I’ve written about seven different posts about Mayor Bloomberg’s Latch On NYC initiative between yesterday morning and today, none of which said what I wanted to say.
Finally, At 2am, I fell into a fitful sleep, and had the craziest dream.
In the dream, I am a forty-two-year-old Manhattanite, in the waiting room of a fertility specialist who will hopefully assist me in becoming a mother, after a five-year struggle to conceive. As I wait in anticipation, a nurse comes into the room. She sits down and kindly – yet with an unmistakable, underlying, patronizing tone – asks me if I was sure about going down this path. She informs me that babies conceived through IVF have a higher risk of autism, a 40% higher likelihood of ADD, and a 42% higher risk of developing cancer later in life. She explains that nature really intended for women to have babies in their early twenties, and since I’d been too selfish busy to get around to it, it would probably be best for me to forget about it. Considering assisted reproduction is strongly correlated with preterm labor and multiple births, my “choice” is going to have public health repercussions. The choice was mine, but she wanted to make sure that I had really thought it through, and perhaps considered just getting a puppy instead.
“Oh!” she calls as she left the room. “I will see you next time – we’ll have this little chat each time you come in for your appointments.”
Then, my dream-world shifts. Now I am a single mother living in a poor neighborhood in New York City. I have to work, and my daughter has to stay with the only childcare provider I can afford – a woman whose idea of stimulation is setting my kid in front of Dora the Explorer. I hate it, but what can I do? I’m sitting in my living room when the doorbell rings. It’s Child Protective Services. They tell me that my child will be taken into custody because she watches far more television than the AAP likes, and plus, children of single mothers are far more likely to end up on drugs or with severe psychiatric disorders. They know it will be painful for me to give her up, but it really is for the best. She’ll be better off in a clean foster home with organic food and no screen time allowed. Maybe I should consider getting a puppy to fill the void.
Once again, the dream swirls around, and now I’m back to being me. I am sitting at a table with a friend and her kids, and she is feeding them hot dogs and cold cuts, with tall glasses of milk to wash it all down. I harshly inform her that plant-based diets have recently been proven to provide numerous health benefits, cutting down on both cancer risk and the chance of obesity. She looks uncomfortable and angry, but I press on – because I know she wants to be a good mom, and if she really loves them, she’d want to do what the studies say is best. After all, I feed my kids a vegetarian diet, and I don’t find it difficult. Look how beautiful and healthy my children are!
But she points out that her kids are beautiful and healthy, too. And while it may be true that plant-based diets are healthier, she doesn’t think it’s that cool that I allow my son to ride forward-facing, at nearly four years old. Don’t I know that recent studies have shown that extended rear facing cuts the risk of severe injury and even death due to car accidents?
And then my vegan son takes a bite of her son’s hot dog, and my friend throws a puppy at me, and I wake up in a cold sweat.
My feelings about the Latch On initiative, where women in maternity wards will be forced to beg for formula each time they want to feed their babies, and lectured on top of it, are quite clear. It’s explaining them that trips me up, because it’s so easy to stumble into tangents about flawed statistics and relative risk, and nanny states, and common sense, and all that nonsense that just gets tempers flaring and gets us nowhere. But you know, my feelings shouldn’t matter. Just like it shouldn’t matter if plant-based diets are better, or we should all get knocked up at 22 to protect the health of the nation, or we should take children out of loving homes simply because the conditions aren’t ideal. What matters is that we need to draw a line somewhere, between advocating for healthier choices, and becoming so overzealous that we set off internal alarms about human rights.
Don’t fool yourselves into thinking that this isn’t a feminist issue. It is, more so than ever. Back when our mothers were diapering our little butts, they were given hell because the studies showed that children with working mothers got the short end of the stick. When our grandmothers gave birth, they were knocked out for the whole experience because of a paternalistic view that our hysterical sensibilities couldn’t handle it. And we revolted.
Where’s the revolt here? Why is it being squashed down, ignored, accused of being in the pockets of the formula industry? Why is it being brushed off as a “mommy war”? Why is no one realizing that our anger has nothing to do with promoting breastfeeding – something the vast majority of us support – and everything to do with concrete, authentic fears about personal freedom?
I keep hoping that women’s rights organizations will rise up, speak up, and stop this insanity. But all I hear is silence.
It’s like a bad dream.