Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Few More Thoughts on Breastfeeding

I know, I know, I'm talking about it a lot, but it is a pretty time-consuming part of my life right now. Between worrying about getting enough milk for daycare, skipping ice cream and cereal because milk upsets my little girl's stomach, and trying to figure out if I can leave the house without a bottle of pumped milk (because dipping in to that supply on the weekends just makes the week that much more stressful), I think about breastfeeding a lot.

I was a volunteer this weekend for some scholarship interviews. I was just a backup volunteer, someone they could use if they had a no show. They did have a no-show, and they asked me to stay. As I was looking at the packet of info they gave me about the potential recipients, I had a sudden lump in my throat. I forgot something. I was sure of it. I didn't know what it was, but something important had been forgotten. I started to look in my bag. Wallet--check. Keys--check. Then I noticed it; I had forgotten part of my pump. The interviews weren't going to be over until 3:00 pm. It was 9:00 am, and my daughter had last eaten at 7:30. There was no way I could stay. I discreetly pulled one of the people (purposely choosing a woman) running the event aside and explained the situation, assuring her I could stay if they absolutely needed me, but I would have to figure something out. She said there were other back-ups around. I could go home.

 I felt guilty for hours. I hated leaving something I had signed up for. But I also started noticing some odd reactions when I told people the story. It seemed as if people thought I should have been more discreet about why I had to go home, as if breastfeeding was something to keep secret. Twelve weeks ago I was a walking beach ball. It should be no secret to these people that I work with that there was a child inside of me. If they have even a basic understanding of human anatomy, it should come as no surprise that my breasts now produce milk. That's what they're there for. If I had accidentally left my daughter home alone without any formula, no one would think it odd that I needed to make sure she had food.

The stigma surrounding breastfeeding is bizarre to me. It's not like my breasts are invisible--in fact, these days they are quite noticeable (and I would hate to think what they would have looked like come 3 o'clock if I had stayed on Saturday). I've nursed in public only once, and I used a cover, so it's not like people saw any more of my breasts then than they did when I was simply wearing my shirt. In fact, they actually saw less; the nursing cover isn't exactly form-fitting.

The other day I passed a woman standing in the corner of the back aisle in Target, trying to stand up, hold a kicking baby, keep a blanket over her chest, and nurse. I felt so bad for her.

Over at PhD in Parenting, there's a video concerning how the stigma and social pressures for a nursing mother to cover up are a type of feminist oppression:

Women have the right (legally) to nurse just about anywhere, but they don't have the right socially. That's not going to change until we change the conversation. Personally, I prefer not to nurse in public, and I would never do so without a cover, but I certainly don't think a woman is doing anything wrong if she makes a different choice. 

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