breastfeeding

To the People Who Stared at Me While I Breastfed My Infant in Public

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Can we talk about breastfeeding for a moment?

It doesn’t come so easy to many women. It didn’t for me. Moreover, it doesn’t come so easy to many observers, either. It’s fraught with squeamishness and discomfort and awkwardness and shrouded in stress and anxiety and shame and guilt and pressure and embarrassment (and did I mention discomfort?)—l rolled into one.

But since we’re all adults here, surely we can agree that something as basic as feeding a baby with essential sustenance deserves to be addressed with plain, open and honest discussion. So why, when we do it in public, does it attract so much scrutiny?

An Australian member of parliament just breastfed her baby in parliament and it made headlines in world news. I don’t know whether it was simply an action of maternal necessity or one of political standing, but either way, while I’m happy she did it, it’s sad that in 2017 this is a news item.

As I say, breastfeeding didn’t come easy to me–not with my first, nor second, nor third. God knows what I didn’t go through to get the hang of it and eventually find my (our) groove. With each child, it was a different ballgame. To break it down, I persevered with an assortment of massages (self-done as well as other people helping me out), lumps, expressing, syringes, engorgement, mastitis, cabbage leaves, nursing pillows, varying positions, cushions, footstools, lactation consultants, ointments, silicone nipple shields, annoying bras, pumps, freezing bags, ice boxes, nursing aprons, supplements, muslin wraps, lopsidedness…you name it.

At first, I only wanted to breastfeed at home. in a room, where I felt comfortable, away from relatives and guests. Once I progressed to being out and about a bit more, I would find a quiet, not-so-public place–sometimes the bathroom, sometimes back in the car, to modestly breastfeed.

But sometimes that just wasn’t possible. When my first-born was about 3 months old, 8 years ago, I remember going in to the office for the first time to have a meeting with my then-boss to discuss my return to work. I forgot to bring a muslin cloth with me so I had to make do without and I simply fed the baby during this meeting. It was a milestone for me. And my boss? Well, he didn’t even bat an eyelid. He just continued talking naturally, which made me feel very relaxed and comfortable about the whole thing. I was so grateful. Of course, it never occurred to me that this kind of thing could be a news item. Then again, I guess this wasn’t parliament.

Fast-forward to now, and it’s still not easy. However, these days, my mindset has changed, and I don’t think twice about nursing whenever and wherever I need to— oftentimes, without the apron. You do what you need to do I guess. Yesterday, while waiting for my appointment in a doctor’s waiting room, I needed to nurse my baby. She decided quite suddenly that she was famished, and neither pacifier nor cuddling was going to do the trick.

So, for the sake of peace and quiet in the waiting room, I quickly picked her up–a sweaty, clenched-fisted, screaming, red-faced mess, and before I could grab a muslin cloth or nursing apron from my bag I latched her on. I knew I had a cover-up packed somewhere in the bottom of the bag, but I realized the amount of effort involved in single-handedly foraging for it while holding a squealing baby was not going to be worth the hassle. Plus, I didn’t want to leave the room, as it was my turn to be called to the doctor next.

And so, I began to nurse her.

People around me busied themselves (perhaps courteously?) by staring either at their phones or at the silent TV perched on the wall. In fact, the silence of the waiting room seemed to amplify the impressively loud slurping, gulping and swallowing sounds my baby made as she drank with gusto.

The secretary looked up at me and politely proposed (in barely an audible whisper) that if I would be more comfortable, and only if I wanted to, I could find the female bathroom and adjacent nursing and changing room outside the doctor’s waiting room and right down the corridor toward the end of the building. This would mean that I would certainly miss hearing my name called out, not to mention, I’d have to walk past everyone while a) holding the suckling baby across my chest or b) putting her back down in the stroller while wheeling her out causing her to scream ever more loudly. So I graciously declined the offer and opted to just stay where I was, where I would be sure to not lose my long-awaited place in line.

She smiled. I smiled back. Baby gulped. And farted loudly. I giggled. The young man next to me shuffled in his seat. Half-apologetically, I looked up, a bit flushed, and made eye contact with the older man who was wearing a kippah, sitting across from me. He didn’t have a phone in his hands and he wasn’t watching the TV. “Kol hakavod,” he said to me, rather loudly–meaning “well done.”.

I’m not sure if he meant for this to be directed toward me or toward the baby. In any case, it made me realize something.

Breastfeeding is not a one-woman job.

It involves encouragement of women the world over, alongside proficient government leadership, as well as accommodating workplaces, and support from families and friends, and assistance from the health care system and back-up from communities and society and even strangers in the waiting room to really make it all work.

My mother recently took a picture of me nursing (above) that she called “Multi-Tasking.” But I’d caption it just “getting shit done”—with a little bit of help.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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