Friday, August 24, 2012

Why my Mexican relatives hate me breastfeeding.

It used to be (and perhaps still is in certain parts of Mexico) that a breastfeeding woman was seen like any other woman. She had a baby, the baby like any other person, would get hungry, so the woman would pull out her breast to feed said baby and everyone went about their lives as usual. Today, at a typical middle class Mexican birthday party, somewhere after the giant stuffed walking animals danced and gave away cheap plastic “made in China” toys, and the princess piñata, I had to breastfeed my four month old baby.  My cousin started to squirm and look uncomfortable.  “He isn’t hungry!” he exclaimed as I put a blue blanket on my shoulder, to cover up my son’s little mid party snack.  I smiled and continued to position him so he could latch on.  My male cousins all stood up from the table with looks on their faces somewhere between disgust and distain and left me sitting alone at the table.  

In Mexico, like much of the industrialized world, breastfeeding took on a negative aspect. The norm became that the poor, uneducated women breastfed while affluent, educated mothers bought formula made in the United States. They mixed the powdered cow’s milk with “special” designer water and used plastic brand name bottles made in England.  Feeding offspring became a status symbol.  Much like the proliferation of c-sections for certain mid to upper middle class Mexican women who are too "posh to push" (or in my experience) too frightened by their ob/gyn to think they ACTUALLY could get a human being out through their birth canal without the need of a scalpel, breastfeeding is something that women from ranchos and shanty towns do.  

In 2012, breastfeeding seems to be making a comeback in Mexico, being promoted once again as the “best food for your baby”.  But society, at least middle class Mexican society, seems to be slower to catch on.  My own mother, a staunch supporter of breastfeeding, admonished me for breastfeeding my baby during my grandmother’s funeral mass. “The look on the priest’s face” my mother exclaimed, “when you took out your breast! You should have covered up!”  I sighed and wondered why a priest would be shocked to see a woman’s breast, could it be he wished he could see more?

The mommy wars that have been touted as of late in the US media saddens me.  See, I tend to idealize my home of origin.  There is so much about the USA that I miss and love.  But there is a lot that I wish would change too. Then again, at least the discussion is out there on the table, for everyone concerned to speak about.  Here, in modern day Mexico, the working precept “if you don’t talk about/see it, it doesn’t exist” apparently applies to all aspects of life, hungry babies and breasts included.

Alma M. Rinasz is a native New Yorker who has been living in Mexico for the past eleven years and blogs ocassionally about life in Mexico.