Thursday, May 01, 2008

Breastfeeding in public

I have a Women's Studies degree. I spent four years (that's the cummulative total that my degree should have taken, had I been organized, not the 5 plus years I actually spent trundling through university) studying discrimination, misogyny, woman hating, intolerance, and the like. After spending several years raging against the machine I threw off the mantle of overt feminism and just lived my life. But it was never really gone, and the feminism biding its time has certainly reared its head of late.

When I worked on my degree there were always women a generation ahead who dragged motherhood into everything. It drove me crazy. We'd be talking about women's bodies or something and they would bring up childbirth. I mean really. I didn't see a connection. Not literally. But I was of the mind that the two were separate. Pregnancy and childbirth were choices.

I've come a long way since then. I get it. (Apologies to all you women at U of R in the late 90s for my eye rolling). Lately I'm too busy to get riled up about much, I'm more concerned with trying to eat something green at every meal and keeping the baby out of the bathroom cupboards. But recent articles in Canada's national papers have me in a bit of a tizzy.

A balanced discussion, examining the pros and cons of public nursing (sounds outrageous, doesn’t it, almost like I said public nudity or biting as a form of discipline) is just what Canadian parents need. As a mother of two, one child nursed and the other not, I can offer specific insight into this subject fraught with emotion. With my first child, who was bottle fed; an elderly woman stopped me in an elevator at The Bay and asked why I was so selfish. With my second, a colleague nearly fainted with shock when I nursed discreetly as we participated on a conference call. Note, I did not say video conference call.

So what's with all the hype, anyways? This morning there was a letter to the editor in my local paper, with a woman offering her opinion that such a private thing should be kept private. WHAT? How does that work exactly? So if I'm on a plane, going to Mexico, like I was in February, and I have a seven month old baby who needs to eat now...I should wait because it should be done in private???

Don't suggest we huddle off in the airline bathroom, I'm pretty sure the two of us wouldn't fit. And I don't think the other passengers would appreciate their washroom facilities being unavailable for a half hour or so. And don't expect me to put her on the bottle. (Actually we tried that, and she wasn't interested at all.) So sorry, my apologies for being improper and rude and all that, but I went right ahead and nursed.

Let me point out that the way some of the people on that plane were eating I thougt maybe they should have done so in private. Open mouths, belching, genuine bad manners, and here they want me to nurse my little darling not at all. Hmmm....

That brings me to another point. When I nurse it's not like I'm waving my boobs around. Believe you me, I'd prefer you not to see them either! I'm fairly discreet, I use a blanket if it's not eighty degrees out, and I try as best I can to keep my nipples between me and the baby. But we were at the beach the other day and whoa, man, I wish some of the old guys with their beer guts and hairy nipples would keep themselves a little more covered up! No, wait, I don't care that much because I CAN LOOK AWAY. See where I'm going with this?

So in closing, to all you mothers out there, let's remember that if we truly want our daughters and sons to grow up with a healthy respect for their bodies and what our bodies can do, we need to lead by example. (I hear trumpets while I'm writing this.) Pack up your babies and head down to the nearest H&M and nurse to your heart's content. Here, where I live, we don't have an H&M but we still get their flyers. I think it's like a more preppy Le Chateau? Or if Joe Mimran had a flagship store, instead of enticing us moms to buy clothes while we shop for groceries...whatever, pick your place and nurse with pride.

*An article on CBC that sparked the story.