Updated: May 26
In the wake of the national crisis that is the formula shortage, it is important to acknowledge how little the america cares about babies and their families beyond the hospital.
Carol Garhart Mooney writes in chapter four of Theories of Attachment, “John Kennell and Marshall Klaus,” about a newly completed Family Center at Exeter Hospital in Exeter, New Hampshire.
“Decorated in subtle earth tones, the beautifully appointed rooms offered family dining tables, pull-out sofa beds for family members, and menus that the mother and her family may order from as they await their new arrival. A kitchen where coffee is always on and cold drinks and ice cream bars fill the refrigerator is open to all families. Fruit bowls are filled, and packages of popcorn sit next to the microwave. Children are welcome, the nurse informed me, as long as they are supported by a friend or relative other than the mother’s labor coach. The hospital offers each family prenatal classes, and infant massage classes. The hospital has a round-the-clock lactation ‘warmline’ for mothers to call for breast-feeding support.
“Back in the family rooms, where immaculate hardwood floors warm the environment and blend with the tasteful artwork, I was treated to and amazed by the pièce de résistance: behind the prints on the walls, which drop at the flick of a switch, are all the necessary medical emergency equipment to support emergencies that might arise…”
Mooney’s description seems almost hyperbolic like Margot Robbie’s parody of Patrick Bateman’s beauty routine but it is real. And it is a good thing!
A more sardonic hospital description might be offered by the mother of one of our good friends in high school whose mother still suffers long-term effects from a botched c-section during his birth.
To be absolutely clear, the financial realities of a family that stays at the Exeter Hospital and my friend’s family could not be any more different. And while it is enjoyable to trash and ridicule the inequality of this neoliberal world, it is the case that even the most basic of hospitals in the united states of america affords dignity to babies.
But indignity in child care outside of the hospital is a meeting ground of classes that does not receive the attention that it deserves. And this is a public problem.
To begin, I will note two violences in two separate houses. I witnessed a mother, a white researcher living in reasonable affluence in Medford, Massachusetts who bore her son through invitro fertilization, explicitly state that it was her intention to deny her son any form of long-term adult male influence. Separately, I witnessed a father, an unemployed Haitian immigrant living in squalor in East New York, Brooklyn public housing, hit his two-year-old son for crying.
Before getting any further, this will not be an exploration of gender. This will be an exploration of the limiting ways in which others are seen and the limiting ways that people are constructed. To clarify this point, this will not be an exploration of non-binary identity or anything of the sort. The point of this piece is stupid limitation. And let's be clear, stupidity occurred both in the mind of the woman in Medford and in the mind of the man in East New York: And their children have to navigate the world of this stupidity.
Now, of course parents make mistakes. Making a mistake is not ipso facto stupid. But making a decision to raise a child a type of way because of informed feelings (the woman in Medford) or purely feeling (the man in East New York) is stupid. And there are plenty of parents in all socioeconomic backgrounds that create a healthy world for their child. The parents I noted have created for their children some dimension of their world that in unhealthy.
Everyone has a fatal flaw. Every relationship has a fatal flaw. The parents I noted previously are in truth navigating this world the best way they know how. A question that emerges of course is what is the solution? I won’t even begin to attempt to answer that question here. But we explore how to delink the political from child rearing. We challenge both informed and uniformed feelings if they sully a baby or child’s dignity. We want to make clear that the system is the biggest culprit in undignified informed feelings (the liberal academy likely played a part in orienting that mother in Medford to have such an oppositional view of men but we will empathize that she may have painful reasons for denying her child a male influence but none the less we insist such a conscious intention will only hurt her son) and it can exacerbate dangerous uniformed feelings (poverty stress may have played a part in that East new York father hitting his child).
Now, how does parental failure interact with a formula shortage? It doesn't. That's the point. Within the system that woman is almost encouraged to hold her position even to the point of it negatively impacting her son. The system enables the existence of that father in the ghetto, stressfully raising his son. And let's say hypothetically when these parents had new born babies they needed to feed their children with formula. Well they would be buying from the system that through corporate heft, globalist supply-chain arrogance, monopolies and inadequate regulation gambled on their baby's health because who knows if they will be able to find formula. It’s not just Big Tech and Big Pharma, it’s Big Formula as well. It's Big Everything. And yet there is nothing!
Returning to the family before diving deeper into the systemic issue, Mooney in “The Birthing Process and Starting in Care,” chapter six of the aforementioned book writes that professionals that help families should support family choice with their babies. Succinctly, she writes that, “We can model and verbalize the well-founded principle that development differs and many ways exist to support those differences.” She suggests the importance of empathizing with the courage of families who are finding their way through it. What this means then is that the solution to the formula shortage is not breastfeeding. That just may not be a viable solution for a multitude of reasons and formula might simply have greater efficacy for the family and baby as an individual. What I want to pinpoint here is that Mooney is empathizing with family courage. The courage to find their way through in the complexity of raising a baby. She is not supportive of the wave of media about bonding and attachment that hit the popular presses in the 1970s. Many families were devastated to learn from the media that they supposedly missed critical attachment windows and were doomed to less comfortable attachment. In some cases, this anxiety may have even become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is why Mooney suggests that families accept ambivalence: “There is no right answer; there may not be any solution that meets all the needs; there may only be the best you can do in that moment.” Ambivalence is critical when one’s child is a baby; especially because an infant can’t explicitly state its needs.
But families need to accept ambivalence at all stages of development because rigidly defining or enforcing into a child’s life misses the child’s needs at every moment.
The father in East New York failed to respond to his son’s distress and instead he responded to his son with the immediacy of his own distress. The mother of that same child was not better in this situation, The GroundUp heard her threats of violence before she left the household weeks prior. The father was taking care of the baby and as noted previously doing the best he could; although, the best he could do was subpar. This is why it is important to not look at child rearing exclusively through the lens of gender and certainly not through the lens of abusive metaphysical politics. Mainstream media would take the vignette of that father and say “Men are abusive.” Indeed that parent was abusing his child. Physically hitting a child to stop tears is child abuse. A heinous indignity. But he was the parent in his child’s life. Just as for intentional reasons, the woman in Medford is the only parent in the child’s life. Mainstream media says, “How brave of that woman to raise her son alone.” But it is abusive to consciously deny a child interaction with male influence because it also fails to respond to the son’s socialization needs with the general public. I heard arguments and tension existing between boy and mother in the terrain of the boy feeling hounded by his mother to function exactly as she wanted. There was no breathing room. This type of rigidity will not only negatively impact the boy’s relationships with other boys but will have long term effects in his interaction with girls. A heinous indignity. He is being taught by the first woman in his life that the way to a woman’s heart is to adhere to what she says in all cases; regardless, of how it makes him feel.
Adults looking to have children, new parents, and veteran parents are inundated by ideological messages suggesting the right way for raising babies and children and they receive these messages from conglomerate media companies that are able to bypass the supply-chain with online news and podcasts and radio making it even easier to reach minds eager for information. But information is not enough. If both noted families are extending indignity to their children in the abuse of their children but one is overt and gender politics would induce the call of abuse answerable by immediate solutions and the other is covert and gender politics would prevent the call of abuse answerable by immediate solutions it is necessary to demand that media delink the political from child rearing. And encourage parents to delink the political from their child rearing.
If the america cannot even provide for and sustain a baby by providing an adequate supply of formula how dare its ideological apparatuses inundate families with these variety pack solutions for ideologically cultivating a child. The divide in media is between a sort of classic mix Frito Lays package (Fritos, Sour Cream and Onion Lays, Ruffles, Original Lays, Nacho Doritos, Funyuns, Smart Food popcorn and Cheetos) versus the flavor mix Frito Lays package (Cool Ranch Doritos, Cheetos, Cheetos Puffs, Sour Cream and Onion, Barbeque Lays, Chili Cheese Fritos, Cheese Ruffles and Nacho Doritos). Food is always an apt metaphor for political reality because of desire and just as the obfuscating nature of the commonality of the america’s two prevailing political parties is explained by Left and Right Twix, the way mainstream media satisfies curious parents on the theyby matter for example is to stoke this divide between the classic mix and the flavor mix.
Notice how both mixes have Nacho Doritos. Let’s imagine that Nacho Doritos represent desire. Certainly, Super Bowl commercials would like this association but we digress! Now desire is raw and it exists independent of any ideological conditioning. It is particular and unique and while not everyone has desire let’s say for this case both the noted mix packages of chips have Nacho Doritos and therefore, they have desire. So, the flavor mix and the classic mix possess Nacho Doritos, which are desire and now, imagine that these two mixes are not feeling bags of chip packages (Pixar do we have an idea for you!) but are rather adults who were reared in different ways. The classic mix can be thought of as heteronormative or non-normate person raised heteronormatively. The flavor mix can be thought of as a heteronormative or non-normate person raised non-normatively. Notice, how despite how they were raised they emerged as adults that are either heteronormative or nor-normate. Its because of the Nacho Doritos the two packages have or rather, its because of how desire operates. And desire is non-negotiable.
Gender and sexuality fights on the level of systemic oppression can be a revolution but there is no such thing as a revolution of desire. Desire is a revolution in and of itself. What this means is that there is absolutely no need for parents to attempt to craft their children to be normate or non-normate. To be a classic mix or be a flavor mix. If children are treated with dignity, they will in most cases (there are always unfortunate exceptions) operate with dignity in adulthood.
Just as there is a lack of listening in the case of the East New York father who hit his son, so to is there a lack of listening from the mother hounding her son in Medford.
In Mooney’s book, she presents the origins of Magda Gerber’s work in the third chapter named after her. When Gerber’s daughter came down with a sore throat, she sought help from Emmi Pickler. Gerber began to tell Pickler about her child’s condition. Pickler shushed her. Instead, she focused on the child and asked what hurt and how. The child was responsive to the dignity shown to her.
Many leftist parents in child rearing believe that it is revolution to be against all that is normative. But this is a flawed notion. There are indeed wonderfully wholesome normative people. And of course, there are wonderfully wholesome non-normate people. But the truth is the same for the opposite for both non-normate and normate people.
There is no perfect world. Desire itself is a revolution and a permanent revolution at that because like the tide itself, it simply cannot be negotiated. Desires from some perspectives take people to the height of heaven and from others to bowels of hell but they are all of this Earth.
Parents who would read this and scoff at the notion that it is stupid to take too seriously the intervention to a bag mix are free to do so but I will note that if you are suspect of either the classic mix child or the flavor mix child and their respective parents remember that there are babies right now who will be forged into a classic mix child or a flavor mix child who required formula for their dietary needs or family needs and the america didn’t provide. Politicians in the america did not send formula to honor the baby whose parents have selected the classic mix path and they did not provide formula for the baby whose parents have selected the flavor mix path.
The american capitalist system interfered with these parents’ children when they were but babies. That system with its ideological apparatuses operating through the media doesn’t care about those children as they grow older. For this exact reason, the idea of american public schools teaching about gender and sexuality is wrong because it is so wrong for the system to not provide aid in times of greatest need and then attempt to involve themselves in a terrain that even parents shouldn’t get involved in (unless their child asks or is responsive to a parent’s openness to being asked).
Contemplation of dignity for one’s children is not a solution to the scope of child abuse happening in american households but it is a start. Venom exchanged between parents of their respective mix package of child—which is not written lightly because essentially, we are arguing that people themselves are ideologically commodified—serves better its purpose if like a cobra defending its snakelets it seared into the veins of the system that allowed for a formula shortage in the first place!
If intersectionality has any meaning beyond a nice idea buzzword it should exist in the reality that baby humans need to eat. Ultimately, a lack of formula because of hubris and sullied product is not only indicative of the fact that babies, the most unpolitical and therefore least controversial of all humans are treated like garbage, but that the america treats everyone like garbage. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t even approve of formula before it reaches market (though it must meet federal nutrient requirements)!
The solution that the federal government is instituting to resolve the shortage is easing federal nutrient requirements. So great, the babies will get food with arsenic, cadmium and lead. This solution was deemed viable whereas eliminating the red tape of tariffs, which would enable international import was deemed reckless.
That is grounds for revolution. Put that in your sippy cup and drink it.
*Conservatism and progressivism are not metonymies for normate and non-normate but rather the majority of people who staunchly reject the theyby idea can be understood within a framework of normative ideas often embraced by conservatives and the same goes for those who embrace the theyby idea, they can be understood within a framework of non-normative ideas often embraced by progressives.