Speaking of letters about breast-feeding, Tish Durkin's recent column in the New York Observer has spawned a huge litter. In her article "Breast Is Best? This Bad Mom Trusts the Bottle," mom-to-be Durkin defends her decision to take to the bottle, all the while admitting that her motivations leave her on shaky ground. "Not that I have any remotely valid reasons for [bottle feeding]," she writes. "I have no basis on which to refute the consistent, insistent collective medical wisdom, propagated for years now by august bodies from the American Academy of Pediatrics on down, that 'breast is best.' Nor do I have any moral or social objection to breast-feeding on the grounds that it is somehow dirty or unseemly. On the contrary, I fully accept that if I were a good person, I would do it. In fact, my 'reasons,' such as they are, are the least valid imaginable for anyone who would fancy herself a mother: They're all about me." Basically, Durkin wants a little bit of her body back: no worrying about passing her snack (or drink) choices along to the kid, no "painful-engorgement/awkward-sucking phase," no "paying at the pump" before she goes out.
"Don't tell me, I know," she writes. "I ought to be ashamed, both for having these feelings and for expressing them."
Oh, but they told her. Of the letters written in response - go read 'em; they're pretty interesting -- quite a few throw out the baby with the bottle. As in: "You claim to be very selfish about doing the things you want to do and that you don't wish to be bothered with all of the things that parenthood involves -- why do you want children?" One suggests she'd be happier with a parakeet.
Others say hurray: "You will make a fantastic parent because you know your mind and you know what will help to keep you 'you' when your child arrives. I think that's tremendously important -- and in this climate of undying self-sacrifice, no one tells you that."
But those are just the ones they printed. "The nutcases," Durkin writes in her response, "have got to be stopped."
"Consider, for instance, the main feature of my hate mail: purple rage at the apocalyptic horrors one inflicts upon one's child by not breast-feeding, followed by the contention that every mother ought at least to give nursing a try; she can always drop it if it's not for her. In other words: By not breast-feeding, I am gravely endangering my child ... but it's no big deal if I quit?" she writes.
Durkin continues: "They need to be stopped from their reflexive, collective, selective misogyny, which is particularly fetid in a group who seem to fancy themselves feminists. Many women, in making an argument for breast-feeding, cite their own pleasure, a quick return to the pre-pregnancy figure, the convenience of life without lugging and heating bottles, and the financial advantage of not having to buy formula. Great. But why do these women still get to be seen as wonderful, giving mothers, while women who cite similarly self-interested, practical factors as arguments for the bottle are deemed selfish bitches from hell?"
"No question," she concludes, "to be a mother is to give deeply of the self. It is not to give up the self. Even -- no, especially -- with an infant, I believe in knowing the difference. And breast or bottle, that is best for the baby."