Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Here we go again

So I went and had another baby.

My son, B., was born by c-section on June 9th.  Maybe someday I'll write about his birth but not today.
Today's post is about breastfeeding since it is the start of International Breastfeeding Week. I want to discuss breastfeeding in front of other people. This has been a hot topic in breastfeeding circles lately - well it always is.  Recently there have been stories in the news about women being harassed about nursing in public places.

I have breastfed two babies.  My older son weaned at about 18 months and Baby B. will hopefully nurse for at least a year.  I am a moderate lactivist.  I fully support and encourage women to breastfeed and believe it to be the best food for babies and older children too.  But I don't think there is one way to be a nursing mother, no perfect amount of feedings or months; just the right amount that works for the family.  There are many women for whom breastfeeding is all but impossible because of lack of social, financial, and/or emotional support.  If you stack lack of information on top of those barriers, well its no wonder we have the poor breastfeeding rates we do in the U.S.  I do believe that some women (I don't know how many) cop out and don't even try to breastfeed for various superficial reasons.  I also believe that lots of women try to breastfeed and fail because the public health and healthcare systems let them down and they don't have the peer models to offer them informal guidance and support.  But this wasn't really my point, was it?!  I could write pages about the lack of breastfeeding support.

Public breastfeeding.  It is controversial for so many reasons....none of which I buy.  Breasts are made to feed babies.  Period, end of sentence.  Our culture sexualizes and objectifies the breast to the point that we view the most natural, beautiful and nurturing act as something dirty or weird that should be hidden from view.  No matter what formula manufacturers claim, feeding formula to babies puts them at risk for all manners of health problems, chronic conditions, and intellectual disadvantages (diabetes, obesity, middle ear infections, respiratory infections, to name a few).  I am not going to list the myriad health benefits of breastfeeding, because I think most people intellectually understand that breastmilk is the best food and offers so many protections to babies. 

So what gives?  Why is breastfeeding a natural part of public life in other countries and cultures?  Why are we so backwards?

We believe that a factory can make a superior food to our own bodies.  We believe that we can't demand that our workplaces give us time and space to pump or on-site daycare so we can breastfeed our child on demand (although the health care reform will change some workplaces for the better).  We believe we shouldn't ask for extended paid maternity leaves like most of the other developed countries provide for their families.  We believe our breasts are something to hide or only show off for the male gaze and approval.  We have lost touch with our own bodies to the point that we forget that we are the lifegivers, the nurturers, the milk makers.

I believe breastfeeding to be an important feminist issue.  We need to reclaim our breasts for ourselves and our children. We need to fight for all our sisters to be able to feed their children, no matter her income or social status.  We need to nurse in public, whenever and wherever.  In order to remove taboo, we have to do the taboo thing.

And so with all of this in my mind and heart I find myself being overly self-conscious about breastfeeding in public places.  I bring blankets to cover up and try to sit in corners or turn away from the action.  I feel embarrassed at times, but always nurse my son when he needs it. I refuse to hide in my car or bring a bottle. I am stuck in this place of knowing I have every right to breastfeed my son wherever I am and yet fearing the disapproving stare or the harsh comment.  And yet I have never had a negative experience nursing in public.

So where does all this come from?!  I don't know.  I guess I have more self-love and womanly empowerment to do.  But in the meantime, I will nurse in public even if it is behind a blanket or with my face a little red, because I believe that often doing the right thing requires some uncomfortable confrontation with our own hang ups and shortcomings. The journey to a truly empowered and actualized woman requires heaping bushels of self-examination.  Sometimes it also requires nudity, and not always the fun kind.

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