The most fundamental thing we all still have in common is that at some moment in time we were born. In fact, we celebrate it every year. That being said, there might not be a more controversial topic, with no correct answer, than giving birth and breastfeeding. Noemi Weis’ Milk, a clear labor of love that does not attempt to convince anyone of anything, looks at the many different ways people experience being pregnant, giving birth and feeding their children. One of the many images that Milk gives us is that many, if not most, people have a series of misconceptions about what giving birth is like. Weis succeeds in showing that, despite the enormous range of experiences, there is still a lack of transparency regarding the birthing process.
Several pregnant women are followed throughout the film including a young, but surprisingly mature, 15 year-old American girl trying to find an agency to create a birth plan. There is also a young woman of the Pankararu tribe in Eastern Brazil who is being followed by a local midwife. Seeing them, along with others, on the pre-natal side highlights the different options available to women when it comes to giving birth. It also demonstrates that many of those options go out the window when the reality of their individual birth experience arrives.
Weis also documents some new moms as they make choices about how to feed their children. These stories have some of the most heartbreaking and enraging moments. Like almost every part of our life experience, someone has figured out how to industrialize motherhood and make us feel guilty about it. Around the world profit seeking governments and corporations are attempting to convince women that they should be using nutritious formula instead of breast feeding. It has gotten to the point countries like Kenya have instituted laws preventing companies from saying that formula is better than breast milk.
As health experts in Kenya, Canada and the US have documented in their research, there are several issue associated with blindly promoting formula as the best feeding option. Considering that formula usually has to be mixed with water to make milk, and there isn’t always a guarantee of safe drinking water around the world, these companies seem guilty of encouraging people to harm their own children. The heartbreaking part is that when women decide to use this formula, they can no longer freely breastfeed, which means if they have no more money to purchase formula, they can no longer feed their baby.
Probably the coolest thing I learned from Milk was the notion of milk banks. If you’ve ever read historical fiction, you’ll probably have come across the concept of the “wet nurse.” The term essentially refers to the hiring of someone who recently gave birth, and is lactating, to feed another woman’s child. This concept is alive and safely mechanized. A fire department in Brazil has collected, pasteurized and distributed donated breast milk for more than 25 years.
The absolute best reason to see Milk, and no matter who you are you should watch this movie, is the spoken word performance by a new mom, Hollie McNish, toward the end of the 90 minute run. An award-winning artist in Europe, McNish summarizes the entire issue with profound understanding using her own experience as a mother trying to navigate the social niceties, economic demands, and maternal joys of motherhood.
Monday, April 27, 6:30 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Wednesday, April 29, 11:00 AM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.