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Thursday, February 2, 2012

The politics of nursing in public: haters gonna hate

The other day someone graciously shared this very powerful photo on my fan page:

Photo credits: Teresa Henderson/Michelle Hickman/Becky Wheeler
It generated a lot of interest and definitely some controversy, with 160 shares and more than 500 comments - more than my page has ever seen all in one place before.

Most were overwhelmingly positive, and of course, it'll also bring people out of the woodwork. In moderating the comments, I noticed some interesting things happening, though.

Whenever someone argues against breastfeeding in public, specifically, they always say things like this, "I don't want to see her breasts in public!" But the mother isn't showing any breast at all, so they move on to something else, like the age of her child.

If the child can walk and "could ask for the boob," then he was too old. Or that breast milk didn't provide much nutrition, if any, past the age of one year. (Not sure why, but that part about walking seems to stick with many, who think that's the magic age when kids are automatically independent and don't need their parents anymore.)

Thankfully some pointed out that even newborns can "ask" for milk - by doing the breast crawl, rooting, shoving their fists in their mouths, and finally, crying. And some children start cruising, walking well before a year old, so then what?
Photo credit: Carin Araujo
"'If they're old enough to ask for it, they're too old!' Right! My four-year-old just walked up to me and was like, 'Mommy, can I have an apple, please?' and I was like, 'Oh hell no, if you're old enough to ask for it, you can starve!'" 
Others then mentioned how they felt misled because the photo was staged. Psychologically I think it makes people feel better to know that this particular mother really didn't have to nurse her child in there, even though thousands of women everyday feel compelled to do something very similar.

One guy gets huffy and says "he was lied to." "Just a random pic is VERY misleading." In other words, I don't want to admit or believe that women really do have to sit in a toilet stall to breastfeed because of my delicate sensibilities!"


Some stated that they supported breastfeeding in public, as long as mom was modest about it and used a cover. While I personally preferred to be covered, my babies never liked it much. And I've heard many stories from nursing mothers about how, even though they were covered and showed nothing, they were still confronted publicly about it. A friend told me how, when she was at the mall, she had barricaded herself in a corner, behind her stroller, her baby covered, and someone still came tottering over to her to complain about what she was doing.

As usual, many women asked why the mother couldn't "just pump for those occasions?" Because we all know it's so easy! I asked readers on my fan page if they had trouble pumping and almost everyone that responded said "Yes!" I thought it was just me. I had no problems pumping with my first child, but after that, would probably have to start three or four days ahead of time if I knew I was going to be away from the baby for even a short time. Dreadful.

Photo credit: Marek Bernat
"I don't think she should have to pump just so YOU don't feel uncomfortable. That's your problem... My son never took a bottle, so do you suggest I let him scream instead of nurse? If my son wants to nurse, shoving a carrot or a granola bar in his face is not going to appease him."
And lastly, they picked apart the fact that the mother was pregnant. "You're so not supposed to do that!" one person practically gasped.

In other words, if your supposed immodesty isn't an issue, something else always will be. You just can't please anyone, it seems, and someone will always find a reason to complain about your choice to feed your child. Haters are always gonna hate.

8 comments:

Teresa said...

I'm the mother in the photo that started this all. Everything you said here I've thought over the past days as this photo spread across the interwebs. We're truly "Winners at a losing game", they'll give us one small victory only to pick apart everything else, you can't REALLY win. I for one will press on, I am confident that in the next months and years we will make progress for the equal rights of children to eat how ever, when ever, where ever!

The Deranged Housewife said...

You are awesome, mama! Thank you for the inspiration!

2+some Dearborns said...

Thank you for an awesome post!
I'm a mama that has been asked to nurse in a bathroom as well. I have never and will never feed my baby in a bathroom!

beckyj222 said...

Teresa, you ROCK! I'm psyched that I got to take part in your little photo op. I really didn't think that my edit would go viral. lol I love photo editing. One of my little passions in life. But one big passion in my life, of course, is breastfeeding in public and educating people on breastfeeding in general. It's really sad that when people have no other straws to grasp at, they "latch onto" the child's age. Really? If it's not an issue of modesty, or of defacating in public, calling us exhibitionists, it's the fact that someone THINKS the child is too old. They've just really got no clue. None. Keep doin' what you're doin'. Fight the good fight and keep on truckin'!

Rebecca said...

my sister in law pumped when she went back to work, and my nephew REFUSED to use a bottle or cup. seriously, he starved all day because there was no way in hell he was using a cup. i wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it. Teresa, I have so much respect for you, it's crazy.

Tereza Crump aka MyTreasuredCreations said...

I nurse my children in church during worship and preaching. Nobody has ever complained.

michaelanne said...

"i would have liked to have finished the essay and my tea but lil' miss strawberry alarm clock decided it was milk thirty so i sought a forgiving place to nurse.
ha ha! i'll just stand outside the children's hand's on museum and fit right in. i recently heard of a controversy at the YMCA where this woman nursed her baby by the poolside. apparently this act spawned reaction that resulted in a regulation that women were no longer allowed to nurse by the poolside because it distracted the lifeguards. i find the politics of this situation positively titillating, but for now, let's just say i certainly didn't want to be responsible for causing any other establishment to consider regulating breastfeeding in public. i don't know who i'm quoting but i do remember someone saying 'it is the prerogative of vulgarians to be offended.' mind your own nipples people. little babies need to eat when they are hungry. period. that is what is. to me, someone being so upset by witnessing this simple act of nurturance, that they feel so moved as to try to control a mother's actions, thus inhibiting the food supply of a little baby, is cruel. period.
at any rate, i proceeded to walk slowly and covertly...home. she nursed for eighteen minutes this way and i was actually able to catch a bit of a nap with her when we returned."

michaelanne said...

i would have liked to have finished the essay and my tea but lil' miss strawberry alarm clock decided it was milk thirty so i sought a forgiving place to nurse.
ha ha! i'll just stand outside the children's hand's on museum and fit right in. i recently heard of a controversy at the YMCA where this woman nursed her baby by the poolside. apparently this act spawned reaction that resulted in a regulation that women were no longer allowed to nurse by the poolside because it distracted the lifeguards. i find the politics of this situation positively titillating, but for now, let's just say i certainly didn't want to be responsible for causing any other establishment to consider regulating breastfeeding in public. i don't know who i'm quoting but i do remember someone saying 'it is the prerogative of vulgarians to be offended.' mind your own nipples people. little babies need to eat when they are hungry. period. that is what is. to me, someone being so upset by witnessing this simple act of nurturance, that they feel so moved as to try to control a mother's actions, thus inhibiting the food supply of a little baby, is cruel. period.
at any rate, i proceeded to walk slowly and covertly...home. she nursed for eighteen minutes this way and i was actually able to catch a bit of a nap with her when we returned.