Saturday, September 25, 2010

starving a "fat" infant

This news is upsetting to read, and extreme in its particulars, but still feels connected to the screwed-up world in which we live. It almost makes sense, in a horrible, heartbreaking way. It doesn't--it's not sane--but it isn't happening in a vacuum.

It is the latest development in the ongoing story of a couple in Seattle, Brittainy and Samuel Labberton. Brittainy starved her children from birth, basically, and continued starving them in response to interference from hospitals and child welfare, who ended up taking them away from her. She did all this with her husband's approval, terrified they would get fat (her husband has a "weight problem"). She saw regular developmental weight gain as bad and would not feed them, sometimes barely for days. She gave her youngest daughter--five months old at the time--a bottle with laxative in it to make her lose weight after a visit when the child had been in foster care and recovered a bit. When she was told of the child's recovery in hospital she apparently complained, "Oh my God she's fat" and "I have a fat baby," insisting that the girl "should be under the 50th percentile in weight, not over it." Her oldest child apparently arrived at a foster home "'ravenously hungry,' eating so fast that she nearly choked on her food."

Most recently, the couple's sentencing for child mistreatment charges was suspended because Brittainy was about to give birth to their third child (she has said she wants to have 12). She herself, who suffered from severe suicidal post-partum depression and what sounds like very disordered eating, was admitted to the hospital over the summer, where she "failed to eat enough to provide good nutrition" for the unborn child.

It is incensing to even ponder what's happening inside these young, young children, who are being chemically trained to have an insane relationship with food and with physical survival--that is, assuming they survive (the Labbertons are working to regain custody), and there is certainly no guarantee they will. The court took custody of the couple's second child after Brittainy said she felt she would kill herself and the child; this kind of feeding-related abuse, while "about" fear of fat, is also good way to kill them.

All the body dysmorphia this woman is visiting upon her children--brutally pushing a skewed adult beauty ideal onto tiny infants, unable to see them as people in their own right--feels like a worst example, but not only example, of how people can treat children, especially girls. I am not trying to say that any sane person would starve their children in this way, but it has been shown that people do not (for instance)--all variables aside--feed girl and boy babies the same. And it makes macabre sense that someone could land obsessively on the difference--the conflict--between the image of a what we think of as a healthy baby--chubby, fat-wristed--and a healthy--thin--adult, and try to reconcile the two in this horrible way, at their children's expense. I mean, we are terrified our kids will be fat; why wouldn't it start with babyhood? Well-meaning, well-informed people do bad things to kids in the name of this fear all the time.

I hope this story has any kind of good resolution to it, somehow. It's probably ghoulish to focus on it, but it feels not unrelated to the world in which parents of fat children are vilified and the agonies of size begin earlier and earlier.


  1. I was thanking my mom just yesterday for giving me and my sister zero food/eating/size issues while raising us. She was naturally thin and we were naturally scrawny kids. There was no dieting in the house, no discussion of dieting, no talking about food intake or body size having moral connotations.

    The Labbertons seem possibly too callous and too dim-witted to raise children. I hope their children are kept safe from their neglect and total mind-fuck.

  2. Yer lucky, Ms. Orange, and I'm glad for you. It is a minefield out there.

    I wasn't sure if I should write about this, because it is the sad story of one very sick woman, not an issue per se, but it sure is striking.