Sunday, September 7, 2014

Breastfeeding: "The Revolutionaries Wore Pearls"

Portrait of a Family, Johann Friedrich August, late 18th Century

An excellent post on Reading Treasure / Vive la Queen provided inspiration for this post on breastfeeding and parenting in the Eighteenth Century.   The blogger included beautiful artwork as well.  Click the link to view.  

I swiped the post title from a La Leche League article, below.

I've wondered, sometimes, if the disconnect between parents and children in the 17th and 18th Centuries (and those prior, for that matter) adversely affected the emotional development of those generations.  Hey, I'm searching for answers here and it's not too much of a stretch!  This was back in the day when the earth still revolved around the sun, not the child, like it did at my house.  It was the norm for royal and aristocratic babies and children to spend more time with caregivers than their parents and they were often actually removed from their homes for the first few years of life and sent to live with wet nurses.  Honestly, I don't know much about the lives of the peasantry, nor the middle-class. The illiteracy rate is probably responsible for the dearth of memoirs and letters.  That and they were busy trying to scrape out a living.  From what I've gathered, children worked hard and, though loved, as were children of the upper classes, their emotional needs may not have been met in the way many children's are today - they may not have been as attached and connected as modern psychology would recommend.  It was a rare parent that thought, as many modern parents do, that children's emotional needs are significant and should be considered.  Maybe they "had issues."  Just a thought... I'm thinking aloud here.  I've been told, more than once, that my mothering style went overboard and that I coddled my children too much, so consider the source.

Marie Antoinette nursing Madame Royale

Marie Antoinette was of a generation of young mothers influenced by the dawning of a more enlightened view of children and motherhood.  Her Hameau, gauze dresses, struggle against the bonds of ritual and etiquette all illustrated her natural tendency toward informality and simplicity and were supported and encouraged by the popular trend inspired by Rousseau's writings.  The Queen was probably temperamentally more inclined to be close to her children than her role allowed.  Even before having children of her own she was known, and criticized, for her love of children.  She not only played with them, and occasionally allowed them to run rampant in her apartments, she adopted several - one of them, literally, off the street.  Her involvement in the education of her children and the careful selection of the members of their households reflected an awareness of what she considered to be their needs.   There's quite a bit of evidence, in her own words,  from which we can draw conclusions about Marie Antoinette's parenting philosophy.  She wrote a touching, insightful description of her son, Louis-Charles, to his incoming governess about his fears, strengths, and weaknesses - and the manner in which she'd like them handled.  Letters that she wrote to her mother and brother reflected her mothering style. Others add strokes to the image of Marie Antoinette as a caring mother.  Mercy, her Austrian advisor, among others, complained that she was too involved with her children and not involved enough with the business of influencing her husband to make decisions that were in the best interest of Austria.   Her children, Marie Thérèse and Louis-Charles, both expressed that the time the family spent basically held captive at the Tuileries, then officially held captive in The Temple, had the one happy consequence that they were able to spend more time with their parents.

Coincidentally, the painting that serves as the heading on my blog is of Marie Antoinette, seated, and her daughter, Marie Thérèse, holding the hand of her governess, the Princesse de Guéméné at Le Hameau.  

Anyway, the post to which I linked above mentions Rousseau and his professed views on the family. I agree with his writings on the subject, but he lost credibility when he abandoned his own children in an orphanage.  On the other hand, because I was a member of La Leche League when my children were small, I was uplifted by the example of a more recent public figure in Princess Grace of Monaco.  The reason I became involved with La Leche League, in the first place, was because I was preparing to have my first child, at home, and the midwife, realizing that I knew "absolutely nothing about childbirth or breastfeeding." (She actually wrote that in my file, thank you.)  insisted I go to a meeting to remedy my pathetic lack of knowledge.  I remember the leader commenting on Princess Grace's involvement with the organization and thinking, "Well, she seems pretty normal, so I guess it's okay."  La Leche League validated my instincts about children, parenting, love and life, in general, so I went with it, for better or worse. You'd have to consult my husband and children as to whether it turned out for better or for worse.  

Princess Grace (nee Grace Kelly) with one of her babies

So, I was considering a quick post on the subject, googled "Princess Grace La Leche League" to refresh my memory and came up with the article linked below.  Obviously, the word "Revolutionaries" in the title was a sign that I should do the post.

From the article, The Revolutionaries Wore Pearls

"...  The continuing stream of newspaper and magazine articles spread awareness of the unique benefits of mother's milk through the 1960s. But it was a still-quoted speech by a glamorous and gracious Princess from far away Monaco that splashed the importance of breastfeeding on front pages of newspapers across the country in 1971.
Princess Grace was widely respected as a devoted mother, and it was well known that she had nursed all three of her children. And so as brainstorming got underway for the 1971 Conference in Chicago, someone suggested asking Princess Grace to be the banquet speaker, and she accepted.
On the night of the banquet, Princess Grace's warmth and charm seemed to radiate throughout the hotel. She gave a beautiful speech, honoring the women there for their decision to breastfeed their babies. She made her personal commitment abundantly clear with the line from her speech that is still quoted nearly 40 years later:
"I have many duties and obligations of State along with my husband; but my family comes first....When they first needed me, and I them, there were no compromises; State had to wait upon mother.
"I had never considered anything but breastfeeding when I had children. And when these children came, two girls and a boy, I breastfed them as I always intended to do, simply as something which was to me wholly normal and right. I had never thought about it as anything extraordinary for me to be doing -- neither as a working woman, which I had been in a so-called glamorous profession, nor as the wife of a ruling Prince."

The last time I was as Versailles I was surprised to notice that one of the guards had stood up and given her chair to a mother nursing a toddler.   I walked by, then pretended I was taking a picture of the gilded, sparkly Versailles Hall of Mirrors in order to record this historic sight.  I took it from a distance and cropped it. 


Micah said...

For the better! It definitely turned out for the better - David and I always felt very loved and had a picture perfect childhood. You're a wonderful mommy and bestie. Love you!

Elissa said...

A nursing mother at Versailles! that's something quite unexpected. I just adore the picture you have as your header. In all my literature on MA, I've never come across that one. Where did you find it?

Madeleine Doak said...

It was a first for me, too, Elissa!
I saw her when I was with you in July, but we saw so many amazing things that day that I neglected to mention the nursing mother. I have no idea where I got the MA picture/header. Online somewhere. It's beautiful, isn't it? Thanks for reading my blog, cutie, and for the comment. I miss you.