Unlatched out in Poland and the loss of ancestral homelands

The very first foreign translation of Unlatched is out (with a notably less "scandalous" cover that I'm guessing Twitter won't censor this time around). That it's in Poland has a lot of meaning for me, which I brought to light in a letter to the Polish media that I was asked to write in advance of the book's publication. I'll share that with you here:

Dear Readers,

You are holding in your hands the very first foreign translation of Unlatched. That you are reading this in Poland is deeply meaningful for me. I am the great-granddaughter of Polish-Russian immigrants. My great-grandmother, Ella Frutkin (neé Stuchinsky), was born in 1888, in the city of Grodno, alternately Polish-Lithuanian and a holding of the Russian Empire (now in Belarus). She left Grodno as a young girl, during the mass migration of Eastern Europeans to the United States and to South America over the turn of the last century -- one of the greatest migrations in all of human history. And she arrived in America in the midst of another dramatic transformation of humankind: the rise of America’s Industrial Age.

I know many of the stories about her remarkable life: her weeks-long voyage packed in steerage on the ship to a new life in America; the loss of her younger sister from influenza; her fortitude as a youth, laboring in a garment sweatshop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to support her mother and disabled brother. Yet I know little about the day-to-day details of her early childhood in Polish/Russian Grodno, or of the family life she left behind, or of the lives of my relatives who came before her. Ella died at the age of 100 when I was nine, and with her died all knowledge of my prior human history.

Ella’s story isn’t in Unlatched. But it was the realization of this and other lost connections to my ancestors, to our collective human history, that led me to write this book. Because at its core, Unlatched isn’t just a book about breastfeeding -- the now embattled nurturing of our young especially in the modernized world, and the resulting impact on our public health crises. Unlatched is the story of how we are at the tipping point of disconnecting from our natural biology, and thus from the life our human ancestors lived for 99.9 percent of their existence on earth.

Yet it doesn’t matter if you are the child of displaced immigrants or can trace your family lineage back for centuries. If you live in the modern, industrialized, increasingly technologized world today, you can feel that this is a world that would have challenged our ancestors’ natural ability to thrive.

“Breast is best” may be a global mantra, but here is the reality in Poland: While a remarkable 98 percent of Polish mothers now start off breastfeeding, more than half will give it up entirely or start supplementing with formula within a few weeks. Just 4 percent of Polish babies receive the initial six months of exclusive breastfeeding recommended for optimal development and health by the World Health Organization. And yet, scientists now know that breast milk is not just a food, but a mysterious and powerful human tissue -- a constellation of complex nutrients, hormones, immunoactive molecules, microorganisms, and other little-understood compounds uniquely evolved over millions of years, to meet the survival needs of the human infant.

How did we come to surrender eons of human evolution for artificial formula feeding? Growing up, I thought nothing of the fact that I was exclusively formula-fed. But when I became a mother, I began to think about the true impact of surrendering such a profound connection. Unlatched documents my worldwide search for answers about the first, most fundamental experience of newborn life.

I discovered that the issues involved were momentous. To transcend the current-day controversies (“to breastfeed or formula-feed; to do it in public or private; how long is it acceptable to nurse?”) and uncover the full story, I spent three years tracing human history and breastfeeding in other cultures around the world. I examined the feeding of infants and young children in prehistory, in biblical times, up to eighteenth-century France and Industrial Age America, from modern-day Mongolia to inner-city Los Angeles. I explored a highly specialized research laboratory where the foremost lactation scientists in the world are unlocking the secrets of human milk and helping to uncover links to our modern-day epidemic of chronic disease. I interviewed dozens of anthropologists and historians; doctors and public health experts; economists and policymakers; formula and marketing industry insiders. And everywhere along the way, I spoke with mothers and fathers to find out how breastfeeding lost its place as the human norm, and how in the modern world today, obstacles to breastfeeding success can seem insurmountable.

Unlatched sheds light on the astonishing truths at the heart of our contemporary breastfeeding disconnection. But, importantly, it reveals a path to restoring this most fundamental human function -- and thus our collective health and well-being -- by restoring the ancient framework of societal support necessary to make breastfeeding possible in the modern world.

How fortuitous that I should be reconnected to my great-grandmother, to my ancestral homeland, and to you through this book. And how fortunate for us all that, together, we now have the power to forge a healthier and more authentically human future for our children--

Jennifer Grayson

July 1, 2017

Los Angeles

For my Polish-speaking friends or those adept at deciphering Google Translate, there's a fantastic piece by journalist Anna Kowalczyk in Gazeta Wyborcza about the enormity of the situation Polish mothers are facing today. The language may be different, but she could just as easily be writing about America or any other WEIRD society in the world today. 

Link to buy Odstawieni. Ewolucja karmienia piersią. Historia kontrowersji is here.