Our regular contributor Cathy Seipp has a terrific piece on National Review Online that scores some bullseyes at two of my own favorite targets in the “attachment-parenting” movement: breast-feeding your infant until it’s old enough for Cub Scouts and plopping it at night into the “family bed”–that is to say, your own bed, the one you share with your husband (or, as he’s usually known in anti-bassinette attachment-parenting circles, your “regular sleeping partner”).
Cathy’s piece is actually about Christine Maggiore (click here for a pic), an HIV-positive mother in Los Angeles and also an HIV-positive activist who, since she doesn’t believe that the HIV virus causes AIDS, doesn’t believe in either using anti-AIDS drugs or refraining from breast-feeding her infants. (Her sanguine view about lactation are shared by many a member of the breast-feeding mafia; even though pediatricians nearly unanimously discourage AIDS mothers from breast-feeding, the formula-phobic La Leche League doesn’t.) Problem was: last spring Maggiore’s 3-year-old daughter, Eliza, whom Maggiore was–natch–apparently still breastfeeding, died of AIDS-related pneumonia last spring. Furthermore, as Cathy reports:
“[Maggiore’s] regular doctors were two pediatricians popular with the Hollywood crowd: Paul Fleiss, the anti-circumcision crusader and tax-evading father of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss; and Jay Gordon, whose anti-vaccination philosophy has helped grow such a busy practice that this year he began declining new patients.
“Although they knew Maggiore’s HIV-positive status, neither Dr. Fleiss nor Dr. Gordon had ever insisted that Eliza (or her older brother) be tested for HIV, even when Maggiore brought her in for an apparent ear infection shortly before the child died. After about two weeks of symptoms (beginning with yellow mucus from a runny nose), Eliza was finally treated – if that’s the right word under these circumstances–with amoxicillin. The protocol for an HIV-positive patient would have been a much stronger antibiotic, sooner.”
Gordon (a protege of Fleiss), as Cathy notes, combines his celebrity pediatrics (click here for his family bed-happy website) with celebrity political prognostication:
“Dr. Gordon contributes regularly to the Huffington Post. Typical entries are the anti-Bush ‘War Kills Children — I Am Licensed to Write About That’ (Saddam Hussein’s killing of thousands of children was, apparently, not a pediatric issue) and ‘Milk Makes Children Fat,’ even though childhood obesity has increased over the years that children have been drinking less milk….
“The only good thing that can be said about the Christine Maggiore story is at least it’s unusual: How many HIV-positive mothers, after all, can there be who dogmatically refuse AZT when pregnant, insist on breastfeeding their children, and refuse to have them tested for HIV? (In Maggiore’s case, this means breastfeeding ad nauseum; when Newsweek profiled her five years ago, she was still nursing her son, then age three.) And silly as the anti-circumcision, breastfeeding-until-four, family-bed philosophies of Paul Fleiss and Jay Gordon (who began his career in Dr. Fleiss’s office) are, at least they don’t endanger public health.
“Sure, uncircumcised boys are more likely to have infections when they grow up, but urologists need to earn a living too. Ditto psychotherapists, who should be kept busy for decades dealing with the results of breastfed preschoolers and children kept in bed with their parents through grade school….
“What concerns me more is the headway the anti-vaccination attitude has been making lately, because you don’t need to be HIV-positive for a common illness to be dangerous.”
Of course the “family bed” is not without its hazards, too, namely you, the kid’s mother (and your “regular sleeping partner” and any older children–for the family that sleeps together never stops sleeping together in attachment-parenting-land).
Rolling onto the baby and smothering it accounts for about one-fifth of all the 64 or so family bed-related deaths that occur each year, and the baby’s getting its head stuck between the mattress and the bedstead or bedroom wall is another leading source of death, as is rolling off the bed. Indeed, family-bed advocates advise a laundry list of safety precautions, the chief of which is abandoning the bedstead altogether and reliving the Sixties by piling mom, regular sleeping partner, and kids onto a king-size mattress on the floor. The idea seems to be that this is the way they do it in the Third World (why anyone in the First World would want to emulate the dangerous and unsanitary practices of the villages that most Third Worlders are dying to get out of is beyond me).
“Less amusing, though, is when these nutcases add, as they often do, that male circumcision is the equivalent of female genital mutilation, an idiotic and misogynist argument if there ever was one.”
Cathy also has some tart remarks about advanced-age breastfeeding, touted by the “attachment-parenting” set as the natural mammalian way. Cathy recounts a visit to a barnyard in Virginia that she and her daughter took this summer:
“The mother pig was sleeping on her side at one end of the sty, her litter of piglets in a pile at the other. They weren’t infant piglets, but about the equivalent of year-old children. Suddenly, they woke up, looked at their mother, apparently all had the same bright idea, and trotted over to nurse. At that, she woke up, and immediately rolled over on her stomach so they couldn’t get at her.
“Not having grown up on a farm, I was amazed at the ear-piercing, outraged squeals of greedy frustration. The piglets screamed at the mother furiously for several minutes, handily illustrating the concept of piggish behavior for observers unfamiliar with the barnyard, until finally the mother gave in… but only for a few minutes. Then she rolled over again and, I guess, just decided to tune them out. La Leche League would not have been happy.”