Before Eloise arrived, breastfeeding in public was one of those causes I did not fully understand. Yeah, babies need to eat and Americans are often too uptight, but I didn’t get why women would want to nurse in public areas. I just figured it was simple enough to find a discreet location to share an intimate moment between mother and child. While I did not really care if mothers nursed openly, I just figured privacy was more desirable for the mom.
Then Eloise came along and suddenly I was the only person in the world physically responsible for her nourishment 24/7. As is common in the days after birth, her weight dropped as we waited for her jaundice to improve and my milk to come in. At just four days old, she was down nearly a pound to five pounds, four ounces and we were back at the doctor’s office to determine whether we needed to return to the hospital.
In desperation, I nursed every second I could, including in the lobby of the pediatrician’s office. This baby was going to gain weight, darn it. I began in the area designated for lactating moms, which was really just a pathetic set of chairs set by a very pubic stairwell. However, once our name was called and Eloise was still eating beneath the protection of a nursing cover, I made the decision not to stop her as we walked to meet the nurse.
With each step, I kept thinking how every single ounce she consumed counted. I figured in a room full of other moms my desperation to give my baby what she needed to stay out of the hospital would be understood. I was wrong. Not only did people stare, but one mom loudly moved her tween son to the other waiting room and another commented to her teenaged daughter about what a young mom I was, (hello, I’m 30 lady!).
Suddenly it all made sense. Not only did I understand the fierce biological need to provide your child with nourishment in any setting, I also got why so many moms feel like it is worth standing up for their right to nurse in public. I just didn’t realize that modestly nursing beneath a cover would feel so taboo. I thought it was just the moms who pop their boobs out who made others feel uncomfortable. Turns out people don’t even want to know you’re nursing beneath a cover. Either way, people need to get over it.
Which makes me wonder, why have breasts become so threatening? Is it because we have over-sexualized them? Or because we don’t want older children to know how they were fed at the beginning of life? What happened to all those people with “I heart boobies” breast cancer bracelets?
A month after Eloise was born, I visited a local art museum with my mother and grandmother and realized how limited the options are for breastfeeding mothers. I could either sit in a disgusting bathroom stall, return to my broiling car, or pick a bench somewhere in the museum. I opted for the latter and searched out the most remote seating in a darkened room but still found myself uncomfortably surrounded by a tour group.
That’s just it though, even with attempts at secrecy, I feel uncomfortable nursing in public because now I expect people to respond the same way those mothers did at the doctor’s office. And, it turns out people do often respond the same way, as states like Texas still struggle to pass laws to protect nursing mothers in public.While I’m not going to stop nursing when I’m out and about, it would be nice to live in a society where lactating mothers are treated as commonplace instead of a distasteful spectacle.
This campaign by Texas college students pretty much sums it up: