Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Am I Immodest?

So I'm breatfeeding the Bug. Breast is best and all that. Also, frankly, it is cheaper. I have the time and luxury to do it, so I am. I'm not a fanatic about it, though. I understand that there as many reasons not to as there are families who elect to feed their babies formula. Furthermore, it really isn't my business why another woman makes the choices she makes regarding her own body or her own family. (I won't go into this too much, since Ph.D. in Parenting already did it better than I ever could here.) (See, I told you I was a feminist.)

So I nurse in public. My choice is that or stay at home except when someone else can travel with me until the Bug is between 6 and 9 months old. Like many babies, she refuses to take a bottle from me. I try to use a nursing cover, not so much as an issue of my own modesty, but for the comfort of those around me. Our nursing cover is patterned though, and the Bug decides sometimes that playing with the walls is more fun than eating in her tent. I've nursed at the Y, at the yarn shop, in my car in parking lots, and at the doctor's office.

Last week, we were out running errands. The last thing on the list was the Y, and we rolled in just as she was getting hungry. Usually, when I nurse her there, I take her to one of the rocking chairs in the infant area, but this day, it was before the child care opened for the afternoon, so I took her to a bench near the child care in a hallway really only frequented by Y staff and parents taking children to activities or child care. I got comfy, changed the Bug's diaper, and started nursing her. We started with the nursing cover, but instead of eat, she just played with it. Since I wanted her to eat, I finally gave up, and stuffed the cover back in the bag.

There is a trick to nursing in public with out a cover, and I'm pretty good at it. Simply put, I wear 2 shirts, one that I pull up, and a lower layer that I can pull down. To a casual observer, between the shirts and the baby, less of me is visible than if I wear my favourite beach bikini. That's what I did. The Bug was happy, the few people who passed by largely ignored us.

But, within the same several minutes, I got two comments. One was "awww, isn't that sweet," from one of the supervisors, and the other was "you should really use a cover, a lot of men come down this hallway," from one of the child care staff. My response, as it is to most criticism of my personal quirks, was "if they have a problem with it, that's their problem, not mine." To which the woman said, "well, it's just an issue of modesty." Her tone was along the lines of the lone teetotaler at an Irish wake.

I don't think it is an issue of modesty at all. I think it is an issue of prudishness. If my baby needs to eat, I'm going to feed her. My body, through my breasts, is how I feed her for the moment. When she's older, I won't be embarrassed to give her a ham sandwich in public, will I? Indeed, aside from being rather proud of how well breastfeeding is going, I think I'm being quite modest. Furthermore, breasts aren't dirty. I can even say "nipple" on TV, even if I can't show one there. Our culture has simply hyper-sexualized women so much that it is impossible for some people to see breasts as anything but sexual.

Later, when the same woman came to fetch me out of the hot tub to console my crying daughter, she had an entire conversation with me while I was in my bathing suit. In this case, I was the uncomfortable one.

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