Monday, August 6

breastfeeding is beautiful.

Remember this post I made almost one year ago? I talked about what it might be like to nurse a one year old in a society that is rarely exposed to the natural act of breastfeeding and I also recommitted to playing my part in normalizing breastfeeding by nursing Iris in public. Since then, our breastfeeding relationship has advanced into an even stronger emotional connection, and has continued to provide a cherished source of hydration, nutrition and prevention of illness. I have continued to nurse her in public any time, any where. I am joyful to report that not one person has attempted to shame me for feeding my child in the natural way. Not one person has glared at me, shielded their children's eyes from me, or asked me to leave the room. Until now.

About a week after moving into our new house we met our neighbors, an American couple who have lived here for over two years. The four of us got together a couple of times to spend the day together, and it seemed as though we all had things in common and enjoyed each other's company. The wife and I got along swimmingly and we went on several day trips to nearby cities to have lunch and go shopping. We saw eye to eye about many things and became fast friends.

Since she doesn't have children, the first time I nursed Iris in front of her at a fast food stand in Bitburg, I warned her beforehand, "just so you know, I'm still nursing Iris." She replied, "thanks for warning me because I would have been totally shocked." Then she asked me if I wanted to go back to the car for privacy. I said no, we're very comfortable here and shared with her that I am very passionate about mothers being able to feed their babies any time, any where. She expressed that she values privacy. As I mentioned, we continued to be social with each other and I was not offended when she asked if I wanted to cover Iris with a scarf on another nursing occasion. I made attempts to be more discreet when nursing Iris while we were socializing - and nursing her was a rarity. We shared meals, laughed and exchanged details of our lives with each other over the period of a few weeks, and not once did she make it clear that my breastfeeding made her painfully uncomfortable. Then one day, she messaged me on facebook with some very unpleasant words. She referred to my nursing Iris as "well, yuck is the reaction I have to it. It just makes me really uncomfortable for a list of reasons. Especially when its in public and when its in front of my husband." 

She said that she was "squirming in her seat uncomfortable" when I was "pulling out my breast" and "making my statement." She believes that everyone else in our vicinity was also offended and were staring at us. I responded with some information about the benefits of breastfeeding, the German breastfeeding rates, and made it apparent that I was offended. However, the majority of my replies to her words were ignored and she continued to blame me for her discomfort. "That is unfair to me, and considering I feel that way and you are not willing to have any boundaries about it at all I am going to have to set the boundary that I not be in public with you and Iris anymore." In reality, there was no suggestion of a compromise, no honest admission that she was just embarrassed and hoped there was a way for me to make it better for her. Just outright accusations, expectations that I simply do or not do whatever she wanted and for lack of better words - shaming and blaming. 

Exacerbating her already highly offensive tone, she compared breastfeeding to abortion. "For example, I feel very passionately about being pro-abortion, planned pregnancy, and all things related to population control. But I fully recognize how much that offends other people for their own list of reasons and so unless in a more intimate setting I keep the details of that passion to myself. " 

She went on to accuse me of plagiarizing. '"Wow. Your true angst was very transparent in that statement. On the one hand you tell me to be respectful, yet you take a shot at my communication skills and refer to my messages as a 'scattered flood of opinions.' Honestly, I don't think you came up with that by yourself, and I don't believe it's the way you actually feel. I think that remark either came from a place of hurt feelings, or you got it from someone else."

She suggested that I should not be around people while nursing, and compared breastfeeding to any other bodily function. "I see it as a bodily function, yeah its a natural part of being human but so are a lot of other bodily functions... there's things I do as a natural part of everyday behavior but I don't do them in public as a courtesy to the people around me."

Being the rather sensitive person I am, I was hurt by her unexpected words. Even after I presented the scientific facts about the benefits of breastfeeding, this woman who is educated in biology and child development blew it off and could only focus on how wrong I was to feed my baby in public. Her words in their entirety suggested that I should be ashamed and embarrassed for my behavior, because how dare I make her or anyone else uncomfortable. I can only imagine what it must be like for the mothers who are treated that way by complete strangers, or worse by family members who tell them to cover up or leave the room. I held fast to my passion for normalizing breastfeeding. If she had asked me in a friendly way, of course I would have made further attempts to make her more comfortable. I honestly thought that her offers of going to the car and for a scarf to cover Iris were for my own sake and that she was just trying to be polite.

I do not intend this post to be a personal vendetta, merely an illustration of a popular ignorance found throughout the world. It is hard for me wrap my head around this kind of mindset. I understand that some people just cannot break through the cultural norms they grow up with, and no amount of reason can sway them. I am still surprised that someone I thought was my friend could treat me that way, because of the way I feed my child. Needless to say, I am no longer interested in a friendship with her. I can empathize with her point of view, though I find deeply seeded flaws. The nursing relationship should continue for as long as mother and child want, and judgement of that should be kept private. If a woman feels more comfortable nursing her baby with a cover, or she wants a private room then she should have those things - only if she is the one who desires them. I personally do not feel the need, and that is okay too. 

For a brief moment, I thought about not posting the above second photo. Then I realized that I was thinking that way because I was afraid I would be judged again. Afraid someone else would find me and my child disgusting. And maybe someone does. But you know what? I know for a fact that I am making the best decision possible for my child's health and well being throughout her life by breastfeeding her. And I will never feel ashamed of that. 

This past week has been World Breastfeeding week. In our area of Germany, dozens of mothers and their babies gathered on the lawn of Ramstein air base to participate in the Big Latch On, which is a global effort to raise awareness of breastfeeding. I wish I could have been there to be a part of it! Iris will be two years old in October. I will continue to nurse her in public to promote the many benefits of breastfeeding and to normalize this wonderful, natural act. 


  1. Thank you for sharing this!!! I'm sorry you had to be confronted like that by someone that should have been a supportive friend. At least she was honest about it instead of privately judging and never saying anything or just simply refusing to see you and Iris with no explanation. Although, she should have been mature enough to speak with you in person and with respect.

    Obviously, she has issues with the sexualization of the breast, especially if she's so uncomfortable with your breast being exposed "in front of her husband". Maybe she is simply not secure with her own breasts and cannot understand the actions of someone who is. Is she really educated in biology and child development? Even with that education she can't overcome her upbringing or personal image. Hopefully, if she has her own child one day, she will develop a different opinion on the subject. But if she is that uncomfortable exposing her own breast, I doubt she will ever do it in public.

    I wonder if her reaction would be different if Iris was a newborn? I doubt it because she's not uncomfortable out of concern for Iris's development. So don't second guess yourself, just do what's right for your family.


    1. You're very intuitive, as always, Shelle. She and her husband decided they do not want children. She admitted that she has very little experience with kids, and what could play a part in the way she feels. Still no excuse for the way she talked to me. She also does "see the breast as a sexual organ." (uh, yeah that's perception and cultural norm right there.) She really is educated in child development and biology, though I have doubts as to the degree of the education, considering that one of her professors told the class the breastfeeding loses its benefits after 6 months. The raging ignorance around breastfeeding really is astounding and I'm trying to play a little part in changing that, no second guessing involved. :)

  2. I'm surprised by her language, although obviously this was something that had built up inside her for a bit. But, people always feel they are ones in the right and bristle when others try to change their opinion or sometimes even when just a different perspective is offered.

    Also, when you were feeding Iris in Panera with me, I hardly even noticed you "pulling out your breast" so to speak. You do it simply and elegantly, not making more than a quiet statement of "this is for me and my child" with your movements. I certainly didn't feel flashed and I find it odd that she was as disturbed as she was. But Shelle makes an excellent point as to why her reaction might have been as strong as it was.

  3. I think your responses to her were awesome! Responding to someone with facts usually is an effective way to get your point across, but some people are just beyond helping. Everyone has a right to their own opinions, but as an adult, she could have just spoken up and said she was uncomfortable. Instead she made it YOUR problem, when really the problem was hers and hers alone.

    I have three children and have breastfed my youngest two. (My oldest was born with a cleft lip and palate and couldn't nurse so I pumped for her instead.) My youngest is now 8 months old and we are going strong. I don't really understand why people are so judgmental about breastfeeding. My own mother will even make comments once in awhile - like "joking" that I am "starving" my son because I will only feed him a total of an ounce or two of solids per day so as not to jeopardize his nursing or how I will finally have more freedom once I can "finally quit at a year." I don't expect flowers and a ticker tape parade for breastfeeding, but sometimes it would be nice to hear a "good job" or something from my own mother. After all, I made the commitment to feed my kids in the best way possible. I nurse in public whenever I need to. I also feel like I want to promote and normalize breastfeeding. I have 3 younger sisters (all without kids) and one said to me the other day, "I wouldn't have ever known I wanted to breastfeed if it hadn't been for you." That made me feel great.

    It sounds like this woman is inflexible and close-minded. Sadly you're probably better off without her as a friend. And I am pretty skeptical of that degree in child development!