First, A Little Background…
I went to a destination wedding this weekend in Charleston with my husband a.k.a. The Designated Dad (TDD) and our nursling MaiTai. The Bride and Groom are close relatives (for the privacy of their identities I’ll leave the nature of the relationship at that) and TDD was the Best Man.
The first night I was excited to attend the rehearsal dinner. Shortly after arriving, I left briefly to use the bathroom. On my way back I was cornered — literally cornered — by the dinner’s host (another close family member). Let’s call him… Dinner Host.
“I need you to do me a big favor,” Dinner Host said. Ooh, exciting! I must be in on some kind of special surprise, I figured. Jokingly, I said, “Maybe, depends on the favor!”
Dinner Host’s face turned solemn and funereal. Something serious was afoot. Something dramatic. The thought actually crossed my mind if he was about to ask me to take someone to the Emergency Room.
“Holly,” he said. “I’m asking that if [MaiTai] needs to nurse tonight, that you go somewhere else. I know you’re very passionate about this, but honestly it isn’t the time or place.” …??
“I’m worried about staring and what might happen,” he continued. “I don’t want… a scene.”
“You know, the crowd here tonight is a lot of older, conservative friends and family. I just don’t want them to think… you know…”
“I’m aware TDD is protective and I hope he won’t hate me forever for this, but I just have to say something, you know? Can you respect this request, and the wishes of the Bride and Groom?”
Trapped under the thumb of this request (rather, demand), I gathered my emotions. I felt incredibly self-conscious. Misunderstood. Defensive. Insulted. Disgusted. Ired. Saddened. And more than anything, absolutely unwelcome.
“PLEASE. Please. Just do this,” he continued, grave as the Grim Reaper. “Let’s just agree to disagree.”
As if that would be a compromise. “Agree to disagree” is not a compromise if one’s compliance results in full sacrifice while the disagreeable’s side is cost nothing. Now Dinner Host’s demeanor and halting gesture told me that he felt this conversation was over, as far as he was concerned. I tested this.
“Oh, I can do that,” I finally answered, seething and eyes narrowed. “So if [MaiTai] asks to nurse, I’ll leave and I’ll take my dinner with me so I can eat too.”
“Oh, you don’t need to do that!” he said, failing to recognize my sarcasm. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t ask. I mean, this is a three hour event, and I’ve seen him before when he wants you and just grabs you. But let’s hope not.”
Let’s hope f-cking so, actually. Now I’d love a proper excuse to leave this “family event.” With that, we re-entered the dining area together, yet not at all together. Still baffled, I informed TDD about the surreal moment that just transpired. He was livid. And I needed answers. It turned out TDD had a few.
He informed me that my public breastfeeding had been a cause of “heartache” (verbatim word choice) for the bride and groom since their wedding shower about a month ago. At that time, I hadn’t known they’d asked TDD in advance if I could avoid breastfeeding in front of their shower guests. So at the shower, I thought nothing of nursing MaiTai for a few minutes, as they’d seen me do on various other occasions without mention. Perched on a bench off to the side, I interacted with almost no one other than TDD as we nursed. Yet according to the Groom, he and his Bride-to-be received “at least ten” complaints from their guests about the “bother,” or something.
Then TDD told me the Groom emphasized that he “didn’t want to deal with that again” on his Big Day, and solicited him to tell me not to breastfeed at the events during his wedding weekend. (But what’s a “white” wedding without a celebratory spray of breast milk, right?). TDD had opined his request was so ridiculous that he wouldn’t even bother mentioning it to me. Now, Dinner Host’s pressing need to catch me in a last-ditch effort to prevent another “scene” made perfect sense.
Finally aware of the longer history behind Dinner Host’s desperate confrontation, we strongly considered leaving. Ultimately we stayed, and how fortunate! Because the sum of my experience last weekend caused my penning of this letter that direly needed to be written. So here goes the favor…
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Newlyweds,
You said I was not to breastfeed “in front of everyone” at your rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony, or reception (and as I learned belatedly, the wedding shower too). A big favor, as it were. You spoke to TDD about this and presumably to Dinner Host as well, but never to me. In fact, I only found out about your opinions on my public breastfeeding more than a full day after I arrived in Charleston for your wedding weekend.
Color me confused. Why did you refuse to address this apparent issue with me directly (one that caused you “heartache,” if I may quote you verbatim, Groom)? Color me unnerved that you don’t seem to understand the implications here, and also disappointed that you just don’t seem to “get it.”
Did you think I was going to just stay quiet? I hope this tells you something significant about me. I learned something in kind about you this weekend, too.
Difference of Opinion
Now that all is said and done, sure — we can “agree to disagree.” Your contrary opinion affects me none at this time, and mine I assume has affected you never.
I’ve tried to make conclusions about why you felt how you did, then I realized it’s not my place to assume I know what life events and influences constructed your perspective, or to make excuses for you. All I can do is imagine what inspired a need to control your environs to this degree, and then honor your difference of view.
Because I commiserate with your origins in the matter of newness to breastfeeding issues, I respect your allegiance to and (kind of) expression of your own voice. I don’t even judge you for your ignorance because we’re all ignorant in some way and thus you reflect an important part of myself, too. I presume your opinions source from either not knowing better, or from believing it’s worthwhile to sacrifice logic and instinct for the sake of appearances.
Either way, in good conscience I must refuse to tolerate your view if it intends to minimize my own value as a person (in this case, specifically me as a mother) or impose unnecessarily upon my son’s needs. You see, I’m bothered that (as far as I can tell) you’ve spent no time imagining what brought me to this appointment of needing to prioritize my child over others. My toddler cannot comprehend the difference of view that preferred him to wait in agitation for ten minutes to be fed, when normally he’s not forced to wait at all.
There’s also an invalidity in your circumventing approach that I’ve found a challenge to ignore. I did notice that you provided little option but to accept your terms by springing them upon me at the last minute after travel plans and so forth had already been finalized. It’s almost as if you predicted I’d present an uncontestable answer to your arguments.
So now that I have your attention, here’s a thorough list detailing what I would’ve said: “Every Argument Against [Nursing in Public] Debunked.” As for the position statements you texted to TDD before the wedding, here’s how I would’ve responded if sent to the actual person of concern (me):
“I asked you a request [leave to breastfeed] which doesn’t seem impossible to help make my wedding weekend a little better.”
What you actually expressed here was that an upset, crying baby and a frequently absent family of three (including your Best Man) would make your wedding weekend better.
“All I ask is that it not be done in front of everyone. I don’t get why it’s so difficult to walk upstairs or go in a private room.”
If you didn’t get it, maybe you should’ve allowed us to explain why it’s in fact more than just a simple inconvenience for a mother and needy child to withdraw into hiding. If “everyone” had a problem with it, then why couldn’t they walk upstairs or go in a private room?
“It’s another stressor on my list I don’t need this weekend… It’s obviously bothering me.”
The reason for your unfortunate level of stress and bother arose from those antagonizing you, i.e. the complainants — not the peaceful, benign mother and child off in the corner minding their own business. You don’t get to blame me for your woes caused by others and I refuse to shoulder that cross.
“I would really prefer not to have [public breastfeeding] happen this weekend and have another thing to have to think about with people coming up to me…”
Suggestion: Send those people my way and I’m more than happy to politely discuss normal child nurturing with them. Or if that’s too scary for you, grow a pair.
Helping Each Other
As for the silver lining, perhaps we were brought together in this life to teach one another a thing or two. So in a way I might deeply appreciate the reveal of your oversight and unawareness, as here I find my opportunity to educate.
Would you be surprised to know I was once like you? In the majority of my pre-parenting life, I thought public breastfeeding was — without putting words in your mouth — trashy. (Your turn to do ME a favor by reading the back story: “Coming Out From Under The Covers”).
Here’s what I eventually learned: Telling another woman her body is a turn-off/shameful/needs to be hidden is a behavior that benefits no one. Compromising between those who aren’t bothered by breastfeeding and those who are involves achieving the ideal result for both parties (moms can breastfeed where they need, and turned-off people don’t see it).
Leaving or covering up causes problems for nursing mothers (more on that in a bit), and looking away doesn’t cause problems for turned-off people. Therefore, leaving or covering cannot be considered a compromise.
Bear with me. Offer me the courtesy of hearing my voice, and perhaps you will begin to understand. I’ll also make suggestions as to how this could’ve been handled differently. This will serve you, I hope, as you grow up one day.
The Big Deal
The disrespectful treatment of my family in regard to breastfeeding — which is something we and many families with toddlers value very greatly — was seriously disheartening. I don’t honestly know that I’ve felt so insulted in my entire time as a mother, especially by family.
Though I predict you’ll maintain “it’s not a big deal,” I assure you it is. Banishing someone for public breastfeeding is a big deal. Public breastfeeding itself, however, is NOT a big deal (another favor: read “Breastfeeding in Public: It is (Not) a Big Deal!“).
If your request wasn’t a big deal as Groom insisted, why did you evade relating your feelings directly to me instead of engaging third parties to boss me around? I cannot much appreciate the desperate attempts to make an accomplice of my (especially astute and stupidity-intolerant) husband, and the employment of Dinner Host to literally corner me at the outset of the rehearsal dinner when I would have no recourse to defend myself.
Saying “it’s not a big deal” implies that my feelings are unimportant, and my son’s needs are equally unimportant. It also whispers, behind its firm pedantry, of the truth: that you really have no idea what you’re talking about.
All of Your Guests Matter
After the wedding, I asked Bride’s mother to level with me about the last minute no-breastfeeding clause. Without daring to look me in the eye or stop moving long enough to risk a more significant confrontation, she admitted the Bride and Groom were “concerned about the guests.” (Was I not a guest? Was the Best Man — who’d undoubtedly disappear to keep me company if I nursed in your ideal scenario, exclusion — not a guest? Was our child — who’d obviously join me in exclusion to nurse — not one either?).
Your agreeability to the likelihood of my missing your special events made me feel like I was a dispensable guest. You knew I’d be absent much of the time (either “upstairs or in a private room” as suggested the Groom) and that was okay with you.
If one of your best friends or bridesmaids was a breastfeeding mother I can’t imagine she’d be treated the same. Think about that, really. Would you have taken one of your besties aside to assert your requirement that she duck out to give her child milk? (Cow milk is produced for baby cows by the way, so don’t even go there). What if she’d been in the church with you and her baby started getting so fussy that he couldn’t wait to nurse? Would you turn up your nose if she dared not pause to make him happy? Would you expect her to cover up in front of you even if it caused her noticeable aggravation?
You appear to have devoted much attention to accommodate the needs of nearly all your guests, even thoughtfully arranging the option of vegan meals for us. The irony is in the deliberate pick-and-choosiness of what you felt was worthy of accommodating (i.e. insensitivity to parents of young children, adults’ dietary needs) and what was not (i.e. child’s dietary needs, child’s emotional response to being smuggled away into hiding).
I realize there’s an endless number of things to consider in wedding planning, so I’d have understood if it slipped your mind to mention your feelings on breastfeeding. But you went out of your way apparently multiple times to state you would not be accommodating it. You feared I wouldn’t respect your wish to eliminate public breastfeeding from your events, and you refused to respect a major need of perhaps your one most dependent of guests.
If you didn’t want kids to act like kids at your wedding events, perhaps you shouldn’t have invited kids. Many kids are breastfed, and have no knowledge of environmental restrictions upon this need. Discrimination is, you know, a thing. “Agree to disagree” was unfortunately impossible in this scenario.
I want to believe your intent was not malicious and that you simply didn’t think things through. I admit, I have some concern that the clamor to cease and desist had little to do with breastfeeding and in fact, more to do with a personal affront. Feeling quite hurt and (I hope understandably) insulted, if you could put those fears of mine to rest, I’d be so relieved.
The Conflict of the Conditional Invitation
YOU formally invited me and my child to your wedding events. Welcome indeed, but I did not feel welcome. I was invited under the condition that I disappear to care for my son, who you also willfully invited.
That said, several players lay at equal fault for the lack of transparency. I myself am to blame for a hesitation to act. Once I knew your true feelings, I didn’t want to offend you, because I care about you both. Still I felt shackled by a telling internal conflict. My personal values and level of education on the faux pas of social oppression kept welling up to remind me that I shouldn’t make exceptions, no matter my affection for you as family.
TDD should’ve told me in advance of your wedding shower that you asked him to block me from breastfeeding there. If I’d been made privy to the conspiring of this “pre-planned breastfeeding blueprint” in the works, I’d have considered a few things: Should I go ahead and breastfeed when and where my son asks, despite your request, because that’s supported by law, free will, and the best interest of my number one priority, my child? Or should I decline your invitation and keep my business, baby, and breast milk at home where you think it belongs? Maybe I could speak with you to arrive at a sort of compromise?
Ultimately, I wouldn’t have attended the wedding shower, rehearsal dinner, ceremony or reception if I’d known beforehand that my style of parenting was unforgivably taboo. In such instance I could’ve simply RSVPed my regrets to avoid the objectionable position I found myself in.
I was caught between two conflicting requests: one from you (et al) to leave to nurse, and one from my child to nurse when and where he wished.
I felt resentful that the power to decide for myself was stripped from me. Multiple people were “in on” the matter of my public breastfeeding, yet I was somehow not one of them. I must ascertain that either you, A). don’t value my opinion, B). don’t think I can or should speak for myself, C). fear my reaction, D). on the contrary, care about my feelings so much that you hoped I’d catch a whiff of your true thoughts without needing to trouble me with their articulation.
Segregation of Breastfeeding Dyads Is Against the Law
SOUTH CAROLINA BREASTFEEDING LAW SECTION 63-5-40. Breastfeeding. (A) A woman may breastfeed her child in any location where the mother and her child are authorized to be. (B) Breastfeeding a child in a location where the mother is authorized to be is not considered indecent exposure. HISTORY: 2008 Act No. 361, Section 2.
You see, the law was on our side. Your chosen venue has no such policy disallowing breastfeeding during any event of any level of formality. Personal discrimination is not above the law.
Still, I Attempted to Respect Your Request…
I decided I’d defer to your wishes so long as it didn’t impede upon MaiTai’s needs (and I regret bothering to do so). Let me be clear about why I initially complied with your wish to not breastfeed at the dinner table or in the church:
- I gave you a “pass” because first of all, we’re family. And as I’m sure you can tell by the commitment I’ve shown to my own family through things like marriage and, oh, breastfeeding, that loyalty is important to me. So even though I didn’t agree with your feelings, I knew I should take them seriously whether or not you did the same for me.
- I had no interest in making a point, and I knew it wasn’t the time to expand your consciousness about breastfeeding issues.
- Stress affects the milk letdown reflex. More on that in a bit.
- I wasn’t ashamed and didn’t worry that what I do is “wrong.” We have no shame in our family for breastfeeding — in fact, we’re incredibly proud and honored to be able to still be successfully breastfeeding for 2.5 years now.
- I left because it was your Special Day. I know the Bride and Groom are supposed to be like “King and Queen For a Day” and all laws, wishes of anyone else, etc are basically void. It’s *all about you two.* I totally get that. I’m a romantic and I fully support the realization of the “Flawless Dream Wedding” for whoever desires it. Yeah, your request was sprung upon me at the last minute, and I had no time to speak with you and educate you. I suspect you wanted it that way. But however you wanted it was up to you – it was your day, after all. If you didn’t want handicapped people or overweight people or long-haired people or freckled people or breastfeeding people at your wedding — in their wheelchairs and being heavy and not taming their hair and being freckly and feeding their children in representation of the vast array of variances between individuals — it would’ve entirely been your right. On one’s magical day of vow-exchange, one gets to be as discriminating as one wishes and people will probably try a little harder than usual to comply because they want the new couple to be happy. Let that sink in. Everyone who showed up to your wedding was there to make *you* happy.
- I left to protect my child from the harassment that you apparently expected from your friends and family. What kind of friends and family do you have that you’d expect enough of them to harass a nursing mother that you’d make sure she isn’t visible? I didn’t want my son to be bothered by rudeness, negativity, and shaming of something perfectly healthy, natural, and NORMAL that he wants to do.
- I left because I didn’t want to be in the same room celebrating with people who would treat me like a second-class guest, an embarrassment, or a potential risk factor.
But My Attempt to Comply Failed, and Here’s Why
As much as I truly wanted to help you achieve your idea of an untarnished, spot-free miracle wedding — and I understood you believed breastfeeding would play some role in its level of success or lack thereof — I’m not so snugly on board with dumping my core values just to make unreasonable people go, “Ah yes, the sparkle in everyone’s eyes hath been preserved! All thanks to the breastfeeding censors!”
I guess you don’t know me that well. Or maybe you do, and that’s why you went out of your way to avoid discussing this with me in person before. So let’s discuss now.
1). Logistically, It’s Not So Simple
It’s not so simple to “just move to another room” or “just cover up.” And my experience last weekend proves it. You know what is simple? Averting one’s gaze, if one wishes. Tell me, where did you expect me to breastfeed? Did only the breastfeeding-restricted areas cross your mind? You wanted me to take my nursling elsewhere, but you took no care to provide another comfortable spot for us to feed (compromise?).
I seriously hope you didn’t think I was going to nurse in the bathroom or something? It should go without saying there’s no way in a Charleston summer heat HELL or anywhere else that I’d ever breastfeed my child where strangers defecate. NO. If you figured we’d tuck away in some vacant room, what did you expect I should do if other guests filed in? Move again? Apologize? Tell my child he needs to cut it out? No, again.
Because I briefly acquiesced to the terms of your special favor…
- We had to eat our rehearsal dinner in the courtyard, half an hour after the servers cleared 70 other guests’ dessert plates. You bet the meal was cold. Exiled in the dark, we could hardly see what we were eating. But thank you for making sure it was vegan, just like my breast milk.
- MaiTai interrupted the few speeches for which we were present with irritated crying because he failed to understand why I couldn’t just quietly nurse him right there. I explained that Bride and Groom said “NO breastfeeding,” and he replied “YES nanoo!” (That’s our word for breast milk… cute, right?)
- We missed all the other speeches including TDD’s Best Man speech. I was greatly looking forward to his speech. I heard it was beautiful and I hope it touched you somewhere in your heart.
- I missed your entire ceremony. MaiTai started feeling antsy just before you walked down the aisle and he asked to “nanoo.” I knew if I nursed him for approximately 90 seconds that he’d regain his focus and be able to sustain the remainder of the pew-sitting time. But because I was still thinking my observation of your wishes might be a good thing, I curled him over my hip and we relocated outside. It was hot. Too hot. He started screaming because it was so hot. A lengthy negotiation process ensued to convince him to either breastfeed in the melting humidity or walk, inconsolable and confused, to the reception venue. The latter option won out and I ended up semi-dragging an overtired, dehydrated toddler to the reception venue to gleefully await the other guests’ arrival half an hour later. I could’ve simply nursed him for a minute and a half in the church and avoided this whole paragraph from becoming a reality.
2). Socially, It’s Not So Simple
To avoid the risk of potentially embarrassing some guests, you were willing to without doubt embarrass one (me). The mother of a child who you indulge in affectionate tickles every time you see him, but apparently rouse no display of attention to his basic needs.
Some of your friends and family talked with me throughout the evening, and they were perfectly sweet and congenial. However I felt protective. My guard was up. How would I know if the person making polite small-talk to me in a given exchange had in fact been one to rudely and benightedly complain about me at the shower? How awkward — and how regrettably, avoidably so.
Dinner Host proclaimed several times that weekend how MaiTai was “the star of the show!” TDD said, “If he really was, then you’d give a sh-t about his needs.” MaiTai picked up on the unessential tension and remained upset much of the weekend — something a quick nurse can effectively set right in seconds, like a comforting hug or a kiss on the cheek. Resultant of the general unease, he actually insisted to nurse more frequently than he would’ve normally.
Stress also negatively affects the milk letdown response, which renders a woman much less likely or completely incapable of feeding her child as he needs. Slopping one’s imagined “heartache” upon the already-full plate of a mother with a nursling creates undue anxiety. Sure, the visual awareness of her breastfeeding might personally cause you stress too, but your stress would affect only your present mood. It would not impede your ability to provide for a child (that is real heartache, friends, not “heartache”).
Also note, the more nursing sessions a mother skips, the quicker her supply diminishes. So if she regularly skips feedings during a several-day-long wedding weekend due to lack of milk caused by stress from feeling harassed, her ability to continue to breastfeed as successfully as usual may be vitally threatened. You can understand how important it is to a child to feel loved, taken care of, and special. Like many normal children his age, MaiTai has always sated these needs though nursing (other kids use a lovey or a pacifier as false soothing wherein human comfort has been stripped away).
Alienation is what one demands when one requests a mother to not breastfeed “in public.” It doesn’t sound nice to be excluded, and it sure doesn’t feel nice either.
Who Caused a Scene, Exactly?
I know you wanted to avoid dealing with “a scene.” How interesting, because in my 2.5 years of breastfeeding I recall no sort of public chaos caused by feeding MaiTai. No bombs went off. No dramatic car chases ensued. No one was sent to the E.R. (oh wait, that scene actually did happen at your wedding. And you can’t blame breastfeeding for that one). Truth be told, it’s the complainant who potentially causes a scene and controversy, not the mother and child who are doing nothing abnormal or wrong.
Please, explain to me in your view how it’s it appropriate for the older, conservative crowd you were so worried about to witness the Bride and Groom and other guests engaging in binge drinking at a predeclared classy event, yet feeding a child in a normal way is a tasteless tragedy?
On that note, are you aware that one of your guests referred to me as “tasteless,” neglecting to address me directly, instead barking this opinion to his presumed date in deliberate earshot? The cowardice of avoidance proves such a person is aware that what he said is wrong. He chose a moment to diffusely harass me when I was vulnerable, with a child in my lap, incapable of chasing him down and forcing him to face me iris-to-iris. Is this the sort of friend you hoped to protect from the potentially mortifying sight of nursing? One who won’t hesitate to march across the courtyard toward a mother and child minding their own business, and to verbally degrade her?
In that moment I wondered how you’d have reacted if you’d witnessed the scene. Would you have defended me? Told him to knock it off and remind him your wedding is no place for trash-talking? Perhaps you would’ve nodded knowingly, high-fived him as he walked off, or as I best predict, you would’ve taken TDD aside and reminded him that I needed to stop doing “that.”
Did you notice several people left your rehearsal dinner to talk to us in the hallway outside while I breastfed? They wanted to know if I was mad. They expressed concern that I was upset, and at least one of them agreed that she thought what I was doing was “a wonderful thing” and she felt troubled that we were asked to leave. By exiling us to “a private area,” you managed to draw away even more guests from your own event. You may find it ironic that the topic of gossip among these folks was not the fact that I was publicly nursing, but that there was such a fuss to prevent me from doing it.
Let Me Explain Breast Pumps and Nursing Covers
1). Yes, pumps were made for a reason — to help mothers provide milk for their children when they’re separated. Two irrelevant things but since I’m in a sharing mood: 1). My son is far too old for a bottle. 2). Breast pumps put me at greater risk of mastitis. Most importantly, it’s my right and duty as a mother to do what’s best for my child, and for him breast is best. Why would I give him water or a juice box in the instance that he explicitly asks for breast milk? Why would I then trouble myself to give expressed breast milk when I’m right there, and he’s inches away from the source?
2). Yes, covers were made for a reason — to protect babies from the elements and excess stimulation. It was 90 degrees in Charleston last weekend. Would you want to eat under a blanket in that heat? Most children won’t tolerate a blanket on their face when they nurse and the ensuing battle with a wriggling octopus underneath it causes more of a scene than a child contentedly nursing. Covers were made for children who would benefit from quiet and shade; they were NOT made to appeal to small-minded folks who can’t otherwise control an urge to enervate the child’s mother.
It seems you may not have been aware of these issues, so please, another favor — read this: “Why Do Some Breastfeeders Wear a Cover in Public?“
If you still think public breastfeeding requires a cover for modesty and cannot resist some overbearing neurosis to ask a breastfeeding mother to hide, next time be sure to bring a blanket and throw it over your face. Problem solved. Modesty preserved. (Another favor, please. Learn more here: “How To Nurse In Public — With Modesty!“).
3). Yes, breasts were also made for a reason — to feed babies. Really! I’m not even joking. You can read all about how it works here. It is fascinating.
A Breast Is Only Sexual If You See It That Way
To make a point, TDD informed you, Groom, that if you need to eat, you should leave too. You responded:
“I don’t require a breast to eat… It’s different.”
True, it is different. But different because… breasts are inherently obscene? Considering that the majority of babies do require a breast to eat, is the obscene categorization of a lactating breast actually perverted?
My son, being 2.5 years old, doesn’t solely require a breast to eat, but this is not the point. The point is there’s nothing wrong or shameful about eating from a breast — it exists for this purpose. My breast is only showing “too much” if the qualifying person is investigating it too strongly with his or her eyes. A breast, like any other body part, only becomes obscene if treated as such, and — this is important — it’s only obscene in the mind of the person staring too hard, NOT in our shared reality.
Think of it this way: One’s mouth can be employed in more numerous sexual purposes than a breast, but I certainly didn’t ask anyone in the event’s dining room to leave due to the offensiveness of his or her “oral sex mouth” used for its biologically intended function (eating) in public.
I empathize that it must be confusing to wrestle with an idea you’ve always known (“breasts are private and obscene”) and another untouched reality (“breasts nurture children”). Interestingly, though people like to say breasts should be covered because they’re “sexual,” I don’t think that’s what they genuinely believe. Body parts that elicit an arousal response can be considered sexual by the affected person. Therein, hands, faces, feet, the small of one’s back, muscular arms, and so on may be sexualized depending whose eye beholds such things.
There’s absolutely nothing different about a breast that makes it obscene, and if anything, should be less so considering breasts are designed specifically with children in mind. So, we mustn’t throw the net of presupposition over all people who are sexually attracted to women; we mustn’t delineate this populace with the conviction that they’ll lose all control at the sight of a breast.
In my experience, it seems only a small number of straight men are bothered by the sight of a woman breastfeeding, and for an even smaller number the reason is because they find it equivalent to a sexual act. I need to iterate: there’s a great fear of our sexuality in this uptight society and that fear, if not loosened, results in rigidity and black and white thinking — the kind of thinking that causes our brains to explode when we see breasts behaving as nature intended in contrast to the more usual connection to marketing beer, cars, and plastic surgery.
There’s no shame in embracing that we are sexual beings, that we’re capable of drawing sexual interest from others, and that we may feel sexually drawn to other people and scenarios. This is all normal, and our society’s hellbent-ness on making our potential for arousal a “point of purchase” certainly doesn’t make it easy to accept this. It’s okay to not know how to determine one’s own true feelings about seeing parts of the human body in various formats. We’ve all fallen prey to the trained illusion of subjectivity where it doesn’t exist.
But objectively, you may recall from anatomy class that breasts are not part of one’s genitalia/reproductive system. Can you determine how you learned to associate breasts with sex? Music videos? Family tradition? Body objectification messages in all forms of modern advertising and media? Is a breastfeeding mother the one with an inappropriate, “tasteless” problem or is it one who sees a breast with an attached baby as sexual?
I shouldn’t be expected to stoop to the standards outlined for me in music videos and flesh-fearing Puritan era prudishness, if I’m neither feeding my child alongside Lil’ Wayne nor in 17th century America.
Breastfeeding isn’t a trend. It’s the biological, historical norm (and in most of the world the social one, too). It’s had a long run on this Earth, and it’ll doubtlessly outlive small minds and current fears. So must we really force all the babies to cry until their mothers can carry them and her breasts as far away from overly-interested eyes as possible, just because some people erroneously confuse breasts with reproductive organs?
I know it’s not easy to ignore breastfeeding sometimes. It is so beautiful, powerful and captivating after all. I don’t blame anyone who cannot seem to pull their eyes away for this reason. But if an observer is disgusted, it’s up to him or her to accommodate. It’s not the responsibility of the mother and child who are doing nothing wrong. As I wondered before, what’s so difficult about averting one’s gaze?
No One Owns My Body But Me
(Not Even a Bride and Groom On Their Big Day)
When there’s an urgent need to control some aspects of certain guests, perhaps the inability to accept them for who they are begs a second look at whether one should tolerate to send them an invitation at all. I understand the desire to oversee the whole narrative of the nuptials, but in some areas of life, control over others is damnable.
Take for instance: attempting to enact control over another person’s body and more specifically, bodily functions.
As I reminded already, you never addressed your feelings to me directly. Instead you tried to convince TDD to have me reject our child during your festivities. Let me be clear, my husband does not own my body, he doesn’t make choices for me, and though I greatly respect his opinions, he doesn’t speak for me. Don’t forget that MaiTai is his child too. He’s aware of the invaluable benefits of breastfeeding and knows how snatching it away as an option whenever and wherever it’s best suited to occur would not only detriment me, but also the sensitive balance of our family dynamic. Assuming he’d be on board with such a thing was quite silly, don’t you now agree?
Breastfeeding happens due to timely rises in oxytocin, which is the love and bonding hormone (not a misbehavior/rebellion/problem-causing/attention-seeking hormone). It’s the one that arms mothers with thousands of years’ worth of ancestral mammary muscle memory. It compels her to finally believe that ANY place a child wants to feed is “the right time and place” to do it.
Yes, including a church. Probably especially in a church, where people pray and worship and connect with a divine source that blessed us with the ability and encouragement to unapologetically rear our cherished cherubs. Yet, Groom, I’m aware you warned “definitely not in the church.” TDD informed you that the Pope openly advocates breastfeeding in a house of God. I know, Groom — you said you don’t care what the Pope thinks because it’s really “your personal opinion” that matters. (I wonder, why get married in a church if you fail to support the same values as those who superintend it? But I digress…).
Thing is, as a responsible human being — and as the host of an event attended by dozens of other human beings you hand-selected — if your personal opinion essentially crutches others, it’s time to reevaluate either who’s invited to join you, or why you believe what you do. That public breastfeeding is perfectly appropriate is not an opinion, it’s a fact. You can view the activity in a mistaken manner, but therein is drawn the limit. A mistaken view, a blindness even. Normalcy, modesty, health, love — it’s all there in the image of breastfeeding, in all places, at all times. Just because you cannot see something for what it is doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Keeping Up Appearances Is Not a “Real-Life Issue”
Making sure a child feels accepted and comfortable is a real-life issue, so let’s talk about that for a minute.
Parenting is so much more than tiny matching outfits, first haircuts, and showing off latest achievements in mobility. It’s not all goo-goo ga-ga, posed-smile Kodak moments posted on Instagram. Each child is a person and no person at any point in his or her life is either a wind-up doll or a trainable monkey who should stop making noise, stop needing his Mommy and Daddy, or stop making “problems” for everyone.
What your child will remember about your parenting is that you were there for him, held him when he cried, refused to let anyone make him feel ashamed for needing love in the way he asked for it, and that you defended him even when it meant burning all your most beloved bridges.
Being a parent means you’ve stayed up all night, many nights, to calm your anxious baby with the rhythm of your weary heartbeat. It means not-so-nicely telling your best friends and closest relatives to mind their own boundaries far more often than you ever expected. It means when you see two missed calls in a row from your partner, your brain immediately concludes your child is in the emergency room.
So what’s the real threat in giving a mother a goddamn break? Please do me a favor (it’s still your turn now, see) and explain the great challenge here. Otherwise, use this opportunity to grow, gain maturity, open your heart. I’ve not been a parent for too long, but I hope you do take what I’ve learned thus far seriously.
So, How Would You Feel? (Really Think About This)
I know very well that ignorance is a heavy burden to unload at once. I’ve learned to welcome anyone who dares to challenge my stuck perspectives in light of more progressive, compassionate ones. I very much hope I can do this for you, too. I don’t believe either of you are “hopeless” in the tactful handling of this matter in the future and so, I wrote this letter.
I’m sure you’re well-acquainted with the concept that Southern Hospitality starts and ends with family, does it not? Family-friendly means child-friendly. Child-friendly means children come first. You see where I’m going with this.
Though I certainly deserve an apology, with or without it I’ll be here for you in the future if you have questions or desire support as new parents. Raising children is tough and we need as many reliable people on our side as we can get! If anything, you also deserve an apology, one from the society (or other influences) that drove you to this position of ignorance. I hope by the time your best friends have children that you’ve figured out how to show them the respect you weren’t capable of showing me.
Of course, I hope when you have children that you intend to feed them the normal way they expect — breastfeeding, if you can. And I wish that you’re very successful in meeting your goals, because it’s not easy. It’ll require a lot of support from and education of those around you, plus a willingness to sacrifice your own comfort and preconceived ideas frequently. That means sometimes you won’t be able to make your child wait to eat. It means you’ll also quickly realize the ludicrousness of such an expectation upon you.
Bride – How will you feel if you’re in a bind and need to nurse your future child in public (assuming you think you’ll never need to do that) and someone scowls that you’re “tasteless”? Will you feel appalled that someone could think such a thing of you, as proud as you are for caring for your baby, and knowing the hypocrisy that more cleavage is on display in a typical bridal magazine than in a single instance of nursing a child?
Did you know that the only other time someone harassed me for “public” breastfeeding, I was sitting inside my own car?
When you become a parent, you’ll swiftly learn there’s no such thing as privacy anymore. There’s an audience everywhere you go, including the most persistently present ones you created with your own womb.
If you don’t plan to breastfeed your children, how will you feel about someone chastising you for bottle-feeding in public, badgering you for “poisoning” your baby and unfairly judging your attempt to do what you think is best for him?
Groom – What will you do in reaction to this kind of treatment toward your wife? Will you tolerate it? I hope you won’t pause to defend her and your child, to stand up for them without question, and tell the offending party to “f-ck off” on her behalf so she can retain her deserved dignity and continue to focus on your beloved child.
Today I’m left begging like a pauper for an apology, or at least so much as an explanation for your behavior. And somehow here I am, having written a letter in attempt to explain myself. You see what’s wrong with this picture yet?
Please read the links I included. I wrote them long ago with future mothers-to-be (like you, Bride) and culturally-biased partners (like you, Groom) in mind. Consider it a favor to yourself?
By yours truly:
Other worthy reads:
“Every Argument Against [Nursing in Public] Debunked” – Elsinora
“The Top 20 Reasons Why You Should Cover Up When Breastfeeding” – Elizabeth Grattan