Public Nursing

I’m not referring to being a nurse in public. Although, I do that all the time these days, too. Breastfeeding a child in the sight of others is an incredibly hot topic these days. Weird, I know.

Anyway, yesterday, I watched this:

Then, today, I read this.

As I was reading this, I came to a sudden realization. We are approaching this from an entirely wrong direction! So I decided to blog about it, because that’s what opinionated, technologically capable people do. Plus, I love a good soap box paired with a band wagon.

Our society is pretty screwed up. But, seeing as it’s OUR society, we pretty much have to take responsibility for its condition. Either we promoted the thoughts and actions that led to where we are now, or we quietly allowed it to happen in the form of apathy. I will acknowledge my own responsibility in this. I am so wrapped up in me and my kids that I simply have nothing left for activism of any kind on a grand scale (but I do my part on a person by person basis – just ask my co-worker who I was less than kind to when she was expressing her extreme disgust with a tandem nursing patient – which is not a great approach either, but hey, I’m human). So, because we helped get to where we are, we should maybe lighten up just a little bit when it comes to condemning society’s view of breast feeding.

So let’s take a look at the arguments presented by the pro-NIP (“nursing in public” for the uninitiated) crowd:

1. Breasts are not sexual objects.
Um….yes they are. If you really believe this, where have you been? Once upon a time, ankles were sexual. In tribal Africa, maybe breasts aren’t sexual. Here in the USA, our society has decided that they are. And frankly, I don’t need a society to tell me that my breasts are a part of my bedroom activities. I’m well aware of their part. And I’m well pleased with their part! Maybe TMI for you but I’m just trying to make a point. I bet if we were all being open and honest here, many of you would admit to the same thing. It’s even in the Bible. Just ask Soloman. And really, dads…it’s ok to admit you went a little googly eyed when your wife came down stairs the day her milk came in. Why? Because breasts are sexual!!!!

And while we are at it, comparing breast feeding with other offensive or sexual visuals is just wrong. A teenage girl dressed in tight/low cut shirt is trying to be sexy. Her state of undress isn’t what’s offensive to me. It’s the parenting that allowed her out of the house like that that I find entirely distasteful and that’s an entirely different issue from public breast feeding. Also, telling someone that you are offended by the guy with his big ol’ plumbers crack hanging out is just rude. That is certainly NOT a visual I want associated with breast feeding. So maybe we just stop with the comparisons, eh?

2. This is what they were designed for.
Absolutely, this is what they were designed for. We are mammals. We get our scientific designation from the very fact that we have mammary glands and use them to nourish our young. But, just for the sake of kindness, let’s look at this from the other side. Before you had children, did you have any true idea of the miracle awaiting you? Did you have even the tiniest inkling of the amount of love you could feel for another being? Could you begin to comprehend the idea of totally and completely giving yourself up for another person, no matter the cost? Well, those guys in business suits may be where you were. That man may have yet to personally experience seeing his wife work and struggle and issue forth blood, sweat, and tears to bring his squalling off-spring into this world. He has yet to see his amazing, beautiful, strong wife suckle his squalling off-spring at her now non-sexual breast. He has yet to see his young child grow and fatten from the issuance of what he previously considered a pair of his favorite play things. Perhaps instead of anger and indignation, we might consider pity for him and over whelming joy for ourselves regarding the miracle he has thus far missed out on and we have been privileged enough to experience, perhaps multiple times.

Or perhaps it’s a woman who is giving you the evil eye. In the comments posted to the article I linked above, a perspective was made that I had never considered. Perhaps she has yet to give birth and nourish her own baby. But maybe, she has given birth and was unable to breast feed, or even worse, LOST a baby. Maybe when she sees you nursing your baby, so brazenly, she is in an immense amount of pain from her own feelings of failure, inadequacy or grief. No, it’s not our job as nursing moms to have to make a choice not to feed our hungry baby just in case someone might have hurt feelings. But maybe we could take just a moment to consider that this person who is being so rude when we are just trying to take care of our kids, has something much deeper going on.

In either of these cases, I think we have a profound opportunity to show love and kindness to another human being and perhaps make a difference for the next breast feeing mom this person encounters. Getting angry and defensive about our legal rights just drives the wedge deeper. However we choose to respond will plant a seed for anyone, either witnessing or actually doing the complaining. When that person is faced with his or her own decision to breast feed, the encounter with you may decide them. Why is this your job? Well, that leads to my next point.

3. It’s our job to make breast feeding normal so our daughters won’t have to fight the same fight.
There is power in leading by example. I have breastfed for about 12 or the last 20 years. My oldest daughter, now 20, has a baby of her own and she is breast feeding her baby. Quite well, I might add. He was 22 pounds at 5 months of age. This stuff works! But that’s not news to us. I presented an example to my daughters that breast feeding is normal. It’s just a part of every day life with a baby. I nursed in restaurants, parks, Walmart. I never made a production of it. I just did it. In fact, it was such a part of my parenting, that I might look down and surprise myself to see that I was nursing. Muscle memory. I just did it.

The more girls and young women see moms nursing, the more of a social norm it becomes. But let’s be honest. Whenever attention is drawn to what we are doing, someone is being convinced NOT to breast feed when she has children. Lots and lots of people don’t want that kind of attention on themselves. The message we are sending is that only activist type people breast feed because society is against them. Well, most people aren’t interested in making a statement. I think for the sake of the next generation, we need to find a way to quietly make this a part of every day life. I’m not sure how to do this when ignorant folks condemn us for quietly doing what we do. ¬†And while I enjoyed seeing that mom in that video stand up for her rights, maybe this video is more harmful than good. I recently read an article written by an affluent black woman. She talked about the fact that since she purchased her nice, brand new car, she’s been stopped by police many more times than before. Her implication was that she was seen as suspicious for being black and driving a nice car because it simply isn’t possible that a black woman could have earned that on her own. It must be stolen. She went on to share that she had to apologize for doing nothing wrong because she was fearful of her life. That is horrifying to me. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be going about my perfectly legal life and be fearful of unwarranted violence against me simply because of my skin color. So maybe it’s not such a big deal to take one for the team when we are approached while breast feeding. Maybe we respond with humility and kindness in order to better the societal view on breast feeding, for our daughters. I’m not suggesting we give up our rights. Not at all. What I am suggesting is we try something like, “I’m sorry this is making you (your other customers uncomfortable). My child is hungry and needs to eat. She gets too hot under a blanket so I can’t really use a cover. However, she is just about done, so just bear with me for a few more minutes.” No, we shouldn’t have to apologize for feeding, any more than a black woman should have to apologize for DWB (that’s a thing – driving while black – did you know that? I didn’t). But while we shouldn’t be sorry for nursing in public, maybe we can feel a bit of sympathy for the person who is uncomfortable because we don’t know what drives that discomfort.

It’s a simple matter of honey vs. vinegar. We get so worked up about things and respond with hate and violence. It’s almost just part of the American way. What if we all chose love and kindness instead? What kind of message would that spread to the people we “offend” with breast feeding, to the people around watching….to our own little ones who are learning how to handle conflict by our own example?

Soap box descended, but I think I’ll hang out on the band wagon a while longer.