Monday, September 17, 2007

How I became one of THOSE women

Not long before Elle was born my brother mentioned that he and his then-fiance were wondering if I would be the type of woman to just nurse right out in the open. (Translation: His horrid wench of a fiance ran out of things to bitch about so she decided to try and bash me via speculation about how I would feed my future child. Sound like I'm reaching? I'm not. Trust me, you didn't know this chick.) For some reason the question really offended me. I mean, of course I wouldn't be one of THOSE women! I would nurse my baby but I would do it discreetly and out of everyone's sight. I would offend no one with the sight of my breasts.

For a while after Elle was born I really stuck to that. I didn't want to leave the house when I knew that she would have to nurse soon. And since she had to nurse every one or two hours I didn't leave the house much at all. When I did leave the house and had to nurse I would go to extreme lengths to nurse in private. I would find nursing rooms, changing rooms, darkened corners, whatever it took. (To this day I am so thankful that I never debased Elle and myself by nursing in a restroom. I think it's the most disgusting thing that you can ask a nursing mother to do. I can't stand to be in a public restroom for more than 30 seconds anyway but the thought of sitting in a crap smeared stall for 30 minutes while my baby had her lunch just makes me sick to my stomach.) If I couldn't find a way to be alone I would try to cover up. Elle hated that and even at a very early age she was able to grab the blanket and rip it off of herself.

Needless to say, nursing outside of my home was not a comfortable experience for either Elle or I. I would get tense and Elle would pick up on that and get fussy and angry. She already had a tough time nursing under the best circumstances and the poor little thing could hardly do it at all with me all stiff and hunched over her, afraid to expose even a sliver of bare flesh.

Then something happened. We went to Disney World. For the first day I went through the whole regular routine of trying to hide myself while nursing. I was pretty miserable and Elle was too. I didn't know how we were going to make it through the vacation and I very seriously considered breaking out the bottles and formula that I had packed "just in case".

Our second day of the trip was when the miracle happened. I went into the "baby care center" in the Magic Kingdom. In the nursing area I saw the most amazing sight. There were four women sitting in rocking chairs laughing and talking and nursing their babies. I figured they all must know each other because how else could they all be that comfortable just sitting there nursing in the open like that? I nervously sat down and got out a blanket to try to hide Elle under. The woman across from me laughed and said "Oh honey, you don't need to cover up, we've all seen it before!"

I felt silly but it was also somehow very freeing to hear that. I laughed too and put the blanket back away. And Elle and I, for the very first time ever, nursed in front of other people without feeling any tension or shame. I just sat there marveling at this seemingly simple event. I listened to the other women talk about what rides were the best to nurse on and it occured to me that none of them seemed at all uptight about the whole thing. I wondered if I would ever get to that point.

I did. Quickly. For the rest of the trip I nursed wherever and whenever Elle needed me to. I did it during shows, on rides, on benches crowded with other people, in restaurants, everywhere. I gave up battling Elle to keep the blanket over her while she ate. I stopped caring if someone would see a flash of a nipple when she would break off to give me one of her world famous "I love this boobie" grins.

So that was it. I was now one of THOSE women. I left it all behind in that baby care room in Disney World. The shame, the fear, the inability to just relax and enjoy the lovely bonding experience that I was sharing with Elle. I'm proud to say that I nursed Elle for nearly 15 months and never once after Disney World did I ever feel bad or ashamed about it.

When I hear people make comments about how women shouldn't nurse in public, or they should cover up I just have to laugh. I can't even get offended. I feel sorry for them because they don't understand how natural and beautiful nursing is. I feel sad that they can only see breasts as sexual objects and somehow see nursing as a sexual act. How very, very small their worlds must be that they can only see in one particular way. (Breasts are sexual and should therfor only been seen in the bedroom, strip club, HBO shows and car ads.) How sad that I used to let the fear of that kind of one-dimensional thinking mar my feelings on nursing my baby. And how very, very glad I am that four strangers taught me to rise above it.

To those women, whoever you are and wherever you are now: Thank you.

Edited to add: I just wanted to point out that while my early hang-ups about breastfeeding were all about my breasts, nursing never was. I nursed in public not because I wanted to flaunt my breasts, but because Elle was hungry and I felt she deserved the very best food that I could give her.

I feel so strongly about the benefits of breastmilk that I've already made the commitment to B and J that I will pump milk for their baby for two months. I've never had much luck with pumping so we'll have to see how it goes. If I'm successful I may go even longer so wish me luck!


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful testament to nursing mothers everywhere!! Mothers feeding their babies, just what is more natural than that. I am so proud that you overcame that stereotype for your sake and Elle's...sometimes, baby knows best!! Love to all of you... Grandma Judy!

Victoria said...

Beautiful post, Jen. You are making me all teary eyed.

I can't believe some of the comments today. (Found you b/c of the wedgie one, lol!)

I took an angrier approach to my post -- stop on by to check it out!

Great work, today, my nursing sister!

Anonymous said...

I got a little *tear*! I stopped nursing my youngest at 5 months and my oldest at 10 months (got preggers), but I WISH I could have been an out and proud nursing mama like you. I shamefully nursed in bathroom stalls, dressing rooms, and nursing rooms (nice ones and smelly ones). I always felt embarrassed to nurse even around my own family (other than my parents). I didn't have the education to know better at the time, but I'm doing my best to spread the word!
Check out what I said here:


StickyKeys said...

I feel sad that they can only see breasts as sexual objects and somehow see nursing as a sexual act. How very, very small their worlds must be.

You've lived in America before, right? ;)

I mean, God bless the woman who can nurse, but those who don't want to see your boobs aren't necessarily prudish ignorami that don't have a clue.

There are many varied reasons for being uncomfortable with public breastfeeding and *shock* it's not always about the mother and sometimes not about sex.

Personally I go back and forth. I don't think anything is wrong with breastfeeding but I also don't want to see it personally (unless I know you) because your boob is none of my business and I think that should be something more personal. I especially like the concept of a bunch of mothers nursing together and think that's really sweet and communal.

That said, I do believe there should be more sanitary options to do just that. If you're going to be courteous enough to want to make nursing a more intimate moment between you and your child, then establishments should go to the trouble of accomodating you.

Most mothers make sure that it's not unseemly. If they do it during a concert it's when the lights are down, or if they're outside they use a blanket if it's in open view. Or even better they don't have blinking arrows pointing to them saying "See the breast feeding lady!"

I understand the pride and honor that goes with breastfeeding, but just like anything when you get smug about it you end up taking away from the beauty of it. There's a difference between discoving a new found freedom -which is honestly what I think your story is- and rubbing everyone's face in it -which I've seen happen from those less sympathetic.

Everyone is entitled to their comfort levels and just as you should be made comfortable feeding those around you should be comfortable as well. Naturally you're not going to please everyone and everyone is not going to please you, but we can all strive for a compromise :D

dawn224 said...

I've always been self conscious of my breasts anyway, so when the nursing thing went south I attached myself to the pump, and here I am on month five and pump two. I wish I was okay with nursing in public, for me, I just couldn't get over the body issues to be. I'm glad there's people like you who can help change the culture.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. What you said.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post. It so wonderfully describes a lot of the same things I went through. I'm glad you found those 4 women and consequently felt comfortable enough to breastfeed in public.

Nell said...

I was one of THOSE women (well, not one of your four women, but one of the many anonymous public nursers out there). Great post, Jen.

Also, you totally made me miss the "I love this boobie" smile that I used to get from my girls. That and their sweet baby breath are the two things I miss the most about no longer having nursing babies.

Magpie said...

Nice post. Funny that Disney becomes the hero...somehow I could imagine the opposite. I never did much public nursing - I pumped more often - but you do what you have to do.

Sharon L. Holland said...

I do not understand how anyone could read your story and STILL feel the need to put burdensome rules on nursing mothers for the "comfort" of strangers.

Anonymous said...

What an AWESOME group of women!

Julie Pippert said...

Great story! I was one of THOSE moms too. :)

Using My Words

Ally said...

Hey there, just stopping by via the link on Emily's site. Great post-- I could definitely relate. I made that same transformation, though I can't point to one particular incident like you did. I'm glad those kind mamas helped you feel comfortable.

Shauna Loves Chocolate said...

Wonderful story. Thanks so much for sharing!