Wednesday, June 16, 2010
A friend was nursing her son the same age as Jacob pool side last week when she was asked by a lifeguard after a complaint to cover up or go to a change room. She refused, informing the lifeguard of the law in this province that anywhere a woman is legally permitted to be, so too can she breastfeed a baby. The lifeguard hissed "there are CHILDREN watching you".
And here I thought we were living in an educated, modern and health conscious city in 2010. People know better right...RIGHT???
My friend did not turn red and hide in a change room. Rather she called the city, the news, the Le Leche League, and was featured on the front page of the local paper.
I thought this whole breastfeeding thing was kind of accepted now, I mean God okayed it right?...actually designed it himself so it can't be that bad? Well according to the letters to the editor I have been reading for days now the Le leche league, God and me may be in the minority.
I breastfeed. It is not easy for me. It is something I work very hard at, take prescription medication for, have spent hours with lactation consultants over, expended hundreds of dollars trying different breast pumps and continue to produce such a low supply that I have to feed my babies every 2 hours at least, 24 hours a day. I am the only one who can feed Jacob and I can't leave him for more than an hour and it is exhausting. I value this relationship and bond however and happily do it without complaint but to imply that a breastfeeding mother on any level is "selfish" then, as one reader accused was the final straw for me. THIS (http://www.promom.org/101/) is why I continue to breastfeed despite the difficulty. I would take great offence than for someone to tell me that after all I am already doing I am to take extra measures to ensure everyone else's COMFORT on top of that? Nuh uh. If you don't like it then you can go sit in the bathroom till I'm done.
I wrote the editor a rebuttal letter after one two many ignorant comments were printed that likely won't run due to length...what? me, opinionated and long winded? Shocking, yes?
So here it is.
I would like to address Peter Baynon’s and Andrea Thornton’s comments on public breast feeding.
Peter suggests Kristin, who was asked to leave a public pool for nursing an infant pool side, could simply have brought a bottle to feed her son in public. I am questioning the suggestion that a nursing baby should have to compromise in public. Why would Kristin bring an artificial breast and spend time pumping when she has a full working set right there on her chest? Why would it be expected that her baby struggle to suck on plastic so that others would not witness him nursing? This seems unfair and a testament to the writer’s breastfeeding ignorance as according to Dr. Jack Newman; Canadian Breast feeding specialist, many breastfeeding babies cannot take an occasional bottle if they are not practiced with it. Should they become accustomed to this less skilled method of eating they will reject the breast sooner then they otherwise might have.
In respect to Mr. Baynon’s comments on not painting his house an unusual color because of the respect and consideration he has for his neighbours. I am not sure what parallel personal color tastes have with breastfeeding but it would seem he is implying that breastfeeding is offensive and disrespectful to those around the mother and baby. This is simply not fair. There is nothing sexual, crude, shameful, immodest or gross about providing a human infant with human milk that provides him greater health benefits than alternative sources. Should this discomfort remain the case for some perhaps this is an opportunity to examine your attitude surrounding breast feeding? Do you feel awkward or avert your eyes when you see a calf nursing at its Mother’s utter? Are you outraged at the farmer for not covering or removing lactating animals from view during the spring months? Of course not, this would be ridiculous. We too are mammals. This is how we too are meant to feed babies.
Breastfeeding for many is a truly selfless pursuit full of self sacrifice. To be justifiably called selfish, Kristin would have to have obtained some personal pay off for breastfeeding her son. To the contrary she was standing up for his right to superior nutrition and his right to a life sustaining need met when and where he required it. I would consider it selfish of those around her to embarrass her or cause a hungry baby to wait, leave or have his head covered because of their attitude about a situation that, frankly is none of their business. It ceases to affect you as quickly as you can avert your eyes if you don’t wish to watch.
To Ms. Thornton I question the relevance of comparing the nurturing method of feeding at the breast to crows eating road kill. The later is not a controversial aspect of nature, but obviously disgusting and something humans don’t relate to. A more comparable argument would be to someone finding offence to an aspect in nature obviously representing something beautiful. If someone chose to be “horrified” by a rainbow I can’t imagine they should garner much sympathy.
As the mother of boys I would ask when a nursing mother is present why NOT make an opportunity for discussion. Trying to raise young men in our hyper sexualized culture I welcome opportunities to teach about respecting woman’s bodies and that breasts hold greater purpose then MTV would have one believe. On that note I can’t imagine that Kristen was exposing more of her body while her baby was nursing than a woman in a bikini would be. The only difference is who received a complaint.
I do nurse with a cover because my friend (www.snelldogs.blogspot.com) made me a beautiful and functional one that I get lots of compliments on. It is also how I feel comfortable. It has nothing to do with my consideration of anyone else's comfort. In doing that I would be agreeing that there is something shameful about the act that needs to be hidden. There isn't and it does not.
As a disclaimer I had to formula feed Ben from a week old and switched over completely at 8 months when I could not longer physically breastfeed after a nursing strike that dried up the bar. I don't believe it is bad to formula feed a baby, but it is second best, this is fact. I am not attacking formula feeding mothers or bottles (Ben STILL has a bottle...we love them around here...) and I certainly acknowledge there are many reasons why woman don't breastfeed out of ability or choice but to have that choice influenced by other's old fashioned opinions and attitudes of misogynistic ignorance should not be an issue.
There were some themes I notice to the controversy. The first being comparing breastfeeding to body functions that are traditionally accepted as being private. I don't think it is fair to compare breastfeeding to defecation, vomiting or urination. It is simply not an accurate parallel. Breastfeeding by nature involves another person thereby making it not private and is something that needs to be done at regular intervals to insure the health, comfort and welbeing of this baby, therefore requiring there to be, at times, an audience. Potentially a metaphor for this to look at perspective could be my detest of needless. I did at one point very much want to be a physician...but I truly can't stand needles...so I opted out of the whole profession. I hate getting them and I hate watching them. It would make me terribly uncomfortable if a woman next to me needed to test her diabetic child's blood sugar and inject her with insulin. I would look away with the same pull that a train wreck has on people and still feel pulled in the direction of that which I can't watch is happening in. THIS I realize is how some feel when I am breastfeeding in front of them. Because the welbeing, health and and comfort of this child is being positively effected by this act I would not feel it my prerogative to ask her to cover herself up, or feel resentful or annoyed at her inconsideration of me. She is simply concentrated on meeting her child's need in that moment and my discomfort at what that entails is quite irrelevant. I would be the first to say this is my issue and no problem of theirs. Is this a fair comparison?
The second trend I see is the confusion between breastfeeding and immodesty. The attitudes of discomfort may be stemming from this. Is breastfeeding immodest? I don't believe it is. Being discreet does not mean wearing a blanket necessarily as I have witnessed many woman covertly raise their shirts with a baby in front of them. Once latched the same shirt can be pulled down the child and not a single bit of skin can be seen. For this reason I have to wonder if it is the actual act of breastfeeding that is uncomfortable for people. I admit I did feel this way before I breastfed because I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. look directly at them, look away, give them privacy, act like nothing was happening? My uncertainty caused discomfort. When I became a breastfeeding mother, with many problems i might add since I had never in my life witnessed a friend or family member up close breast feed, I realized that there was nothing weird or private about it. I didn't want or need privacy and wondered what all the fuss was about. Yes, we must accept that breasts also serve a sexual purpose however this is secondary...this is for off call breasts, If I may. The primary roll of infant nourishment takes precedence and the sexual nature cannot be used fairly as an argument. Sulky men or not...this is the case.
Leading me of course to the third observation I have...how powerful Gerber's marketing has been. We are not uncomfortable with seeing babies drink out of plastic breasts with huge nipples on the end because we have been bombarded with images of smiling, adorable babies with bottles for generations. We don't see the grinning face of a baby at a breast, milk dribbling down their double chin because they are in bathrooms or under blankets. Marketing works...take the cow for instance. We think nothing of drinking milk from a species who is very different from our own. despite much of the population suffering ill effects from cows milk we continue to down the dairy because the hundreds of millions in marketing money has normalized it. Monkey milk? Rat milk? Pig Milk? All more like human milk than cow BUT doesn't have catchy posters with celebrities in mustaches to sway us. Really...we can be sold on anything if enough sources tell us so. Imagine a baby feeding isle at the grocery store with posters of happily nursing babies, burp clothes, nursing bras, breast pumps, nipple shields, breast feeding pillows, milk storage bags and a small shelf at the bottom with a few bottles and formula. Imagine pro breastfeeding posters on buses and commercials reminding us of the endless benefits. Think of benches in public places reserved for nursing mothers. What if all labor and delivery nurses were also lactation consultants? What if Facebook didn't delete pictures of breastfeeding woman and banned fan pages of cleavage shots instead? What if seeing children over 6 months of age at the breast was not an unusual and startling site and baby dolls didn't come with bottles? What if we saw more celebrities breastfeeding, witnessed it more on television and movies and picture books? Would we think it was weird, would it make you uncomfortable?...or would it finally be normal?
Challenging ideas can change them. Maybe this is an opportunity to examine your feelings on the topic and re evaluate the legitimacy of them. After confronting the initial discomfort I had on the topic I realized it was unfounded only because it was something unfamiliar to me.