I started writing this post awhile ago. What better time to finish it up than Nablopomo? Since I need to keep the post count going even when I may not have access to the blog from Wisconsin. So here we go.
Again I have found myself dwelling on a conversation begun at work. And frankly, I’m a little bit surprised that the topic hadn’t come up sooner, considering the type of business we do.
Two of my coworkers were paging through one of the freebie magazines that’s included with our registry goodie bag. They were cooing over pictures of cute baby faces and adorable baby bottoms. One of them flipped the page and commented, with a touch of disgust, “Oh, that’s just like what we saw over in the glider section the other day. ” One of them used the word “nasty” as they discussed the inappropriate behavior of this particular customer.
The photo was a mother nursing her infant. The woman (or women) that had been in the store had apparently not been considerate enough to hide her body or her baby as they breastfed.
I responded with one word. “So?”
They both looked at each other, then back at me like, “Eww, she’s one of them.”
One of the things that bothered me from this exchange, and the heated (and not so civil) debate that followed, was that these attacks on a mother’s right to nurse her child anywhere and anytime her baby needs to be fed were coming from two other women. One of whom is a mother herself.
It often happens when I am confronted and placed in a defensive position that I am unable to articulate my thoughts to my own satisfaction. While it would be nice to speak in such a way that might change a mind, most of the time, I know that certain issues involve minds that are not going to be so open to change. I don’t expect to change a mind. If I do, it’s gravy. I just like to have the chance to form my arguments and say my piece.
Unfortunately, when you get into a two-against-one scenario like this, usually the two will gang up on the one, feeling superior because another person in the conversation has validated their position, regardless of right or wrong.
Of course, I believe I am right on this issue. And my validation comes from the fact that the law happens to be on my side. That’s a pretty big check mark in my favor.
But since I didn’t really get to finish my argument to my coworkers, I wanted to get it off my chest. Thank goodness I have a blog in which to do just such a thing.
When I said, “So?” I was truly curious what the big deal was to them. They both have seen breasts before. One of them had nursed babies. They both believe that breastmilk is the best food for babies (to the best of my knowledge). Why take offense if a mother is doing the best thing for her baby and refuses to be ashamed of her body while allowing it to carry out its duty?
Their answer was that feeding a baby is a time for bonding and intimacy. That it is a private moment to be shared only within the family unit.
I get that. Bonding is important. But bonding does not always happen in private because bonding includes more aspects of parenthood than feeding alone. And I think that it’s also important for a mother not to feel isolated from society just because she happens to be her baby’s only source of nourishment or comfort. Social interaction on every continent and in every country around the world includes the sharing of meals. Eating, while it does not always have to be, is often a social activity. My family, specifically, has been known to plan entire vacations and visits around meals. It’s what we do. So why should we isolate our newest members of society because they need to eat? But not when they merely need to be fed, specifically, when they need to receive their primary nourishment from their mother’s breast. Bottle fed babies are not isolated or covered up, though to some people, bottles may be just as offensive.
True, we aren’t supposed to express our outrage that a baby is getting nourishment from chemically altered cow’s milk delivered by artificial plastic nipples. Because we don’t know that family’s situation. Now, I understand why some people may not breastfeed. I have very good friends and family members that chose not to or weaned early. My problem is not with the individuals who are only trying to do what is best for their families. My problem is this attitude from society that puts breastfeeding, the ideal way for a baby to eat (according to any medical research you can find and even printed all over formula labels and literature), behind closed doors and gives formula, the fourth best way to feed babies, this undeserved elevated status. It’s no wonder that our country’s breastfeeding rates are so sad. We never see it, so we don’t know how to do it.
“So why don’t you take off your shirt right now.”
I have no problem showing my body. In the right context, nudity is empowering and appropriate. The reason that bare breasts are so taboo is another issue I have with how we perceive each other in our culture. When they’re sexualized, they’re fine. When they’re functional, they’re obscene. But that’s another rant for another day.
“It’s like sucking on a guy’s dick.”
You know that it would be totally acceptable to do that in public if men ejaculated three square meals a day and healthy between meal snacks. Because men influence the women of society. So womeon are put into a closet if they’re using their bodies in a way that doesn’t strictly adhere to an outdated puritanical ideal.
These comments totally caught me off guard. Not only because of the people and place, but also because of just how ridiculous they sounded. Are we not more enlightened than that? Breastfeeding is a beautiful and incredible act. It is the ultimate offering of part of yourself to another person. Women are able to give life and sustain it with their bodies, even after they birth their babies. I honestly don’t understand why it is so horrifying to some people, and how we let those people allow us to get on the defensive about this. If anything, nature has proven its benefets to us time and again. Even people who are moving away from more processed materials like plastics, pesticides and polyesters toward more organic foods and clothing still don’t think much, if anything, about the consequences of making a choice like bottles and formula (or disposable diapers, for that matter, but I digress). Not only the consequences to the health of their babies, but the consequences to nursing mothers in America, or the mothers that want to nurse but fail because of societal pressures like this.
It just makes me so sad. Sad for the mothers who might not have given up on breastfeeding had their environment been a more supportive one. Sad for the babies who end up at higher risk for various problems in life that might have been avoided if they’d been fed the way nature intended. Sad for the people who have no idea that their attitudes of hate only make things worse for everyone. Just sad.
But I know that I have done and continue to do right by my child. With his family history, there was no way I was going to stop nursing him before we were both ready, before I was fully confident that I had given him all he needed from me. Yes, he’s two years old. Yes I still nurse him one to three times a day. But I believe in my heart this is what he needs, that it’s my job to provide this for him for as long as it works for us. When he was younger, I fed him anywhere, and rarely went out of my way to hide myself or cover up. He wouldn’t tolerate it, and I didn’t feel ashamed. And I’ll do it for any other babies I am lucky enough to have. And I’ll encourage everyone who wants to nurse their babies to do it for as long as they need to, to be proud of what they’re doing, to find power and strength in their bodies’ abilities to nourish, to mother. If we can be confident in our choices, we can change minds and attidudes and even society at large over time.