You Got A Problem With My Boobies, PUNK?

August 8, 2008

Yesterday, I took my brood to the library. It’s a lovely library, with soaring ceilings and vast windows and big, plush leather chairs and – of course – miles and miles of books. We settled into a corner of the children’s section on a comfy sofa, Emilia with a stack of picture books and me with Jasper, on the boob.

It was raining outside; we were damp from our walk. Droplets of rainwater fell from my hair onto Jasper’s cheek and he pulled away, gurgling his disapproval. My breast dropped from his mouth and sagged, exposed, below the edge of my yanked-up t-shirt while he squawked.

“He’s mad at you, Mommy,” Emilia remarked without looking up from her book. “Because your boobies are wet.”

I laughed, and almost didn’t hear the polite coughing from the nearby stacks. A woman stood there, books in hand. She didn’t meet my gaze, but looked over toward a table of computers where three young boys – probably eight or nine years old – sat playing a game. She coughed again and raised her eyebrows in their direction. Her meaning was clear.

I tucked my wayward breast back into my shirt and pulled Jasper upright. My immediate impulse was to be embarassed, contrite. To gather up my children and my things and go find somewhere else to nurse, somewhere where I wouldn’t risk exposing young boys to the indecent display of my breast. To feel badly for making such a naked display of my motherhood in front of children.

My secondary impulse was to let my boob drop out from beneath my shirt again and use my free hand to make an indecent gesture at the woman.

I did neither. I simply looked away and pulled Jasper closer to my chest, tucking him against my breast so that his pale round head covered the pale round globe of the boob. And struggled to control my anger.

That woman had hit a nerve. Had we been at a bus stop, or a park bench, surrounded, say, by seniors, and someone had directed a disapproving look my way, I would have ignored them. But this woman had articulated her disapproval on behalf of children. Her problem, she implied with her look, was that I was exposing children to something inappropriate, something indecent. And for a moment, I bought it, and felt ashamed. Surely young boys shouldn’t see an exposed breast in public, right? Why, that would corrupt them!

Bullshit.

It’s so ridiculous as to not even be worthy of explaining, but still. Sometimes important things need to be stated as loudly and as often as possible: BOOBS ARE NOT DIRTY. BOOBS ARE NOT SHAMEFUL. BOOBS SUSTAIN LIFE. OF BOOBS PUT TO THEIR NATURAL PURPOSE WE SHOULD BE PROUD. OF ALL BOOBS WE SHOULD BE PROUD.

Women who nurse – and, for what it’s worth, women who don’t nurse – should feel proud – and should be made to feel proud – nourishing their children anywhere, anytime, in front of anybody. Especially in front of children, who, more than anybody, need to know that a mother nursing her baby is a natural, beautiful thing. That breasts aren’t just something for adults to leer that. That the human body is built for amazing things, and that the life-sustaining miracles that it performs are nothing to be ashamed of. Of course we teach them that some beautiful and satisfying things are private – but a mother caring for her baby is not one of those things. It is for everywhere, and should be celebrated.

It’s World Breastfeeding Week this week. It should be a week for celebrating our freedom of choice in how we nurture and nourish our children. Instead, all the stories about nursing that I’ve seen have provided more evidence that we don’t really have that freedom. A woman who was nursing in an H&M store in Vancouver was sent to a change room to nurse her infant. A woman on a WestJet flight was asked to cover up with a blanket. A woman nursing her baby in a library in Bowmanville, Ontario, got the stink-eye from some random stranger. We were – we are – all of us, at some point, made to feel ashamed for mothering.

Sure, we protest. But I’m getting really fucking sick of needing to protest. I’m tired of it. And this is why it sucks (no pun intended) (okay, sort of intended) so much: when women are made to feel ashamed for breastfeeding, they’re being shamed at the most vulnerable times in their lives. They are exhausted. They are stressed. They are, often, struggling with depression. And still they fight on, working so, so hard to care for their babies. They are champions. And yet it is during this time, the most trying time of their championship, while they struggle to keep their footing and to keep going, that others kick them down and shame them.

And that just makes me so angry that I can’t even see straight.

I’m not going to protest. I have no spare strength for protest. But I will do this: I will continue to bare my breast for my baby at every opportunity. Any time, any place. And if anyone so much as looks at me askance, I will look right back, and I will say – if only with my eyes, although I so wish for the courage to speak these words aloud – YOU should be ashamed of yourself for trying to shame me. You should be ashamed for belittling a mother. Shame on YOU.

And I will hope that my daughter is there to hear it.

Baby got boob.

********

Okay, for serious now, I am taking a small break, just a few days. There’ll be some guests here while I spend a few days restoring myself. They’ll take care of you. I’ll be around reading comments and such, but mostly I’m going read and rest and flash boob. Wish you were here, don’t you?

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    { 133 comments }

    apathetic bliss August 11, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Hallelujah sista!!!!
    The fact that this is even an issue pisses me off. Feeding your child is not a sexual act and the breast is continuously oversexualized in N America. How come a woman can walk down the street with a tiny skirt and her boobs falling out of her tank top and it is acceptable but a woman discreetly feeding her child is offensive? This is a N American phenomenom; when are we going to catch up with the rest of the world?

    Heather August 11, 2008 at 11:46 am

    It’s sad that breasts are so overly sexualized in our society that one commenter compared breastfeeding to Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfuntion. Victoria’s Secret ads show more boob than a breastfeeding mother. Perhaps if more boys and girls could see what boobs are really about, this debate could end for the next generation.

    samara August 11, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    not everyone is sympathetic to the breastfeeding mother.

    i’ve found a resource that will help with some tips,http://hrbaby.com/page.php?go=482 for ideas

    Tiaras & Tantrums August 11, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    WELL SAID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Kristine August 11, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    I’ve breastfed my son all kinds of places, and nothing will make me stop doing it.

    However, I’m very discreet. It actualy makes my husband uncomfortable so for his sake I’m careful to cover up when possible, or I wear nursing tops.

    I could care less if people see my breasts. I’m rather proud of them actually and would show them off freely if I could. Heh.

    But, because I don’t want to make others uncomfortable I take care to be as discreet as possible. Rarely is there a need to whip it out for all to see from my experience.

    ML August 11, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Well done!! Brava!! I’ve never been able to articulate all that and you did it so well. Made me proud just to read it, saggy as I may be.

    mo-wo August 11, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    I had a very similar rainy day at the library. I don’t think I quite got any looks that day, but I’ve had them. I considered it fortuitous that my toddler was enjoying the story Sheila Rae the brave while her brother gobbled up.

    Also, I’m sure lots of folks think it’s silly but I am all for signage. I love those blue breastfeed here signs. You know like this one.

    We are getting them more and more around time. I know it is a give we can breastfeed anywhere but I like the encouragement these signs represent. I wish there were more of them. I almost wished I could care 40 or 50 around and when i found a supportive site give them one to post because it means something when a coffee shop, museum, pool, bookstore, bike vendor, or god knows LIBRARY is rated as some where good for a feed.

    Her Bad Mother August 12, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Mo – I’m ambivalent about those signs. I wrote about it over at BlogHer – http://www.blogher.com/baby-booby-go

    We’ve started getting them in Ontario, and you’re right that they provide some encouragement. But I worry that they might send the message that bf’ing is ONLY okay in BF-Safe Zones marked by such signage.

    Stacy August 12, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Thank you.Thank you.Thank YOU!
    This posting has given me the courage I need to stare down the next person who tries to make me feel shame for nursing my baby in public. Even friends have made me feel shameful for nursing openly in their homes! (yes I know, are they really friends?) Again Catherine, beautifully written and well said.
    And also? The picture? BEAUTIFUL. Just … awesome.
    Thanks for standing up for mothers everywhere.

    Joe Girl August 12, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Amazing, amazing, amazing. Every WOMAN, mother or not, nursing or not, should read this post.

    You hit the nail on the head.
    Excellent.

    First time commenting here. Extraordinary blog.

    Anonymous August 12, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    “Oh, I forgot one other thing. As far as exposing children to a breastfeeding mommy and baby… well if those children were breastfed themselves, they’d have no problem with it.”

    That’s kind of a dumb remark. What kid really remembers being breastfed??? (Unless they were nursed past the age of 3). I nursed my kids, and I can tell you that, at their current ages (12 and 9), they don’t remember it.

    And while HBM has graciously commented about some of the judgmental remarks made here about women who DON’T nurse their children, I’d like to add how offensive it is to me, and I nursed my kids. What if one of those women you’re criticizing is an adoptive mother and can’t breastfeed? Some of the commenters here are enraged that they are judged, but they are quick to judge others…

    Karen August 12, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    You so inspire me everyday! And thank you for using all the words I can’t think of. Here are a bunch more breastfeeding photos.
    http://peckedbyducks.com/2008/08/12/a-boobs-gotta-do/

    the calm before the stork August 12, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    You rock.

    My boob is out with the masses.

    What’s funny, this post reminded me — never said anything about this at the time, or in BH08 posts, but the lactation room at BlogHer… it was small, uninviting. I didn’t use it. Passed it on my way to and from Sesame Street suite. Nursed in panels and in the cafe instead. I’m sure they meant well, but the little lacti-room looked like confinement/banishment to me.

    Just thinking out loud here. Per the comments about the happy lacti here signs.

    At least all are well-intended.

    womaninawindow August 12, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    They’re real good for selling things.

    Her Bad Mother August 12, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    Anon – I agree (as should be obvious) that we really, really shouldn’t be judgmental of *ANY* choice a mother makes about nourishing her child (some mothers bottle feed because they simply aren’t able to nurse. Some do so because BFing was just too difficult – I came close to this. Others because they’ve adopted. Others just because.) But let’s also refrain from referring to each others’ comments as stupid. (especially since the gist of the comment you refer to was probably along the lines of ‘if a child is exposed to breastfeeding, he/she will think it normal – as he/she should.’ Which is right, I think. Of course most children won’t remember being breastfed themselves – but they might remember their siblings or cousins or babies in the library being nursed.)

    Anyhoodle.

    Her Bad Mother August 12, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    calm before the stork – TOTALLY. I refused to use the lactation room. It was a cell.

    The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet August 13, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Hey! Just found you via Black Hockey Jesus but wanted to send you some love for this post.

    I saw last night on Chow.com a bunch of nuts slamming women for breastfeeding in restaurants and I posted their ridiculous and jaw-dropping comments on my blog this morning.

    It’s always good to hear from women who got boob and love it. You go, honey! And know I am right there with you, with my shifty eyed-looks at the naysayers.

    Power to the boob.

    Kim

    The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet August 13, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Oh yeah and I am soooooooooooo linking you.

    You rock, sister!

    Her Bad Mother August 13, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Yummy Mummy – your link doesn’t work – what’s your url?

    the calm before the stork August 13, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    In case YM doesn’t stop back by, I found her:

    Yummy Mummy

    Cheers!

    gurukarm August 13, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Hah! I love the pic. Immediately reminded me of DD putting her babies up under her shirt so she could have a baby in her tummy like her aunties (later when I was pregnant w/DS her baby brother she was *much* too mature (at 5 :-) ) to do that anymore).

    Haley-O August 14, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    This is my second full year of breastfeeding (one year per baby), and I’ve heard it all — most disturbingly, from my own family, and even from the hubby who doesn’t like when I do it in public (grrrr…). But, I keep on keeping on. It’s hard, man, indeed. The exhaustion, the cravings, and, for me, the weight — since I don’t lose any weight until I stop nursing. Oh, the sacrifices…. Champions…, indeed. Thank you…. Hope you’re enjoying your break. :)

    Anonymous August 15, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Just found you and I think I LOVE YOU!

    My story: I was feeding DS at a restaurant so discreetly that our waitress didn’t realize I was nursing, and she was standing next to me. She asked if she could get anything for him, and I replied that he was happy with his lunch. She laughed, said she didn’t realize and went on her way. Apparently someone at the next table WHO I HAD MY BACK TO was offended and loudly complained to the manager. The entire place went silent. The manager told her, just as loudly that if she didn’t like it, she could leave. The place erupted in APPLAUSE when she stormed out. I’ve never felt so loved and protected by strangers before. It made up for the guy at the mall who asked me “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable doing that in the bathroom?” I’m a betch, so I replied “Ewwww! What kind of freak are you that you like to eat where you shet?” He was embarrassed and walked off, but still, we mama’s should never be made to feel like what we’re doing could be viewed as wrong! Parenting is hard enough!

    Anonymous August 16, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    OK, this is the first post I’ve ever read on your blog… and even if I wasn’t a nursing mama, I would love you.

    Anonymous August 17, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    I feel so grateful for my father who was the first one to make me feel comfortable and at ease with nursing my daughters in public. He was waiting at our house when we brought our first daughter home, and it wasn’t long before she was hungry. I asked him if it would make him more comfortable if I nursed her in my room. He looked me straight in the eye and said that I should nurse her *anywhere* I was comfortable and that *nobody* should have a problem with a new mama feeding her baby. My husband was extremely supportive as well, but somehow having Dad give me such unconditional support stayed with me wherever I went. I only wish my dad was with you when that lady in the library gave you that look.

    Anonymous August 20, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    The UK is really in the dark ages when it comes to breast feeding. A lady near was spat at and had a yoghurt thrown at her for feeding her 6 week old in a bus stop – she’s gone on to be a breastfeeding support worker so hey it’s all good.

    The best comments are when people turn round and say “but it’s just not natural!” Yeah, go figure.

    I was actively encouraged not to breastfeed by family, and sneered at when I did. They then found great pleasure when I failed – “see, we were right” uh, no you weren’t, my milk dried up idiot.

    I wish I had the balls to go upto women who I see breastfeeding and say “great job!” but I’m always convinced they’ll think I’m nuts.

    And how come breastfeeding moms can do 7 things at once? One mum was feeding her baby and managed to catch my escaping 18 month old while I couldn’t even hold a bag and run at the same time…!

    Anonymous August 30, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    In reference to the person who mentioned that kids don’t remember being breastfed – they don’t remember being bottlefed either, so what’s the difference? Natural is what you make it.

    Anonymous March 10, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    Can we see boobs on TV? Nope. Do I want to see your boobs out in public? No I don’t.

    Breastfeeding in public isn’t that bad, but please throw a wrap around you or something. I don’t actually want to SEE anything.

    jenB May 25, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I don’t want to see a lot of things in public, but breastfeeding in public makes me happy. Like many, this rankles my rankles!!! My friend got asked to stop breastfeeding in IKEA several weeks ago, she was told it was making people uncomfortable. She wrote a letter to the Canadian head office.

    I just don’t understand, who does not want to see a boob? Especially in such a natural way. Natural is not what you make is breastfeeding IS “NATURAL”.

    Kick ass and take names Catherine. You are fantastic and so is your little girl.

    Finnskimo, its more than just a name... May 26, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    I am so glad I found you! :) I have to say that I breastfed both my kids until they were THREE. Yes…three. I live in NORTH-fucking-Alaska…where a gallon of milk costs me eleven bucks, and its fresh-frozen, and a can of formula, had I been unconscious and had to use it, would have cost me $35. Seriously.

    I faced all the stares and ugliness here, and my dang mother breastfed until she was like five or some crazy thing like that! Its the Eskimo, I guess!

    Ugh…why is it that someone can SMOKE A STINKING cigarette, and pollute my daughter’s lungs, but I can’t bust a nip out to feed a crying baby!?

    Just don’t get in my way when my kids want to nurse, I dared anyone to say something, cause I’m kind of a smarty pants, and had a great comeback for EVERY SINGLE one. Ugh. OK…now I”m getting upset over nothing! Amen to your post, your blog and especially your daughter!!! (My daughter STILL does it and she’s SIX.) :)

    Jackie May 27, 2009 at 4:38 am

    Amen! I don’t have any kids yet, but I sure as hell plan to nurse them when they’re hungry, and I’m not going to a bathroom or somewhere “private” to do it.

    People really need to get over this whole Puritanical America shit.

    weberly June 2, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Seriously I had tears in my eyes when I read that. I know it sounds corny but, I did. I nursed all three of my kids ,the last time it was twins and all of the times I had to take my kids to a dirty stinking bathroom and try to balance on a toilet that I never would have sat on other wise it just made me livid.It made me literally sick the thought of eating my meal while smelling others….ugh . So I would take them to the car or try to hide (not so easy with twins) I have even bought a movie ticket so they could nurse in a “clean” place while we were out for the day.I can tell you of the times that I have gotten the look or had a “stalker” while nursing in the parked car. You know the guy who watches the whole time hoping for a little side boob action and when he doesn’t get it looks at you like he is completely disgusted….I love that guy.The only thing that I could do about it was when we were home then it was our time, whenever they wanted in the tub, on the couch wherever whenever to make up for putting them off in public or hiding them away in the bathroom like we were doing something dirty. Thank god they are babies, how low would my self worth be if every time I ate MY MOTHER had to hide me or people would make us both cry?
    So what was my happiest moment? when my one year-olds at Christmas decided to get each others”muckles” in front of everybody at the family party.Woot! Go lil’ ladies show all those prudish grown ups that they are for something other than hooters t-shirts.

    weberly June 2, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    P.s I almost forgot …I have never had anything against bottle feeding .I nursed all of mine past three,but, I have had a family member to get almost despondent about the fact that the baby wouldn’t latch on because she was inverted. He is completely lactose intolerant and has now gotten a prescription for his formula…..The guilt that she feels is just about enough make me want to cry about it.She just kills herself about it. We have both extremes in our family .Those that are life long nursers and those that find it completely disgusting. My ex-MIL fed all her kids Pet cream for crap sakes. All I could say is just Feed the baby booby, bottle, medicine dropper,whatever it takes to nourish your little people do it and never be ashamed cause meeting the needs of a child can be done in so many ways.

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