I’ve been drafting and writing and rewriting a post about breastfeeding ever since I became pregnant the second time, last spring. I can’t seem to get my words out without sounding like I’m trying to be an activist of some type. But, I swear I’m not. I just found the whole thing to be a rewarding, positive experience, and I want society to ditch their hang ups about breasts in general.
I was reminded that I had this draft sitting in my files after a recent experience at Babies R Us. I’ve already explained to Bowie, after he asked if the baby would eat out of a bottle, that the baby would actually get milk from mommy’s boobies. An idea that made him stop and think, but didn’t shock or scare him. Yesterday, at the store, we passed a display of breast pumps, and the ever-inquisitive four year old asked what they were for and what they did. And I explained how sometimes that’s how mommies get the milk out of their boobies for the babies. A woman shopping nearby overheard and clucked her tongue at me and looked at us very disapprovingly. Judgment from a stranger about a private, yet perfectly normal and legitimate conversation I was having with my son.
What would that woman have me do instead? Am I to lie to my son about what a breast pump is used for? Am I to not explain how it is I will be feeding his little brother for at least his first year? How he was fed? How many babies are fed? I’m sorry if the conversation makes some people uncomfortable, but I will absolutely be having it with my son. And this is my debate: I should have given her a whole, big, long speech about it, but I didn’t. Because I don’t like being put into the activist role. I didn’t educate that woman at all about the normalcy of breastfeeding, but is that my responsibility?
I can’t recall whether or not there was such an uproar about breastfeeding as there is now when I was nursing Bowie. Whether or not a woman breastfeeds, how much support she gets, how long she breastfeeds, whether she covers up in public or not, whether she continues when she goes back to work or not. All of it really none of anyone’s business except the mom and the baby, but all of it the center of a large online debate.
I don’t remember public breastfeeding being such a big deal when Bowie was small. But then again I was new to the whole thing, I wasn’t really paying attention to the topic on the Internetz like I am now, and I covered up in public so I never really took any flak.
Somewhere over the course of the past 4 years, the topic has become a lot more public and a lot more controversial (in my mind), and given the way I react to certain controversies as they arise makes me feel like I became a big advocate for public breastfeeding, and other breastfeeding issues (like pumping at work, extended breastfeeding, etc.).
Not that I was a real rebel about all of it. Like I said already, I covered up when I fed Bowie in public. I think that came from my Midwestern upbringing. It was more out of modesty than feeling required to do so. Actually, there were a couple of times that I’d either forgotten my cover, or I was tucked into the corner of a restaurant booth, or something like that, and I didn’t cover up. I also never covered up at home, unless an older male was present (again with the modesty). I was shocked to hear that there are even breastfeeding mothers themselves who ridicule those who feed in public without covering up. I’ve actually read comments online that they think these other women want to “show off” their breasts, and have “secret desires to be a stripper”. Really? I mean…really?!
Also, I didn’t go back to work, so pumping at work wasn’t an issue for me. But I do have friends who had to do that, and even here in the land of the hippies where breastfeeding is so fully embraced, they were forced to pump in the bathroom stall, or had to lock their office door for a few minutes and then offer a full explanation to inquiring (and often not understanding) minds afterward.
I also didn’t do extended breastfeeding, I weaned Bowie at 13 months. I could have gone longer, and I may go longer with the new little guy. But, Bowie and I were just ready, it was our time to quit. I realize though, that’s not the case for all mothers and children, and I really don’t care how long you nurse your kids, as long as it’s what works for your family.
Anyway, I’m sort of preparing myself to deal with these kinds of battles as I get ready to breastfeed my second son. I feel like I have to brace myself in a way I never had to with Bowie. Again, I don’t know if this is because I was so naive back then, or if the issues just hadn’t been brought to light, but I never had problems back then, and sadly I am anticipating problems to come. People probably thought things about me when they saw me nursing in public (because I’ve also come to learn that it still offends people, even if you cover up), but they didn’t have the courage to say anything. Will the new tone of the debate give people that courage this time? Will I have the courage/strength to give them an intelligent, non-sarcastic response?
I also wonder if I should try to push the buck, because I feel so strongly about these issues, or if I should just fade into the background like I did before. Quietly nursing my son under a nursing cover (even though he’s going to be born during San Francisco’s hottest time of year, and I’m dreading the thought of putting a cover over him). I’m not the type of person to do something solely out of defiance. So, it’s unlikely I will breastfeed, uncovered, in public just to make a point. But, does that hurt the cause?
Also, can I just touch base on the (very small) possibility I’d have to give my second son formula instead? Because it’s a reality for a lot of moms, and I feel like they’re just as chastised as the mom who whips ’em out in public. Will people see me giving him a bottle, and automatically assume I’m a terrible mother for not breastfeeding? Without even knowing my story, and not knowing that I successfully breastfed one son for a full year?
I guess the point of this post is not to bring up the issues and start a bunch of debates. What I’m trying to say is, do you feel like the issue of breastfeeding itself is getting more and more heated? And is the flaming public debate hurting the already much misunderstood cause of breastfeeding? It’s like everything else, only the very extreme ideas seem to make it to the public eye.
And I feel like people who are already unaware of what it really means to be a breastfeeding mom, will take the extremes (like the famous TIME magazine cover) and feel like that’s the whole movement. Just like American politics–there’s no room for moderates.
The crux of what I’m trying to get at here is that I will feel like I’m being forced into some activist role simply by doing as women have done for centuries to feed my baby. I don’t want to be called an activist, but that might happen just because of this simple, normal, natural choice to breastfeed my son. The conversation has picked up in a major way since I first became a mom. And I know what side of that conversation that I’m on, not because of some heavy duty belief system and the desire to defend tooth and nail that belief system. But instead because breastfeeding worked for me and my child. And I want the world to know how well it worked for us, and that I encourage other moms to give it a try.
But, where does that encouragement leave me? There’s no room for a mom who’s just passing along her positive experiences. Either we are activists (or rather, “lactivists”) or we are against the movement. No in-betweens. And I find that to be a shame.
You may wonder why I’d resist the “activist” label so much. I just don’t like to invite controversy into my life. I simply don’t like to get involved in heated debates about really anything. I prefer a live-and-let-live lifestyle, and there are very few topics out there where I can’t at least empathize with what people on the other side of the fence are saying. I have my beliefs, and I stick to them, I just don’t feel the need to push the agenda.
What do you think has sparked the big breastfeeding debate recently? Is there a place for a happy breastfeeding mom that doesn’t want to be labeled as an activist?