My eyes dart around the room, a quick survey of those around me: ages, genders, proximity. I fumble in the diaper bag, trying to tug my nursing cover from the bottom of the bag with one hand while bouncing and shushing my fussy baby with the other. I’m nervous, and anxious, and struggling to arrange all the items I need to make this comfortable and successful. If I had another hand, I would be crossing my fingers that I can get her eating happily before she explodes into screams and disrupts the whole room.
I briefly wish that I had requested one of the high-back booths instead of the table I’m sitting at. I worry that you are going to be offended at the sight of my body. I worry that you will see what I’m doing as shameful, or vulgar, or offensive.
I wish you could see what I see.
In an (my) ideal world, new mothers would be surrounded with support and encouragement. Older women would pass on their knowledge and experiences, and guide new moms through the difficult obstacles they might encounter. We would no longer hear discouraging advice, like
“Just give the baby a bottle,”
or “Why don’t you go to the bathroom to feed her?”
or “Formula is just as good you know, and a whole lot easier!”
Instead, we would be encouraged to keep trying, seek help, and find our tribe when things get challenging. Children would grow up seeing women breastfeeding all the time, so that we wouldn’t have an entire generation of adults that don’t bat an eye at the half-naked women in the media, but take offense to nursing babies. Little girls would grow up to emulate the breastfeeding mothers they’ve seen, and little boys would grow up to support their sisters and spouses in the same endeavor.
We could all stop seeing breastfeeding as a sexual act and start seeing it as the natural, beautiful relationship between a mother and her baby that it is. Our little babies would be able to eat whenever and wherever they happened to be when they got hungry. And all the new mothers could gaze at their baby’s faces as they ate, unencumbered by the anxiety and stress of hiding the act from others.
So when I use my body for something it was intended for, something it was created for, it isn’t about what I look like. For once, this isn’t about what my body looks like. It’s about my baby. It’s always about my baby.
Do you know how hard this has been for me?
The toe-curling pain, the bleeding and scabs and medicines and ointments, the desperate heaving sobs in the middle of the night, the pleading prayers that I could make it through just one more feeding. The doctor’s appointments and lactation consultant visits, the antibiotics and troubleshooting.
And then–sweet victory!–the blessed day we finally had a feeding where the latch was good! I actually leaned back a little bit in my chair, let go of the enormous tension in my shoulders, and breathed a hesitant sigh of relief. In that moment, when we were finally figuring it all out together, I was so in awe at the wonder of my baby growing through the work of my body alone! If you knew about all that, if you really knew the road it took to get here, I don’t think you’d see me trying to feed my baby away from home and choose to offer words of correction or blame or shame.
Right now, my baby is hungry. My baby needs me. All she knows is the safety and comfort and satisfaction she receives from nursing. She knows nothing of social norms, nothing of being discreet. She doesn’t know about sex or shame. But here in public, I know you are sitting nearby, and I do want to be respectful of you. If you are watching closely, you might see my nipple briefly as my baby and I both struggle to see what we are doing through the cover. (That’s one of the problems with covers.) I’m sorry if you do, and I’m sorry if that bothers you. At this moment, though, I’m really only focusing on my baby and her needs. Do you see? I hope you understand.
I am trying to be discreet. Not for myself, really. I’m not ashamed of my body, even though it isn’t anything special to look at, and I’m certainly not flaunting myself. It’s just that giving birth has given me a whole new respect for my body. For much of our lives, women’s bodies are seen as objects that must fall somewhere on a continuum from sexy to not sexy. But now I see my body as something that is useful, powerful, capable, and inspiring. So when I use my body for something it was intended for, something it was created for, it isn’t about what I look like. For once, this isn’t about what my body looks like.
It’s about my baby. It’s always about my baby.
I don’t want to offend you, or anyone. I hope you don’t feel disrespected. I simply want to feed my baby. I want to hold her in my arms, smile sweetly at her while I hold her head and help her get latched on, and gaze into her round eyes as she drinks and sighs, satisfied.
Do you see?