I decided two things very early on.
#1. My boys will be self reliant.
I refuse to foist helpless men upon the world who expect their wives to do everything but wipe their ass. They will not have warped ideals about gender roles and they will view their wives as their partner, not their parent.
Which brings us to the real focus of this particular post:
#2. My boys will be knowledgeable about a woman's body.
Now, I don't intend to be pointing out erogenous zones or giving lessons in foreplay. But I have explained about menstruation. They understand conception and they've seen pictures of childbirth.
And breasts? They are functional, dammit.
Now, I fully understand that men like to look at breasts just for the sake of looking at breats. Breasts are quite attractive. I can't deny that I appreciate a nice perky pair myself. On the whole, I find the female form quite beautiful.
And that's okay.
I want my boys to appreciate the beauty of the human body. I don't want them to feel ashamed for wanting to look. Because shame begets shame and that's where we, as a society, run into trouble.
If breasts were as visible and commonplace as ankles or elbows, women wouldn't be asked to leave public places for breastfeeding their infants.
I don't want to give you the wrong idea. I don't go about the house ponitificating about vulvas and vaginas and the like. But when a teachable moment arises, you can be damn certain I grab it by the balls.
So the other night, Pubescent One was lying in bed with me as he does on occasion. We weren't discussing anything profound, just chatting about mundane things.
My big fat orange tomcat was curled up between us, snoozing. His head was in my armpit, his rump snuggled against Pubescent One's decidedly unsnuggly ribs. Pubescent One began to scratch the cat's back absently, and inadvertantly hit "the spot". He makes terribly funny faces when his spot is activated, so Pubescent One continued, until the cat was agitated.
"Stop it! He's going to bit me in the boob if you don't quit!" I said.
"So?" He replied. "They're just...sacks of skin anyway."
I looked at him agog.
"SACKS. Of SKIN?"
He had the decency to look somewhat abashed.
"I'll have you know that breasts are a major miracle of biological engineering."
"I'm serious son. These babies are amazing. They are not sacks of skin. They are a highly funtional and adaptable organ."
"What? I don't get it. They don't do anything. They just hang there."
We got out some of the texts that I used when I was a doula to educate my clients about breastfeeding. I showed him a diagram that illustrated the internal structures of the breast. I explained that it's a very sophisticated delivery system that provides a baby with the very best possible nutrition.
He was mildy impressed and grudgingly intrigued.
"Why not just give 'em a bottle?" he asked.
"Dude...if you could have steak, would you want hamburger?"
"Because steak is better! There's no comparison."
"There's no comparison between breastmilk and formula either. Did you know that breastmilk contains at least a HUNDRED ingredients that can't be duplicated? And breastmilk changes to meet the needs of a baby. It can be different every day. If a baby is sick, or going through a growth spurt, the make-up is different to meet those needs. More fats, more proteins, whatever. Formula can't do that. Plus, it tastes like pretty bad."
He was hung up on the hundred ingredient thing.
"100 ingredients? What for?"
"Well that's the thing. We don't really know what they all do. But they serve a purpose. Take DHA. Long after you were weaned, manufactures began adding DHA to formula, because it was found that it was an essential component of breastmilk. But synthetic DHA is nothing like what occurs naturally in breastmilk. It's derived from fungus, dude. And it made babies sick. So you see...even if we did manage to identify all those compounds and discover their purpose, there's no way we could duplicate them. You just can't improve upon perfection."
He was quiet for a moment, thinking.
"I even used to put breastmilk on your diaper rash! And it worked better than anything that came out of a tube. Why? Who knows. That's how awesome it is."
"That's pretty cool. I didn't know all that stuff."
"Still think they're just useless sacks of skin?"
"No way. And I'm glad I didn't have to drink fungus formula."
I laughed. "Me too."
Then we talked about how my sister would likely be breastfeeding her new baby when we visit in December, and how he shouldn't let it embarass him. It's natural and beautiful and it's okay to look.
"Good. 'Cause I don't think I could not look."
"That's fine. Just don't stare or snicker or smirk or anything. That would make Aunt A self-conscious and maybe feel like she shouldn't breastfeed around you anymore."
"Would she give the baby a bottle instead?"
"No. She would just leave the room to nurse."
"I promise I won't be an immature jerk Mom. I don't want to make Aunt A feel bad."
And so...maybe he won't retain what I said about all the mechanics of breastfeeding, or the amazing properties of breastmilk. But maybe someday, when he and his wife are expecting a baby, he'll remember some of what I said. Maybe...he'll tell his wife, and encourage her to give it a try.
And maybe, when they're out in public and someone snickers or makes a rude comment, he'll stand up and tell them what ignorant cretins they are and that his wife has a right to feed their baby when it's hungry.
I don't have a daughter, so that's all I can do. But maybe it will be enough.
And maybe, someday, nursing mothers won't be looked at as if they are masturbating in public when they nurse their babies.
To my formula feeding readers, I honestly mean no offense. I can't pretend that I think formula is "okay" or "just as good", but you won't see me in a sandwich board proclaiming that formula feeders are child abusers. It's hard to breastfeed in our culture. It really is. When breasts are so pervasively and overtly labelled as sexual objects, who can blame a woman for not wanting to open herself up to the kind of criticism that comes with baring that part of her body in public?
And I do understand that there are circumstances that preclude breastfeeding. They are rare, far more rare than formula companies would have you believe, but they do occur.