The first time I have read Kamnitzer’s essay about her experience of raising her son in Mongolia was about two years ago. The image it left me with, readily popping into my mind and broadsiding me with the hilarity of it all, was with parents, friends, grandparents, any other family members sitting in a yurta, flapping their breasts around trying to entice a toddler to come and breastfeed. Haunting image indeed.
Alas, I came across the article again a few days ago, this time reprinted in www.incultureparent.com.
I adore this article. I don’t particularly see it as a breastfeeding propaganda, however. I look at it from a cultural point of view and a bit broader than most at that.
I think Ruth Kamnitzer’s account says more about the way we raise our children rather than just airing the breastfeeding factor, granted those two go hand-in-hand and you cannot separate one from the other. I like this part in particular “… in Mongolia, breastfeeding isn’t equated with dependence, and weaning isn’t a finish line. They know their kids will grow up – in fact, the average Mongolian five-year-old is far more independent than her western counterpart, breastfed or not. There’s no rush to wean.”
This reminds me of a story that my teacher once (well, more than once now) told me. She told of her friend, raising her own son through “this attachment parenting style”. She said how the Mom nursed on demand until the boy was past the toddlerhood, how they shared bed, of course she carried him in a sling forever, and that he accompanied her EVERYWHERE. She also told of her being a bit concerned that the kid was too dependent on the mother. Well, she never spoke up against it as she did not think it was any of her business and just learned to trust her friend’s mothering instincts. That boy grew into the most self-reliant, confident, independent, yet outgoing and cooperative young man, traveling the world, backpacking on his own, or living in a bush for weeks on hand on his own, since he was a teenager. He was healthily attached, knew in every cell of his body where his place was and where and to whom he was attached to. He went on to be a successful and content person, very giving to his community, and a great family man.
It seems that all this pushing away of our kids just does everyone a great disservice – to the child, the parents, the community and the whole society. Perhaps that is why so many people in my generation feel so disconnected, and more so with each new generation we feel at a loss of how to relate, how to communicate, how to be with each other.
And of course, there was this part of the article that got me this time. “every Mongolian I ever asked told me that he or she liked breast milk. The value of breast milk is so celebrated, so firmly entrenched in their culture, that it’s not considered something that’s only for babies.”
I find it distressing that we will readily accept manufactured, stripped down, shaken, cooked, and diluted breastmilk from a cow mother, and will throw millions of dollars annually at making it “workable”,while at the same time we discourage, campaign against, and turn our noses at, our children’s own mothers’ milk, that is specific to that individual child’s short and longterm needs, is perfectly packaged, conveniently stored, readily accessible, and is FREE! It does not cost us anything. In fact it saves us a lot of dollars and saves generations of people. But that would mean that women would have to have some sort of “control” over their children for longer, and possibly turn the children against … I don’t know, whatever is feared by a particular individual, wether a representative of an institution.
Sadly I know few men that wanted to feed their kids when born, and insisted, or at least voiced their desire along with regret of their inability, that the mother’s would pump so the Dads could bottlefeed. Of course there are other ways to promote the father-child bond but those don’t seem to cut it too often. I know some Dads who felt jealous of their baby’s monopoly of the woman – a mother to the child, and a sexual partner to the man – to such an extent that they insisted on NOT bed-sharing and/or were supportive of formula feeding or bottlefeeding.
I think breastfeeding is really about how we view women in our society, their role, their responsibility, their right, their power. I think to diminish the power of a woman, to minimize her impact on the society at large, to eliminate her role, or to limit it just to the extent of being an incubation vessel for the next generation, is to remove her child from her sphere of influence and now lets throw in a “outside of home – career & success” to make things just a bit more wacky. Limiting breastfeeding by bottlefeeding (even an occasional one), premature weaning, removing the support network around her so she can do the most important job of her life, beside growing into a strong human being, to grow another human being into a strong beautiful person. Sure, we can be CEO and have access to six-figure income, but who is paying for that? The kids, and the parents too, the whole society.
Western world ran by folks with broken attachments, desperately looking, often in wrong places and in unhealthy ways, to fulfill their feeling of belonging and purpose. How as a child do I gain that feeling of security, love, and purpose, when I see my parents for only two hours a day during the week and get ferried by my Mom mostly from class to class or a game on the weekend. Yes, I matter so much to my family that they spend less time with me than my peers and my teachers at school. How do you help your child to grow beautifully in spirit and in body if you can see him/her only a two or three hours a day because you are working on your career or just trying to pay your rent and put decent food on the table. Who cooks the meals for your family? Kraft or McCain? Or your heart and hands?
Something has to give …