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Hollywood hooters

By Heather Janssen

I just paid $3.99 plus tax for the January issue of Vogue Magazine. Because I'm obsessed with Angelina Jolie. Except not because of Brad. And not even because I'm strangely impressed by her two international adoptions and substantial humanitarian work. Oh, no. I'm obsessed with her whole baby-making machine of a body, including those voluptuous boobs.

Maybe the obsession began for me when I was pregnant last year at the same time she was, and in the midst of a bitter fight for a second VBA2C (vaginal birth after two caesareans). Having had my third child vaginally, after my first two came by c-section, I planned to VBAC with my fourth daughter as well. I considered this expectation quite reasonable given my previous success, but ran into unexpected hostility from the physicians overseeing my midwives a mere four weeks from my due date. It turns out the climate for VBAC had changed since 2003, the date of my first VBAC, due to fears of litigation, and the initial support for my birthing choice was now being rescinded. Four weeks of hell ensued, but eventually my determination to VBAC succeeded, and I delivered my baby two-and-a-half weeks late into the hands of a doctor who had fought me every step of the way and went so far as to forbid my midwife from even being present at the delivery.

Therefore, when the media frenzy converged on the Brangelinas, with news she'd deliver in Africa, I was all atwitter with hope that surely this celebrity, the one who did things on her own terms, followed her instincts and played by her own rules, would champion the women's rights she worked so hard to acquire all over the world by foregoing the rising, deeply disturbing trend for elective surgical delivery amongst the Hollywood set, as supported by the same medical establishment I'd fought with so bitterly. Through her willingness to let her body be the guide, regardless of the eventual outcome, I reasoned that she would validate my own fight against the set of doctors determined to subject me to a different set of risks than I was willing to subject myself to. I found myself both strangely disappointed and rather embarrassed by my discouragement at the news that she'd had a c-section due to breech presentation.

None of the press surrounding the event gave the details I was fairly desperate to know: had she attempted delivery? Had they tried to turn the baby? What had happened, dammit?! I felt foolish for spending even one extra moment surfing the web for information that would do nothing to change the mixed cocktail of emotion I felt at my own delivery: triumph for my hard-earned result, pumping adrenalin and euphoria at finally meeting my feisty daughter; and tremendous loneliness and grief at that damn doctor not stooping to even say "Great job!" Was I really so fragile that having some celebrity validate my own experience would ease my pain?

Even more puzzling, why was I searching for validation with someone so unreachable? Perhaps it had to do with the unanswered letter I wrote to the hospital administrator detailing the dismissive way I'd been treated. Maybe I was smarting from the midwives' resignation to the collective doctors' will, deeming action on my behalf not worth the potential political fallout. In advocating for my own reproductive rights, I had thought, perhaps erroneously, that I was standing for all women's right to a voice in their own reproductive outcomes, regardless of litigious climate. Still, nobody seemed to care. I wanted someone to tell me what a bad-ass woman I was for fighting the patriarchal birthing industry, and, after my initial attempts, in my postpartum haze, Angelina seemed to be the only one available. Aside from my own preferred outcome and personal triumph, my mammoth efforts didn't seem to count for anyone but me. I wanted to know that my sacrifice would mean something for the greater cause. Maybe I reasoned that she with the immense platform and luscious lips would give my own struggle for autonomy a bigger voice than I seemed able to. Alas, it wasn't to be.

Not to be entirely deterred by the validation in absentia that I'd wanted, I watched out of one eye, hoping against hope that she'd actually begin to start a Hollywood trend for breastfeeding. I mean, did you see the size of her melons in her post-natal press conference? If ever a woman were born to breastfeed, her cleavage served as ample advertisement (forgive the pun). Maybe, I thought, she would be the one to show that breastfeeding can be sexy and powerful, notwithstanding all the health aspects that get shoved under the Hollywood rug in deference to getting our bodies back and returning to life at full throttle.

I shocked even myself at this ridiculous obsession. I don't buy People Magazine, I never watch the celebrity news magazines on television. What did I care whether she breastfed her infant or not? It wasn't as though I needed extra approval or even support for my own choice to breastfeed. I'd been breastfeeding for nearly eight years, on and off, and never cared who approved or not. I wasn't a member of La Leche League, and have always given ample support to many of my friends who chose not to or could not breastfeed. I didn't consider myself one of "those" milk nazis, mainly due to my motivations to breastfeed; they're entirely selfish. I breastfeed for four reasons:

  • I love it
  • It's really easy for me -- I produce enough milk to feed a small country
  • 200-500 calories a day equals running two miles
  • I'm too lazy to figure out how to get my babies to take bottles, so they all have refused them.

I kept asking myself, why this strange obsession with what Angelina does with her body, and, more specifically, her boobs? For crying out loud, it's hardly my business. Except that all over the place, splashed on every form of media available, her humanitarian efforts are lauded and discussed ad nauseum. She's made a name for herself being the mother of children in dire need, and I just wanted to know if her altruistic efforts included whipping out a tit here and there to nourish her newborn.

I desperately wanted to know if she had the guts to brave the indignity of leaking through her tight white t-shirt or the panic of letdown during an important interview or the annoyance of the thrice nightly clothing change due to waking up sopping wet, or the frustration of powering through sore nipples and inadequate latch. I wanted to know if she was going to outsource all the really demanding newborn care or step up to the plate and do it herself. Not because I needed some random celebrity to identify with my choices, at least not consciously. I'd made my choices. But my choice to breastfeed all four of my babies is hailed by, plus or minus, three people: my mother, my mother-in-law, and me. Even my husband is blasé about it—the other day, I was in the throes of a stomach flu, and he dryly remarked that the baby never even missed a beat, that the milk somehow seemed purified. Such is the extent of his fascination with breastfeeding. Also, he's an engineer. Enough said. So my choice to breastfeed, while supported by three women and indirectly by an engineer, while being one of what I consider my best accomplishments, and a quite successful one, certainly hasn't landed me on the cover of Vogue.

Like it or not, this wacky world of the US of A revolves to a certain degree around celebrity culture. And just for the sake of the discussion, I wanted her to breastfeed. Or to talk about her choice one way or the other. Not because I think every woman should unequivocally breastfeed or because I think anyone who chooses to not even try is only selfish. I wanted her to so that, on some level, the world could observe a glamorous woman engaging in a centuries-old rite of passage in spite of its possible inconvenience and the inevitable moistness that goes along with it.

And, like it or not, and I don't, the "breast is best" campaign has turned nasty political and I do hate how guilty and judged friends of mine feel when they quit breastfeeding or opt not to do it at all. But I also hate that this same culture of hostility has made my being proud of my choice a social faux pas, because my pride in breastfeeding necessarily casts aspersions on my sisters who aren't whipping out a boob whenever their babies squawk. But it seems there's no room to talk about how I'm kind of jealous of the freedom they have from their offspring when I'm tethered to my little barracuda teether, or for them to express their substantial relief at finally seeing their baby satisfied after a bottle of formula finally eased both the baby's hunger and their own anxiety.

So I was sorely disappointed to find, in the über-chic Vogue article, nary a reference to Angelina's birth story or her breasts. Disappointed because, if anybody could have opened up the discussion in favor of women using their voices against the highly political birth establishment, she could have. Disappointed because of all the celebrities capable of toppling the sacred cow of breastfeeding as political pariah, I thought it would have been her. She had the stage, the influence, the opportunity. And the jugs. Did she ever have the jugs.

mmo : february 2007

Heather Janssen breastfeeds while writing, eating, stirring pots of soup and contention, and, most enjoyably, when she has a novel handy. She has just launched a magazine for mothers called Get Born: Stories of Birth and Rebirth, a publication devoted to talking candidly (read—brazen honesty) about the journey women embark upon as soon as their boobs start swelling. She's terribly proud of her rack, and can be reached at dollymomma4@yahoo.com
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy positions of the MMO or its staff.
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