There’s a lot of talk these days about breastfeeding in public. Opinions typically fall into three categories: 1) Breastfeed only behind closed doors; 2) breastfeed in public if you must, but cover up; and 3) breastfeed anytime, anyplace.
As a member of society, I fall in the third category. However, as a breastfeeding mom, I usually behave according to the first category’s preference. Am I ashamed? No, but my goal is to feed my child, and believe it or not, I want you not to see my breasts just as much as you don’t want to see them. It’s counterintuitive for me to openly show my breasts after a lifetime of keeping them concealed. And repulsion is not the reaction I desire when someone is looking at me, especially when looking at the parts I routinely keep hidden. Come on, I survived the body-shaming of adolescence. I don’t want more of it as an adult.
When volunteering for a fundraiser at my older daughter’s school, I took breaks to feed my new son in the car. Nursing him in front of my daughter’s friends and their parents was not a comfortable place for me—not because of anything they said or did, but simply for my own comfort level.
I don’t believe that I can breastfeed in public without drawing looks and stares. I’m just not willing to be that source of entertainment for folks. In public, my breasts feels like the proverbial elephant in the room. I breastfeed in front of those I know and love, in front of those who I know will not ridicule. Do I wish I lived in a more accepting and less judgmental society? Yes, but I’m not willing to be the activist out there confronting fears and preconceived notions about the time and place for a woman’s bare breast.
My focus is on this special time with my child. Infancy is fleeting, and breastfeeding is something special between us. If you cannot bear witness to this very cool physiological connection without feeling judgmental or funny in the pants then I’d rather you not witness it at all. That much I can control. And any infant who has full use of his arms will continuously pull a blanket off of his face. A cover is an impractical expectation from those who haven’t thought this through. I have however considered knitting a “breast coozy” of sorts. You know, like the ones used for soda and beer cans. My breast gets cold when it’s out and about, even indoors. But I’m not sure even a coozy would satisfy the cover-up demands of judgmental onlookers.
I can hear the activists telling me not to hide, not to let other people’s judgment affect my behavior. I hear them telling me that the only way things will change is if moms like me will normalize breastfeeding and feed their babies anywhere and everywhere. I hear them, and a big part of me wants to be that person. I fear my unwillingness to step forward and breastfeed in public contributes to the problem. But then I go out to dinner with my family, and I make sure I feed the baby before we leave.
At the restaurant, I watch as he grows fussier and fussier. I know he wants to nurse. I survey the restaurant to see which person will be the one to stare me down or shake their head or decide to confront me about my indecency. I’ve seen the YouTube videos circulating. I begin to wish we had a different table, maybe a booth in an obscure corner. Then, I go to the car to get my nursing pillow. When I return, I find that my baby has fallen asleep, and I’m relieved.
Do I think we have over-sexualized breasts in our society? That’s a tough one. My breasts are sexual organs. But they are also meant to feed my child. It’s a big debate. Which came first? The baby who needed to be fed or the man who admired a woman’s breasts? Can it be both? Can we just understand that in this context breasts are not sexual?
One of my favorite statues is in St. Augustine, Florida, at the Our Lady of La Leche shrine. It’s the Virgin Mary breastfeeding baby Jesus. How does someone who represents the epitome of innocence have a shrine dedicated to her days of lactation if this act is so offensive in the public eye? What is it about breastfeeding in public that makes people so offended? Is it because the idea of an infant’s mouth on a nipple contradicts everything we’ve been fed about the purpose and sensation of such a physical encounter?
When I see another woman feeding her child in public, I think it’s great. I’m glad they’re comfortable, and I’m glad that I can see it happening. I want to go up to her and say, “thank you,” or something equally awkward like, “I don’t find you offensive!” I click the like button on all the breastfeeding images I see on Facebook. I take tons of breastfeeding selfies (#brelfies they call them) to capture the special moments. But I share them selectively in my home and with close friends.
I am the breastfeeding mom who seeks a dressing room at the mall or retreats to her car to feed her baby, a calm quiet place to share a meal. Until society catches up, I’m just not willing to turn my nursing sessions into a battleground for normalizing breastfeeding. I am grateful to those who are.