For the record, I find myself firmly planted on the side of the debate wherein woman should be free to breastfeed in public. I find it bewildering that there’s a stigma attached to seeing a woman’s breast while she nurses her child, whereas the astonishing amount (number? pairs? sets?) of breasts we see in exploitative display in ads and other media is apparently totally acceptable. Despite all this, I confess, I have a weird discomfort about it sometimes.
I’m not talking about the legal side of it. If a woman wants or needs to breastfeed in the middle of store, no one should try to nor be able to prevent her – in fact, one might hope she would be supported. It irks me no end that some places actually try to ban breastfeeding or pressure the woman to go elsewhere, even to do it in the bathroom (the bathroom?! ‘Cause that’s where I want to eat my lunch…). No, what makes me uncomfortable is the social side of it.
I have this innate desire to be polite, to not offend, to not make others uncomfortable. And the fact that I have this internal hang-up frankly pisses me off sometimes, often making me want to compensate by being even more outspoken in my support of breastfeeding in public, like maybe if I advocate enough, I’ll rid myself of any lingering, irksome discomfort through bludgeoning repetition. Or osmosis. Or something.
But sometimes in touchy social situations, I admit it: I just give up without a fight. I hate that it’s even an issue. I hate that I feel like whether or not I nurse in public or whether or not I use a nursing cover seems politically fraught, like I’m either on one hand declaring my disregard for the feelings/comfort of those around me, or on the other hand not living up to my own convictions. If I cover up, I’m failing as a liberated mama, and if I stick to my guns (har har), I risk alienating people, often people that are dear to me and whom I want to see regularly.
I know a lot of my fabulous, heroic advocate/mamas are probably getting worked up right now—please do! I need your help!
Here’s the reasoning behind my politeness dilemma. First, I don’t want to see boobs all over ads and stuff, but no one ever thinks to ask my preference. I mean, hulu does ask if I’d prefer a car commercial to a vodka commercial, but there’s not a “no boobs” option. Secondly, I find that people are more accepting of new things when you try to bring them on board with the thought process first, rather than just pushing something unwanted on them. The best, most enduring change starts with a social shift, and social change is often at the pace of the lowest common denominator (not describing someone as “lower than” but someone whose values/beliefs are furthest from the desired goal). So if you want to de-stigmatize something, the real work lies in changing the hearts and minds of those who hold that stigma to be true. Third and most simple, I’m empathetic: if other people are uncomfortable, so am I. Meh.
As an example, I have a young person in my life who is very squeamish about the whole breastfeeding thing (along with myriad other things). So I [lamely] don’t do it around them. I don’t want my nursing our son to be a big deal when we get together or to potentially make them even less receptive to it. Then I feel bad because how else is the younger generation going get used to this beautiful, natural process? How can we de-stigmatize it if we don’t expose them to it? Really, I’m asking! I’m hoping you can help me out here.
In my immediate family (change begins at home, after all), I’ve handled the dilemma this way: I ask if everyone is comfortable with me breastfeeding;, more often than not, everyone says yes; and then I presume that to be my carte blanche for all future feedings. But can you do this with squeamish young people? I am betting the answer would be something along the lines of, “Ewww gross,” an outright “No,” or a hastily beaten retreat, none of which will have benefitted anyone.
So mamas, papas, and citizens of the world, what do you think? If you’re a parent, how have you handled it? If you’re a family member, friend, or member of “the public,” what is your experience? How have you handled (or mishandled) this tender issue? What would you do differently? Breakthroughs? Mistakes?