Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cover that up! It's disgusting.

I had the funniest thought train yesterday and wanted to share.

Mikko and I ventured forth to the playground to enjoy this fabulous Seattle summer weather. We were sitting in the sandbox when a lady came over who had an approximately four-year-old daughter and an approximately four-month-old infant. The baby was in one of those stupid plastic infant carrier things I hate, but I tried not to judge (no, really!), because she did have the two kids and I wasn't clear if she'd just come from her car or had walked there. I didn't see a stroller or similar, so I figured she might have just come from her minivan. (Ha ha, I guess I can't resist some judging. She just looked minivan to me. Don't worry if you like minivans — who knows if I'll eventually fall prey to the lure...)

The baby was crying, and the girl was asking for her mama to play with her. The mother said, "Just let me feed the baby first." So that made me happy, that she was being so responsive to the cries and was going to remove her infant from the carrier rather than just jiggle the plastic to try to calm her down.

So she settled the baby girl in her arms and started preparing to feed. Mikko was fascinated, because he loves him the babies. I kept my eyes respectfully downcast on the sand I was scooping so that I didn't freak out the mama as she arranged herself, but I talked with Mikko about what was happening.

I told him the baby was hungry and wanted some nummies from her mama. I spoke to him quietly and in German, so I figure no one could understand us, but that maybe my tone of voice showed that I was speaking respectfully about what the mother was doing.

Something caught my eye, and I noticed the mom had whipped out a receiving blanket and was settling it over one shoulder. Now, I'm not one to use a nursing cover-up, but I understand that some mamas need them to feel comfortable nursing in public. Again, I was being conscious not to judge (no, really!), just feeling happy that she was a breastfeeding mama like me, out enjoying the sunshine with her kids.

I wondered if I fed Mikko in front of her if she would feel camaraderie or, you know, not, considering my "baby" is a ginormous almost 2-year-old. It didn't come up, since Mikko was too busy staring to ask for his own fill-up.

So, like I said, I was trying not to stare, but I didn't want it to seem like I disapproved, so I looked over to see what was going on now, in case there was an opportunity to say something further to Mikko about the process or flash the mom a smile, and I saw a bottle sticking out of the blanket.

She wasn't breastfeeding at all. And, for some reason, this cracked me up.

Because the first two reasons that came to mind about why she was bottle feeding under a blanket were as follows:

1. The mother took the messages against breastfeeding in public so much to heart that she now thinks bottle feeding in public is equally disgusting. Slogans from the pro-breastfeeding crowd like "You wouldn't expect to eat in a bathroom, would you?" made her realize that, oh, my gosh, eating really is nasty — all that moistness, and chewing, and smacking, and slurping — and that, indeed, everyone should eat in private if at all possible. But what can you do when you have a newborn who must eat while you're out? Feeding her under a blanket is the only recourse!

2. Or, she was so shamed by the pro-breastfeeding lobby that she thought she had to hide her bottle feeding. Maybe she could tell by my ample bosoms and my robust toddler that we are a breastfeeding dyad and she feared I would launch myself over and fling sand into her face for daring to feed her child the poison of formula.

And then I came to my senses and remembered that it was unaccustomedly bright out and she was just shielding her baby's eyes from the sun.


Note that I have no idea what was in the bottle, and it was sort of a strange shape so could have been breastmilk or some specialty formula. I also have no idea what reasons she has for bottle feeding, so I was trying not to judge (no, really!).

Anyway, I just thought I'd share how wild my first theories were before I came up with the plausible one.

I want to share a little caveat as well, having to do with not judging. I'm personally not wild about nursing covers and I am a fan of nursing in public rather than feeling you have to resort to bottle feeding if you want to leave the house. This is not so much that I disapprove of other mothers making different choices. For instance, if you are horribly uncomfortable breastfeeding in public without a cover-up, or even with, far better to feed your baby in whatever way works for you rather than being confined at home for the duration! (Although I'd recommend that you keep giving it some practice.) And if you're in a situation where your baby needs to drink from a bottle, I hope that no one makes you feel inadequate for that choice.

The reason I'm against the suggestions that nursing mamas use Hooter Hiders and the like or take along bottles of expressed milk when out in public is that I feel an implicit judgment that not doing so is unacceptable. When someone's using a nursing coverup near me, and I'm breastfeeding without one, I wonder if that person is judging me as indiscreet and exhibitionist. I would rather every mama felt comfortable enough to breastfeed — or bottlefeed! — in whatever way works for her and her baby, without fear of overhasty and uninformed condemnation.

And since breastfeeding is so awesome, I especially want breastfeeding to become normalized to the point that no one bats an eye at a woman lifting up her shirt or reaching in to unlatch a bra strap, of positioning a hungry infant or guiding a toddler into place, without the need of a draped blanket to hide the actions.

Hey, but if either of my first two guesses were right, that makes me wonder — will bottlefeeding mamas need their own Hooter Hiders next? Bottle Bundlers? Vessel Veils? Canteen Camouflagers?

Wait for it...

Breastfeeding nurse-in photo by Darryl Dyck of The Canadian Press


Anonymous said...

This picture you used to illustrate this post is one of my favorite bf images.

I'm with you, I want public bf to be normalized so people stop making a big deal out of it. It means we have to be brave, even if we are worried about judgments, and do it anyway.

I try so hard to not be judgmental, either. One time at church I saw a mom bottle feeding her baby and wondered why she didn't bf him. I thought he was about 9 months old. I found out later that he was 17 months and just very small for his age (and also slow on the whole crawling/walking developments). For all I knew, she could have bf him for an entire year or more, which at this point, is commendable. Sure, if it were my baby, I'd still be bf him, but sadly, our culture just isn't there yet.

Hobo Mama said...

That's another good illustration that I'll remember next time I'm thinking of judging! I go back and forth on whether I want to be less judgmental or not, because I think judging in terms of discernment once the facts are known is useful, but judging out of ignorance and with a negative point of view from the outset isn't helpful. Like your saying you would still be bfing that baby if he had been yours is a judgment of sorts, but a thoughtful one that acknowledges that you don't know all that mother's been going through. Maybe I need to come up with different terms than just "judging," which can be either good or bad: discerning vs. criticizing or something?

Recent blog:=- Gender-exclusive bloodletting technology

Milwife Mama of One said...

To cover or not to cover? I think there can be many issues that go into each mama/baby pair's use or non-use of nursing covers, so I just thought I'd share a little bit of our experiences NIP and how we've morphed from using a nursing cover to proudly nursing without one (I am LOVING your blog by the way :) ). Our baby girl is now 5 1/2 months old, nurses like a champ 'round the clock, and will have nothing to do with nursing covers. That's cool, I'm game - they're a pain to manuver and it's like sending up a flare: "Right here! Nursing! Come look!" However, when our daughter was tiny I was 1)Having some serious overproduction issues (i.e. the dude 3 feet away would get wet if our baby pulled off), 2)I am ummm... rather well endowed so discreet nursing took some serious practice and extra-baggy shirts, and 3)I think our child is part wiggle-worm (she's been non-stop motion since before we first laid eyes on her at our 9-week ultrasound). These 3 challenges added up to using a nursing cover until 1)the production calmed down a bit, 2) I figured out the whole baggy shirt thing and how to help her latch without having to actually SEE her latch, and 3) She quit pulling off so frequently in her wild waving. It's been quite the learning curve, but we've finally managed to learn how to proudly NIP (and without that pesky cover)!

Lauren Wayne said...

Midwife Mama: I really appreciate your story. It's so good to hear true reasons why someone covers and then gradually decides not to cover. I think the important thing is that every mama decides what works and goes for it. I finally have a lot of friends having kids now (we were somehow the pioneers), and I notice that most of them breastfeed their newborns under a cover. I'm patient with it, because I remember those early days of getting used to it all, and I hope it's not that they'll always feel uncomfortable. Anyway, thanks for sharing! I love that you'd have soaked the guy 3 feet away. :) That's some serious milk fountain!

Cassandra said...

I know this post is almost a year old, but I found your blog from a Facebook post and wanted to speak as a bottlefeeder in case you ever see this again. I do hide the fact that I bottlefeed in public. Not so far as to put a blanket over us (though I admit I always want to), but I will hide in the car or turn away from people and tuck her in like she is breastfeeding. We live in Portland, which I'm sure you know is extremely BF friendly, plus I went to a birth center that has a whole community built around it where basically no one has ever not breastfed. And while I know probably no one is judging me, I feel the shame and people just looking at me reminds me of all the terrible feelings of not being able to BF.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Cassandra: That is really interesting. Thank you for commenting. I've been in situations where I'm the only breastfeeding mama in a room of bottlefeeders (and I'm in Seattle, another crunchy city), or the only one not covering up, or just where I'm out in public and certain everyone's staring and judging me — I wonder if it's just our own sense of fear and imposed shame from the culture of "The Mommy Wars" that makes us assume that everyone around us is on the opposite side. Maybe the bottlefeeding mamas I was around were afraid I was judging them, and I just assumed the reverse, you know? Anyway, thank you for the food for thought. I hope we can both go about our children's feedings in peace and try to assume other people are thinking the best about us (and I sincerely hope they are).

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