White Gold: Stories of Breast Milk Sharing

White Gold: Stories of Breast Milk Sharing

White Gold: Stories of Breast Milk Sharing

White Gold: Stories of Breast Milk Sharing


Women have shared breast milk for eons, but in White Gold, Susan Falls shows how the meanings of capitalism, technology, motherhood, and risk can be understood against the backdrop of an emerging practice in which donors and recipients of breast milk are connected through social media in the southern United States.

Drawing on her own experience as a participant, Falls describes the sharing community. She also presents narratives from donors, doulas, medical professionals, and recipients to provide a holistic ethnographic account. Situating her subject within cross-cultural comparisons of historically shifting attitudes about breast milk, Falls shows how sharing "white gold"--seen as a scarce, valuable, even mysterious substance--is a mode of enacting parenthood, gender, and political values.

Though breast milk is increasingly being commodified, Falls argues that sharing is a powerful and empowering practice. Far from uniform, participants may be like-minded about parenting but not other issues, so their acquaintanceships add new textures to the body politic. In this interdisciplinary account, White Gold shows how sharing simultaneously reproduces the capitalist values that it disrupts while encouraging community-making between strangers.


My son has more than twenty-five siblings—milk siblings, that is. I first learned of milk siblings not by reading about kinship with my Anthropology 101 class but by attending a presentation at the 2010 Visual Research Conference. a group of young women scholars and their professor, Fadwa El Guindi, discussed various ways that people reckon kinship in Qatar. Milk siblingship—when a child receives breast milk from a woman who is not the child’s biological mother and thus enters into a kin relationship with her and her family—is practiced in many parts of the world. I was surprised and very excited to hear this.

Just a few weeks earlier, after having adopted a baby, I learned from my doula that if I was unable to breastfeed our son, I might be able to use donated breast milk. Many people around me were breastfeeding their children, and there seemed to be a general consensus that breast milk was better than formula. So I called the closest milk bank to inquire about getting some milk. To my great dismay I discovered that human milk is extremely expensive—all told, it would be almost six dollars per ounce. Since newborns consume about two to three ounces every four hours and older babies take up to six or eight ounces every six hours, the cost would be exorbitant. Unless, I thought, my insurance would pay for it. I phoned my medical provider and made an inquiry.

“Do you know if there is a generic brand of this medication?” the woman in customer service kept asking me. “No, it’s not a pharmaceutical product,” I replied. “It’s breast milk, you know, from a breast—it does not have a generic brand name. I want to order it from the WakeMed Milk Bank with a prescription from our pediatrician.” This situation was evidently one that her scripted answers to frequently asked questions did not cover. No matter how hard I tried I could not get her to under-

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