For the past two years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about breastfeeding. A lot of time. And while I (obviously) find the subject infinitely interesting, I’ve started missing my guiltiest of guilty pleasures: reading “chick-lit”.
Luckily for me, a book has come along that merges my professional interests with my penchant for witty, engaging stories with female protagonists. A book – wait for it – about the breastfeeding “wars”. One that pokes fun, equally, at La Leche League regulars and bloggers like me.
Milkshake, a new book by Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss, is a satirical take on the extreme sport of motherhood. We meet its heroine, Lauren, when she’s a day or two post-partum, still at the hospital, and taking the requisite “baby care” class (where the prominent message is that formula is comparable to crack).
….Lauren looked down at her own breasts…and thought about what breastfeeding was going to entail. She was dreading the moments when she had to provide love in a liquid form, but her fear was no match for the power of guilt. She had read the pamphlets listing the vast health benefits of breastmilk. She had watched her friend Mia shake her head and murmur, “That poor child,” when she saw mothers bottle-feeding on the banks of Jamaica Pond. She had seen the government-sponsored pro-breastfeeding ads: a dirty factory labeled “INFANT FORMULA INC.”; a baby crying in a metal bassinet; the tagline, “Breastmilk. For mommies who care.”
Lauren is committed to breastfeeding, and luckily doesn’t face any major roadblocks. But like any new mom, it takes time for her and her daughter Rory to get a rhythm going, and public breastfeeding proves challenging. When Lauren accidentally flashes a group of high school boys while attempting to nurse in the middle of the art museum, she finds herself the unwitting symbol of the breastfeeding-in-public debate; a pawn of a power-hungry politician, and the poster child for BOOB (Boston Organization for the Oversight of Breastfeeding).
On the other side of the ensuing media circus is Claire Langoon, who runs the blog “www.hurtslikeabitch.com.” I’m not sure if Weiss was at all aware of this blog when she wrote the book, but I definitely related to Claire as a far hipper version of myself, with a different slant to her message – she sounds more like a younger, American version of Elizabeth Badinter – but the same bottom-line intent: to bring moderation to the discussion. Claire argues that switching from breast to formula allowed her to feel truly free; that the pressure to breastfeed is just another way to bring women down.
Lauren is struggling with the transition to motherhood, and isn’t quite sure where she fits in. Although she’s being paraded around town as a breastfeeding role model, she finds herself questioning the more extremist views of those surrounding her. When her best frenemy Mia, a Type-A sanctimommy, aggressively confronts a woman buying formula in the grocery store, Lauren balks. She asks Mia how she could do such a thing:
“All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing,” Mia replied.
“That woman isn’t evil,” Lauren said. “Maybe she has a problem with her breasts, or—I don’t know. What does it matter to you?”
“It matters because it’s a slippery slope,” Mia said. “You really need to talk to Sheila about this. One of the things we have to do is stigmatize formula, so that it becomes socially unacceptable. So people are ashamed. Smoking used to look cool, you know, but now it just makes you look like a skank.”
“Smoking actually kills you,” Lauren said.
“That just gave me an idea,” Mia said, suddenly sounding less agitated. “They should put a warning label on this stuff. ‘Surgeon General’s Warning: This product makes you a bad mother.’”
One of the things I’ve noticed about the large-scale conversation about breastfeeding is that there is a shocking absence of humor, pathos, and humility on the part of most of those involved. It’s a shame, because we could probably get farther in discussions on the subject if we realized how ridiculous we all sound some of the time. Milkshake highlights some of the very real, very serious issues pertaining to the breast versus bottle debate, but in a way that feels more like a sitcom than a sociology class.
Weiss has chosen to e-publish her book, so right now it’s only available for download through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. For the sake of those of us without Kindles or Nooks (I know, I know, I’m a luddite… but I love the smell of a book. Sue me…), I hope some smart publisher will pick this up and make it a trade paperback. It’s far better than most of the mommy-centric chicklit out there, and while I worry that saying this will belittle the entertainment factor of the book, it is also an insightful take on the breast/bottle issue; one that urges moderation and understanding.
Read this book while you’re in the middle of nursing a cluster-feeding 6-week old; read it while you pump; read it while you formula feed. Just read it, because no matter how you’re feeding your baby, you’ll laugh at yourself. And god knows, we could all stand to do a little more of that.