Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Nipples And Boobies - Oh, My!

Why are we still having debates about public breastfeeding?

No, really – why?

You would think that a culture that considers itself as enlightened as ours does would have figured it out by now, but no, the ugly commentary about the 'crazy exhibitionists' continues. I still see people saying that mothers nursing their babies in public is 'vile and disgusting'. I've stayed out of it for as long as possible because I honestly don't think there is anything I can say to change people's minds on the topic, but perhaps I can just provide some insight into why I feel the way I do.

Breastfeeding did not come easily to me. When I was pregnant with my first baby, I read the standard literature about it and wondered why there was so much written on the topic. Isn't this something I should just know how to do? I thought. I didn't understand why it was necessary to read about seventeen different nursing positions, how to achieve a proper latch (don't you just stick the baby up there and let him/her do all the work?), and all the other intricate workings of feeding your baby from your breast.

Then when I had my daughter, I found out just how difficult it really could be. It took weeks for us to develop a proper latch, so she and I were both often frustrated to the point of tears. I had an oversupply, and I developed mastitis. She wanted to nurse constantly, and I leaked all the time. I did not want to give up because I knew it was best for her, but it was hard. I realized that all the reading I had done had not even remotely prepared me for how challenging this would be.

It got better as months went on, but I wondered how I would ever be able to do it discretely in public. Although I used a nursing cover, she hated being covered up and would flail wildly whenever I tried to latch her on underneath the cover, and my letdown was so quick that she would often pull away in the middle of it, leaving me squirting milk all over her while I tried to juggle her and the cover and my erupting breast all at once.

It was a mess.

So I can't possibly express how glad I was that I stuck with it and was able to continue nursing her. You would think that after dealing with all of that, I would have no problem nursing her in public even if she did fling the cover off and, God forbid, someone caught a glimpse of a boob slip. But when we were out and about, I almost always ended up in the car, hot and cramped and missing out on things for fear that some judgy stranger would gawk at me.

Now, not everyone struggles the way I did. I first met a good friend of mine right after we each had our second child. She came over to our house, and I was excited to learn that she too was breastfeeding. I wouldn't have to feel so awkward about struggling to latch my son – we could struggle together! So when it came time for my son to eat, I didn't feel too embarrassed as I wrapped the cover around my neck, situated the Boppy pillow, heaved my bowling-ball sized breast out of my tank top, and tried several times to slide my nipple into his mouth just right before I eventually got him latched on.

Not long after, my friend's son was ready to nurse. I watched in awe as she threw a blanket over her shoulder, popped him on, and kept right on talking. That was it. Easy breezy.

Man, I was jealous.

So what it boils down to is not all of our experiences are the same. It isn't as simple as 'just cover up'. I know that seems to be the easy solution, but it isn't that easy for everyone. There isn't a 'right way' to nurse your baby. It isn't about making sure everyone else around you is comfortable; it's about making sure the baby is comfortable and nourished and loved. A nursing baby isn't something to gawk at or feel weird about. I understand that many people are not familiar with breastfeeding and may be a little uncomfortable around it, so I do choose to use a cover to try to prevent awkwardness, but I certainly shouldn't be required to do so. And if the baby gets too hot or sweaty, and I choose to take the cover off, that doesn't make me an exhibitionist. It doesn't make me someone who enjoys people looking at my baby-attached breast. It makes me a good mother who puts her baby's needs first.

Last year I attended a ladies' class at a conference, and there were several young mothers with babies in the room. All of them were breastfeeding with covers. The speaker, who frequently travels on mission trips to India, commented on how much she loved having all the mothers and babies in the room and how it made her feel right at home. “When we have our classes in India,” she said, “there are boobs everywhere.”

And that's how it is in so many other cultures – no one even bats an eye at breastfeeding babies. How amazing would it be if our culture valued motherhood and womanhood in the same way? If instead of mainstream being the normalcy of pornography on the big screen, it was the normalcy of mothers using breasts for their intended function?

I think that modesty is always a good approach to take, but I don't see how it relates to breastfeeding. Not in a culture where we see so many Victoria's Secret billboards. Not in a culture where it's too easy, at the click of a mouse, to watch strangers having sex in the privacy of our own homes. Not in a culture where our children are constantly subjected to not-so-subtle sexual content on cable television.

And you're worried about breastfeeding?

Perhaps one of the most telling examples I can give you of how far off base our culture has become is a thread I recently read on a Babycenter forum. A mother was concerned because she had found out her 14-year-old son had been looking at porn on his computer. I know nothing should surprise me anymore, but I was still appalled to read through the comments and see what the majority of posters were advising. Just open an account for him, they said. He's going to look at it anyway – at least you'll know what he's looking at. Better for him to do that than act out his sexual frustration in other ways.

We live in a society that tells our sons it's okay to objectify women, but it's gross to see them mothering their children. A society that robs our children of their innocence and then wonders why they can't have functioning relationships. A society that tells them everything under the sun is okay as long as it makes them feel good, unless it's pure or moral or loving.

And you're worried about breastfeeding.

So that's where I'm at – I find myself in a place of such disbelief that my kids are more likely to encounter immorality online than nurturing in public. Why? Because too many people think breastfeeding is weird? And you're only supposed to do your 'weird' stuff when no one's looking?

By creating a problem where one doesn't exist, we're ignoring the real problem.

Considering all the unfortunate aspects of life my kids could be exposed to, I can only hope that they will get to see lots of breastfeeding, that they will know what nurturing is. I hope I will have plenty of opportunities to show them examples of wholesome love and tell them, “This is life. This is how you live.” God knows those examples are hard to find.