Look, I understand. I promise I do. No self-respecting woman wants to expose herself. Seriously, tell me if my panties play peek-a-boo when I bend down. And I’m just as mortified as the next girl to realize my bra isn’t as thick as I wish it was for those “nippy” days. That said, this idea of “immodesty” is one of the biggest hurdles I face as a breastfeeding mom, and it isn’t just on your part.
I won’t blame society alone. I know a lot of my experience is self-induced. I grew up in a household where anything below the collar bone was immodest, where one-piece swimsuits were the only acceptable suit, unless it was a tankini. Even our swim team speedos were frowned upon behind closed doors, because Lord knows those have no padding. So I grew up being ashamed of my chest and seeing it as a body part to be hidden. When breastfeeding arrived, along with its massive bust change, it was difficult to put aside those previous feelings and just enjoy the moment. It still is difficult. I was embarrassed on Sunday night at church when #2 pulled off the nipple to giggle at a friend as he was picked up, and I couldn’t get my hand over it fast enough. A lot of my attempts at modesty fail, though. Both boys, though moreso #2, hated being covered up. Anything near #2’s face gets yanked off within seconds. He also likes to play. A lot. Reference the nipple-reveal from Sunday. And it’s mortifyingly embarrassing.
But I’m not trying to cause it. It’s the other person at the end of the boob. I have no control over him or his actions, but I do have a responsibility to feed him. What’s more, he is a person in his own right. I think sometimes people look at a nursing mom, and all they see is a giant boob. Sitting there. Staring at them, with one giant cyclops eye. Let’s all rub our eyes now and look again. It’s one person helping another survive. When did our culture become so sexualized that a natural process has become “immodest?”
Let’s look at it this way. If someone told your 1st grader to go eat in the bathroom stall, you would be horrified! Moreover, if your boss said, “Mary, I cannot stand the sight of you today. You need to go eat in the bathroom for lunch,” you’d probably file for harassment or verbal abuse. After all, bathrooms are full of germs and possibly diseases, especially public restrooms. That’s if no one is in there! “Mmmm…. tuna salad with a side of the farts. Delicious!” “I just love eating my minestrone soup while So-and-so deals with their food poisoning.” Not.
Or, would you let your daughter go eat her lunch in your truck on a Texas summer evening? We’re all well-acquainted with the method of cooking frogs. They don’t realize that the temperature is rising, and so they let themselves be cooked. It’s the same method.
And why do you breathe into a paper bag when you’re hyperventilating? To reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood by breathing in carbon dioxide. A cover with no opening (think blanket) does the same thing.
All of these are things regularly expected and considered “normal” for a nursing mom. Don’t believe me? With #1, I pumped in shame in a locker room during breaks I had to fight for. I ended up losing my milk production because I was too ashamed to ask and too embarrassed to have milk in the work freezer. With #2, I nursed him in a back corner of the airport bathroom at 3 weeks old. I got to listen to one girl force herself to throw up, and another have some serious bowel issues. Neither are pleasant smells or sounds. And for three months while I finished my degree, I pumped in whatever bathroom stall I could get, though I did my best to use the handicap stall. That way, I could be farther from the toilet and any potential splatter. Think about that. Breastmilk in a bathroom. I also often nurse in the truck whenever Little Man gets hungry inconveniently. We live in Texas. Our winters are 65* at noon. We won’t mention our summers.
But that’s expected. After all, no one should be subjected to seeing another person’s personal parts, right?
I’m sorry, but that is wrong. And hurtful.
I, and most nursing moms out there, am doing my best to be modest. I’m not talking about Extreme Breastfeeding Mamas of America here. Most of us genuinely want to respect our bodies and your feelings by staying covered up. The inherent lie of it all, though, is that breastfeeding is immodest. So many people will say, “It’s just not modest,” but when actually faced with a situation, when it’s gone into more deeply, change their tune because they realize how silly the notion is. We shouldn’t be shamed into hiding in bathroom stalls for your decency. We shouldn’t have to melt in our cars because we’re worried about what you’ll think of us.
It’s often in ways you don’t even realize, so here are a few examples of what a nursing mom often sees:
The raised eyebrow – what we think you’re thinking: “What is she thinking?” “Is that a boob?” “Why isn’t she covering up?” “Weird…”
what we feel: ashamed, embarrassed, like freaks.
The slight frown – what we think you’re thinking: “How immodest!” “Can’t she take that somewhere else?” “This is not the place to do that.” “Women these days…”
what we feel – immodest, ashamed, looked down upon, like sluts
And those are just the most common. There’s also the quick glance away and blush, the lip twitch, the wide-eyed stare…. We know that most of you aren’t meaning to hurt our feelings. We want to work with you, honest.
We just aren’t willing to degrade ourselves or our children for your sensitivities.
So, next time you see a mom nursing, give her a smile. Look in her eyes, not at her chest. Realize that there’s a cute pink critter eating, not a lady flaunting. And please, tell her she’s doing something awesome, even if you don’t mean it yet. One judgmental look, one casual phrase against it, and we’re back in the bathroom stall praying no one poos while we’re in there.