I have thought long and hard about this blog post. Most of the time, when I’m trying to introduce an idea to someone who might not be ready for it yet, I try to do it gently. I acknowledge feelings, express empathy, and do as much as I can to relate directly to my audience.
This is not one of those times. Sometimes, even as a person who strives to be gentle with the world, there are times when you just want to reach out and punch someone in the chotch.
Somehow, ‘Merica missed the memo that breastfeeding under any circumstances is normal, natural, healthy for both mom and baby, and should never be shamed or hidden. There are several angles I could take here, but like I’ve said in previous posts, nobody’s got time for a novella. I’m sure I’ll cover topics like normal-term (read: toddler) nursing and the medical lie that is “low-milk supply” in later posts. But today, we’re going to talk about Nursing In Public, otherwise appropriately known as NIP.
Let me be very clear. There is nothing wrong with nursing in public. If I were going to start at the very beginning, I would have to acknowledge that there are some people out there who believe that even if a woman hides under a blanket the size of a circus tent, she still isn’t covered enough and should either go home or stick a bottle in the baby’s mouth. But I’m not starting at the very beginning. And those people don’t deserve the acknowledgement I’ve given them thus far, so we’ll move on to the next batch of idiots.
I’d like to insert a reminder here which is less of a side-note, and more like the point of this post. In this country, you do not have the right to not be offended. Being offended is a fancy way of saying that you can’t handle your own feelings. Nowhere in the world are you guaranteed a Personal Emotions Liason who will make sure you don’t have to look at something which you consider unpleasant. If you are the one who is offended, then you are also the one who is responsible for becoming un-offended. Nobody is going to babysit your feelings in that regard.
I have heard the argument a hundred times: “There is nothing wrong with breastfeeding, but you should at least have the consideration enough for others to cover yourself.” (This argument has come in many forms. I am giving entirely too much credit to most who use it, considering their version goes alot more like “Nobody wants to see you flaunt your tits on display for the whole world! Have some decency! Cover that shit up!”)
But you get the point. Somehow people are all for breastfeeding until a woman sits down next to them in a coffee shop with a hungry baby. Then she faces the uncomfortable heat of their judgemental gaze as they sip their latte, fuming over the six square inches of flesh showing above her baby’s head. Women are told all the time that they should cover up to save the poor feelings of those who might accidentally burn their retinas by catching the glimpse a nipple, or god forbid a six-year-old might walk by and see a baby (gasp!) drinking milk from a breast (the horror!). I’ve actually had a woman I know, a woman I’m close friends with, throw a blanket over my son’s head in my own house as she nearly broke her neck stampeding out the door with her three-year-old.
“I don’t want him to see that!”
Seriously? What are you going to say when he gets older and asks you what boobs are for? Will you wink and say, “Those are for your dad, kid.” The funny thing is, I don’t see any of these people shielding their kids’ eyes from the magazine rack at the grocery store. They sit next to their kids on the couch while Beyonce’s undercarriage is broadcast on network television, and don’t bat an eyelash. Apparently, women are allowed to show as much skin as they want as long as they’re doing it in a sexual context. But something as natural as breastfeeding is downright offensive.
Of course, let’s not forget the uber-intelligent peanut gallery who’s about to say, “Well, taking a dump is natural, but you don’t see me popping a squat on the sidewalk, do you?”
Well, no. You see, there are a couple of reasons that the law says you can’t defecate in public. For starters, human excrement is a public health concern. With all that bacteria and whatnot, it’s not exactly the cleanest bodily substance. (Breastmilk, on the other hand, kills cancer.) Furthermore, you generally can’t eliminate waste without exposing your genital area, and that’s also not okay. And I have news for you: Boobs are not genitals. They’re not. This might be news, but genitals are the outer parts of your reproductive organs. That means penis, testicles, clitoris and labia. Just because adults enjoy letting breasts take a starring role in their love lives doesn’t mean they fall under the same category as genitalia. I don’t know about you guys, but I use way more of my body in the bedroom that just my boobs. I think its fair to say that most of us use our hands to touch each other, our mouths to kiss each other (and don’t forget the hand jobs and oral sex, too!) But you don’t see restaurant managers approaching regular Joe’s in the middle of dinner rush to ask them to put their gloves back on or take it to the bathroom to keep from offending other patrons.
Oh, right. The damn bathroom. The most popular place to banish she-who-dares-to-nurse-in-public. Are you kidding me? I have a hell of a lot more respect for my son than to ask him to eat in the same place where everyone is peeing and pooping and flapping their jaws on their cellphones and running that loud-ass hand dryer. That’s disgusting, not to mention distracting to a 16-month-old who wants to investigate every toilet flush he hears within a 2 mile radius. If we’re both in a restaurant, and my kid gets hungry, he’s eating in the same room as everyone else.
Cue the complainers: “At least be decent enough to be discreet and use a cover!”
There are two problems with your argument (besides the fact that you probably can’t spell ‘discreet’). First, it’s none of your business to ask someone to modify the way they do something simply because you don’t want to look at it. It’s one of the reasons we still have to sit next to dudes with sweat-stains on airplanes and people who chew with their mouth open on the subway. It’s why nobody with camel-toe gets a ticket and the Aryan Brotherhood is still allowed to breed. Even the world’s biggest dickheads understand that you don’t get to ask interracial couples to sit in the back or tell gay couples to stop holding hands. There are morons on every corner who will come up with something they don’t want to look at. If we had to sit down to babysit all of them, there would be no more society left as we’d all be stuck in the bathrooms eating our lunch. So if your only argument is that I’m supposed to wear a cover for your convenience, pardon me, but you can suck it.
The second problem with the whole “wear a cover” argument is this: You want me to be discreet. And you want me to wear a cover. You mean like this?
You have got to be kidding, right? If you think something like that and the word “discreet” go anywhere near each other in a sentence, then I should have been doing this blog post using stick figure pictures the whole time. Sure! My baby needs to nurse. Let’s get out my cover and 1. See if baby will agree to nurse in the heat-chamber I’ve created without screaming bloody murder, and 2. Make sure no one can tell what I’m doing. Discreet, for the win!!!
I bet somewhere around a bazillion dollars that if the average person walked into a restaurant, and you didn’t tell them a breastfeeding mother was there, they would never know. Wanna know why? Because breastfed babies are quiet when they’re nursing. Their mothers have had practice and can slip a nipple into their mouths in 2 seconds flat without anyone being the wiser. I once talked to my friend’s husband about breastfeeding for 15 minutes while nursing before he asked me if I was going to need somewhere to nurse the baby soon.
I have spent the better part of my time since I got pregnant supporting moms who have been harrassed, embarrased, lectured, and castigated when they were found doing nothing more than feeding their baby in a public place. I have laid educational smackdowns on internet trolls, high-fived women I don’t even know in the middle of coffee shops, and helped dozens of women become more confident at breastfeeding their children when and where they want to. I have personally waged war on an entire city government for discriminating against a woman and her child, and have done so effectively enough that the city published an apology within 24 hours of the incident. I have done my homework. I know my rights, and more importantly, I know my son’s rights. I am not fucking around.
So. In closing, to anyone out there who is still of the opinion that breastfeeding moms should cover it up, I want to leave you with a warning. My son is 16 months old. He is in the 90th percentile for both height and weight and only naps once a day for like 45 minutes, tops. He is a tank, and the only speed he has is hyperspeed.
And he’s really hungry.