Breastfeeding Feed

My life as an attachment parent: feminists should have understood but mostly didn't

The New York Times has a mothering discussion centered around the question, "Has women’s obsession with being the perfect mother destroyed feminism?"


I read this exchange and it feels to me like it comes from a different planet than the one I have parented on. I am, in the vocabulary of this discussion, an attachment parent. I never found myself to be part of the kind of cultural hegemony implied by the NYT discussion. (Though, for a while I seemed to be the person the BBC Radio called to speak about public breast feeding.) Rather, I went about the matter of parenting my children while pursuing my career in science fiction, such as it is, without much feeling of being part of any larger movement.

The strain for me was not a tension between motherhood and career, but rather the lack of support for the idea that with a little extra help from those around me I could remain a full participant in the intellectual and cultural life around me. I would get all the way to the convention, but in the end often couldn't get the support to allow me to attend any program items except those where I was a panelist.

This experience has left me deeply disappointed in the science fiction field's brand of feminism which should have understood what my parenting choices represented, but mostly didn't. Gradually, I stopped showing up at events like World Fantasy Con and ICFA because I could no longer ignore the professional disrespect this state of affairs implied.

Yesterday, received an evaluation from the school district of one of my children who has substantial learning disabilities which contained a sentence that makes me very proud. The evaluator remarked that my son seems to have a positive sense of self “rooted in close and supportive parental relationships.” And that is what I was trying to do. 

Kate Eltham, baby Elizabeth, & Kathryn Camer

I do not demand of other people that they do nearly all of their business travel in the company of children, or that they breastfeed while giving speeches, signing books, speak on panels, like I did. But in my life there would have been a lot less conflict between motherhood and career if there had been a little more recognition of the project of combining the two.

The idea articulated in the NYT that by doing what I did I have somehow been a threat to feminism makes me want to kick their editors in a particularly sensitive spot in the ankle.

McPalin Culture Wars Round-Up

A couple of favorite pieces:

First, there's the New York Times op-ed Running Against Themselves:

The difficulty for the Republican ticket in talking about change and reform and acting like insurgents is that they have been running Washington — the White House and Congress — for most of the last eight years.

Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News: Palin isn't making this easy
I don't think John McCain understood exactly what he was doing picking Palin. He was looking for a new face in a party dominated by old faces, a Republican who wasn't tied to the rest of the Republicans (read: George W. Bush). But what he also got was another battle in the culture wars.

I leave it to Rudy Giuliani, of all people, to give us the lesson.

It's Giuliani - not your typical Republican on issues such as abortion and gay rights and wearing dresses at New York balls - who was Palin's warmup act. And in fact, he did about 20 minutes of standup, mostly mocking - and that's the right word - Barack Obama to the delight of the crowd, but in way that had to be cringe-making for much of the rest of America watching at home on TV.

Indeed, I don't think the political strategist who have brought us to this point understand how complex and unpredictable the politics of mommyhood are. (And no, Sarah, your family doesn't have "the same ups and downs as any other.") To work full or part time or to stay home with ones kids are complex decisions about which American women pronounce judgement upon each other every day. Every school PTA is split between the stay-at-home and part-timer moms who do most of the PTA work, and the full-time working moms who (despite Palin's PTA credentials) mostly don't.

Every employed mother has decisions to make about when to work and when to drop everything and take care of the needs of a child, and mothers pass judgement on each others' choices every day. New baby, special needs child, pregnant teenage daughter, five kids -- each of these individually might cause even a suburban upper-middle class mother in a left-leaning community to be subjected to peer pressure to surrender her ambitions in favor of taking care of her family. How can this fly?

Are questions about whether Sarah Palin should be spending more time taking care of her family fair? Perhaps not, but our culture isn't fair to mothers, and worse, mothers are not fair to other mothers.

Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail has an interesting piece entitled The culture wars are baaack!:

For a while back there, I thought the culture wars would not be a big deal in this election. We had two serious men of substance who had vowed to grapple with the serious issues of the day - the staggering economy, America's shattered moral leadership in the world, the health-care mess, loose nukes, stuff like that. Silly me! It turns out the real issues are abortion, evolution v. creationism, the role of God in public life, why Sarah tried to get her no-good ex-brother-in-law fired, what's up with her mother-in-law, and whether she herself was pregnant when she got married.
In it she quotes a McCain adviser:
"Frankly, I can't imagine that question being asked of a man," snapped John McCain's campaign manager, Steve Schmidt. "A lot of women will find it offensive."
Oh, were Sisterhood that power! Wouldn't it be nice if women didn't say terrible things about other women's mothering choices all the time?

In his speech last night Rudy Guiliani asked, "How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her child and be vice president?" They dare, Rudy. They dare. They dare all the time.

She is apparently breastfeeding. Wouldn't it have been fascinating if Sarah Palin gave last night's speech while breastfeeding her infant? (I have nursed an infant from the podium, though out of necessity, not for fun; it's a good way to keep a baby quiet while mommy talks to the audience when the expected convention childcare does not materialize.) Having her pregnant daughter hold the baby doesn't deflect the scrutiny that a new mother out in the world is subject to. And Palin hasn't really explained who is taking care of the kids. The implication of what is left unsaid is partly that the kids will take care of themselves and each other, an impression I wouldn't dare give at the World Science Fiction Convention, let alone the national convention of a political party.

Jonathan Freeland, The Guardian also discusses the culture wars theme: Who knows if Palin will bring victory or defeat? But the culture wars are back

In his stirring speech last week, Obama urged America not to "make a big election about small things". Yet here we are, discussing not Sarah Palin's record or programme but Jesus, guns, and as one feminist blogger put it yesterday, "the uterine activity of her family". This is a setback for women, especially in a year that seemed to promise a breakthrough, but it is also a setback for America itself.
For obvious reasons, conservatives would like to see this mess in a different light. Janice Shaw Crouse of the conservative think-tank Concerened Women for America writes,
The media’s frenzy over the Palin nomination contrasts negatively with the positive way that the Palin family is coping with their daughter’s pregnancy; it shows how out-of-touch the media is with the rest of America and how distorted their view is of pro-life Americans who put feet on their policy stances. . . . The media frenzy also demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of social conservatives and the importance of the social issues for most Americans.
Is the fuss all about whether Palin is alienating the very conservative base she was supposed to lock in? I don't think so.

What Palin and her complications represent is a social conservative running against a broad personalized non-political type of social conservatism concerning childbearing and childrearing; she presents an entirely new model of conservative motherhood that bears a lot of explaining in order to seem like responsible behavior.

UPDATE: See also Nancyy Gibbs in TIME: Can Palin Escape the Parent Trap? and Teresa Nielsen Hayden on Making Light: Pay attention to the little man behind the curtain.

So Bill Maher is a reptile, right?

After my many years of very public breastfeeding, I would like to think that the war is over and WE won, and there's nothing more than need be discussed, because moms feeding their babies in public are just moms feeding their kids.

However, the fight goes on. Go read Melissa McEvan discussing Bill Maher making a complete fool of himself on the subject. Did he, like, skip 5th grade or something? Good gracious.

(Via Making Light.)

CensorWare for Australia?
Plus Who decides what stays & goes? Is this all yet another move to make the Internet more like TV?

Just when you thought that censoreware was only for oppressive goverments, and for use with children, and institutions by that treat their employees like children -- the US Military, General Electric (GE), Procter and Gamble, Exxon Mobil, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Bayer, Conagra Foods, Lockheed Martin, British Telecom, Fujitsu, Volvo, Kohler, and Tiffany & Co.)* -- politicians in Australia propose to turn censorware on their population: Labor to force porn block

(We already know that where such systems are in place, for example Secure Computing's SmartFilter, they block a whole lot more than what any reasonable person would consider porn.)

Internet service providers (ISPs) will be forced to block violent and pornographic material before it reaches home computers if Labor wins the next federal election. Under the policy, announced by Opposition Leader Kim Beazley today, international websites would be banned by the Australian Communications and Media Authority if they contained graphic sexual or violent material, rated R or higher. The bans would be maintained by ISPs.

The policy aims to protect the two-thirds of Australian households where no internet filters are in place because of a lack of technical knowledge or cost. Mr Beazley said all households would be included in the policy unless there was a specific request for access to such material.

It was "too hard" for many parents to install internet blockers on their computers to prevent offensive material being downloaded, he said.  . . . Any user can also report material to Australian Communications and Media Authority and if it is found to be hosted in Australia and banned, an ISP is ordered to take it down within 48 hours or face penalties. If the content is illegal, but hosted overseas, it is referred to federal police and filter providers add it to the blocked list.

"No child in Australia need be exposed to harmful and offensive content," Mr Coroneos said.

Gotta love that bit about giving members of the public the opportunity to block "offensive material" for the whole country. The possibilities for that are endless: evolution, birth control, liberal politics, breastfeeding. Even if the Internet were merely held to the standards of television and not as harshly censored as it is by such systems as SmartFilter, a whole lot would disappear.

Think I'm kidding about them maybe pushing breastfeeding off the Internet? I'm not.Note also that Kirstie Marshall, a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly in Australia, was ejected from parliament for exposing her breast breastfeeding her newborn child.

Think of all the stuff you see on the internet that you almost never see on TV; think of it gone.

(Via Anthony Baxter.)

Flashman at Electron Soup has a few suggestions:

The flip-side of 'opt-out of the clean feed' is 'opt-in to the dirty dwarf-porn bukkake feed'. Put your name on our list, dear citizens, if you want to declare that you don't like our censorship, and that you want access to all the nasties on the net. Yeah, sure, I'm totally fine with that intrusion on my privacy. . . .

If Kim Beazley wants to offer peace of mind to parents, he should at most mandate that ISPs maintain an opt-in clean feed. Additionally, he should ascertain whether the nation's children are being taught healthy internet habits, in the same way that 'stranger danger' and other safety issues are addressed.

Here's a simple solution that's much more workable and costs virtually nothing: use your parenting skills.

UPDATE: Cory Doctorow has a really interesting post on the subject of the application of "local" community standards to the Internet in the context of the obscenity section of the Communications Decency Act in the US:

Online sexual material is obscene if any community in US objects
The Supreme Court of the United States has declined to hear an important case about obscenity and the Internet, leaving anyone who publishes sexual material on the Internet in uncertainty about whether they're open to federal penalties.
At stake is the obscenity section of the Communications Decency Act, which bans publishing "obscene" material on the net. The problem is that US courts use "local standards" to determine whether something is obscene -- so if in the eyes of some local community, the material is obscene, then you can't distribute it there.

But the Internet can distribute material into all communities in the country, and because the Communications Decency Act is federal, prosecutors can bring their charges in the most sex-o-phobic corner of the country (say, the conservative Catholic private town that the guy who founded Domino's Pizza is building in Florida).

And to echo the point I keep hammering on, zero-tolerance for something like the abstract concept of nudity is not necessarily even of benefit to children, as "local community standards" can prevent women from the most basic of mamalian acts: breastfeeding their infants.

MEANWHILE, an Australian firm out of Perth, Scotland has made a deal to "provide its 'broadband condom' service in Guatemala." Tracking this stuff is becoming like a game of whack-a-mole!

UPDATE: See Mark Pesce's Op-Ed: Net filters lose battle in the end.

Secure Computing: My Letter to Paxworld

This is part of a series on Secure Computing and SmartFilter.

I just sent the following letter to Anita Green, V.P. for Social Research at Paxworld, a socially responsible mutual fund with significant investments in Secure Computing (SCUR):

Dear Anita Green:

I am writing to express concern about one of the companies in the Paxworld Balanced Fund's portfolio, Secure Computing (SCUR). While I am not one of Paxworld's investors, I support the general philosophy of companies like yours. I am an investor in the New Alternatives Fund which emphasizes alternative energy.

I have several concerns about the SCUR. Chief among these is that it is my understanding that they are licensing their censorship software, SmartFilter, to the oppressive governments of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Tunisia.  It really ought to be illegal for them to export content restriction software to governments that restrict freedom of speech and freedom of the press. It isn't yet, but this practice should be strongly discouraged on human rights grounds.

Secondly, this same software has been licensed to the US Military and is in use controlling what military personnel and security contractors can read overseas. If all they were filtering out was hardcore porn, that would be one thing. But their filtering is much more expansive and includes, for example, the popular weblog BoingBoing which no reasonable person would consider smut. Also there seems to be a political bias to which sites are available for viewing and which are not. And the company seems to have a very aggressive idea of what constitutes pornography and nudity. I had a very unsatisfactory correspondence with Tomo Foote-Lennox of Secure Computing yesterday about what kinds of depictions of breastfeeding might make it through their filters, for example. Mr. Foote-Lennox seems to have a very sexualized concept of the mother infant relationship which bears some examination in light of the censorship power he exercises and his claims that he is protecting the interests of children.

I would like to encourage you to consider divesting Paxworld of their SCUR holdings.


Kathryn Cramer

I suppose I should also have mentioned SCUR's unsubstantiated claims in their 2004 report about various domains hosting vast troves of porn but I didn't want to go on too long.


Secure Computing, Smart Filter, & the Female Breast

MbThis is part of a series on Secure Computing and SmartFilter. The image to the right is via the Got BreastMilk? Project.

Following the New York Times story Popular Web Site Falls Victim to a Content Filter, concerning Secure Computing's product SmartFilter blocking BoingBoing,  I wrote the following letter to Tomo Foote-Lennox, of Secure Computing, who is apparently the guy in charge of deciding what is smut and what isn't. He claims to be a defender of the interests of children:

In an e-mail message to Xeni Jardin, another of Boing Boing's chiefs, Tomo Foote-Lennox, a director of filtering data for Secure Computing, asked why the bloggers were starting a war. "We discussed several ways that you could organize your site so that I could protect the kids and you could distribute all the information you wanted," Mr. Foote-Lennox wrote.

One of the BoingBoing posts that Secure Computing used to justify classifying involved a shot showing a cat attempting to nurse on a woman's breast: Japanese TV show about cat that loves human milk. The image was very blurry and involved less actual nudity than your average shot of an Oscar-night dress. As a very experienced nursing mother, my hunch was that nursing, not an interspecies relationship, nor the expanse of cleavage, was at issue. So I wrote to Secure Computing's Censor-in-Chief to ask about this issue.

Nursing_1Regular readers of this blog are aware that I write with some frequency about breastfeeding issues, and may even be aware that when BBC Radio needed a Representative of American Womanhood to talk about nursing in public, they picked me. I have spent hundreds of hours nursing in public and have nursed on most major airlines and even nursed from the podium while doing public speaking. This is not a political stance, but rather a matter of pure practicality. The BBC pitted me against a man who said over and over that Public nudity is not socially acceptable, in the context of arguing that a nursing mother (Margaret Boyle-White) who refused to stop when confronted by UK police should have been arrested. I was followed on the program by Scottish MP Elaine Smith, who had introduced the bill recently passed at the time of the program making it an offense to stop mothers breastfeeding in public. (Preventing a woman from breastfeeding is already illegal in the State of New York.)

So I wrote the following letter to Foote-Lennox, to try to tease out whether what I suspected was true:

Dear Thom Foote-Lennox:

I am writing to express concern about your remarks concerning BoingBoing in the New York Times. As a long time BoingBoing reader, I am quite certain that it is by no stretch of the imagination a porn site. But I am also a nursing mother, so I am also concerned about what exactly causes you and your company to draw the conclusion the the nursing cat post was porn.

Nursing is not a sexual act. While there exist adults who sexualize children and the activities of children such as nursing, that is not what is going on in that image. The nursing cat seems to me simply a stand-in for a breast pump. Breast engorgement is a real phenomenon and dealing with it is a practical, not a sexual problem.

So what exactly about the nursing cat is sexual?


Kathryn Cramer
Pleasantville, New York

He replied:

We never called it porn.  We have categories for pornography, but we rated this as nudity.  Some of our customers want to limit the viewing of nude pictures in their schools or offices.  We give them the ability to make that choice.

- Tomo

I wrote back:

So a site that, say, depicted public breast feeding would make your list as nudity?


He replied:

Look at our categories on our web site.  Medical diagrams (women nursing cats on television don't count) are rated as nudity if they are explicit, but also as health, educational or consumer information.  Many elementary schools choose to block all nudity, but high schools usually exempt health and education, meaning if it is health or education, you ignore any other category it may have.

- Tomo

I wrote back:

You are aware that in some countries where women are not even allowed to expose their faces in public, it is socially acceptable for women to bare their breasts to feed their infants, yes?


It strikes me when I read his replies that, first of all, my basic intuition is correct. It was exposing the human breast in the context of nursing that was perceived as sexual and inappropriate, not the surreal twist given it by Japanese TV.

Nursey_1When breastfeeding in public for those hundreds of hours (sometimes even in elementary schools [gasp!]; always with at least one child present), I utterly failed to to provide health, educational, and consumer information. Here's voice-over I forgot to give: You know, dear, using breastmillk as eye-drops works as well for clearing up pink-eye as commercial pharmaceuticals! And it works pretty well in clearing up ear infections when used as ear drops as well! I assumed you knew. You did know that, didn't you? Mothers: always remember to educate the public while nursing in public, lest your public nursing be taken as some kind if sexual act!

Secondly: here I am talking to the Internet Censor-in-Chief for the US Military and their overseas contractors and for three countries (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar), and he has this oddly sexualized idea of breastfeeding. He's just this guy, and he's entitled to his personal quirks, but exactly how did this situation evolve to put him in charge of deciding what is sexual and what is not? What is porn and what is not? What he was giving me was distanced by being a description of how software works, but was really very close to the rantings of that strange little man the BBC pitted me against who just kept repeating "nudity is not socially acceptable."

Combining this with questions about the legitimacy of Secure Computing's claims to have found vast quantities of porn on some sites, I conclude that the awarding of these sweeping contracts to them was really quite premature, even if you accept the idea that the military and three whole countries need their Internet censored (which I don't). What exactly qualifies this guy to evaluate what is and is not nudity, porn, inappropriate, etc.? Did he have some special training? Even Justice Potter Stewart was reduced to trying to define porn by saying "I knowing when I see it." Secure Computing offers much more than a definition: multiple categories of inappropriate material, each with their own definition. So just where does this guy Tomo get off telling the world exactly the manner in which the female breast may and may not be displayed on the Internet?

What I think we have here is censorship practiced as a kind of fetishism: Secure Computing employees read the Internet with a dirty mind and then have their way with it based on what they read into what they see.

Breastfeeding on the BBC

I was just on the BBC Radio Show Have Your Say a few minutes ago discussing (or perhaps debating) the topic of public breastfeeding. The segment was apparently prompted by an incident in which a UK policeman stopped a woman, named Margaret Boyle-White, from feeding her baby:

A woman in the UK was asked by police to stop feeding her baby as she sat on a bench in Watton town centre, after another shopper complained.

BoylewhiteHere's the whole story from the London Times. My favorite bit is that the officer suggested that a pub might be a more appropriate venue for breastfeeding than a public bench. Woohoo.

Needless to say, I was advocating the position that a woman should be able to take care of her baby without interference, as was the member of a Scottish parliament who introduced the bill passed earlier this month making it an offense to stop mothers breastfeeding in public. (I didn't catch her name, but I think it was Elaine Smith.)

(Public breastfeeding is legally protected in the State of New York, where I live.)

The opposition, while I was on, was this guy who just kept saying over and over that "public nudity is not socially acceptable." He was pretty funny. Someone should take him to the beach from time to time. It would improve his disposition. When we weren't taking his point, he finally said, "If it is OK for women to breastfeed their babies it public, why isn't it OK to make babies in public?" (On second thought, maybe he shouldn't be taken to the beach.)

I was pleased to have the opportunity to strike a blow for Motherhood!

Gotbreastmilk_1MEANWHILE, a photographer named Amber Parmley in Tennessee, along with a friend of hers, has just launched Project Got Breastmilk?, a site with a really lovely breastfeeding photogallery. The photo to the right is one of my favorites from her site. She's doing a Got Breastmilk? calendar which you can preorder. Beautiful work!

AND MEANWHILE, a huge recall of Nestle infant formula has been ordered.

A FURTHER THOUGHT, 11/23: For those tempted to buy into the argument that bodily functions are private, I'd like to point out a couple of thing. First of all, if you think about what the person on the park bench would have to be doing for you to call a cop and ask for them to be stopped, asking for police action, or expecting police intervention is actually a pretty extreme remedy. and that is specifically what was at issue in the situation with Margaret Boyle-White.

Secondly, while a certain number of specific bodily functions are expected to be private, most of them are expected to be private with babies as well. (No one is asking you to watch babies poop.) And many other bodily functions, like sneezing and farting do not (except in extreme situations) confine people to their homes for fear they might sneeze or fart in public. And some things, such as public smoking, continue as common practice long after their practitioners have been informed that many people find smoking objectionable.

If the general rule were that one must stay home if there is a  risk that one might offend someone or make someone uncomfortable, pretty much no one could leave their houses. And for the mothers of small children, the greater risk of offending is in fact the possibility of a crying child. While I have had very little negative social feedback from my hundreds of hours of public nursing, I can say with some authority that most people object to a crying or screaming child. The claim that the mom should stay home if she might need to nurse because she might offend is absurd in the face of the number of times she has to face public disapproval because her little bundle of joy is screaming at the top of its powerful little lungs.

And finally, why should nursing mothers be singled out?

Well Barbara, if you could be any kind of tree, what kind of tree would you be?

Year ago, I happened across Barbara Walters' book How to Talk With Practically Anybody About Practically Anything. While reading that book was when I first understood that a book could be sold on proposal. As I recall (and this was decades ago), it did actually suggest using the question "If you could be any kind of tree, what kind of tree would you be?" as a conversational opener. The book was almost content-free.

So a few minutes ago when David called to tell me about Barbara's big gaffe, those were the first words out of my mouth. Having spent years of my life nursing while talking with practically anyone about practically anything, I am shocked, shocked that Walters thinks women ought not nurse in public.  I'm nursing right now while talking to you!

NursingGo lactivists! The nurse-in outside ABC is a great thing.

This having been said, I should also say that I have only had one complaint EVER about my public breastfeeding, and that was when feeding Elizabeth in the infant room at her preschool when she was about 11 months old.

(To spell it out for those of you who don't know me in person: I have breastfed while signing copies of my books; I have breastfed on panels; I have breastfed while teaching a writers workshop; I have breastfed in literally hundreds of restaurants; on most major airlines and in more public places than I can even think of. It is like breathing. How many places have you breathed?)

PS: The person I'd most like to hear from is the one who made Walters uncomfortable. Surely one does not fail to notice that BW is in the next seat in the cramped space of an airplane? Should she have felt tongue-tied, I have a surefire line to get the conversation going.

Quiz question: Which was more likely to cause a problem with longterm consequences? A woman nursing her baby in full view of the Interview Queen? Or the Interview Queen breathing her germs on the baby in the close confines of an airplane?

My First Breastfeeding Complaint

After a combined total of three years of breastfeeding, I've had my first complaint. I've nursed in so many public situations it makes me tired to even think about listing them. I am rarely uncomfortable about it, but there are times when it is a bit dicey: when doing public speaking or at the beach in a bathing suit. But it was not one of those situations that generated the complaint.

I nurse my daughter every day when I pick her up from her morning daycare program. I walk in the door if the infant room and she says "Nurse, nurse!" and I sit down in the infant room and we nurse. The other day, the father of one of the other babies came to pick up his son and witnessed this interchange. I'm told that the complained to the head of the preschool, who asked the woman who runs the infant room to mention it to me.

I shake my head.

Deer in the Snow

I missed a great picture this morning: nine deer in our yard in the snow at dawn. Our digital camera didn't have it's batteries in -- they were in the charger -- and when I looked up from reloading the batteries, the deer were gone.

TreeHere's a nice picture I took night before last when we put up the Christmas tree. I wanted a real tree this year, but decided that the plastic one in the basement was probably more childsafe. This decision makes me feel very wise now. The tree's been overturned twice so far. Elizabeth finds it irresistible. As the ornaments have been repeatedly removed and replaced, they have gradually migrated toward the top of the tree, so it's less evenly decorated now.

During this cold, I've tried using breastmilk as eardrops when my ears hurt. It works surprisingly well. To the best of my knowledge, I don't have an ear infection, just congested eustation tubes. But it's quite soothing and the effect is faster than I would have expected. I have a very stuffy nose and almost no voice this morning, so imagine this post rasped hoarsely punctuated by an occasional dry cough.

Somewhat to my consternation a post from October 30th is attracting a constituency of those who believe the world is spying on them. They are busily exchanging tales of persecution. Their feelings are real, whatever the veracity of their persecution. I'll have to be more careful about what topics I raise in the future.

Similarly, I have mixed feelings about being Google's #2 listing for male lactation. Somehow I doubt the flush of traffic of those coming here to find out about this topic consists of men wanting to know how they might participate in the feeding of infants. Nonetheless, guys, here's a non-fetishist reason to lactate even if it's purely recreational: lactation reduces your body load of toxins. Lactate for detoxification. Your only cost is the breast pump, making it a lot cheaper in the long run than detoxifying products found in health food stores. (Sorry to tell you, but adults lack the tongue reflexes to efficiently get the milk out.)

Anyway, time to get Peter off to school.

Breastfeeding in the News; Breastfeeding celebrities, volunteer your services for public service announcements.

Just when I felt like I'd blogged enough about breastfeeding for a while, three different breastfeeding news stories come along. The weirdest of them, and the most problematic, is Breastfeeding driver stuns police. There are a number of versions of this story out there in the news, but the BBC's seems to have more of the relevant details:

Catherine Donkers, 29, was nursing her baby daughter on an Ohio highway while driving at 65mph.

She said she did not stop because she was talking on the phone to her husband and taking notes on the steering wheel.

Donkers is said to belong to a sect which requires her to follow her husband's orders. She was  convicted of breaking child restraint laws. . . .

Donkers reportedly said she fed the baby on her husband's orders to save time.

Donkers and her husband are believed  to be members of an organisation called the First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty which instructs that the husband is the head of the family and a wife can submit to punishment only from him.

First of all, I should say that I have breastfed in many circumstances -- while signing a copy of The Hard SF Renaissance, while tying Peter's shoes, while introducing a paper at an academic conference. But never while driving. I could probably drive while doing it. But I have the sense not to.

Now, about Catherine Donkers: This woman doesn't so much need to be arrested or convicted of anything as she needs a deprogrammer and a divorce. She was doing what her husband -- for whom the proper feeding and care of an infant was too inconvenient -- told her to. She needs to get out of this crazy sect and divorce the guy. He's a creep for endangering his wife and child this way.

Meanwhile, lobbiests once again triumph over the very young: Breastfeeding Ads Delayed by a Dispute Over Content:

Federal officials have softened a national advertising campaign to promote breastfeeding after complaints from two companies that make infant formula, according to several doctors and nurses who are helping the government with the effort.

Take a moment now to donate money to your favorite presidential candidate running against Bush. Perhaps it's time to up my monthly contribution to Howard Dean.

And in Australia, there is a fuss over a television personality, Kate Langbroek, breastfeeding on the air: Australian breastfeeds live on TV. While she didn't expose her breast, the very act of using her breast for what it's for instead of, say, to sell cars is apparently shocking to some. (This happened in September, but I only encoutered the news story yesterday.) Anyone who has seen me regularly at conventions with either of my children as infants knows that I breastfeed without hesitation in many public situations including on panels. What I find shocking about the new story is that Langbroek is allegedly the first celebrity to breastfeed on TV. Since I rarely watch TV, it had not particularly occurred to me that no celebrities had breastfed on TV. (Surely, someone like Madonna had done this if noone else had? And what about that woman who as naked and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair?)

Here's what I propose: Breastfeeding celebrities, volunteer your services for public service announcements to encourage breastfeeding. While I'm not nearly famous enough to qualify as a celebrity, I volunteer.


Anyone else?

Obviously, a public health policy that asks expectant mothers to give up certain foods while allowing industries to continue contaminating them is absurd.

Sandra Steingraber's Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood came in the mail yesterday. It's really good. I've only just begun to read it. But checking the index for references to methylmercury, I happened across a passage I have to share:

Obviously, a public health policy that asks expectant mothers to give up certain foods while allowing industries to continue contaminating them is absurd. There is, however, one shred of good news concerning mercury ingestion: Unlike lead, methylmercury persists in human tissue for a matter of months rather than years.

Avoiding fish both during pregnancy and in the year preceding conception is protective against prenatal exposure.

But even if we all planned our motherhoods with this much foresight, an approach to fetal health that relies on nutritional sacrifices by mothers is still unsound. Cutting back on fish is not like forfeiting cigarettes and beer. Fish is good food. It is low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin E, and selenium. It is also  a leading source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Fish oils prevent blood platelets from clumping together, which lowers the risk of stroke. For many women, pregnancies and lactation fill significant years of their adult lives. Deciding between protecting the babies' brains and protecting their own cardiovascular health is not a choice they should have to make. [See the fuller context on Amazon]

The months right before I became pregnant with Elizabeth were the period of heaviest tuna consumption of my life. Mostly, I have never been too keen on canned tuna. But in October of 2001, I became very ill. My illness lasted until February of 2002: just when I became resigned to being sick for a long time, I mysteriously got well. I was pregnant, and pregnancy has reset my rambunctious immune system which had spent the previous four months attacking various of my bodily systems. While I was sick -- probably because of omega-3 depletion -- I craved tuna, really craved it. I would go to make a tuna salad. I would open the can, intending to put the tuna in a mixing bowl and add other ingredients. Sometimes the tuna never reached the bowl at all, but got eaten straight out of the can, so strong was my craving. Given this, I would expect that at the moment of Elizabeth's conception, my mercury levels were probably at their highest point for my entire life.

One other point, inspired by Steingraber's mention of cardiovascular health in the passage: in our culture, and indeed in our household, women do most of the cooking. As I recall, during my pregnancy I did even more of the cooking than usual because of the strength of my food whims. So not only was I cut off from much fish as a source of nutrition, but David's fish intake also dropped substantialy. His cardiovascular health is much more of an issue than mine. And it is apparent that changes in our diet may have contributed to the sudden rise in his cholesterol levels and the necessity of an angioplasty. Husbands' health is also compromised by this sort of policy on mercury emissions.

By the way, I'm surprised at how little comment my remarks on mercury emissions have attracted. Really people, you should get upset!

Selling the Right to Emit Mercury into My Breastmilk

One item on today's to-do list is to make a doctor's appointment to get my mercury levels checked. Since David's angioplasty in June, we have substantially increased our intake of fish, especially coldwater fish rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, this despite rising concerns about unsafe levels of mercury in the fish we eat. I had been thinking about this problem and had decided to have my mercury levels checked, and probably Elizabeth's too. Mine probably won't be elevated because I'm nursing and would therefore be passing dietary mercury on to the baby.

So you can imagine my upset when I encountered this article in this morning's news:

U.S. Proposes Easing Rules on Emissions of Mercury

The Bush administration is proposing that mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants should not be regulated in the same way as some of the most toxic air pollutants,  reversing  a stance on air pollution control taken by the Clinton administration in 2000. 

. . . The agency is suggesting   that mercury emissions be removed from the most stringent regulations of the Clean Air Act that have been used to limit  the most toxic air pollutants. Among those are asbestos, chromium and lead, which have been known to cause cancers and neurological disorders.

. . .The upcoming regulations have been the subject of intense lobbying by utilities that argue the rules would force them to switch to more expensive fuels or install  costly  equipment on power plants to reduce the amount of mercury being spewed into the air.

"If you were to regulate mercury in an overly inflexible way, the result would be substantial fuel switching from coal to natural gas," said Scott Segal, the spokesman for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an industry group formed by some of the largest energy companies. The group welcomed the looser interpretation for mercury. "The Clean Air Act is flexible and pragmatic enough to have different reservoirs or authority for dealing with mercury,"  Mr. Segal said.

Under the  proposal submitted  to the White House last week,  power plants  would be able to buy and sell the rights to emit mercury into the air. A similar trading of emission credits is currently in use to handle sulfur dioxide, the pollutant that is a component of acid rain. In addition, the agency's  proposal would push back the effective date of the new regulations to 2010 at the earliest.

Let me be blunt: Rising levels of mercury in the environment are a serious and growing problem our supply of foods which provide DHA, an Omega 3 fatty acid essential to brain development. ANYONE WHO IS BREASTFEEDING, PREGNANT, THINKING ABOUT BECOMING PREGNANT, OR WHO KNOWS ANYONE WHO MIGHT should be REALLY UPSET about this proposal! I'm planning to write to the White House, the EPA, and my congress people today. You should, too.

* FDA: Mercury Levels in Seafood Species
* The situation is even worse: Mercury  In Fish -- The FDA Knows And Doesn't Tell!
* And see also that radical leftist propaganda rag, The Reader's Digest.

Delicious Milk

It's dawn and because of the atmospheric conditions and the temperature (temperature 36 degrees, humidity 59%, overcast with a chance of snow), the sky on the horizon is this amazing baby pink, lacking some of  the usual orange tones of sunrise. The traceries of silouhetted leafless trees give our yard the look of a children's book illustration. And by the time I finish the sentence, the pink has vanished, replaced by bluegray light with only a hint of pink.

I've been reading two seemingly unrelated books, Fiona Giles's Fresh Milk: The Secret Life of Breasts (mentioned in an earlier post) and Michael A. Schmidt's Brain-Building Nutrition. I'd gotten through much of the Schmidt book before we left for Thanksgiving. I took the Giles book with me to Massachusetts.

We stayed at the Fairview Inn in Brant Rock (in the Powder Point room, which can be seen on the virtual tour), where we also had Thanksgiving dinner. (David's mother has sold her house to a relative, though she still lives in it. So we don't stay there anymore as there isn't room.) Our room had a bay window facing the ocean, so I watched the sunrise from the bed, reading Fresh Milk and occasionally nursing Elizabeth. There was a seal out on the rocks. At first I though I was mistaken, that it was just a couple of birds I saw, but when we went down to breakfast, our hostess pointed it out, calling it "our resident seal."

Fresh Milk is a scattered, digressive book -- part survey, part anthology of essays, part collection of essays by Giles -- which tries to take on the deeper issues involved with breastfeeding which mostly don't come up in the usual books on breastfeeding

I'll digress myself and say that as someone who had breast fed for over two years of my life, I have read my share of breastfeeding tracts. They are usually part how-to, part pep talk. They have their uses. Back when Peter was first born and I was having problems breastfeeding him, the solution to my problem was not in any of them. Nor did the hospital's lactation consultants solve the problem for me. (Instead, they rented me a breast pump, which bought me the three weeks I needed to figure out how to solve it.) I found the solution in an older, more scientifically oriented book on infants which contained a longer list of infant reflexes than any of the current books. As it turned out, if I was very careful not to let the breast touch the skin between Peter's upper lip and his nose, he could latch on just fine. He nursed until thirteen months, when he seemed to lose interest. In retrospect, I perhaps should have pressed the point, since he had wall-to-wall ear infections until he was two, and also several bouts of pneumonia. He could have benefitted from the support of my immune system, I think.

Elizabeth is now thirteen months old. She seems to be going through a growth spurt and so nurses very frequently, day and night. She shows no signs of giving it up, which is fine. Nonetheless, how to proceed when she starts to lose interest is a subject I've been thinking about.

The two subjects most important to me in the Giles book are (1) the actual nature of breast milk and what it really is and does and (2) the child's view of breastmilk.

My body is producing a unique and miraculous substance. Should I leave the decision of when and whether to stop producing it up to an infant? And if I take charge of this myself, what does this entail? And what are the costs and benefits to me of being the family cow?

Taking the child's point of view is a shock to me because it's so obvious. When babies are born, their behavior seems half-instinct, half-reflex. And it is in the newborn phase, when everything within six feet of me seemed to get coated with breastmilk, that I'd formed my ideas on this: it's not very palatable to an adult, but babies are programmed to want it. But when one-year-old Elizabeth approaches the breast saying "Yum yum yum yum yum," and smacking her lips, this is not reflex and instinct. She means it. She's a walking talking sentient little girl who thinks breastmilk is delicious. Breastfeeding is so seamlessly integrated into my life that I had ignored this.

Brain-Building Nutrition has extensive discussions of brain nutrition and breastfeeding. In significant respects Elizabeth is what I eat. My diet has not been high is trans-fatty acids to begin with, but having read this book, I've resolved to try to get off them as completely as our food supply allows. Trans-fatty acids cause the body to produce a compound which replaces essential DHA in the brain, changing nerve conduction. It is more concentrated in the breast milk than in the maternal diet. (There is, by the way, a really good piece on dietary fats and the human brain on the Franklin Institute's web site.)

Also, thinking about nutrition, breastfeeding, brain nutrition, and brain development connects you immediately to larger issues: How, exactly, did all that mercury get into the ocean and into the very fish that are richest in Omega 3 fatty acids? The next book I want to read is Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood by Sandra Steingraber. There's a very intriguing interview with her I found on the web this morning. She says that coal-fired power plants are a main source of mercury in the world's fish supply. I've ordered a copy of her book.


Here are some Google searches that led people to my weblog. In some, you can tell what problem the searcher seeks to solve. Some show what people out there are thinking about. Others are just downright strange:

Whatever's Happened to Baby Jane?

I've added a link to the weblog of my friend Diane Greco, whom I worked with at Eastgate. Mark Bernstein, who turned up at Readercon, told me about it. Diane, who had a baby named Jane in March, seems to be having a mothering experience very different than mine. From the sound of it, she has a fussy baby.

Baby makes scientists out of her parents. Daddy and Motherbody become skilled at making and testing hypotheses. Observe: Baby is crying. Hypothesize: Is she hot? Motherbody removes a blanket. Baby still cries. Try again: Maybe she's cold? Daddy folds blanket in half and tucks it around Baby, who kicks it off, crying all the while. Is she hungry? Wet? Bored? The tests go on and on. Eventually, the crying stops. A possible cause has been discovered; now the result must be re-tested (the scientists say "challenged," but they have never quieted a roaring baby and therefore do not know what challenge is). But Baby is changing all the time -- what stopped a fuss today might not work again tomorrow, or next week. Hypotheses proliferate until the parents despair, and then the hypotheses become untestable, absurd. Is she hungry? Tired? Wet? Bored? "Maybe a monkey flew out of her butt," says the Motherbody finally, giving up.

I woud offer advice, but it sounds like she's already had it up to here with well-meant parenting advice.

I'm weaning Jane. I've had enough of the lactivist bullshit, and I'm tired of wondering, every time she peeps, if I ate or drank something that passed through the milk and upset her. More to the point, I'm tired of having other people wonder for me. Out loud. In my presence.

Sounds like what she needs is comfort rather than advice. Feel better, Diane.

Elizabeth's a happy cooperative baby. Most of her serious fussing happens when she's bored. After a difficult first month with Peter, breastfeeding has always worked well for me. I wish it worked this well for everyone.

Sharp Little Teeth

Now that Elizabeth has two sharp little teeth in her lower jaw, biting while breastfeeding becomes an issue. She's not really biting, so much as seeking counterpressure on sore gums. I'm glad she waited this long to get teeth. As I recall, Peter got teeth about two months earlier.  Looking this up on the web, I am assured by an expert that

I can honestly say that in nearly 25 years of working with nursing moms, I have never known of a single case of a baby actually biting a nipple off completely. Now, don't you feel better about the whole thing?

Note that she offers no reassurance about whether your baby will draw blood. Are biting breatfeeders the true origin of the vampire legend? [David comments that I must not have read Theodore Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood, which he says is all about breastfeeding.]

Actually, I'm pretty relaxed about being bitten, since I've been through this before. It seems really ominous with the first child. I remember being worried about it and getting bitten occasionally. But babies like nursing a lot more than biting. I remember this as being a transient problem rather than a persistent problem with Peter. I nursed him until he was 13 months old.

Theoretically, we're heading down to Baltimore this afternoon. But there are many details to be ironed out between now and then. We need to confirm with Geoff that he's taking care of our menagerie. I need to put the praying mantis egg cases on the screened porch so that we don't come home to a house full of hungry baby mantids. Peter has a doctor's appointment this morning, and there is also the small matter of packing.

I don't expect that I'll be able to make entries in this weblog while we're gone.  Hotels have really been jacking up the phone rates lately, so in general I don't try to dial into the internet from a hotel room unless it's an emergency.

IN OTHER BABY NEWS: In an entry entitled bombshell Gabe Choinard announces:

Forgive me for being out of the loop for the past few days.

We're going to have another baby.

Swing by his site and congratulate him.

Continental Replies on Breastfeeding

Continental airlines responds to the letter I posted (see Breasts of Mass Destruction) on the issue of the breastfeeding Canadian mother threatened with terrorism charges for caring for her infant:

Dear Ms. Cramer:

Thank you for your comments.

While it is not Continental's policy to allow or prohibit breastfeeding or diaper changing on board the aircraft, when we are confronted with fellow passengers who are offended by such activity, we have an obligation to address this issue to prevent a disturbance in flight. Our inflight crews are trained to offer solutions that will meet the needs of all of our passengers and to make the best judgment they can at the time to resolve any issues before they escalate and cause a disturbance.  Ensuring the inflight safety of all of our passengers remains our highest priority.

Although it would be inappropriate to discuss specific details of another passenger's experience with us, I can assure you that the matter is being reviewed and addressed.

Thank you for your interest in Continental Airlines.

I wrote back:

A baby's need to eat trumps a passenger's feelings about breastfeeding. The flight attendent should have relocated the man in question. Most passengers have no problem with a woman nearby them breastfeeding.

In no case should the flight attendant have harrassed the woman by threatening her. The problem was the man, not the woman and her baby.

I decided not to hassle the customer service rep on the passage While it is not Continental's policy to allow or prohibit breastfeeding or diaper changing on board the aircraft. I could have asked whether it was Continental's policy to let their passengers eat, drink, urinate, and defecate; infants are, after all, passengers, not cargo. But I knew what she meant, so I left that one alone.

I probably should have addressed the issue of diaper changing: There is little consistency about changing tables in airplane restrooms, therefore, there are no consistent strategies for diapering that always work on an airplane. Even if there is a changing table in the restroom (which there often isn't, making restroom diaperchanging extremely difficult and downright dangerous), if the plane hits turbulence, or during meal and drink services, it it not always available when needed.

Militant Breasts, Anyone?

Breastfeeding Support and Advocacy  at the Militant Breastfeeding Cult -- Need Breastfeeding Help?  We have an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant on staff

I took their quiz, which reveals me to be a militant breastfeeder! I view this movement, of which I seem to be a part, as an upandcoming species of Feminism. (When I can show up with an infant in tow at an accademic conference and have few problems attending or presenting papers, I know our revolution will have succeeded. I did nurse Elizabeth while introducing David's paper at the ICFA. I've also been spotted nursing while signing copies of my new hard sf anthology.)

Another such in the SF/fantasy field is the wonderful new writer Naomi Kritzer. For some really amusing reviews of parenting and pregnancy books, see Naomi's Motherhood Site. (I hate What to Expect When You're Expecting!)

Breasts of Mass Destruction

Breast-feeding in a time of war

I would boycott Continental Airlines over this, except that in my experience they are better than Northwest about small children and infants:

What did the American male passenger think they were - weapons of mass distraction?

Apparently, yes.

Deborah Wolfe, a Canadian citizen who was just breast-feeding her son and changing his diaper while en route between Houston and Vancouver, says her "subversive" actions led to her being threatened with detainment, RCMP involvement and legal charges for terrorist action against a U.S. citizen in international airspace while on an American flight during a time of war.

I do like the idea that my milk-laden breasts are so formidible. (God, I hate the airlines!)

Via HogBlog.

Update: I wrote to Continental via Continental Airlines - Contact Customer Care

As someone who flew Continenal from Seattle to Newark on Monday with a small infant, I was really upset to read in the Montreal Gazette

that a breastfeeding mother was threatened with legal consequences by a Continental flight attendent for breastfeeding and changing her infant.

While I have been well-treated when flying Continental with small children, it upsets me to know that my experience might have been quite different had I had the flight attendent in question, since I was doing the same things as the breastfeeding mother.

Strike a blow for motherhood and family values. Fire the flight attendent.

Continue reading "Breasts of Mass Destruction" »