Monday, May 14, 2012

D’Amato: Time magazine’s breastfeeding mom should have put son’s interests first’s a Mother’s Day question for you: How do you feel about eating ice cream made of human milk?

Leave it to the British to come up with an idea, which is both utterly wacky and also completely natural. For a brief period last year, a London shop sold “Baby Gaga,” an ice cream made with pasteurized human-milk. At $22 a serving, flavoured with vanilla and lemon zest, it was presented in a martini glass. And — you’ll be so glad to know this! — it was also described as “free-range.” Its glory days were short-lived, however. The authorities yanked it off the menu after concerns were raised that consumers might get hepatitis.

Most people who hear about this culinary experiment are grossed out by it. But why? Human milk is for humans, after all. Cow’s milk is for calves. The only reason we think it’s more healthy and appropriate to drink the fluid that comes from a cud-chewing animal with too many flies buzzing around it is that we humans have major cultural hang-ups about our own bodies.

We’ve had a troubled relationship with breastfeeding. Medical authorities widely recommend it because of the impressive protection it gives children from diseases such as diabetes, asthma and obesity. How long should a child breastfeed? “As long as it is mutually desired by the mother and child,” says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
But breasts have a dual purpose. They’re a highly erotic part of the body and also a highly functional food source. So they carry a mixed message. At different times in different cultures, breastfeeding has been frowned on as animalistic, even obscene. A suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, recently banned public breastfeeding of children over two.

Which leads us to that infamous Time magazine cover picture that everyone’s talking about this week. In it, a 26-year-old woman, slim and glamorous, stares calmly into the camera while her son, nearly four years old, stands on a tiny chair. He’s also facing the camera, with her nipple in his mouth. “Are You Mom Enough?” says the headline.
The mother, Jamie Lynn Grumet of Los Angeles, was breastfed until age six and believes in “extended breastfeeding” for her own children. She breastfeeds her five-year-old adopted son, too. She’s part of a movement called “attachment parenting,” which promotes physical and emotional bonding with children through extended breastfeeding, carrying the young child close to you, and children and parents sleeping together.

“People have to realize this is biologically normal,” Grumet said of extended breastfeeding. “It’s not socially normal. The more people see it, the more it’ll become normal in our culture.”

In one sense, Grumet is right. Look at how quickly gay marriage has moved from shocking to commonplace. Perhaps all we need is another 10 years surrounded by nursing three- and four-year-olds, and the idea of that ice cream won’t seem so strange.
But we haven’t evolved so quickly that kids don’t still get tormented for acting like “babies” in front of one another. And so, there’s also something profoundly disturbing, even narcissistic, about what Grumet is doing. Take another look at that picture. She’s not cuddling her child on her lap. She’s not looking at him. Worst of all, she’s not shielding his face from the camera, and therefore she’s not protecting him from the cruel schoolyard taunts that are surely in his future, after this.

Where are her boundaries? Why must he become an involuntary crusader for her cause? All those loving words about closeness don’t mean a thing if she’s not putting his interests first — and in my book, that doesn’t add up to “Mom Enough.” Not by a long shot.