is used by many people to describe the alcohol that a lush might drink...)

And for all the men out there who think breast-feeding is disgusting (unfortunately, there are a great many of you), you should have seen how incredibly sexy my milk-filled boobs were... I went from having a Kate Moss chest to having boobs of Scarlett Johansson proportion.

Judith write that she is “no enemy of breast-feeding.” But she proceeds to to write that when she was breast-feeding, she “was in France, where their doctor started adding fruits and vegetables to their diet at about three or four months. And where it was east, after a few miserable weeks, to give up on pumping milk, if only because it made me feel like a cow.”

Oh, that comparison to a cow… I’ve heard it before.

I'd like to give Judith a little lesson about the nature of our bodies...

See, Judith, we’re mammals. Like it or not, we produce milk. And fortunately, given many of our insane human schedules, there is a machine that has been invented to help us pump our milk when we have to be away from our babies. This is how we differ from squirrels and whales… But I suppose you're right- it is something that we have in common with cows, if you really want to compare yourself to a bovine. (Hey, I was always a fast runner, so if I had to, I'd rather compare myself to a cheetah. But go ahead, cow-lady, go ahead with your grade-school 'if I were an animal' comparisons)

As modern women, we’re not tied to our kitchen sinks and laundry rooms. We work in and out of the home. Given our varying circumstances, some of us get to be stay-home-moms... others, like me, do not (until, also like me, we're laid off from our shitty jobs). But we do all have a choice in how we want our babies to be fed. I, for one, fed my kid at home, at parties, in parks, at galleries and at school, and you know what? I pumped, in public, at all of the same places... it was milk, for gods sake, not snot. (although lord knows how many people publicly cough up phlegm all over the sidewalk)

Choice. For women, this is a word that has only come into our vocabulary in modern times. It is a word that Judith seems to learn. There was a time in which poor women breast-fed, and wealthy women had those same poor mothers come to feed their own babies... Women didn't have a choice in any of this- it had been decided for them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I try to get every pregnant lady I know to latch on (get it?) to the idea of breast-feeding. Many do. Some, however, for a variety of reasons, don’t. Hell, I worked with a guy at my last job who’s wife didn’t want to breast-feed because she didn’t want to ruin her tits. Or so her husband said. "I like my wife's tits just how they are," he explained. But even this woman had a choice... she made a decision to marry a man who objectified her.

Again, OK-a-a-ay… It's not up to be to judge. (although I do judge, I really do, just silently)

There's also the question of formula, a convenient method of feeding a baby. Although, health of a baby aside, it would seem that the biggest reason people like formula is because it helps their babies sleep through the night. In fact, a couple people who left comments about Judith’s article discussed that switching to formula helped their babies sleep six to eight hour stretches at night.

Sounds good. My kid, breast-fed exclusively for many, many months, woke at two-hour intervals to feed. This left me exhausted and, at times, feeling a little tired of the whole breast-feeding thing...

And yet, to these mothers who use formula primarily as a sleep-aid, might I suggest valium? It’s probably a hell of a lot more affective than formula, and I would guess that it's cheaper.

I know, I know, I’m being bratty and inflammatory. But c'mon... Are we so inconvenienced by making good decisions for our babies? Is it that hard to be a selfless mom?

Hell, don’t even get me started on what Judith’s thoughts are about how breast-fed babies are only slightly smarter than bottle-fed babies. (‘cause, according to Judith, those few extra IQ points don’t matter. Jesus, lady, I thought you were smarter than that. (Let's shave a few points off of your IQ and see how you react)

Yes, my daughter, who co-slept with me (I know, I know, this is another ball park), woke every two hours seeking out one of my milky boobs. And although this pissed off her father (even though we had a terrible relationship, he wanted our bed back so that we could once again have "normal adult relations"), in my eyes it just seemed like part of the bargain I had made when I made the decision to have my daughter...

It just seemed like a continuation of what I had been doing for her while she was in the womb. I was making her transition into the world one in which she knew- even in infancy- that she had a mama who loved and nourished her (this isn’t to say that mamas who choose not to breast-feed their kids don’t love them- that’s the last thing I’m saying, in fact… I’m just talking about my own choice and what compelled me). It was, in many ways, as much an act for me as it was for my daughter. Sitting with my daughter, her sweet little mouth attached to one of my nipples, make me slow down, made me stop doing the laundry or homework or cooking (although, truth-be-told, I eventually became so adept at breast-feeding that I could, with Anevay attached to the boob, also do my homework, stir something on the stove…). It was my special time with my daughter- uninterrupted time in which I was allowed to just be a mom- where I wasn’t torn in any other direction.

Thanks to all the powers that be for having had that time.

Breast-feeding is something that only a woman can do- for me it was empowering to use my healthy body to make food for our babies.

In addition, it was one of my little ways of saying ‘no’ to consumerism. No, I would not spend lavish amounts on money on formula when I had a better, healthier food for free (although I did eventually start buying formula that I mixed with boob-juice, when Anevay was perhaps seven or eight months).

I was a milk machine- Anevay’s aunt joked that I should have started my own ice-cream company. My freezer was filled with the stuff…

It wasn’t all fun… My daughter once had thrush in her mouth, which meant I also got thrush (oh, don’t ask how painful that is on the nipples). And I had mastitis. Twice. I was even hospitalized for this- the second time was for four days (ask me where I was when 911 happened and you’ll have an idea of how large a nightmare this was).

But I was dedicated. It was my choice. I did it proudly.

Now, I know that Judith had her heart in the right place. She raises a good question- that in our society, mothers take on a lot more than fathers often do. She implies that pumping is yet another act that mothers do that fathers don't have to.

“Maybe,” she writes, “we’re even at a point where it’s permissible to insist that the needs of a mother and the needs of her baby, rather than being opposed are, in fact, linked, and that the best way to meet both is to scale down the demands now put on mothers and beef up support for them.”

I totally agree. This is why I think reexamining the laws that make us mothers go back to work after six short weeks of staying home with our babies in necessary (dads, you guys also need more time off… but this post is about mamas). Mothers are scrutinized by their employers, more so if they are breast-feeding. The board-room is not a place to flaunt a breast, unless it’s for a wealthy client, and then, only if it is covered (even if only a little) by a designer shirt. I know. I’ve seen how this worked. My last job was in finance. Big, round breasts are certainly talked about, oggled over, even, gasp, brushed up against. (fortunately, my tiny little breasts were largely ignored, and in the workplace, I wasn't one to wear the push-up... but woe to the woman at my old firm who not only pushed up her boobs, but had eyelash implants, spent way too much money on high heels, etc...)

Towards the end of the column, Rosin is quoted, “I’m hoping pump companies will just disappear.”

Judith adds, “So am I. In fact, I hope that some day, not too long in the future, books on women’s history will feature photos of breast pumps to illustrate what it was like back in the day when mothers were consistently given the shaft. Future generations of female college students will gaze upon the pumps, aghast. ‘Did you actually use one of those?’ they’ll ask their mothers, in horror. And the moms, with a shudder, will proudly say no.”

Judith, if you’re out there, I just want to say I wouldn’t want to hear your thoughts about the many other ways in which woman are entitled to choose for themselves and their families. I was sickened by your article. Maddened. You seem to be missing the point. That breast-feeding is a choice. That pumping is a choice. That mothers deserve more from their governments and that the workplace ought to be a more mother-friendly environment.

Perhaps Judith's anger needs a simple redirection- towards coorporations and our government rather than goddamned breast-pumps.

Judith, if I were still breast-feeding, I’d be like Salma Hayek and I’d offer you a boob (see picture above, of Salma feeding a hungry African child)… ‘cause it seems as though you’re pissed and upset over all the ways you’ve been shafted as a woman, and sometimes, even with society not yet running up the motherhood flag, breast-feeding is a simple, good way to just sit still and relax. I wish it were a luxury men were also able to enjoy. Poor souls have to figure out other ways to relax...


  1. She did get you going! And you have some very good points. Of course I didn't read the article but I have to wonder why someone would have a problem with a breast pump? Seriously when wil people stop picking on moms and the choices they make FOR their children?

  2. Right!? I agree... I almost feel bad for Judith Warner for missing the point, that as mothers, it is not a bad thing to do everything in our power to give our kids a good start! And, in fact, we might want to lash out not at the decisions other mothers make, but at the powers-that-be for not giving us adequate time away from work to raise our kids, and for upholding the stigma that breastfeeding should be hidden event... Thanks for your comment!


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