See last week for the first installment of this story
Reaching out for support
Shocked that such judgemental Victorian attitudes still exist, Louisa opened up the issue for debate on the popular social networking site Facebook, asking;
‘Why is there so much shame involved in this subject that it has become the mother’s fault? Why should we need to apologise in advance? Why did my ‘style’ of feeding mean that lady was justified in discriminating against me? This whole situation is unnatural and unpalatable.’
In doing so she opened up a can of worms; a thorny, massively contentious issue which crosses countless personal, social, political, emotional, historical, sexual and economic lines.
Breast feeding in public is as much of an imposition as breathing and sneezing
This simple yet wise comment has the effect of normalising breastfeeding, re-placing it exactly where it should belong, as a fundamental human activity of which we as a species cannot survive without. This was one of dozens of supportive comments from Louisa’s Facebook ‘friends’. Her plea for help was promptly answered by a wide-range of mainly supportive respondents, comments which serve to illustrate how contentious the feeding in public places debate really is. Louisa felt pleased she had opened this debate up for wider discussion, receiving a huge amount of support from ‘sisters’ all over the world, very necessary at this low point in her life.
The lively, interesting debate which followed was predominantly constructive and sympathetic, cooling balm which soothed Louisa’s open wounds. Support came in the form of strong, encouraging words, almost a call to arms. Here I paraphrase some of those comments;
‘You had the courage to feed your child, be strong and bring that, return the energy of being confused, sad and hurt back into the universe; stand up strong Warrior. Whenever your child needs a feed, do not feel ashamed or insecure in doing so…’
‘Breastfeeding is the most natural part of mothering. Why does there exists such a lot of shame, resistance and judgement in how to correctly nourish a child, in our so called ‘civilized’ society? We must embrace its innocence and beauty, realise it is how we are created. To the perverted mind there’s something wrong with it. We civilized humans are still sleeping, but one day we shall awaken to see the nature and beauty in all things. Much love beautiful mama, soul sister.
‘If some stranger can pass such horrific judgement onto you about nursing, one of the most important acts a mother can do for their baby, what does this say about her, how she feels about herself, or maybe how she raised her own child?’
‘Keep strong, calm and confident, let go of those negative, sad feelings and allow the hormones of motherhood swim freely again. Let the Earth Mother in and reap her wonders, the bounty she has given us in our wonderful bodies and our beautiful babies who need us to be happy, strong mothers with yummy milk, the stuff of life, to help let them know we love them! ‘
However, quite a few people felt that although women have the right to nurse in public places, they shouldn’t feel they should exercise this, as this respondent’s comments reveal;
‘My personal opinion is that I don’t want to see breastfeeding when I am in a public place. This doesn’t make me uninformed or mistaken. I’m not going to feel bad about this because this is how I feel. I have as much of a right not to see breastfeeding when I am out as any woman who wants to feed her baby has a right to do so. What I feel, which I know other people feel too, should be respected, we should not have views forced down our throats.’
Louisa felt comments in this vein were as welcome to her as those which were more supportive of what she did. This respondent was honest, open and respectful of her wishes, even if differing on the fundamental issue. This view of nursing in public places is commonly held. Many people feel uncomfortable if they notice a mother nursing in a public place, often because it is a sight they so rarely see, so they don’t know how to react. Few people actually openly confront the nursing mother. It is because of these ambiguous, uncomfortable reactions, or the thought that perhaps people are thinking thoughts similar to this respondent, that it took me months to feed my son in a public place, always discreetly and respecting the wishes of others.
The unasked for side-effects of sparking a Facebook breastfeeding debate
The healing had only just begun when an uninvited, potent component was added to the mixture, which surprised and saddened Louisa. She was inadvertently labelled an earth crusading mother and an alienator. By re-igniting the nursing in public debate, she was categorised by some as a strong, forceful woman, an ‘earth mother’ on a crusade. Far from her original intent, this frustrating side-effect mirrors many vocal nursing mothers’ experiences, and amazingly even those who are silent but visible breast-feeders. The simple act of breastfeeding in public is itself a powerful statement against the rule-book written by Puritan, prude, chauvinist men who sought to control and own women’s and children’s bodies in Victorian times. Their legacy lives on.
To actually discuss the experience is simply beyond the pale for some, a sure indicator that this woman must be on a personal crusade to convert all bottle-feeding parents. During the debate a few mums shared their decision to bottle-feed their babies. They were promptly criticised, judged and harangued, feeling alienated as unfeeling, selfish mothers who put their own needs before their childs. This debate became personal, hurtful and destructive. It was never Louisa’s intention to pass judgement on the way other mothers had chosen to feed their infants.
These unlooked for side-effects simply prove how sensitive and fragile this issue is. Louisa experienced a ‘walking on egg-shells’ feeling when discussing breastfeeding, trying desperately to hurt no-one’s feelings, but still doing so. Breastfeeding unleashes a cocktail of feelings in us, such as inadequacy, loss, guilt, shame, desire and denial if we weren’t breastfed ourselves, or decided not to breastfeed our own children. Or more positively, perhaps it makes us feel love, pride, strength, fortitude, courage and self-assured, if we have had a more positive relationship with breastfeeding fostered by being breastfed ourselves as children and/or breastfeeding our own children. Perhaps our feelings lie somewhere between these two extremes. However, for all of us, nursing is not neutral territory, as deep within us some kind of feeling is unleashed.
See next week for the third installment of this story