Friday, February 25, 2011

I Scream, You Scream?

Breastfeeding has been in the news a lot recently. It's an issue that never gets resolved. The plot goes like this--mother breastfeeds in public, someone is outraged and complains, then mother is outraged that someone complained while she was participating in a life giving function involving her child and protests creating a media frenzy and a whole lot of public debate.

Now in a strange instance of intermingling controversial issues the breastfeeding/breast milk issue has been combined with the organic/healthy food initiative in a totally unexpected way--breast milk ice cream. The following article presents an ice cream shop that is selling vanilla ice cream made from donated breast milk:\02\26\story_26-2-2011_pg9_6

It doesn't mention whether the milk was screened for health reasons prior to being churned and that disturbs me a bit, but the concept itself is fascinating once you get over the initial "YUCK" factor.

I've said myself on numerous occasions that it's strange for humans to drink cow milk. Cow milk is for baby cows and our bodies are not really built to digest it. I was joking with M. once that I should start a company that sells human milk. That way women could be paid to donate breast milk and the product would be automatically organic and would not involve the exploitation of animals. It would also provide some cash flow for mothers who desperately need it. Though I don't expect to actually start such a company it seems that the idea wasn't as off the wall as I thought. Though my instinct is to be weirded out by breast milk ice cream, on a logical level it's not so strange. Many of us consumed breast milk in our infancy with great enthusiasm so why is it so strange to think about consuming it as adults? I began to investigate my own reaction to the thought of eating breast milk ice cream and decided that there are some interesting issues at play.

The primary argument seems to be that breast milk is for infants (I'll define this as babies under one year of age). As soon as children hit toddlerhood, develop the ability to walk and talk, and grow some teeth people start to think that it's creepy for them to be breastfeeding. But if we take a second to evaluate this cultural taboo it quickly becomes clear that aversions to breast milk are predominantly social. There's no rational argument against supplementing a two year old's diet with breast milk--a food that can continue to supply excellent nutrition for growing children--so I must conclude that the taboo stems from a societal view that breasts are predominantly sexual in function and once a child develops verbal ability and mobility somehow they are participating in a sexual situation if they are partaking of breast milk. Infants, with less awareness, are seen as innocent enough to be exempt from sexuality in general so there isn't a problem with breastfeeding. This is my theory at least.

Combine the sexualized nature of breasts with a general human aversion to bodily secretions and you can see why people are freaked out by breast milk ice cream. And yet, we're perfectly willing and actually thrilled to eat cow's milk ice cream. And let's face it people, cow's milk is a bodily secretion, and it comes from the udders of cows, and those udders are meant to feed baby cows just like human breasts are meant to feed human babies. But we don't sexualize cows (well okay, maybe there are some rare cases...) but in general cows are not seen as sexual objects, they're seen as sources of food (including meat and milk). And this perception of the cow as a source of food means that we lick up our ice cream cones with gusto and great joy when the heat of summer hits.

So it all comes down to social perception--

Cow = food therefore cow milk ice cream is delicious and socially acceptable
Human breasts = sexual objects there for the pleasure of womens' sexual partners therefore eating anything that comes out of them should be kept to a minimum. We're willing to (sort of) turn a blind eye for the first year of a baby's life, but after that the freaking out starts.

If we could accept that cow milk and human milk are pretty much the same thing in terms of food substances and if we could accept that in fact the primary function of breasts is to create food for other humans then maybe breast milk ice cream wouldn't seem strange at all. If you're willing to drink fluid from the breasts of a cow, an animal that  has likely been in less than pretty living circumstances as opposed to say your typical middle class woman who can turn around regularly and doesn't stand ankle deep in her own waste, then I don't see how you can fundamentally be averse to drinking the fluid from a human breast. I'm really interested to hear people's thoughts on this though so feel free to weigh in on the debate!

Friday, February 18, 2011

On Birds and Orchids

I have two new articles up at Life as a Human:

Chickadee Speaks: A story about our endangered silence


The Orchid's Gift: A Valentine's Tale about a flower that gave something back

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rush Home Road

Rush Home RoadRush Home Road by Lori Lansens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While many books have made me ache while confronting the sorrow and the beauty of the world, rarely do books make me cry openly and fully. This book did that. Lansens has written a heartbreaking story of loss and redemption with just enough love for the reader to grasp onto like a raft in turbulent water. The protagonist Addy Shadd draws you into her world and, as if you are a child like Sharla yourself, teaches you the value of forgiveness as well as "how to live simply and simply live."

Lansens infuses her book with vivid scents--pie crusts, strawberries warm in the summer sun, sweat, death, decay, and the algae green smell of Lake Erie. The world she fashions is so close you can almost taste it. She brings you to the brink of human cruelty only to pull back into love--love that is flawed, human, often tragic, but nonetheless love that heals.

I would recommend this to anyone who has ever wondered how to get home.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

When Hallmark is Silent

When a baby dies before it is born there are no words. I mean this in a literal way--there are very few resources for people who want to express their sympathy but aren’t sure how to go about it. Hallmark is completely silent on the issue. While there are cards for the deaths of all kinds of relatives and friends, while there are cards for the deaths of pets, there are no cards for the death of an unborn child. Generic sympathy cards focus on your memories of the one who is lost and the time you got to spend together, so they don’t fit the situation of miscarriage at all.

It’s hard to know what to say when encountering a situation that has no standard rituals. I’m glad to find, though, that there is a movement towards more open discussion and acknowledgment of miscarriage.

I have compiled a short list of good resources for those who have lost a baby and particularly for those who are supporting them:

1. There isn’t much poetry out there about miscarriage but Rachel Barenblat produced a small chapbook of 10 poems after she lost her baby. It gets at the heart of the grieving process and there is a link to a free PDF here:

2. This website sells cards specifically for miscarriage and I was impressed by the sensitivity of the messages that acknowledge that a woman who has miscarried is, indeed, a mother:

3. Strangely there are very few support groups available for those who have experienced pregnancy loss. The only active one that I could find anywhere near Vancouver is in New Westminster. The organization is called Empty Cradle and their website is here:

4. Men tend to get overlooked during a miscarriage. It’s easy to see that a woman is suffering but it’s sometimes less obvious that the father is in pain as well. The loss is just as much his but it’s easy to forget that. There are some books that address miscarriage from male perspectives that sound good though I haven’t actually read them:

Tim Nelson. A Guide for Fathers When a Baby Dies

Christine O’Keefe Lafser. Empty Cradle, A Full Heart--includes stories about miscarriage by mothers and fathers