I was recently in Las Vegas and took the Zappos.com tour. When their bus came to our hotel to pick us up, I was both surprised and pleased to see that it had seatbelts (and yes I put one on)! I can’t remember ever riding on a bus with seatbelts and in fact, I always wondered why they didn’t have them especially when you hear of the busloads of school children seriously injured or killed after being involved in an accident.
This got me thinking about an oft-discussed, “remember when” conversation amongst my sisters and I… “Remember when we were kids and Mom and Dad both smoked in the car WITH THE WINDOWS ROLLED ALL THE WAY UP? And remember how we used to tuck the seatbelts in behind the seat because no one wore them? And remember how mothers used to ride in the front passenger seat with babies on their laps? And remember when Dad used to go out for drinks with the guys after work and drive home drunk all the way from downtown Vancouver?”
IT ALL SEEMS SO WEIRD NOW. I feel quite uneasy if I ever ride in a motor vehicle without a seatbelt (e.g. in a taxi, bus or limo). Our babies are in 5-point harness, rear-facing car seats. My Mom NEVER smokes in the car – in fact, she doesn’t even smoke in her own house, or anyone else’s for that matter (even if the homeowners themselves do)! In fact, many US States and Canadian Provinces (BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia) have passed laws prohibiting smoking in your car if you have children with you. And who risks driving drunk anymore? Not I, and I’m sure, not you either.
It’s all what we’re used to – the cultural norm. These changes didn’t happen overnight. When the change first occurs, people resist because generally, people don’t like change. I remember HATING to have to wear a seatbelt when it became law. Today, when I get into the car, I couldn’t imagine even backing out of the driveway without a seatbelt. It feels weird NOT to have it on! So gradually things change and then everyone thinks back to “remember when” and how, in contrast, their past behaviours feel so odd and distant and CRAZY today!
And speaking of “what we’re used to”, what other mammals do you know that drink milk from another species? And what other mammals do you know that drink milk past infancy? The fact that we have been brainwashed by the Dairy Industry to think we should ingest cow’s milk as the “norm” is a perfect example of the blinders we wear in our culture. When you REALLY sit down and think about this, humans drinking cow’s milk is NOT NORMAL. Yet many of us do it without everquestioning it.
The same goes for the Formula Industry and their marketing campaigns that have brainwashed both health care professionals and consumers to really believe that artificial feeding is as good as breastmilk. I believe that formula should only be available by perscription and in a tin with a generic label – no brand names, pictures or promotional messages such that it is in Iran. But I digress. That is a whole other post.
Another example is fashion, albeit a bit less significant societally, but may resonate with some readers all the same. Do you remember when skinny leg jeans came into style? (yes I know I am dating myself). I remember thinking I would “never” wear them. Yuck! I loved my bell bottoms! But there we were a few months later enmasse.
So why then, when we hear of a woman cross-nursing a baby, something that was a cultural norm only a little more than 60 years ago, are we squeamish or worse, even mortified?
My sister sent me an article that she had ripped-out of the October 2009 issue of Canadian Family magazine entitled “Bunch of boobs”. It is a true story by Catherine Connors, citing a situation she found herself in – with painfully engorged breasts, sans a breast pump and an offer to nurse another woman’s hungry baby – an act that would solve both problems – settling the hungry baby and relieving her painful engorgement. The article also appears on her blog bearing the title, They Shoot Wet Nurses, Don’t They?
I think Angie Felton of ParentDish sums it up quite nicely in her article, Cross Nursing – Natural extension or disgusting and weird?, in which she writes, “When I was in the midst of my own nursing years (I nursed all four of my kids) nursing a friend’s baby wouldn’t have been more intimate to me than giving them a bottle, simply a means to END THE CRYING. However, I was in a completely different mindset where breasts were purely utilitarian baby feeding devices. I’m no longer at that point, and can understand people being grossed out at the thought of breastfeeding someone else’s child.”
But shouldn’t we all take a step back, adopt a similar mindset and realize that breasts ARE utilitarian baby feeding devices? I know it is hard to wade through all the sexual images we are inundated with in our culture to achieve clarity on this, however, this is the reason women have breasts and men don’t. Think about it. I also realize that this task may be more difficult for non-moms – I didn’t become a mom until I was 38 years old and thus had formed opinions (albeit misinformed ones) about many subjects around breastfeeding and motherhood. For example, my opinion about the length of a mother’s breastfeeding relationship with her child was summed up in a statement such as, “If they’re old enough to ask for it, then it is time to wean.” How naive was I? Today I am quite irritated by the term “extended breastfeeding” because it labels it as an “outside the norm” activity. How can we view breastfeeding a toddler as “weird” when the experts at the AAP, the AAFP, Health Canada and the WHO all recommend exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months of life and continuing to breastfeed for up to two years and beyond? I was wrong. I was misinformed. Educate yourself. It’s your responsibility to do so before voicing an opinion.
I too am finished breastfeeding my children, however, if I had milk today and found myself in a situation similar to Catherine’s, I’m certain I would partake. As far as how I would feel about it, I think it “could” feel a little weird, almost illicit (only because of the cultural perception) to breastfeed another mother’s child, however, I don’t think that feeling would last more than a few seconds before it changed into exhilaration, empowerment and inspiration! I believe I would actually feel quite proud – as though I was a trailblazer for all women!
With regards to HIV and other communicable diseases, the “knee-jerk” reason most commonly heard in opposition of this issue, I trust that the mothers of today are intelligent women and will use her common sense in choosing a wet nurse or a cross-nursing partner that she trusts. I simply don’t accept that as a valid reason not to cross-nurse. Mothers will protect their child in every aspect of parenting including this one. Case closed.
So the next time you witness or read something in the media that makes you feel uncomfortable or upset, perhaps take the time to do a little research. Find out the where’s and the why’s; if it has ever been the “norm” in the past, find out WHY it went “out of fashion” (for lack of a better word) and decide for yourself if that reason is something you agree with or if its the result of unfortunate shifts in our cultural thinking. Change isn’t ALWAYS for the better.
So would you nurse another woman’s baby? Tell me about it below.