Sunday, January 15, 2006

fresh milk from a what-now?

I recently finished a book called _Fresh Milk_, by an Australian writer, Fiona Giles. I rarely read nonfiction, but a book about the "secret life of breasts" seemed too much for this nursing mother to pass up. Well. Reading this book was like having a completely frank discussion with your girlfriends - sort of Sex and the City meets La Leche League, plus a social anthropologist. So, cast away your Western concepts of what is or ain't taboo, and consider:

  • adoptive mothers lactating
  • girlfriends cross nursing
  • a grandmother feeding her grandbaby
  • a father nursing his daughter
  • a father choosing to lactate for his child
  • porn starring lactating women
The narratives in this book hit a wide spectrum, from the inspiring to the jaw-droppingly strange. I'm currently freshly inspired by the story of my cousin (not in this book), whose preemie twins ended up a fair distance away from her in a swanky hospital. She pumped gallons of her milk for them, and the entire family got involved in shuttling milk and mama back and forth, while caring for the older child. The babies flourished, and came home having been exclusively fed on her milk, a triumph of determination and the family's willing spirit. Go, mama, go.

I happen to adore breastfeeding, and it's a source of tremendous pleasure for me - not to mention extremely convenient. I love shortcuts like having dinner always on tap, always just at the right temperature, but I'm also aware that breastfeeding just does not work for everyone. Hell, it very nearly didn't work for me, and my personal lactation consultant was shocked that we pulled it off. So was I. I'm happy to argue that kids flourish on any kind of infant feeding, though food allergy kids, or immune suppressed babies are a bit safer with mama's milk. For the average baby, however, it's pretty much okay either way. But there's a sense of empowerment about breastfeeding that bottles don't offer - a sense that I, not some factory, made this just for my infant. Me, me, me.

(Because, yeah, it's always about me.)

Ooh, and then there's the snuggle factor: lying in bed, that little body curled into the hollow of my body, the eyes watching me seriously, the little hand stroking (my older son) or patting and grasping (our baby). The wandering hand is somehow precious to me, as if it's my baby exploring his mama from the heart of maternal comfort. Yes, breastfeeding occasionally offers me one of those peaceful, affirming moments that inspire and uplift. So what the hell is a guy doing with this stuff?

The nursing dad (vs. the guy who actually lactated and produced milk) started out of desperation. He was shirtless, the baby was cranky, she latched on accidentally. I am willing to forgive. But the father who deliberately and carefully produced milk - well, I'm thinking tar and feathers.

While do I feel so invaded? For years I've been telling my partner that if he wants to help, he should grow breasts. But perhaps he doesn't need them. The anatomy of the female breast is, as it happens, imperfectly understood. (suppressed post about modern medicine's imperfect understanding of women suppressed here.) I am told that milk ducts, when not in use, flatten to the point of vanishing. If this is true in women, why not in men? Why should the idea of the working breast be female? Perhaps only the ripely curving breast should be female, but that need not be the exclusive image of milky bounty.

But it is, dammit. And, if the story of the lactating father is any guide, it will continue to be. That father had to work hard for even droplets of his milk, and never managed enough of a supply to exclusively feed his child - just enough to participate. Which is fine by me. Bravo to you, sir, for investing in parenthood. Now get the hell off my turf.

1 comment:

auntie a said...

I feel much the same whenever I read something about the idea of men getting pregnant (or whenever I watch Junior ). On the one hand - why not? And on the other hand - shouldn't this be an exclusively female domain? (At least for humans - I know all about the daddy seahorses.) Mind you, it is entirely possible that I will be more willing to share territory after I experience my first pregnancy and childbirth...