Motherhood

A shortage of formula milk and an abortion rights crisis

A shortage of formula milk and an abortion rights crisis

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A colleague and I have a little ritual for each time one of us receives a spectacularly sexist email or reader comment. “Submission to Ugh! magazine,” we write at the top of the message, then pass it on to the other, then cackle, then sob in our hearts. Ugh! exists only in our imaginations. thousands of issues, all made up of female readers suggesting, for example, that menstruating women could just “hold on” until they get to the toilet rather than wasting money on tampons.

The most recent submissions to Ugh! came via online commenters who had the bright idea that due to the national shortage of infant formula – supply is down 40% from normal stock levels across the country – women should simply “embrace your femininity and raise your children” via breastfeeding, as one such random guy insisted.

A more patient columnist might respond to each reader in turn, explaining that breasts are not taps that can be turned on and off. If you’re not currently breastfeeding, you can’t wake up tomorrow and suddenly produce enough milk. Building up your supply can take weeks, months, or forever. It’s physically impossible for some women and logistically impossible for others, and anyway, I would personally explain all of this to every pen pal, but between pumping four times a day myself and scouring nearby grocery stores for the supplement Similac from my 10 month old, I’m pretty exhausted, so I usually just submit their notes to Ugh! magazine and call it a day.

But the ignorance is still frustrating because it makes you wonder if that’s part of why we haven’t already solved the formula shortage horror. It had been brewing since February, when a recall by one of the biggest formula companies left supermarket shelves scarce. The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced Wednesday that it will hold a May 25 hearing to discuss the shortage – May 25, as in in two weeks. Maybe my daughter is weird, but she seems to want to eat every day.

How have legislators and government agencies, at the local or national level, not already addressed this problem?

I find it hard to believe they don’t like babies, but I find it easy to believe that many of them aren’t particularly curious or thoughtful about what it means to be a mother to a child. The House of Representatives is 73% male with a median age of 58; in the Senate, it is 76% and 64 years old. I wonder how long one of them sat with cloudy eyes at 3 a.m. trying to nurse a baby or knew exactly which aisle at Target sold formula. I wonder how many of those legislators have never done either. Or how many Americans, for that matter.

Figuring out how to feed a baby is a task that, like much stereotypical mothering work, is often done in secret: done without fuss or complaint or any acknowledgment that it can also be extremely stressful.

Perspective: Feeding my daughter taught me what it means for the body to need help

With a particularly dystopian flair, the shortage of formulas came to a head around the same time a draft opinion was leaked from the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe vs. Wade. On the one hand, women would be forced to give birth to children. But on the other hand, once these children arrive, there may be no food to feed them.

A footnote in Samuel Alito’s draft notice that gained traction this week concerned adoption. The footnote cited a 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, which noted that “the national supply of infants abandoned at birth or within the first month of life and available for adoption has become practically non-existent”. The inclusion of the study in an opinion that would reverse deer seemed to suggest that there was no need for abortions because there were many American couples who wanted children but not enough American babies to adopt.

This was immediately picked up by critics who noted the broodmare implications. Women, it seemed, should stay pregnant not only because abortion is wrong, but also because deserving Gilead couples need them to have children.

Send this notion to Ugh! magazine, as well as the rest of the draft opinion.

Because what he’s telling me is: you have no idea. No idea how hard pregnancy is on a body. no idea that don’t worry you can give it away does not address why many abortion seekers might seek abortions to begin with.

The biggest problem with the opinion isn’t that it was cruel, it’s that it wasn’t curious. He did not attempt to understand pregnancy or motherhood. It was the 98-page equivalent of “Why Don’t You Just Embrace Your Womanhood and Raise Your Kids?”

The fundamental problem is not a national supply chain problem, whether of formula or babies. The fundamental problem is that too many of the people we elect to power are immune to the mess and stresses of reproduction and motherhood.

On Thursday, President Biden released a plan to get infant formula back on store shelves, involving the Federal Trade Commission, individual states and the private sector. However, it could still be weeks before infant formula is reliably back in stores.