walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Mothers & Medicine_, Rima D. Apple

Subtitled: A Social History of Infant Feeding 1890-1950

Published in 1987, Apple was a student of Judith Walzer Leavitt (author of _Brought to Bed_, which I was about to say I _hadn't_ read, but I then got to thinking, you know, I think I have; and indeed, I have). Her thesis in this work reflects Walzer Leavitt's thinking: sure, the last century or so of the way pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding have been managed culturally looks like one long drawn out rape of women and children by "scientific" medicine represented overwhelmingly by men (but one cannot discount the influence of women, as nurses and occasionally as doctors and researchers). But mothers who chose to have male doctors attend their births, and then go to hospitals so as to have access to pain relief, made a lot of conscious choices and engaged in activism to have those choices. It's unfortunate that those choices then became kinda mandatory, but don't just blame the men. Apple is basically more of the same, only this time it's about artificial feeding.

When I read _Brought to Bed_ (it's coming back slowly), I had mixed feelings: I both respected and resented the thesis. Reading _Mothers & Medicine_, it's a whole lot clearer to me _why_ I resent the thesis. Walzer Leavitt and Apple are basically trying to find some kind of empowerment in a really bad chunk of history. There's not much there to find, and they are fully prepared to emphasize murky moments if it looks like the support for their thesis (theses) isn't there.

But the reality is pretty straightforward. In much the same way that hospitals spread unusual infections (Ebola, MRSA) because they cannot be bothered to notice that their insistence upon rational routine is actually causing more problems than it is solving, hospitals spread bad management of childbirth (episiotomies, induction of labor) and artificial feeding (by scheduling feedings at long intervals, encouraging new mothers to sleep through the night, keeping women and babies in the hospital for a week or more after an uncomplicated birth, doing crazy shit like putting acid cleaners on nipples and making women wear a mask when breastfeeding).

I'm prepared to read a detailed analysis of _how_ the hospital spread the problem, whether it's a hemorrhagic virus or formula. I am _not_ interested in hearing someone try to convince me that the victims of the problem bear any particular responsibility for it. Even if those victims came to the hospital asking for the treatment that hurt them. The problem is the enforced regimen -- NOT the details of the regimen. In much the same way that the problem with organized religion is the organization part, not the religion part.

It's a lot more worth while to spend your time reading Golden's book on wet nurses, or Gathorne-Hardy's history of the nanny, or _Milk, Money and Madness_ or any of a number of other excellent books that dissect changes in child rearing with a particular view to infant feeding practices over the last century or so. This is assuming, of course, that you find any pleasure in reading unbelievably academic books in this topic area, which is probably assuming a lot.
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