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.