I have a lot of faith in the future of breastfeeding. Lactation professionals like Jennifer Davidson RN, BSN, IBCLC and Chantal Molnar RN, MA, IBCLC dedicate every cell in their bodies to breastfeeding advocacy.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with them about their feature length documentary The Milky Way Movie: Nursing a Galactic Revolution formerly known as Bottled Up!. It is scheduled for release in June 2013.
The nursing mother has disappeared from our cultural landscape; the sexual breast usurped the mothering breast. I’m sure you’ve noticed. The Milky Way Movie is an exposé about breastfeeding in America and intends to restore the Phenomenon of the Nursing Mother to our culture. [Retrieved from: http://www.bottledupthefilm.com/bottled-up-the-film/]
Even though the bottle has become the “most recognizable symbol of infancy,” there’s some good news: Eventually, thanks to projects like The Milky Way Movie, the tides will turn and nursing dyads will flood the streets once again. Ideally, an infant will consume artificial baby milk only when medically indicated.
The less than ideal news: breastfeeding is a crucial public health issue. We don’t have time for the eventual, the pending, the future. Changes within our maternal infant care model need to happen now.
Even so, there’s more good news: The Milky Way Movie is going to have monumental impact. It’s release date couldn’t come any sooner.
We cannot be what we cannot see
The Milky Way Movie has serious potential when it comes to normalizing breastfeeding in our culture through the power of images.
Davidson cites the film Miss Representation as inspiration for The Milky Way Movie’s imagery.
“You cannot be what you cannot see,” she quotes. “For us, the imagery is to show mothers and babies doing this amazing thing.”
The duo tells me about their experience filming a medical facility where very tiny, less than 1,000 gram babies, go skin to skin with their mothers, a method often referred to as Kangaroo Mother Care.
The facility accommodates families in big rooms equipped with incubators for each baby and even beds for dads. Babies live on their mothers’ chests almost always..
“She’s with that baby wrapped and skin to skin no matter how many tubes there are,” Davidson explains.
Most infants are discharged once they reach 1500 grams… that’s just over three pounds. Incredible!!
When I ask in amazement, Where is this place you speak of?!, the duo and I half-heartedly joke, Obviously not in America.
While rules vary, most low birth weight (LBW) babies aren’t discharged from hospitals in the U.S. until they reach about five pounds.
Please note, I am not bashing our extraordinary country. The problem is that what Davidson and Molnar filmed should be happening everywhere; it saves lives with minimal resources but for whatever reason(s), we aren’t advancing maternal infant health even when the solutions are quite simple.
“When you go to Europe, you see imagery… it’s up and around and honored,” Molnar says of breastfeeding iconography. “People can see it and it is a part of their culture.”
By photographing or painting an image, not only are you creating normal imagery, but you are putting it on a higher pedestal, Davidson says.
“We don’t have iconography that elevates us into that place of honor. It’s amazing what our culture has done to the nursing mother,” Davidson adds.
(By amazing, she means deplorable.)
In places like Norway and Sweden, around 90 percent of infants exclusively breastfeed in their first week of life.
A chance to get involved
The Madonna Mosaic serves to raise money for the film and to further Davidson and Molnar’s goal to glorify nursing mother imagery.
The Mosaic image will be used in the marketing campaign for The Milky Way Movie.
Here is how it works:
1. Contribute $20.00 to this fundraising campaign in support of the movement.
2. Send your nursing photograph to firstname.lastname@example.org (please limit the image file size to 2Mb).
3. Images will be collected and the mosaic will be created.
The film’s team offers these incentives:
1. You’ll receive a digital download of the final Madonna Mosaic poster image.
2. You’ll also receive a complimentary digital download of the film upon its release.
3. Your name will appear on our Mosaic Participants page (or you can choose to remain anonymous).
4. Sincere gratitude for supporting Bottled Up! and the movement.
Normal, not super-duper
The Milky Way Movie’s imagery is coupled with important adherence to language advice given by Diane Wiessinger in her article Watch Your Language.
“When you say ‘breastfeeding decreases,’ you are using formula as the norm,” Molnar explains. Instead, breastfeeding normalizes our risk for diseases like breast cancer.
“It is not this special, super-duper thing that is like a vitamin pill,” she continues.
Molnar’s realism is something to appreciate. I have conflicting thoughts about the glorification of breastmilk. On one hand, we need to realize that it really is an incredible, remedial, living substance but on the other, breastmilk’s veneration doesn’t make it normal. Instead, it makes breastfeeding seem unachievable when that’s simply not the case.
It’s increasingly important to use similar language around birthing practices. For instance, natural birth is normal birth. We should be focusing on the harm certain hospital practices do rather than defending midwifery and out of hospital births.
A call for action
As excited as I am about this film, in all honesty, I would prefer that it never needed making in the first place.
The reality: After years of working with mothers and babies at the unique and progressive practice of Dr. Jay Gordon, Davidson recognized a consistent need to provide her clients with essential tools to enable them to trust their bodies, trust their babies, and trust themselves. [Retrieved from: http://www.bottledupthefilm.com/bottled-up-the-team/]
“People that go there are part of a rather elite crowd,” Molnar says of Dr. Gordon’s practice. “Even that select group of people is getting the cultural message that our bodies aren’t good enough.”
Molnar calls her background odd in that she has worked both in the home birth setting and as a labor and delivery nurse.
“When you’ve seen the extent of the influence of the medical system and how women are viewed in our medical world, it’s not a very pretty picture,” Molnar says.
Molnar worked at Irvine Medical Center for over 20 years.
“Doctors are not taught to question, to analyze or to think critically,” she says. “They are taught to be better than the next guy.”
She calls it an ugly, ugly system.
“I’m finally out of it.”
Not unscathed though. Molnar says she feels a sort of PTSD from her work as an L&D nurse.
She is currently writing a book called Failure to Progress which contrasts her experience within a homebirthing model and the formal healthcare setting.
Even now, Davidson and Molnar face challenges as professionals within the lactation field. They both agree that being considered Nipple Nazis can be rather hindering to their intentions. But name calling won’t stop them from helping mothers to trust themselves and their babies, which is what they say is the most important piece of advice out of many.
“We are so excited to make a difference,” Davidson says. “We know that the more you look at the important role of the nursing mother, you realize that it influences every aspect of life.”