No, Gisele, breast is not always best
The supermodel’s call for a law forcing mums to breastfeed takes ‘militant lactivism’ to its crazy conclusion.
Everyone knows that celebrities don’t give birth like the rest of us. Angelina Jolie memorably closed down Namibia while she was grunting and pushing out her first baby with Brad Pitt, Shiloh. Then there’s the other contingent of stars who are ‘too posh to push’ and prebook a Caesarean – like Victoria Beckham, Elizabeth Hurley, Britney Spears, Claudia Schiffer and Christina Aguilera.
Now comes the story of Brazilian supermodel Gisele who talks about her own birthing and babycare experiences in the latest issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Gisele, the interview reveals, meditated throughout her eight-hour labour - no doubt purring slightly like a kitten between contractions rather than screeching like a cat with its tail engorged in barbed wire.
I’ve been on a birthing ward. The woman just down the hall in the birthing pool sounded more like several cats being stubbed all over with cigarettes, after the tail torture. But Gisele, of course, was meditating, so would have sounded nothing like that. She forwent medical assistance (epidurals, gas and air) in favour of some ujjayi breathing and a firm visualisation of her flaming chakra (or whatever birthing meditation amounts to these days – surely it can’t simply be listening to whale music or panpipe moods? Could anything be more offensive in a time of excruciating pain?). ‘It prepared me mentally and physically. It’s called “labour” not “holiday” for a reason, and I knew that’, said Gisele. ‘You want to go into the most intense physical experience of your life unprepared?’ Well, no, I’d probably rather want to go biting on a leather strap with my spine numbed into the middle of next week - but each to her own.
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Or so you might think. Actually it seems that what’s good enough for the supermodel should be imposed on the rest of mankind. As if all this weren’t enough, Gisele, supermodel extraordinaire, immediately hopped on to the idea that all mothers should be compelled to breastfeed their babies for six months. Asked how she lost weight so fast – bikini-perfect in a mere six weeks – she claimed, ‘I think breastfeeding really helped. Some people here [in the US] think they don’t have to breastfeed, and I think, “Are you going to give chemical food to your child when they are so little?” I think there should be a worldwide law, in my opinion, that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months.’
What a horrible notion. Here in Britain, relentless ‘Breast is Best’ campaigns promoted by the National Health Service mean that there are few women in this country who are not aware that breastmilk contains many excellent nutrients which are good for the baby – but a supermodel using a fashion magazine interview to proclaim that all women should be made to breastfeed, regardless of their circumstances or ability to do so, just smacks of another bulletin from celebrity la la land which only succeeds in trying to make the rest of us look inadequate. Gisele clearly sees herself as a ‘militant lactivist’, as some breast-is-best campaigners openly call themselves. What happened to the idea that women should have choice in matters of childrearing? The thought of being forced to labour, in every sense, according to the dictates of health authorities or celebs is truly horrifying.
When I asked to write about Gisele’s proposed decree for another publication I was informed that I could not write about the subject because I’ve never breastfed a baby (or had one, come to that). But I have seen firsthand the mortification visited upon new mothers (a close relative and a best friend) who had to give up on breastfeeding because their baby didn’t take to their milk or the normal pace of life meant that it was too much of a struggle (when added to that other terribly common byproduct of pregnancy a supermodel is unlikely to talk about – severe vaginal tearing). ‘Breast is best’ propaganda makes these women feel like failures.
Mothers ought to be praised simply for getting through childbirth and bringing another healthy baby into the world. Keeping them fed and alive is the priority – whether through breast or through bottle.
Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard and is also spiked’s columnist on celebrity culture. Visit her personal website here.