I’ve often said that I think that feminism has caused a lot of damage to birth, mothering, and breastfeeding. I feel as though it’s been the WORST contributor to current problems, actually. Feminists were the ones who rallied around, “Why does childbirth have to hurt!” This was in response to religious people saying it hurts because women are being punished for that whole Adam & Eve thing. Instead of just ignoring them, women got all riled up and then we got “twilight sleep“, morphine, epidurals, etc. (Not that I think epidurals are NEVER needed and NEVER useful, but I do think they’re overused and women don’t know the real risks related to unnecessary epis.)
Chloroform, which physicans often used during labor in the 1800s, had a downside. It could make breathing diffcult, even deadly, for the newborn, and the drug was iffy to dispense; you splashed some on a handkerchief and hoped for the best. But by 1914 doctors in Freiburg, Germany, were using a much more precise technique called Daemmerschlaf, or “Twilight Sleep,” in which the mother was injected with morphine and scopolamine (a drug that caused amnesia) so that she’d be in a state of finely balanced semi-consciousness, without feeling pain and with scant memory of what happened.
A few U.S. hospitals began offering the injections, but suffragists rallied for more. The end of birth pain, they felt, was part of their emancipation.
Despite physicians’ initial reservations, Twilight Sleep became standard procedure. As Edith Wharton writes of a mother-to-be in her 1927 novel, Twilight Sleep: “She had the blind dread of physical pain common also to most of the young women of her set. But all that was easily managed nowadays. . . . There ought to be no Pain. Nothing but Beauty.”
I consider myself a feminist of sorts. My own sort, I suppose, because my idea of feminism is believing in my strength as a woman – that childbirth is something incredible that we do & are strong enough to handle. (As it stands right now, doctors -usually male – have much control over women in labor and anytime a woman says she wants to go natural, people inevitably say, “She says that now, but she’ll be screaming for epidurals when the time comes.” How is that in line with feminism? Tell me that hasn’t set us back a hundred years?) My feminism is in knowing that yes, women do have certain skills & instincts that make them good mothers – and why is that bad? Feminism, to me, is that our bodies were made to have & nourish children, so why does breastfeeding make you feel shackled? Perhaps popular feminism needs to come to terms with, accept, and learn to love everything that makes us uniquely “female.”
So. What brought this up now was my monthly e newsletter from Dona.org. A blurb:
Bernice L. Hausman explained how “feminist critics of breastfeeding link two arguments-that breastfeeding promotion ignores the social, cultural, and economic circumstances for mothers and that it is based on ambiguous scientific evidence-which has encouraged breastfeeding advocates to increase their emphasis on the health benefits of nursing.” However, “this response, in turn, further angers feminist critics, because it suggests that (1) health benefits outweigh material difficulties, and (2) women’s experiences are beside the point.” She recommends getting to “the heart of the matter-how sex inequity contributes to social, cultural, and economic constraints on mother’s practices and goals.”
Dr Paige Hall Smith pointed out that “breastfeeding is a maternal practice and not a one-time decision. Women who seek to breastfeed must do so while navigating sexualized structures that recreate gender inequality and uphold the masculine as the ideal for women as well as men. Perhaps not surprisingly, women who have less control over their lives, their bodies and their time are less likely to sustain breastfeeding. Most research on barriers to breastfeeding focus on individual level factors which obscures the role that systemic gender inequality play in women’s decisions and experiences with breastfeeding.”
Miriam Labbok pointed out that breastfeeding has not been an important component of public health programming until fairly recently. However, “research has shown that a comprehensive approach is necessary to create sustainable behavior change. The four pillars to protect, promote and support breastfeeding are related policies, health system and health worker training, protection against false and misleading information and advertising, and maternity protection, sustained by a base of consumer demand.”
The issue was further examined from different angles such as health care, education, work and family, society and culture, race and culture as well as women’s responses, the constraints and media, control of women’s bodies and their milk, and more.
The bottom line that I took away is that breastfeeding is a rights issue and not an issue of choice. Breastfeeding is a woman’s right and not (just) the right of infants. And feminism definitely has a role to play in enforcing those rights, and so does public health, and everybody can participate in reshaping public policies and workplace accommodations.
Being a mother is an honor and a privilege. I am not shackled to my child. Every moment of my life and who I am does not revolve entirely around him. I chose to be a mother, and I knew what it would mean to my life to do so. I have a hard time understanding why women would choose to have children, and then spend the first years ranting against all the acts of being a mother. I’m secure in this role. I don’t get caught in the stay at home vs work at home mom battles because I really don’t care that much what anyone thinks of me for “just” being a stay at home mom. I enjoy it. I think it’s the best thing for him. I understand that it’s not possible for all moms to stay at home with their children, especially given this economy. But it infuriates me when these “feminists” say that it’s not proven that it’s better for kids to be with their mothers than in daycare or that breastfeeding doesn’t matter. No, it DOES matter. Of course it’s better for young children to be at home with their mothers than in daycare. Are you kidding me? Of course breastfeeding is best. Get off it, already. Make your choices & stand firm, don’t worry about what anyone else says about it. I don’t judge anyone for working, for not breastfeeding. I know, very well, that life happens and we can’t always do these things. I don’t think kids are doomed or will turn out horribly for not being breastfed or being in daycare. But I do judge for making excuses about how it doesn’t matter. It does. And if you can’t, ok. I understand. But don’t you dare say it’s all the same. I have zero delusions about goat milk being just as good as breastmilk. It’s not. But it’s the solution that I felt comfortable with. Had we not just moved, had Mr Nikki not just started a new job, had I friends & family around me, we probably could have stuck with it and made it work. But we were in a crappy situation and I made do. I just finally stopped feeling guilty about it.
Anyway. So, breastfeeding. It’s a woman’s RIGHT as well as it is a choice. Now, even when women DO want to breastfeed, they’re shunned in public, told to leave public spaces, make people uncomfortable, name-called, etc all for doing what comes naturally. Way to go, feminists. Maybe I sound like I’m in the dark ages, but women are WOMEN. Feminism should be about embracing that, not fighting against it.