Thursday, May 29, 2008

Interesting comments on breastfeeding, pumping and Milk banks from Rebecca Walker (Daughter of Alice Walker)

I am ashamed to say that I had no idea that Alice Walker had a daughter, let alone a grown daughter that is a writer. Ironically, I saw Alice Walker on TV the other day (yes I watch Book TV) and was struck again by how beautiful and interesting Alice Walker is. It also realized how I desperately need to learn to enjoy fiction again. All I read are breastfeeding textbooks and birth/breastfeeding/baby care books and articles. My brain needs a vacation!

So, Kimberly Traylor, the brilliant director of The Village in Texas, passed along this article by Rebecca Walker. She recently had a child and went on to breastfeed for 3 months before quitting due to work and antidepressants. You can read her full explanation and thoughts on pumping, her emotional response to weaning early and her revelations on the milk banks.

While I think it is great that 1) she breastfed at all, 2) she is even discussing breastfeeding and breastmilk and milk banks in the "black community" and 3) that women commenting on her site are speaking about breastfeeding positively, I can't help be a little saddened by her comments. I understand she has to work, has to eat, has to provide, but I just wished we could live in a "perfect world". A world with more support, guidance and acceptance of the postpartum feelings of anxiety, depression and disappointment that so many of us feel. I wish there was a better understanding of the "safer" mood medications so that mothers know how much is getting to their babies. I completely support her decision to limit her baby's exposure to any drug, but did she truly weigh it against the chemicals in formula and the drugs and chemicals often found in municipal water supplies, the water which would have been mixed with the formula to make her baby's food? Did she speak to a health professional (like an IBCLC) who could help her wade through all of those factors before removing the protective bubble of breastmilk for her baby? Probably not. We don't view formula as really that much different from breastmilk when it comes down to it.

As far as work as a reason for stopping, that is even more distressing. If a woman who is basically running her own schedule of speaking and writing can not able to pump...we live in a very sad society. I rent hospital grade breastpumps. I have had clients who are public speakers take pumps all over the country. They pump on planes, in cars, in closets, in offices, in dressing rooms. They send milk home to their babies, carry it on planes or tearfully dump it out in front of TSA officers who don't even understand their own regulations. There are mothers who make it work. Period. They are not willing to do less for their infant because of the demands of their jobs. Speakers, doctors, singers, saleswomen, teachers, nurses, etc. who make sacrifices because they are willing to step out on a limb and insist that their baby be taken into account as part of their "package". Again, I think had she had the support of a healthcare provider who worked with her to keep breastmilk as a part of her baby's life, perhaps things would have worked out differently.

I don't want to point fingers as part of the "mommy wars". She did the best with what she had. She now says she might have chosen the banked milk had she known then what she knows now. Maybe the answer is more IBCLCs, especially more African-American breastfeeding counselors, helpers and IBCLCs. She is a highly educated, probably affluent African-American woman though, surely she knew where and how to get assistance. Surely she read all the books. But for some reason, still found her options limited.

So on one hand I say, "Hooray!" We are talking about breastfeeding, milk banks and how important this all is. On the other hand, will moms look at Rebecca Walker and think if she could only do 3 months, with the resources she has, how could I possibly do more? Let's just hope this opens up conversation about breastfeeding, mothering, choices and more...just like any amount of breastmilk is good for a baby, any amount of discussion about these issues is great too. Right?


Blacktating said...

I love Rebecca Walker. We have a lot in common. We're both biracial and Jewish and I felt such a kinship with her after reading her autobiography about 8 years ago and I've kept track of her ever since, reading the anthologies she edits, as well as her book "Baby Love" about her experiences with pregnancy and childbirth. This blog post of hers was disappointing. She is usually an open book and she didn't really dissect why she stopped breastfeeding or why she didn't spend more time looking into alternatives to formula. She has agonized over which pre-school to send her son to in more than one blog post. I guess his food wasn't as important? I have to say, I'm a little bit sad. She's smarter than that.

Anonymous said...

this is a great post... great thoughts...

Raven O'Joy said...

I too wonder how i will manage providing breast milk to my daughter if/when i return to work. She was born premature so I pumped for two months but caused an over supply issue. BUT we do need more support as i find that in my family i am one of the only mothers to breast feed! This is insane!

Dr. D said...

Breastfeeding support is so needed!! As a 1st time mom, I had hoped to exclusively nurse my son, but it didn't happen that way. Due to preeclampsia labor was induced, and he was unable to latch on for 3 weeks. Maybe with more support pumping would have been more productive (I never got more than a 1/2 0z. per pumping session.) He still nurses at 6 months, but is mostly taking formula. I had never even heard of milk banks when I delivered. Breastfeeding can be difficult and when a mom has little support, I can understand why she might wean early. When it was the hardest I didn't think we'd make it to 6 weeks, much less 6 months!