Friday, May 25, 2012
Are You Mom Enough? Part II
Although the title alone for Time's piece "Are You Mom Enough?" triggered a national conversation, the biggest controversy centered on breastfeeding. In Part I, I mentioned how the magazine purposely used a title and photo that would ignite readers' tongues, but I believe the topic itself and the ages of the children mentioned in the article would have initiated a debate even without the dramatic cover.
Why can't we just look to scientific research on the whole topic of breastfeeding and its benefits (and/or harms) physically and mentally to children from birth to a chosen age? Wouldn't that settle the issue for once and for all, so all women can quit arguing and start cooperating? Hmm, good science continually searches for the truth, but is that "science" the determiner of "truth"? We have to remember that scientific research can be manipulated, gathered erroneously, misinterpreted, and result in conflicting conclusions, even when it comes to providing nourishment for our babies. Take a look at the sway of public opinion in my lifetime.
When I was born, a love affair with science was in full bloom. After all, the United States was going to send a man to the moon! If science could do such an amazing feat (and to me it is astounding), then surely anything science could create had to be the best way to go, right? That view of the world touched families in a big way, including the dramatic shift to bottle feeding. Bottle feeding had already been an option, but gradually the "scientific" way of feeding a baby began to challenge the "natural" way to feed a baby. My mom became one of its victims. She has told me that sometimes "sophisticated" women would look down at her for breastfeeding and treat her as if she were an ignorant country hick for not doing "what was best for her children" and bottle feed. She nursed my brother and me anyway. Later she began nursing my sister, but due to a rare health situation, she had to convert to bottle feeding for her last child. It was an emotionally difficult transition, but for my sister bottle feeding was truly the best way to feed her.
Now let's jump in time to about 10 years ago when "research" and public opinion has shifted to viewing breastfeeding as the best way to provide nutrition to babies. An acquaintance of mine walked into a health food store with her newborn baby. The conversation went a little like this:
"What a beautiful baby!"
"Thank you. He is very sweet."
"Boy or girl?" asked the clerk in a melodic voice.
"Boy," proudly replied the boy's mother.
"Are you nursing?" continued the clerk very politely.
"No, I bottle feed," answered the mother just as politely.
"Well, you know don't you, that breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby," responded the clerk with a slight lecturing tone.
"Yes. I know, but we just prefer using bottles. It's easier."
"Easier? Breastfeeding is much easier than using bottles, and even if it wasn't easier, you should do what's best for you baby. Your baby will be much . . ."
Interrupting the almost threatening tone of speech, my friend declared, "Well, I don't think breastfeeding is an option for me. I did not give birth to him. He's adopted."
Embarrassed and caught off guard, the worker apologized, "I'm so sorry. I didn't know."
My friend quickly left and later confided she wished she had ended the conversation with, "Of course, you didn't know. It's not your business. I shouldn't have to go into a store and explain if I personally gave birth to my latest child or not. What if I had given birth to him? Can't I feed my baby the way I want without being attacked?"
Do parents sometimes make wrong choices? Of course. Do they need guidance? Definitely. Are they going to listen to advice until they are ready to hear it? Probably not. Should others give advice to parents who "obviously" need someone to tell them what to do even if they don't want to hear it? Usually not.
So, what's the answer regarding breastfeeding? Before you read the following, be sure you have read "Part I" about who to listen to. J (In other words, you decide if you agree with me; don't take what I say as the "gospel" unless you test it for truth first.)
When trying to make a lifestyle decision, it's always good to start with Scripture.1 First, I don't find any commands or guidelines for babies/children to be fed only by their birth mothers. Sometimes Scripture guidelines are not written out in black and white like the Ten Commandments but are revealed by the underlining truth of a set of guidelines. Looked there. Nothing different.
Now let's carefully look at the everyday living habits of some of the people of the Bible. Although I do not believe people of one time of history are more holy than people of another time of history just by the time they lived, looking at their habits may give us some insight we may have otherwise missed. In other words, let's look at how some kids were fed for some clues. Unless Scripture dictates it, we do not have to do what they did; we can choose.
Did nearly all women of Bible times breastfeed their children? Probably. Did they limit their nursing to small infants? Hmm. I'm guessing not. Toddlers seem to get hungry and thirsty at times more frequently than adults and at inconvenient times. Being able to give a toddler a snack by nursing could have come in handy. If they did, does that mean you have to? No. Just because it fit their cultural setting and daily needs, doesn't mean it will fit yours. Also look at Hannah in I Samuel.2 She dedicated her son to the Lord and took him to live with the priest at the temple when he was weaned. I'm guessing he was potty trained, too. He would not have been potty trained as an infant. Yet, at the same time, we know he went to live at the temple while very young.
What about "bottle" feeding? Could someone have rigged up a water skin with an extended area with a hole to "bottle feed" a child? I sure think so. It would have been messy and awkward but could have been used if necessary; and there is no Biblical principle prohibiting something like that.
Did all mothers nurse their children? Probably not. Today there are women who are physically unable to nurse their children, so I assume that to be true of the past as well. (Remember, assumptions are possibilities, not truths.) Then look at Pharaoh's daughter3 who had her slave girl fish Moses out of the water. His watchful sister Miriam volunteered to get a Hebrew woman (who was also secretively the baby's birth mother) to nurse the baby. Pharaoh's daughter immediately sent Miriam to get a wet nurse. Young Miriam knew what a wet nurse was. Pharaoh's daughter knew what a wet nurse was. No one was shocked or surprised by the suggestion of a wet nurse. In other words, the practice of one woman nursing another woman's child (one she did not then claim for her own) must have happened often enough that the arrangement was part of general knowledge. So if it was possible for another woman to breastfeed a baby and for that baby to still bond with his mother,4 then I think it is possible for today's woman to bond with her child whether she breastfeeds or bottle feeds and whether she stops when the baby can be weaned or later.
Now when you read Time's article "Are You Mom Enough?" view the article as one writer's method of sharing what some women are doing. You do not have to copy them, but you may copy them. You may do something in between. Talk with your trusted mentors if necessary. YOU get to decide how the article touches your family.
1"Scripture" refers to the Christian Holy Bible (Old and New Testament).
2 I Samuel 1:21-28
3 Exodus 2:5-10
4As far as I can tell, Moses did not bond with his adoptive mother, but I believe that is due to issues much bigger than breastfeeding.