That primitive thing!

In today’s world, Beckys can be more physically alluring than biological females; they can even be more loving, more motherly. But there is one thing that still separates the girls from the boys — mother’s milk. Biological females can produce milk, though at varied quantities, and almost always, breast-feed.

In recent years, breast-feeding has become a veritable science, meriting legislation and vigorous advocacies.  There are experts, women of course, who are hired by first-time mothers, way before lactation begins, to teach them proper techniques, correct postures and positions of breastfeeding.  There are quilted harnesses, pillows, cushions, shawls, and wraps specially designed to make breast-feeding a fulfilling, comfortable, and effortless experience for both mother and child. Every mall, airport, hotel, all public and civic centers have to have an adequate, pleasant breast-feeding room.

How I wish I had known all that. I could have breast-fed my two children for more than six months each.  There is also a more extensive support system which includes not only the fathers who are supposed to actively encourage breast-feeding, but also domestic helpers, caregivers, friends, and relatives. Advocates go around shopping malls to check that security guards, sales personnel, and the public in general do not make a lactating mother feel derided and embarrassed.  Everyone is enjoined to create conditions conducive to breast-feeding. Though there were no “experts” in my time, there was a pool of primeval knowledge floating about. Once, Doña Aurora Recto saw me breast-feeding Fatimah while sitting comfortably on a winged couch. She told me the best position was to  lie down, recline on my side so my breasts won’t sag. Doña Aurora was a fabled, iconic beauty, mythified by Amorsolo and other national artists. I was grateful for the motherly advice and followed it religiously.

The first time my youngest half-brother, Luijo, saw me breast-feeding Fatimah, he ran out of the room screaming, “Mommy, Mommy, she’s doing that primitive thing!” He was barely eight then and had never seen a baby suckling at her mother’s breast. I was puzzled at why he used the adjective “primitive” until I remembered how I used to read him pages of “Life Magazine’s” world history, a glossy, oversized tome with pseudo-scientific illustrations.

Luijo seemed fascinated with the Stone Age; he never tired of gazing at those disheveled cave-dwellers swathed in animal fur, killing wild beasts with crude spears and scraping animal bones with stone tools. There was a Neanderthal family scene where a mother was breastfeeding her baby.  Luijo gasped with horror every time he saw it and when I finally revealed that our own mother had nurtured each one of us in exactly the same manner, it was just too mind-boggling for him to believe. What a trauma that must have been. No wonder, he screamed when he saw me feeding Fatimah.  Today, Luijo has three children of his own; I must ask him if he has changed his mind about breast-feeding.

Round about the year Fatimah was born, milk companies embarked on a rather aggressive worldwide campaign about the benefits of manufactured infant milk called formula, which made it sound so scientific and antiseptic.  Tinned milk was marketed as clean, infection-free because it was untouched by humans. Many women believed them, unfortunately, and breast-feeding went out of style, especially for the very vain mothers.  There were also allusions to 19th century diseases, which were transmitted through mother’s milk.

All that has changed; I am happy that my grandchildren’s parents are great believers in that “primitive thing!”