It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Breastfeeding Women: Brave New Mavericks or Just Another Mother?

On my post with the pro-breastfeeding video, Zoe commented that she’d “never seen anyone turn a hair” at the sight of a breastfeeding woman in the city of Norwich where she lives. (Or the city closest to where she lives? Where do you live, Zoe?)

I was struck by that, because you know that? I haven’t, either. Well, not when I was nursing my own children. This is even more striking, perhaps, when you understand that my eldest is 28. She was breastfed till she was over a year old. In all that time, as a stay-at-home mother, I took her wherever I went and nursed her when she needed. Restaurants, libraries, bus stops, church (and no, I didn’t necessarily go down to the nursery, which was often too full of distractions and noise), coffee shops, malls… Everywhere. I never once took her to a public toilet to nurse, either. Ick. My two younger children are almost-25 and 20. They, too, were nursed till they were a little over a year old. They, too, went everywhere with me, feeding as required.

And in all that time, I never had one negative remark. I did have a few positive ones.

— From a very elderly woman in the church I was attending at the time, when I slipped into a pew at the back of the sanctuary to nurse, a lovely frail lady who tottered back to keep me company. “It’s so nice to see young mothers feeding their own babies again! I always thought it was such a shame when those ridiculous doctors convinced all those poor women that those concoctions in bottles were better than what God had given us to feed our babies.” If she was 80-something then, and had fed her babies when she was in her twenties, she was talking about the 1920’s. History, right there in the pew beside me!

— From the woman in the seat beside me on a trans-Atlantic flight. My eldest was 9 months old, and I was nursing her during the ascent to assist with the popping of her teeny eardrums. “Oh, such a smart idea. She’ll be so much happier.” (Turns out she was a pediatric nurse at Sick Kids in Toronto, and her lovely husband an Anglican priest.)

For the most part, people ignored me when I fed my babies. Granted, that could have been the averted eyes of the squeamish … but I never got that impression. For the most part, I assumed people were just respecting my privacy.

Oh, wait! I’m wrong. I did have one negative response. When my son, Adam, my middle child, was five days old, we were visited in our home by good friends. When Adam cried, I made ready to nurse him. The husband of the couple made an exclamation of dismay. “You’re not going to do that here?!?”, he wailed.

I raised one eyebrow (I can do that) and nailed him with a steely glare. My tone was measured, but ironclad stern. “Byron. This is my home, and my baby is hungry. Yes, I’m going to ‘do that’ here. If you don’t like it, you can go out in the kitchen.”

Meantime, his wife, appalled, rolled her eyes at me as she smacked him in the arm. “BY-ron!!!” He glanced at my then-husband for male support, and found none. He was a great guy, Byron, and knew when to admit defeat. He grinned, heaved a giant mock-sigh. “Oh, all right. I guess I’m outnumbered.”

I fed my baby. Byron did not run cowering to the kitchen, and discovered being in the room with a breastfeeding baby wasn’t as horrific as he’d feared. (Three or so years later, when Byron’s first child was born, he was the strongest supporter of breastfeeding his wife could have asked for. I take some credit in turning that around.) 😀

Now, recall that all this was far closer to 30 years ago than 20. Three decades ago, pretty much, I nursed children in several cities in Ontario, with no backlash, no resistance, no negative comments whatsoever. Thirty years ago! Why, I wondered, this sudden flurry of defiantly pro-breastfeeding articles I’m seeing? As if women expect, as if they’ve actually been receiving, flack, push-back, disgust? I’m baffled.

The Canadian in me wants to suggests that it’s because breastfeeding is only just now being truly popularized in the (prudish) US, and so all these articles, posters, tweets and comments reflect American battles, battles largely won in Canada two and three decades ago. It could be that. Except that the video I posted was from Australia, of course. Hm. Is Australia equally prudish? I wouldn’t have thought so, but who knows?

Or was it that my experience wasn’t representative? I lived in urban Canada, in Ontario. Would I have experienced more revulsion had I been in rural Ontario? (Though that sweet little old pro-breastfeeding church lady? She was in Buffalo, New York, where I was living when my eldest was born.)

Or is it that there are pockets of prudery here and there, that people in those pockets post something on the internet, and the rest of us all read/watch what they’ve posted and come to believe it’s a bigger problem than it is? Because that happens. We know it does.

So, wanting to get to the bottom of it, I have a couple of questions. The first is for you currently (or recently) breastfeeding women.

1. How do most people respond to you? Positively? Negatively? Neutrally? (Not the outliers, now. The majority. I don’t want to hear about that one stinker every so often, and make him/her sound like they’re the norm. I’m interested in your everyday experience.) Though I admit I’m curious to know how frequently you encounter those stinkers, if you do.

2. How do you, breastfeeding or not, account for the sudden upsurge in defiant women demanding their right to … do something I thought was a non-issue 28 years ago?

I’m baffled. And curious.

February 27, 2014 Posted by | Canada, controversy, food, parenting | , , | 26 Comments