I posted this on another site originally on July 7, 2010, four years ago, but reader Jessica reminded me of it so I thought I’d repost.
It’s been a long time since I really, really thought about breastfeeding.
I breastfed both of my kids, for longer than the US norm is, and I’m glad that I could. It was one (well, two) of the most simultaneously fulfilling and irritating experiences I can imagine.
But I don’t think about it much anymore, because my kids are long past that stage. I’m too worried about getting into Kindergarten and balancing work trips with my custody schedule for the kids and mindfucking the emotional fallout for my kids of my getting divorced and researching karate classes and helping them navigate elementary school friendships.
The only time how I fed my babies comes up in my life (when I’m not answering a question on Ask Moxie about it) anymore is when I’m sitting around talking and drinking with other moms. At some point the conversation will turn to how *big* the kids are now and how we can’t believe it. And then we’ll tell baby stories. Sometimes they include stories of how we fed our kids, especially if the story is horrifying, like answering the door with the flaps of a nursing bra down, or having a mother-in-law mix up a whole days’ worth of pricey formula and leave it out of the fridge to go bad, not knowing. But it’s just part of The Lore of Motherhood, and we commiserate and roll our eyes at each other, the way our mothers still do with their friends.
So it shocks me again, the way it did when I was pregnant and complete strangers would ask me if I planned to nurse, that people are still so tied up in knots about nursing a baby. It is a completely normal function of the female body, and no one should bat an eye at a woman doing it. But, at the same time, sometimes it doesn’t work out for a gazillion reasons that are not my business and in those cases thank God, THANK GOD for formula.
But here’s the thing: Once you’re done nursing or formula feeding, it’s not in your life every day anymore. How it worked or didn’t for you is history. It probably still has some emotional resonance, but it’s not consuming you like it did. Which means that the people for whom nursing or not nursing is important and vital and heartbreaking are the very people who have the least time, energy, and bandwidth to advocate for themselves. So those of us with kids old enough to make their own sandwiches are the ones who really need to be taking up this fight.
The fight I’m talking about is normalizing feeding babies. By the breast or by the bottle. Creating a society in which the culture supports women feeding their babies in any location babies are allowed to be, without shame or fear of reproach. Where women are not asked to justify their feeding methods or told to cover themselves up. Where we’re honest about breastmilk being the best food for babies, and where we don’t use duplicitous methods to sell formula. Where women get accurate information about breastfeeding and formula feeding and are allowed to make the choice (if they have one) that’s best for their families and then supported, no matter what that decision is. Where we as a culture talk routinely about breastfeeding issues without shaming women, those who breastfeed and those who don’t. Where we actually have legislation that allows women to spend enough time to establish breastfeeding and then guarantees that they can pump in the workplace to maintain breastfeeding for as long as they want to.
What if we all became lactivists, advocating for more legal protections and support structures for breastfeeding? And what if, at the same time, we became advocates for mothers who feed formula? What if we all started showing a little more cleavage, because breasts are multi-purpose?
I have a dream in which a woman nursing her baby and a woman feeding her baby formula and a woman who just likes to show off her knockers in low-cut tops can all sit in the same booth at the same restaurant and compliment each others’ shoes while they eat. And the old-school, Flo-like server will walk up and ask them how everything is and tell them how cute the babies are with no subtext. And the old guys at the next booth won’t even pay attention to any of it. That is my dream.
Won’t you help me make it a reality? If we all join together, we can make things better for every mother of a babe in arms.
1. When you see a mother with a baby, say, “Wow–your baby looks so healthy and happy! You must be doing a great job!”
2. If you’re a breastfeeding mom, and you have a choice about where to feed, sit down next to a mom feeding a baby from a bottle, and start a conversation about something not related to feeding.
3. Don’t hide your breasts when you feed your kid, whether you’re nursing or using a bottle. Be as discreet as you personally want to be, but don’t cover up just because someone told you you should.
4. If you’re out in public and you see a woman feeding a baby, give her a smile. And a piece of chocolate, if you have one.
5. Defend and protect. If you see a feeding mom being harassed in any way, step in the way you would if you saw big kids picking on little kids at the playground.
6. Talk about feeding babies with your kids, so they grow up knowing that babies need to be fed and that you fed your children and they’ll feed their own kids. The circle of life.
If those of us who have more emotional bandwidth to think about the long-term effects on us of how society treated us while we fed our kids can be very specific in fighting back, this insane fuck-you to moms who feed their babies will finally end.
Then all we’ll have is the fight for legislation protecting nursing, allowing for decent maternity leave, and protecting pumping time in the workplace.