Monday, November 26, 2007

Having Faith

Hello, Carnival of Breastfeeding Readers!

(Note to everyone else: I am doing a book review today because I love to share good books with people, and because it is related to the topic of the November Carnival of Breastfeeding over at Motherwear. Because I think this book is an important one. And because it's NaBloPoMo and I need as many ideas for posts as I can get. But that's it. This is not a paid endorsement or anything crazy like that. Just FYI.)

As an avid reader, a doula, an anthropologist, and as a mother out to make the world a better place, I often get asked for book recommendations. Sometimes people want something funny to read. Sometimes they want to know what parenting books I like. Sometimes they want something that I found intellectually stimulating, or something I felt was important for people to know. Some people want a thriller, an attention-getter, a scary story. Some people want to know if I've read any good memoirs lately. Having Faith, by Sandra Steingraber, is all of the above.

This is one of my favorite books of all time, period. It is also one of the scariest.

This book is about one woman's personal journey through pregnancy and new-motherhood. It is about the miracles that unfold within all women's bodies during this season of our lives. It is also about the "environmental threats to the bodies of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers." In short, it is the author's experiences as an ecologist brought to bear on her experiences as a pregnant and breastfeeding woman.

I love that it is so personal, that after reading it I felt like I knew the author, because of the way she shares these very intimate experiences of her life in such a candid voice. I also love the way her writing flows effortlessly between the personal and the global, how she moves seamlessly from the experience of having her milk come in to crucial functions of breast milk such as establishing a healthy intestinal system and promoting brain growth, from the world history of nursing and American cultural patterns that inhibit breastfeeding to PCBs, POPs, and other toxic chemicals in breast milk, and then back to her own experience of nursing and raising her daughter. And that's just in the two chapters devoted to breastfeeding. Tucked in between her personal memories, the book is full of important facts and figures about pregnancy, breastfeeding, fetal and early childhood development, and how certain toxic chemicals in our environments are affecting these crucial periods of life.

I'm not an ecologist myself, so I won't try to explain the details about the dangerous levels of chemicals we are all exposed to, nor the medical and scientific ramifications for our health. But I did learn that these toxins have much stronger effects on developing babies than on adults. And I learned that not nearly enough is being done to combat the problem, that we are in a society-wide denial of how serious these effects are. I learned that if the average pregnant woman hears about these issues, she will simply be told to avoid certain foods and areas that we know are highly contaminated, when really this is not a personal issue so much as a global one. We need to be honest with ourselves about the risks, to counteract contamination rather than personally avoiding an ever-growing list of dangerous items.

I loved the afterword on the Precautionary Principle. It is a simple idea which can apply to anything from making children's toy's with phthalates to global warming. It is a compelling, common-sense idea to me, and I think we all need to fight for it here in America. As a mother, this aspect of the book, the call to action to fight for a safe world for ourselves and for our children, is compelling, riveting. It made me get up off the sofa and go find ways to advocate change.

But back to breastfeeding for a minute. The penultimate chapter, called The View From the Top, is all about how nursing babies should be seen in their rightful place at the top of the food chain, where toxin levels are most highly concentrated. Remember how we're not supposed to eat a lot of predatory fish that are high on the food chain, such as shark and swordfish, because of the highly concentrated levels of mercury they contain? Well, the same holds true for human babies and toxins in human milk. Humans are at the top of our food chain, which concentrates toxins more and more at each level, and then the toxins are concentrated one more time as we pass them on to our children.

Scary, huh? But the author perfectly walks the line between describing the true dangers we can't help but expose our children to and reminding people how important breastfeeding is to promoting healthy babies. She explains that nursing is still far superior to other forms of feeding such as formula-feeding. She reminds us that, as contaminated as breast milk may be, our environment is contaminated in many ways, and bottle-feeding is not safe from toxins either. She reminds us of all the virtues of breastfeeding that can't be duplicated any other way. And she also reminds us that, ultimately, we can't escape what we're doing to our world and to our children's bodies. Instead, we must stop polluting our world for our children to be safe.

Ms. Steingraber's writing galvanized me to go out and try to solve the world's problems by making it personal, by showing me the damages that can be done while showing me her personal journey of discovery and her journey towards motherhood. Her wish for the world is beautiful, and after reading this book, it has become my own: "May the world's feast be made safe for women and children. May mothers' milk run clean again. May denial give way to courageous action. May I always have faith."

May these wishes and hopes become yours too.

And if you want to read more great breastfeeding and parenting book reviews, here are links to other carnival participants' entries:

On School Street (reviews Blindsided by a Diaper)
Breastfeeding Mums (reviews a smorgasbord of great parenting-related books)
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog (also linked above; reviews "a shopping list for many moms on your [holiday gift] list")
International Breastfeeding Symbol (reviews The Baby Book and Unconditional Parenting)
Hobo Mama (reviews Our Babies, Ourselves)
Mama Knows Breast (reviews bOObs: a guide to your girls)
Tales of Life With a Girl on the Go (reviews The Best Gifts)
The True Face of Birth (reviews Mama Knows Breast)
Breastfeeding1-2-3 (reviews Baby Matters)
Crunchy Domestic Goddess (reviews the DVD What Babies Want--An Exploration of the Consciousness of Infants)


At 11:38 AM, Anonymous MomOnTheGo said...

This book is certainly timely as more and more are paying attention to the environment. Thanks for bringing it to light. The concluding statement about wanting mother's milk to run pure hits hard.

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Sinead@BreastfeedingMums said...

Hi Susana... I'm so glad you chose this book. I was intending on reviewing it only I didn't get it finished on time. It is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read... I simply adored the beautiful way she uses language to describe pregnancy and breastfeeding - almost poetry. (maybe because I used to be a literature teacher!)
Sadly, it's very hard to get this book in the UK - although I managed to get it via an external supplier on Amazon. I hope lots of people rush out to buy it now that you've brought it to everyones attention ;)

At 12:16 AM, Blogger Crunchy Domestic Goddess said...

i'd never heard of this book, so i am glad you chose to review it. it sounds like a fascinating (and eye-opening) read. i will be adding to to my book list. thank you! :)

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Andrea said...

Having Faith really is a wonderful book--both painful and beautiful to read. And the message so vital (think of how much our consumption habits as parents adds to the pollution contaminating breast milk--it's all connected). Your review perfectly captures the essense of the book that needs to be read by every mother, father and congressperson.

At 7:09 PM, Blogger deborah said...

i'll second the wow. i also haven't heard of this book and i'm sure once i read it i'll wish i had...especially since i am 9 months into breastfeeding at this point! i really hate the horrible sinking feeling i have when i discover something else unhealthy that i might have possibly exposed the love of my life to. but it sounds like this book is a call to action to prevent those feelings from ever happening in the first place. it is definitely on my list.
(and yay for more anthro-mamas out there!)


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