Having a supportive spouse or partner can make a huge difference when it comes to breastfeeding, and I’m truly thankful to have a husband who’s supported me from the moment I started nursing. But a recent outing made me realize that there’s a fine line between support and empathy, and that sometimes the former just isn’t enough.
Here’s what happened: My husband and I took our toddler and twin 9-month-old daughters to a county fair. It was a beautiful day with textbook perfect weather, and we couldn’t have been more excited to spend hours outdoors. But as the day wore on, my husband and I found ourselves growing increasingly annoyed at one another.
See, my daughters are still nursing every two and a half to three hours like clockwork. What this means is that no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I have to stop and make sure they’re fed. My husband is aware of their feeding schedule—when we’re home, he sees me stop and feed our daughters all the time. But when we’re out and about, he sometimes forgets just how frequently those feedings need to happen.
At one point during the fair, we decided to line up to watch the animal parade. It was billed as the highlight of the day, and my son was really excited to see it. The only problem is that instead of starting at 12:30 like it was supposed to, 1:00 rolled around and there was still nothing doing. At the same time, my daughters started getting antsy and my breasts started getting tingly and full. I told my husband we’d need to abandon the parade route and find a place for me to nurse, but he resisted, asking me to be more flexible and wait until the parade was over.
On the one hand, his intentions were good. He wanted my son to get to see the animals up close and avoid leaving him disappointed. On the other hand, his attitude bugged the crap out of me, and as I tried explaining that I can only be so flexible when our daughters are fussing and my boobs are leaking, I couldn’t help but get a bit snippy, which understandably didn’t sit well with him.
My aggravation, however, rapidly gave way to guilt, so rather than have my son miss out on the parade, I took one of my daughters, found a random bench in the middle of the crowd, nursed her, and then did the same with her sister. By the time I was finished, the parade was over.
“See,” said my husband once it was done. “That ended up working out just fine.”
Queue the annoyance.
Yes, I know the point was to let our son experience the parade, and I’m glad he did. But I couldn’t help but get irked at my husband’s take on the situation.
Sure, it worked out fine—for him. He watched the parade and got to enjoy the expression on our son’s face as the animals went by. Meanwhile, I sat on a bench making polite conversation with an older gentleman while my daughter repeatedly spat out my nipple for dozens of fairgoers around us to see. Not only did I miss the parade, but I wound up nursing under circumstances that were extremely uncomfortable for me.
I’m no stranger to nursing in public, but my daughters won’t nurse with blankets over them, so when I’m out somewhere, I’ll try to find a quiet corner to minimize my boob exposure—which, incidentally, is not only more comfortable for me, but for the people around me. Our original plan that day had been to find a picnic table at the far corner of the fairgrounds (a good 15-minute walk from the parade route) and have my husband hold up a blanket as a privacy screen so I could nurse. That would’ve been a far more pleasant situation than the one I encountered. Furthermore, it would’ve been better for my daughters, as there would’ve been fewer distractions.
But here’s the thing I really wish my husband would’ve understood: Though I had far too much company for comfort while I was stuck on that bench nursing, I felt isolated and alone. At that moment, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being punished for breastfeeding, even though that clearly wasn’t my husband’s intention.
On the car ride home, my husband, solid guy that he is, apologized profusely and thanked me for being so accommodating. But I wonder if he still truly gets it—the challenge that is being tethered to your infant every single day, and the pressure of knowing that you’re his or her primary food source.
Later that night, as we tucked our son into bed, he said, “Thank you Mommy for taking me to the fair and letting me see the parade, because that was my favorite part.” I’m almost certain my husband specifically told him to say that, but I’ll take it. Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect empathy when my husband cannot, biologically or logistically, identify with the breastfeeding process. But if that’s the case, I’ll take all the support I can get.