There are few things more fascinating or mesmerizing to this world than boobs. They are everywhere. Billboards advertising anything from sneakers to car parts. Magazines. Movies. Music. Our world loves boobs. Flash 'em for beads! Show them off at the beach! At the pool! At the mall! Show us your boobs! That is, unless you are feeding your baby, then FOR GOD'S SAKE WHERE A COVER!
I've been using my boobs for the sick habit of feeding my babies since 2008. When I first started I thought nothing of it. My baby had to eat. His food came from my boobs, so I used them for what I figured God intended them for. I fed him at coffee shops, in restaurants, on public benches. I didn't even wear a cover (gasp). I was so young and naive I didn't even realize I was doing anything wrong. Some people hinted at the use of a nursing cover, telling me where I could buy them, how useful they were. I would innocently reply that my son wouldn't nurse with anything over his head, not picking up on the hints those people were kindly tossing my way. I wore layers, and my shirt usually covered what my baby's head didn't, so I didn't see the need for a cover anyway.
When I first started noticing that I was making other people uncomfortable was when I was feeding my son at a restaurant when a well intentioned friend mentioned she would never feed her hypothetical child in public. How would you go anywhere or do anything? I asked stupidly. She confidently told me if she had to feed said child in public, she would obviously retreat to the nearest restroom. Ew. I said. Would you sit on those toilets? Most don't even have lids or seat covers! What about the flushing? You'd basically be feeding your baby in toilet water. And how could you bear to sit in a bathroom for 20-45 minutes while your friends finish their meals and have to wait for you? How inconvenient. I ignorantly went on and on about how silly it would be to nurse in a restroom when you can easily sit and nurse comfortably in a chair while you eat and/or talk to your friends. She just shook her head.
I had my first child in Asheville, NC. It's a city known for being weird where public breast-feeding and other barbaric practices are fairly normal, so I lived happily in my ignorance for a year or so. Thinking those who thought I was weird, or disturbing, were the strange ones. But when I left my town I noticed I never saw other mothers feeding their babies the strange way I had somehow come to see as normal. There were moms toting bottles, ignoring their tender swollen breasts until they could get to a private place to pump. And a very few brave ones with small, frequent eaters wearing nursing covers, huddled in private-ish corners. Like Eve after tasting the forbidden fruit, I started to become aware of my nakedness. How had I been so unaware of my inconsiderate flashing of flesh? Suddenly the stares became more and more evident to me. But by this point, my son began only nursing before bed and I didn't have to face nursing in public any longer.
When my second son was born, I was much wiser and more aware of other peoples' needs and concerns. I bought a nursing cover, determined that this child would learn to nurse with his head covered. It wasn't until about the third apology I received for someone talking to me while I was breastfeeding (with a nursing cover) that I realized they were not apologizing to me, but for me. And that when women said comments like, "You are so brave, doing that in public!" they were not really complimenting me. While I was comfortable, they were not, and they needed me to be aware of that. And thus began my journey into a much less familiar territory of uncomfortable feeding in public. Rules I was learning: 1)Yes, please happily enjoy your new large breasts by wearing shirts that display them pleasingly. 2) By no means ever expose them while feeding a child. This portrays unnatural behavior, only acceptable in countries where pumps and nursing covers don't yet exist. 3) Please spend hours pumping to make life more convenient to those around you. No one wants to stop and wait for you to nurse, and heaven forbid we catch a glimpse of your areola! Save that for the nudey magazines! 4) Nursing covers are great alternatives to never feeding in public. But please, even if you are using a cover, please refrain from talking to others while doing the deed. Do not draw attention to yourself, and if at all possible, find a private place away from others to retreat to. Great options include: your car, public restrooms, quiet corners (make sure to keep your head down, do not make eye contact or encourage speaking with others, lest some unsuspecting person feel free to walk by and say hello only to realize what you are doing).
I quickly realized that if I was going to go anywhere or do anything, I could not make everyone happy or even comfortable with my boob-feeding habits. I realized I was going to just have to do it anyway. Now as I nurse my third child, I have long since discarded the nursing cover (I know, I know, but for some reason I just can't train my babies to eat in a hot box with ease!), and I nurse when and where I have to. Does it bother me that I get stares or comments? Yeah. My fear is not that I will lose my freedom to feed my baby in public, my discomfort is what this says about what we believe about women's bodies. My worry is what we might be continuing to teach this next generation to believe about women's bodies. My disgust is that we have so sexualized our bodies that we allow no room to use them in the way they were intended. I am not making a statement when I nurse my daughter in public. I am not "taking a stand" or sticking it to the man. I am not looking for attention, nor am I ashamed. I'm just feeding my baby. It's not always comfortable and I often feel like people think I am doing something strange or wrong. But my daughter is healthy and happy, and I am not confined to my home. Although I must admit, I do take courage in the fact that when other kids see me nursing my daughter and they say something like, "Ew! Why is she doing that?" I hear my son say, "What? She's just feeding my sister."