I had an eye-opening experience a couple of months ago. My Husband and I took our daughter Hailey and her friend to a church harvest carnival at a church that we had never been to. I figured it would be a great way to spend some quality time as a family. I wore my then 2 week old son Cohen in my Moby wrap. A couple of hours into the event, he’s hungry. I had never breastfed at such a large event in front of so many people and I felt unsure of how to go about it. I found an almost-empty warehouse with chairs setup, but it was playing very loud music and someone swiped the only couch from my eyes before I could physically claim it. My Husband and the girls were on their way to another building to get food so I decided I would follow them and attempt to find a comfy spot to nurse.
When I found him and the girls, there was no such luck in the comfort department. But there were chairs and tables, so I [purposefully] chose a table in the back out of main view. I discreetly nursed Cohen for 30 minutes or so. Now, I know that nursing in public is seen as taboo by many unless Mom confines herself to a dirty bathroom, a cramped car, or covers herself and her little one with a blanket or nursing cover. However, I don’t see anybody else eating their meals in a bathroom, I don’t think many people would eat in their car if it was uncomfortable for them to do so, and I don’t see the logic in a breastfeeding Mother covering a natural act so that someone else won’t be offended. My outlook is: if it bothers you, look away. So, I fed my son.
I'm sitting in the back of the room, giving my son the nourishment that Nature and God allow me to. Giving him what the WHO, the AAP, and countless other organizations and individuals recommend for Mothers to do for all of the health benefits that it provides. While I am nursing, you cannot see any more than you would on the street, at the beach, or on the covers of those useless magazines so many people read (and those who find them offensive simply DON’T READ THEM, right?). Maybe you can even see less unless you’re standing above me, seeing what I see, which nobody is.
Toward the end of Cohen’s meal, I see a lady coming my direction out of my peripheral vision. She gets my full attention by forcefully patting my shoulder. I swing back to look at her and I smile. She touched my shoulder with such force, I thought maybe I knew her. She starts off by telling me ‘You’re doing a real great job”… and then goes on to say “of offending everyone in this room and making everybody feel uncomfortable. Everybody is staring.” She lets out a nervous giggle. I look around and nobody is staring. I politely tell her I don’t mind, it’s a natural act. Nothing to be ashamed of, right? As she’s walking away, she stops and agrees with me while also contradicting her agreement and repeating herself about how uncomfortable everyone in the room is (when in reality, she was the only one obviously uncomfortable and the only one who couldn’t manage to look away since it bothered her). So I state the obvious and tell her “I’m simply feeding my baby. He’s hungry.” She walked away, while staring over our way as she was gathering her things and her children (yes, she is a Mother).
I wish I would have had some valuable information on the tip of my tongue for this woman. I wish I would have been prepared for something like this. She is obviously misinformed and thinks that somehow my baby eating from my breast is sexual, or offensive. She is like many others, in this country especially, who have misinformation and backward images of what feeding a baby should look like. The bottle is not natural. The breast is. Breasts have been made to be so sexualized, that people are viewing feeding a child offensive. How is me, filling my child’s belly with food, making sure he sustains LIFE offensive? Because I do it with a part of my body that television & pornography have turned into a completely sexual image? You do have the right to feel that way if you choose. You can feel however you want. But in feeling that way, you are choosing to be ignorant, you are choosing to be misinformed, you are choosing to be offended and you’re choosing to continue to be offended by looking.
There are many things that I would rather not see and experience, as well: Cigarette smoking, women in very revealing clothing, old men with massive amounts of curly hair sticking from every which way of their shirt (if they’re even wearing one)… but the difference between those things and breastfeeding is this: necessity. Is it a necessity for you to smoke in public and subject everyone else to the health hazard? Breastfeeding is not a health hazard. It is the opposite. I don’t have to stand in your cloud of smoke, inhaling something I don’t like, while scolding or shaming you for it. Is it necessary to dress so revealing? No, but I can look away if I don’t like how you dress. I know that it’s done for the wrong kind of attention and vanity, not out of necessity. Can you wear a shirt that doesn’t have your chest and back hair pop out of every which way? Yes, but it’s your right if you don’t want to and although it’s not necessary for you to wear that shirt, I can just as easily look away. So not only do you have the right to do all of these things and more, which might personally affect me in some way and even have adverse health effects on me and my family, you get to do those things without there being a necessary reason to do so with much less of a chance that someone will come up to you and shame you for them or shoot an obviously nasty look your way.
The reason I said at the beginning that this was an eye-opening experience is not because I didn’t know some people would have a problem with seeing a breastfeeding woman. It's not because I didn’t know it was a reality that someone might ignorantly approach me, say something rude to me, or even to ask me (against the law) to leave an establishment. It is because I’ve had time to think about why. Why did this woman feel the need to not only approach me, but to approach me with such judgment and harshness? It comes down to a few things that I read here:
I have been changed by this experience. Not because I am going to refuse my child food in public or feel shamed when I choose to feed him wherever he happens to be hungry… the only way for people to understand that breastfeeding is not dirty or wrong, is for them to see it. Once people are exposed to this natural act enough, it can become normal again, as it was meant. What’s normal to you now is only normal because it’s what you know. It’s because I want to be sure that I don’t make anybody else feel like the woman here tried to make me feel. And I definitely don’t want to make anybody feel that way to make myself feel better.
This goes way beyond breastfeeding. This involves everyday life and what goes on around us. When we see someone who is dressed in clothing that we wouldn’t wear, what looks do we show on our face to express a feeling toward another person? How wide do our eyes get and how long do our stares linger? What do we whisper to our significant other or our friend next to us that might make that person feel completely horrible if they heard (or even just saw you whispering)? Does it make you feel good to belittle someone when they cut you off in traffic? Or for you to cut them off when they’re doing the speed limit and you don’t like it? Do you think twice before you act and ask yourself how your expressed opinion and actions might affect someone else? Most people don’t do this nearly as often as they should. I don’t want to be one of those people.
So thank you random, misinformed church lady, for reminding me of this. Instead of your attempts to shame and belittle me having a negative effect, they have done the opposite. They have reminded me of who I strive to be, how my actions have an impact on others and that I need to continue my journey in life while showing everyone that breastfeeding is natural and normal by nursing my baby in public.
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