My little Iris sounds a little like an exotic bird when she’s irritated. She squirms a bit, her face scrunches and she lets out one startling, little squawk. Thirty minutes early for her well child check up (don’t ask me how that happened), she and I found a seat in the waiting room across from the bubbling fish tank when I noticed her feathers starting to ruffle. I quickly offered her the breast. But before she could even get a few gulps down, a nurse came rushing over and escorted us into our exam room.
“I just figured it would be more comfortable for you in here,” she explained.
Trying not to be overly skeptical, I thanked her and continued to feed Iris. But as she ate, I grew more and more dubious. It’s hard to know if the nurse’s intentions were pure. Nonetheless, I was insulted having been hidden away to feed my baby in private when I was perfectly comfortable nursing in the waiting room.
Things have admittedly changed since becoming a mother of two. Instead of hiding in my car to breastfeed, I’ve finally mustered up the confidence to feed my baby in public thanks to inspiring articles like Chantal Molnar’s Breastfeeding and Feminism:
“America has an uneasy relationship with breastfeeding and has a hard time facing the duality inherent in breast’s function. Sex versus nurture, or sex and nurture? We don’t seem to have any problem with the duality of our mouths, which can be for sex and for eating. We do not make people cover their heads with a blanket when they are eating in public simply because the mouth is frequently used sexually.”
Iris and I waited for the pediatrician as I glared at Abbott logos on patient handouts and warnings about the perceived dangers of bedsharing cluttering the walls. The doc entered. Measurements taken. Questions asked and answered. Goodbyes and see you next times.
Before packing up, Iris was ready to nurse again.
“I’ll put a flag up so people know you’re feeding,” the ped told me with a smile. “Just leave the door open on your way out,” closing it behind her.
A flag? Is that really necessary? I thought, rolling my eyes.
I resent the fact that our birth and breastfeeding culture has turned me, an otherwise benefit-of-the-doubt kind of gal, into an angry, cynic questioning the motives of potentially well-intentioned people.
Furthermore, I resent that we should even have to consider spending the time and money creating or designating special breastfeeding rooms (except for pumping mothers). Our culture has even forced us to devote time, money and energy into creating laws (with virtually no enforcement mind you) to protect a mother’s right to feed her baby and her baby’s right to eat. This is crazy.
And although nursing rooms are received well by many, the only benefit I see is that they offer containment for mothers with curious, wandering toddlers while their siblings feed. However, there’s a difference between choice of convenience and the expectation that nursing mothers tuck themselves away.
There’s more. Not only are we failing already breastfeeding moms with unsupportive breastfeeding behavior and policies, we’re setting up potential parents for failure when we expect discretion from breastfeeding moms. It’s rather simple: Breastfeeding begets breastfeeding, bottle-feeding begets bottle-feeding. (Here’s a great post about the problem with nursing covers: http://rixarixa.blogspot.com/2011/11/problem-with-nursing-covers.html)
If we really want our breastfeeding initiation and duration rates to continue to rise, if we really want mothers to feel empowered by their choice to breastfeed, if we really want to produce a healthier future, we have to stop treating nursing dyads like lepers or at the very least, stop assuming that we want privacy.
When Iris and I returned home from her appointment, the girls and I took advantage of the balmy, 40- degree- Wisconsin weather. Willow admired her boot prints in the slushy snow and built “sand castles”. Iris nursed again through her bundles.
The neighborhood boy, enjoying the weather too, greeted Willow excitedly. He had just returned from his birthday party at the public museum and was thrilled about his dinosaur egg he’d scored. He also got a new bike. Maybe distracted by the delight of his party and fancy gifts, he didn’t even notice Iris feeding. In fact, he didn’t notice there was a baby there at all.
Or maybe it’s because breastfeeding isn’t a big deal. (Eat the Damn Cake blogger Kate Fridkis agrees: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-fridkis/i-dont-care-what-you-think-of-me-breastfeeding-in-public_b_4173435.html) Still, our culture has perverted the simple act of feeding our children so that nursing mothers and babies are exiled to private areas wrapped in caution tape (or a flag). Beware. Do not enter. Feeding in session. Enter at your own risk.
If an eight-year-old boy, who normally giggles at butt jokes and flatulence, can respect a mother feeding her baby, I am hopeful that one day our society will too.
What do you think? What is your experience with nursing in public? Please share your comments below.