Surely, somewhere in America or the world at large there are a few atheist or agnostic women who are active in the La Leche League network that encourages modern women to breastfeed their babies. There must be a few. But if there are, I have never met any of them or read any coverage -- mainstream or otherwise -- of their work, and my wife and I tend to hang out with a pretty laid back, natural cotton, Birki-wearing, Earth Mother-esque kind of crowd. It seems that there is some kind of connection between a faith-friendly lifestyle and breastfeeding, a practice that remains counter-cultural in some social circles.
Thus, I enjoyed the wonderful New York Times piece this week -- "The Breast Whisperer" -- describing the life and times of Freda Rosenfeld of Brooklyn. Here is the top of the report:
Amy Brill, a writer who lives in Windsor Terrace, survived nine months and six days of pregnancy, then 40 hours of labor. But after a few days of nursing, she was in excruciating pain, crying every time her baby latched on. Ms. Brill's pediatrician wrote out a phone number as if it were a prescription. "Call this woman," he said. "She's seen every new mom in Brooklyn."
Not quite, but over the last five years this woman, Freda Rosenfeld, has seen some 2,000 new moms, some of them multiple times, and many with multiple babies at once.
Ms. Rosenfeld is part medical professional, part therapist and part sleuth; a hand-holder, tongue-coaxer, savior of sore nipples. At 52, she wears her chestnut hair in an ageless ponytail and bangs, dressing in long denim skirts -- the better to get spit up on -- and cruises the borough with a "got breastmilk?" bumper sticker on her minivan.
Clearly, this woman is a professional and the story does a good job of describing that. She knows her stuff.
Yet, early on, it's easy to see that there is more to this for her than business. In every sense of the word, what she is providing for these women, children and their families is a ministry.
Thus, there is no surprise when we learn, near the end of the story:
... Ms. Rosenfeld has spent her whole life in Brooklyn; she knows alternate-side parking regulations well enough that she schedules appointments in certain neighborhoods at odd times, like 10:10 or 11:35.
A religious Jew, she starts each day with morning prayers, followed by yoga and 20 minutes jumping on the trampoline in the basement. Her face is makeup-free, usually framed by dangly earrings. When things get tense in a session, she lightens the mood by cooing, making faces and uttering ridiculous nicknames like "Bu-ja-boo!"
Having raised eyebrows as a teenager by going vegetarian and swearing off soda, Ms. Rosenfeld took a job after graduating from Brooklyn College at a nutrition center for low-income women, where her devotion to breast-feeding began. "To me, the breast-feeding was not just about better health for the baby, it was about these young girls realizing their baby is important," she said. "I had 14-year-olds, and here was my opportunity not just to make these babies healthier but to make these mothers caring parents."
The story is simply packed with carefully reported details, layer after layer after layer.
I, of course, would want to know more about her life as an Orthodox Jewish woman, which seems to be the case based in the content of the story, who helps modern women in this ultra-urban setting, a place where mothers may hear some smirking urbanites mutter "breeder" as they, with their multiple children, roll past on busy sidewalks.
But the key religion details are woven into the story. The ghost is there for all who have eyes to see.