One of the wonderful benefits of being a part of the Mothering Community is getting the chance to know the people behind the brands we love. Behind the products are people with inspiring stories, insights, and ideals that speak to our own. I recently read an impressive blog post by Motherwear that reminded me that there is passion behind child & parenting brands. Motherwear has been a breastfeeding advocate for over 28 years. They design nursing clothing and bras to give moms the confidence to nurse anywhere, anytime. While it is easy for some businesses to get lost in the day-to-day, Motherwear rises above, remains true to their advocacy and constant in their purpose. It is clear in their blog that supporting breastfeeding mothers is more than a business for them. They are actively analyzing cultural trends toward breastfeeding, pushing for a greater acceptance, and educating moms each day.
I contacted Motherwear to obtain permission to share their recent blog post. With their blessing, below is an excerpt from their blog.
It still feels like back to school season around here, and that feels like an appropriate time to share reviews of two new books: Giving Breastmilk: Body Ethics and Contemporary Breastfeeding Practice, and Viral Mothers: Breastfeeding in the Age of HIV/AIDS.
Both books are academic works on breastfeeding issues, and while they're decidedly not beach reading, they would be of interest to many of you with a deep interest in the topic.
Giving Breastmilk, edited by Rhonda Shaw and Alison Bartlett, is a compliation of essays on the topic of the exchange of breastmilk in various forms. The collection is rooted in a women's studies/feminist theory perspective, and the contributions represent an academic look at the ethics and politics of breastmilk exchange. The editors are from New Zealand and Australia, but the authors come from a number of countries, including the U.S.
The authors note that past works on the topic of breastfeeding generally fell into two categories: historical studies and cultural analyses. The authors write that these works form the foundation upon which new scholarship is being built. This book presents that new scholarship, "emerging work that is paving new intellectual ground."
The book follows a sequence from the making of milk, to the sharing of milk, to "milk politics" and "milk theory." Though phrases like 'political economy' and 'embodied experience' gave me some unpleasant college-flashbacks, at the core these essays are accessible to anyone with a strong interest in the topic. I particularly enjoyed one chapter on the differences between milk sharing in Ireland and among the Berti people of Darfur, Sudan. In the latter case, I learned how cross-nursing can make two babies 'milk brothers,' a status recognized for the rest of their lives and one which had significant impacts, influencing even whom they were able to marry.
There is an essay on the founding of my local milk bank, the Mothers' Milk Bank of New England, a chapter on 'patriarchial envy' of the breastfeeding relationship, and one on breastfeeding from the toddler's point of view. It's worth noting that this book was published before the recent increase in online mother-to-mother milksharing, so this is not a subject of the book.
Viral Mothers, by Bernice Hausman, is written by one of the foremost scholars in the area of feminism and breastfeeding. I heard her speak at an ILCA conference a few years ago, and was very impressed by the depth of her scholarship on these issues.
Viral Mothers is "an exploration of anxieties about breastfeeding and contamination." Hausman is particularly focused on concerns about mothers' bodies as emblematic of modern obsessions with contagion and contamination. This book is an analysis of representations, rooted in public debates, media characterizations, public health controversies, but one which occurs a level up from the debates themselves.
Hausman begins by introducing the concept of the 'viral mother," a mother who is contaminated by diease and other impurities. This image "simultaneously represents modern fears of contaminating mothers and modern desires for mothers to be lifted out of the dirty circumstances of material life." She contrasts the images of breastmilk as medicine and breastmilk as virus. She then discusses concepts of risk and purity, using as examples media coverage of West Nile Virus and breastfeeding, and the failed national breastfeeding awareness campaign of the mid 2000's, the first attempt to characterize breastfeeding in terms of risk rather than benefit, and environmental pollutants. The rest of the book is devoted to HIV/AIDs in a global public health context, giving particular attention to denialist rhetoric and informed choice.
To me, the most compelling sections of this book are those in which Hausman momentarily steps out of her discussion of ideology and expresses a personal opinion, as in this statement:
The most culturally influential discourses concerning breastfeeding are either completely medicalized or emerge from a kind of New Age/total motherhood amalgam that essentializes and idealizes maternity overall and breastfeeding in particular. Neither of these, it seems to me, gets at why breastfeeding should be a concern for feminists, who should be able to step outside of the cultural conflicts over women's bodies that are enacted in breastfeeding controversies instead of participating in them.
Viral Mothers is a dense and challenging read, but one which will be of interest to you with an academic or hard core lay interest in the topic.
* I was provided with review copies of each of these books.
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