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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Detectives Brisco and Green are called in to look at an empty apartment
with blood on the floor and on a baby's crib. They track down the two
parents, now living apart, but the baby remains missing. They discover
it starved to death and buried in the back yard.
The charge against the young mother is manslaughter and the father is charged as an accomplice. It develops that the mother had given birth to a normal neonate some weeks before, has brought the infant home, and been neglectful. The baby cried all the time and the mother turned up the volume on the TV to drown it out. Little babies WILL be a pain in the neck sometimes.
The mother's defense counsel argues that the death was unintentional because the mother had been strongly advised by the hospital's lactation counselor that breast feeding was the proper way for the child to get nourishment. And, indeed, mother's milk passes on nutrients and antibodies that formulas lack. The parents had an abundance of commercial formula but didn't feed the child. In court, the lactation counselor sounds like a woman on a crusade, talking about "nipple confusion" and whatnot.
I don't know how many people recall what a serious issue this was during the 80s. The primary manufacturer of milk formulas was Nestles, a Swiss company, and there were outraged cries against it because bottle feeding was seen an artificial and unnatural. This episode touches on this sensitive issue.
I was auditing a class in Medical Anthropology in the years when this conflict was boiling, long before the release of this episode. The students were mostly women. I jokingly said I, too, was in favor of breast feeding because it placed the responsibility for feeding the baby back where it belonged -- on the mother. I was just trying to get a rise out of the other students but was unprepared for what came next, an immediate rustling sound followed by a tsunami of boos and hisses aimed in my direction.
Given that experience, as well as other impressions formed over time, this is a story about much more than mother's milk versus commercial formulas. It's about feminism. The mother may be the primary caretaker of the infant but the father should involve himself in all other responsibilities outside of breast feeding. The father has a responsibility too, and he must do more than work all day and slough household tasks onto his wife.
That, in any case, was the conclusion of the judge in this case. There's another issue that is touched upon, brought up but never explored. Are some couples simply unsuited for parenthood? How many parents, when faced with a baby who cries frequently, turn up the volume on the TV? Or worse? What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, anyway?
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