I was reading Parents at the gym today, and there's a cute little story by a woman (Nicole Caccavo Kear) who went on vacay with her hubs while she was breastfeeding her baby and came home with 50 ounces of frozen breastmilk. She talked about lugging her pump through security, pumping in the airplane bathroom, and going to great lengths to make sure she could store her milk at the proper temperature throughout her vacation.
Then she said something that raised my hackles. She said as an aside on p.84 "Now I'm not a lactivist or anything (my daughter is well acquainted with the taste of formula), but..."
What's so bad about being a lactivist? Isn't raising the consciousness of fellow passengers badgering her to hurry up in the bathroom a kind of lactivism? Isn't going to such lengths to preserve her milk supply and to integrate nursing into her life while carving out some adult time lactivism? Isn't a commitment to breastfeeding even when it's not convenient lactivism? And if not, can we redefine the term?
And please, I am no stranger to Internet message boards. I understand the vernacular politics of infant feeding, and I am reacting against them.
I'd like "lactivist" to have a positive connotation, and I'd love it if breastfeeding moms would embrace the label and do things like Kear did to make the world easier for moms who want to feed their kids.
Why is this kind of social activism undesirable? And, no, I don't blame the internet crazies who give breastfeeders a bad name. I am always reluctant to blame individual women for social trends (and I think Kear's article is very nice-- she's not the bad guy here at all-- not sure there is a bad guy apart from a culture that supports breastfeeding sort of, in name, if it's governed by creepy Victorian ideas of discretion and keeps the "right" women at home with their kids)
This shrugging off of the lactivist label just reminded me too much of people who say "I'm not a feminist, but" and then go on to fill the "but" with a nicely articulated feminist argument.
I am especially sad that there exists a pressure to discount our commitment to breastfeeding by "admitting" to being a formula feeder. Why does it have to be an all or nothing proposition-- especially in a culture that only grudgingly pretends to support breastfeeding?
Kear's story of pumping under mild adversity is a kind of lactivism-- and the kind of social activism any mom-- or dad, or, um, anyone, really -- could support. Consciousness raising is an important step in any social movement, I think (because, really, I loved the second wavers the best).
Ultimately, the kind of reforms lactivism could make-- better maternity leave, better places for women to pump at work, relaxed social standards about breastfeeding in public, better onsite daycare centers that would let working moms feed their babies, a social re-imagining of the ideal worker as someone intimately connected to the family, someone with a body, someone whose corporeality would also be part of our public consciousness-- would make the world better for everyone, not just moms, dads, and babies, not just breastfeeders, either.
Edited to Add: If all of these reforms happened, I'm not saying that only breastfeeding moms could take timeout of the day to see their kids. Dads could, too, and bottle feeders. The world of work, the public sphere, it would take into account our "private" interest, is all I'm saying.