Compelling Tales of Infertility and Breastfeeding

How much thought have you given to the plight of infertile women who seek out an egg donor and then a gestational surrogate to carry their baby? Or how about to the oftentimes acrimonious, bitter battles mothers sometimes wage against one another over the issue of breastfeeding? Writers Jennifer Weiner and Joanna Weiss have been thinking a great deal about these subjects. Their new books, Then Came You and Milkshake cleverly and empathetically put these maternal powder-keg issues under the microscope.


I started off by reading Weiner’s Then Came You which I took with me on vacation. It didn’t take long for me to be drawn into and intrigued by the journeys of four very different women: A college-aged egg donor in need of money to help her addict father get treatment, a married mom of two who wanted to contribute to her family’s paltry income by being a surrogate, an infertile “trophy” wife from a modest and emotionally challenged background who desired a baby, and the adult daughter of said trophy wife’s husband.


A quick, compelling read, Weiner touched on the many angles and issues involved in donating/receiving eggs and of gestational surrogacy, not the least of which are the financial needs that often prompt women to volunteer to give away their eggs or carry someone else’s baby, along with the incumbent claims that the whole process exploits poor women. The women who eventually become egg donors and surrogates believe they’re doing something noble for another woman in need by helping to create life, but at the same time they’re trying to financially provide for their families by using their reproductive organs as a means to earn an income, something which, in Weiner’s book, put the marriage of the gestational carrier, Annie, in jeopardy as she was on the receiving end of ample moral and ethical criticism.



I am dubious of "Then Came You", first because I have twice tried Jennifer Weiner novels, and twice found them utterly insufferable (particularly in her insistent portrayal of the male as the enemy). I also question gestational surrogacy...not because I believe that it is exploitive (if a woman is paid $25,000 or more to carry and deliver a child for someone else, it is her business, and hers alone...and poor women have had to do far worse to survive...for far, far less)...but because I question what I personally perceive as a bizarre need to carry a baby (ie: "create life") when one's own body is incapable, or ova not viable...or to have a surrogate (especially when one has proven to be capable of normal conception, gestation and delivery on one's own), especially with a received ovum...and sometimes even donated sperm. Why not adopt? Yes, I am the mother of two biological sons...and we tried to adopt. Not only did we run into snags because of religious bias (he is an atheist, I am agnostic...adoption US adoption agencies at that timed demanded Christianity), but outrageous cost for legitimate out-of-country adoptions (it was less expensive to have my very much required c-section).
Expense can't be a consideration when going the surrogacy or infertility routes, as both are very expensive and barely covered by insurance. It didn't matter to us if we adopted a toddler, or we had a biological child...but factors out of our control made the latter the obvious choice, and I don't regret it one bit. I don't understand the need to generate a new life...and it is beyond my comprehension how an infant conceived from neither your ovum, or his sperm, and gestated in a surrogate womb, is any different from adoption.
I found "Milkshake" funny and sad. Both of my children were allergic to breast milk. Yes, it is not just possible, it is documented. Go to the American Pediatrics Society rather than La Leche to find out the actuality...rather than the myth. My youngest was suffering terribly when we switched to soy in desperation. He is not fat, lacking in coordination, more prone than anyone else in Houston to allergies...and is a gifted and talented honor student at the top of his class with no obvious mental or physical defects (including better than perfect vision, a near genetic impossibility given that I am legally blind in my left eye, and his father can't see more than about six inches without his glasses).
Yet I was hounded by the Nursing Nazis, the Boob Gestapo...the Thugee of the Natural Way. Nursing was not pleasant for me. I am a small person with DD breasts...which rivaled those of any of the silicone enhanced massive mammaries of certain demented females who seek the title of Biggest Enhanced Breasts when I was sole food provider for my babies. My back, shoulders and chest hurt constantly. I expressed enough milk to feed every starving infant in Sub-
Saharan Africa. I could find none of the 101 perfect positions for holding my sons that worked well for me...and I am a very strong woman...and I tried everything. I was fanatical about hygiene...and still got mastitis and cracked nipples, even with proper latching on. My older son (ten pounds at birth) never lost an ounce...he just kept growing, and growing. He was a champion feeder...but he was constantly constipated...on my breast milk (and I was eating a very excellent, well-balanced, no lactose diet). His misery was so intense that we had to do something. We ended up with a very expensive, exclusive soy formula...but he got better. No more severe gas and constipation. Nothing wrong with my milk either.
But the criticism, and the vitriol, and the what are you feeding that baby was intense. The Gestapo really doesn't listen to reason at all. I did feed under a light cover in public...but frankly, had it slipped, and my "naughty bit", even the dreaded nipple, been what? We all have them...well most of us. Some have extras. I don't have any worries about ogling men, prudes, geeks or droolers. Their issue, not mine. But also, I found it much more relaxing to have a quiet, peaceful place to relax and nurse my hungry little beasties...and I perfectly understand why a woman would prefer not to deal with open hostility or being some Mommy's basement-dwelling, neck-bearded dork's weird fetish fantasy. I also understand why a woman who is committing the unpardonable sin of bottle-feeding would want privacy...Big Earth Mama is everywhere.
It's a shame that women haven't become civilized enough to leave tribal thinking behind...because that is precisely what this is...and exactly why I refuse to join women's groups. Far too much us against them. It's an atavism...and anyone who truly believes that the world would be a more peaceful place, and there would be an end to conflict, prejudice, judgment and divisiveness if women ran everything really hasn't devoted herself to history at all.