Recently, a fellow Memphis mom was harassed in a government office for daring to nurse her eight-month-old baby in a waiting room. She was virtually commanded to move to a conference room, and when she refused, was threatened with legal action. Fortunately, she was completely within her rights as guaranteed by the state of Tennessee, rights that will soon be expanded to protect all nursing mothers regardless of the child’s age. As a show of support and public education, last week she and several other moms staged a nurse-in at the Social Security Administration office where the ugly incident occurred.
Unfortunately, the ugliness wasn’t over yet. Commenters on local news sites sputtered and fumed about the general offensiveness of public nursing. They decried the disgustingness of bodily fluids being bandied about. Even the subtlest opponents tried to couch it nicely by saying “it’s okay as long as you cover up; no one wants to see that!”
I’m not really one for debate, seeing as how I avoid confrontation in all forms, but there is one thing I know about making a persuasive argument: you can never win by pointing out that your opponent is just plain screwed up. And yet, when it comes to those who oppose breastfeeding anywhere but at home or under a baby burkha, there’s really no way around that conclusion. People who are scared of nursing breasts: you are screwed up.
Not that it’s entirely your fault, necessarily. We live in a society that is deeply confused when it comes to female anatomy. But the simple reality is that we’re mammals, and that’s what breasts are for. I can see more boob from Christina Aguilera during an episode of The Voice than I ever exposed during my own four-plus years of breastfeeding, but I don’t see any comments on the NBC message boards telling her to take those things somewhere private (unless they mean … well, nevermind). If cleavage occurs in the course of entertainment, then it’s perfectly acceptable. If it’s just keeping a human alive, however … well, that’s gross.
People. Come on.
Sure, there might be those who’d rather not see any part of a breast or its environs. Everyone has their own comfort levels. I hope those poor folks are never forced to look at a Target Sunday circular or Olympic beach volleyball. But to presume that a woman feeding her child should worry about a couple inches of skin because you’re not okay with the rounder parts of human flesh is ridiculous. I come across plenty of sights that disturb me during the day – topless runners, backwards baseball caps, Kardashians – but this is America, sister. If I don’t want to see it, I use a tool far more effective than an online rant: my neck. In the immortal words of Peter Cetera: look away, baby, look away.
Every single nursing mom I know - which is a whole heck of a lot - does her best to nurse modestly, despite the assertion by some that breastfeeders are all a bunch of hippie exhibitionists. Trust me, most of us don't want them flapping out there any more than you do. But there's only so much that can be done, and if it comes down to your comfort or a hungry baby's, guess who wins?
I can hardly even bring myself to address the idiocy of the bodily fluids argument, but I will do so as succinctly as possible. Implying that breastmilk should be relegated to the same places as human excreta is like saying cow milk should be treated the same as cow dung. To which I say, well, bullshit. Breastmilk is food. It is not snot or blood or urine. Nursing is not sex or farting or sneezing. When we say "breastfeeding is natural," we don't mean it is a natural bodily function. We mean it is the natural method by which all humans are intended to be fed. I will accept "milk is gross" from dairy-refraining vegans and that is it. Dumbasses.
As someone who worked closely with breastfeeding mothers in Memphis for several years, it pains me to see any more challenges put in their way. The act itself is difficult enough, so compounding it with social pressure and misinformation is not only unfair, but dangerous to the health of our community. Shelby County is already woefully below the Healthy People 2010 goal of a 75% breastfeeding initiation rate (at 54%), and in no minor coincidence, has the highest infant mortality rate in the country. There is simply no place in Memphis for anti-nursing attitudes.
But if you insist on judging mothers who are providing their children with the healthiest food possible, I just ask that the next time you get hungry, you stay home, cover your head, and please, just go eat in the bathroom.