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 }

    Dawn Johnson August 8, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Oh I could just go off but since I would be preaching to the choir I’ll just shout out an AMEN! instead and go on about my way.

    MrsWaltz August 8, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    I SO want to leave the emoticon thing for boobs here as a mark of support, but I am too far past generation TXT to know it. Instead, I’ll settle for stealing the best (and shortest) pep talk I ever got:
    Tits up!
    Enjoy your (flash) break.

    Whirlwind August 8, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    That’s BS. I have never had to defend myself while breastfeeding – even when I breastfeed in public (bookstores, zoos, stores) and in a state that doesn’t protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers.

    Marinka August 8, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    My children are 7 and 10, so it’s been a while since this was an issue for me personally, but it still enraged me so much, on behalf of all of us. How fucking Victorian do we have to be? Are there not enough studies out there that show the benefits of breast feeding? Why are we so scandalized by the sight of a breast?

    Maybe I’m just in a mood today, but I feel very discouraged.

    MissAnna August 8, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    I’m still a good 5 years away from breastfeeding but I (and so many others my age) appreciate what all the mothers are doing (and have done) to gain acceptance in public (for a totally NATURAL act).

    And I will certainly let it all hang out as needed when it’s my turn. Stink eyes or not.

    CaraBee August 8, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    So well said. I’m currently breastfeeding and I frequently feel looked down upon when I nurse my child in public. I am not waving my boobies around, I am not juggling them lasciviously, I am discreetly pulling my shirt up and almost immediately covering the “offending” protrusion with my baby’s head. It breaks my heart that so many people feel so critically of this beautiful and natural activity.

    Sarah August 8, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    AMEN!! And thank you.

    (from another lactating lady)

    cIII August 8, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    I have always been fascinated with the female body’s ability to house a fetus for 9+/- months and THEN produce nourishment for said fetus. You ladies got the cool bodies. (Save for the PMS. That sounds like a Drag.)
    All I got was this lousy penis. Stupid penis.

    Immoral Matriarch August 8, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    I’d whip out a tit and stare down anyone who had the nerve to look at me wrong. Bastards. I had no problem nursing in public.

    And I’m still disgusted that our society has a problem with it.

    Anonymous August 8, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Amen! Amen! Amen! Enjoy your break, and your boobs :)

    Lasha August 8, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you!

    My daughter only recently stopped breastfeeding, but when I started, I thought I would want to use a blanket or something for a little privacy. Instead I found that it was a huge annoyance and didn’t work anyway, so I quickly became comfortable nursing in public. Luckily, no one ever challenged me directly on it, as I’m much more outspoken in my mind than in public!

    Brandy August 8, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Go boobies – go!! (o)(o)

    Love the “baby got boob” pic! Too cute!

    I tended to use a cover of some sort with my son Aiden but that was mainly because I am VERY well endowed and his little head barely covered half my boob, much less made it more discreet. I just felt more comfortable that way but that was MY choice. If anyone had ever tried to shame me about nursing in public they would have gotten a major earful, that’s for sure.

    I am currently 8 months pregnant with my 2nd and breatfeeding her is one of the things I have looked forward to most during this pregnancy. People who feel a need to make it a “dirty” thing or something to be hidden obviously have issues of their own to deal with. You keep whipping that boob out! :-)

    Karen August 8, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    “when women are made to feel ashamed for breastfeeding, they’re being shamed at the most vulnerable times in their lives”

    Thank you Catherine…from the bottom of my heart thank you!

    You know – as soon as I saw the subject line in my reader I knew what this was going to be about…
    and that’s a damn shame…

    My youngest nursling is 7 years old now and still…STILL…I remember the disapproving look and suggestion that I “take THAT to the restroom” when I was feeding the little guy at my older son’s baseball game, sitting on a blanket under a tree at least 50 feet away from anyone but my own family (and I hate that I feel I need to tell you I was that far away – as if feeding the munchkin while sitting in the bleachers with the other parents would have been a bad thing)…It hurt..I actually started to gather my things with the thought of heading to my car and watching from the parking lot when one of the coaches (big tall intimidating kind of guy) walked over, sat down with us, smiled and said “Don’t even think about leaving because of her – let’s see if she says anything now” and stared the betch down. I’ll always remember that gratefully, but I was humiliated and wish it hadn’t been necessary.

    I might not have the time or energy to protest either, but I do try to make sure I always give a mother nursing in public an encouraging smile and if it’s a social kind of thing try to include her in the conversation and make her feel a part of things rather than isolated from the main group…I always hope it helps the mom to feel proud and sets a positive example for others.

    Well – I didn’t intend for my story to get so long – I just wanted to encourage you to keep on being proud of those boobs!

    heels August 8, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Boob flashing? I do wish I were there! ;)

    Stay strong, mama. You’re the one in the right.

    Amelia Sprout August 8, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    I agree, whole heartedly. It is a shame, but by not giving in to her, you’re changing things. You’re doing good, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You’re amazing. Have a good rest.

    Kimberly August 8, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    A most excellent rant.

    I think the best protest is a good offense. Hmmmm, I don’t think that is how the saying goes, but I think just doing what we need to for our babies, whether in public, with family, at home, in the middle of the night, whatever, is the best form of protest.

    Here’s to hoping you have a good recharging time.

    Penny August 8, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Well said. Amen and bravo and all that shit.

    Sarah August 8, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    I have chastised and shamed countless obnoxious strangers for hassling me while breastfeeding my daughter – all in my mind. I had some great witty retorts and shame-speeches all ready, and nobody ever gave me any trouble.

    Oh well. I mean, hooray? Hmm…

    :)

    caramama August 8, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    A-freaking-men!!! So well said.

    I love that picture! That’s what children should think is normal. That should be just as normal as holding a baby doll and giving it a bottle.

    Have a nice break. :-)

    Sass E-mum August 8, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Maybe I’m lucky to live in a family friendly place – but I breastfed everywhere. I’d sit up at the counter of snack bars with babe at my boob – chatting with friends and acquaintances.

    I used to walk around the house with babe on the boob while briefing the builders on work to be done.

    NOONE had a problem. My instinct on getting any hassle would have been to laugh. What’s to complain about – it’s lovely, natural, cheap and keeps a baby from crying.

    Go girl! Smiling at those fools will enrage them and strengthen you.

    Anissa Mayhew August 8, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I remember a gentleman who gave me the stink eye at the food court at the mall. My son got him back for it in a huge way because he chose during a particularly forceful moment of milk chugging to rear back his head and cause milk to spurt across the table..where is met with the back of stink-eye’s head! I nearly dropped my son at the look of extreme horror on that man’s face when he realized what had happened. I may not have helped the cause, but oh lord, did it make me feel better.

    Jenifer August 8, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Both my girls have fed their babies at their breast. I could not agree more with this post!

    Petunia Face August 8, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    Adore the pic of the baby breastfeeding her baby. Pure perfection.

    –From one mommy who didn’t really breastfeed for a myriad of very legit reasons but wishes she could have if only to take out her tit in a library in front of children.

    p.s. I despise the word ‘tit’ but I’m leaving it because it gives my point a little punch.

    Momily August 8, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    As a children’s librarian who works in a good sized public library this makes me LOL and shake my head at the same time. What the “ahem, tsk, tsk” woman is probably unaware of is that the tween boys were probably sneaking a peak at porn on the (more than likely) filter-free public internet stations!!

    I find a lot of libraries are ahead of the game and provide comfy space or a room for moms to breastfeed in . . . most surely “allow” it in the PUBLIC space that is the library. We don’t have a designated space per se at my library, but anyone who asks me is told they can do it wherever they are comfortable and i always start my parented programs by saying if you need to breastfeed just go right on ahead while we shake our sillies out and visit the big red barn.

    Black Hockey Jesus August 8, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    FREE THE BOOBS FROM THEIR PRISONS AND THROW AWAY THE LOCKS!

    Momily August 8, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    ach – peek! although they may have been sneaking a peak in other ways!

    Maremone August 8, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    You expressed thoughts I was never quite able to put into words, so well! Great post. I agree with you totally that women should not be shamed during this time in life. Maybe that woman would have been better directed to head over to the youth section and give the evil eye to teenage girls with thongs and cleavage hanging out in front of 8 year old boys.

    Vicki August 8, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I just love you to pieces. I swear if you get much more awesome, I might have to move to Canada just to hang out with you. I SO TOTALLY AGREE with you on this. I never EVER give a woman the stink eye for feeding a baby. That is the most glorious thing any one of us can do for our children. To give them nurishment and life sustaining antibodies from our own bodies is a miracle in itself. No one chastises the other animals in the world for feeding their young by breast, why should others be so inclined to do it to us?

    cathy August 8, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Amen, sister! Breastfeeding is not a dirty thing, and it’s sad that we’re made to feel like it is.

    Anonymous August 8, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Disclaimer: I breastfed my boys and used to take bottles with me to public places because I did feel very uncomfortable whipping out a boob at a restaurant. And I regret that I didn’t have the courage to just do it. I did, however, nurse in a playground once or twice, but I made sure that the rest of the people there couldn’t see the slightest bit of flesh.

    And I know I’ll probably get stoned for this, but, while I don’t discourage breastfeeding in public and I applaud all moms for breastfeeding, I just think that a little discretion is the better part of valor. I have two boys, and while I would explain to them that yes, breastfeeding is a natural and healthy thing, I really don’t want them seeing all breast either, the same way I didn’t want them to see the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, or see women walking around in their underwear on TV. I don’t see anything wrong with keeping things a littly mysterious when it comes to the opposite sex.

    So yes, if there’s a mother breastfeeding in my or my boys’ presence, no, I wouldn’t shame her, because I know she’s doing the best thing for her baby, but I would at least hope that she’d not just let it all hang out so we could see EVERYTHING. Like it or not, breasts are still sexual things, and overall, having them hang out makes others feel uncomfortable.

    HBM, I love your blog, read it faithfully, and generally agree with you on just about everything. Even this post! But I cannot change the fact that I would feel awkward if I was somewhere with my boys and a woman whipped out her whole breast and started nursing without some bit of discretion. I’m not selling nursing mothers out, I just don’t think that the general public needs or wants to see EVERYTHING. The act of nursing a baby? Sure, no big deal. The whole breast that’s nursing the baby? Sorry, I have my own two that stare me in the face everyday. I don’t need to see yours too. Neither do my sons.

    Kyla August 8, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Love that photo.

    At BlogHer, Mimi, Amy, and I were discussing this type of thing…and it seems that the disdain of breastfeeding is much more prevalent here in the US. It is a shame that it happens anywhere at all, though.

    Britt August 8, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    i had an old man go out of his way to stare at me with contempt for my bfing. i stared back at him for about thrity seconds, and just as i was about to offer him the other one he went away.
    jerk.

    BreezieGirl August 8, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Excellent post. Very excellent.

    mothergoosemouse August 8, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Fuck yeah.

    Right there beside you, sister.

    snarking August 8, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    I know it will sound like so much sunshine up your skirt, but you are so fucking inspirational. Seriously, I am honored to take up space on the same internet as you, not to mention having my drivel posted on the same blog as you.

    I wanna give you a big hug, or maybe a feminist fist bump.

    Enjoy your rest, and flash your boobs with pride and defiance.

    xoxoxoxo
    (Snarky) Amber

    Jaelithe August 8, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    As the mother of a boy, I hope my son sees many women breastfeeding in public. I have never taken steps to prevent him from seeing nursing happen and I will never do so.

    I want him to grow up considering nursing to be an ordinary and natural thing, and I want him to understand from early childhood on that, whatever other fun purposes they may serve, breasts are primarily for feeding babies. If he chooses to marry a woman some day and have children, I want him to encourage his wife to nurse and support her if she chooses to do so.

    A boy will only be upset by seeing breastfeeding in public if someone has taught him that he ought to be. Breastfeeding is not a sexual act and there is nothing inappropriate about doing it in front of children.

    The only way we can change our society’s unfortunate taboo regarding nursing is to raise our own children to regard it as ridiculous.

    You can flash your boobs at my kid anytime, Catherine.

    in the news... August 8, 2008 at 7:20 pm
    merlotmom August 8, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Oh, I’m sure that ol’ lady flashed a boobie or two in her day (maybe not for breastfeeding though). She’s just jealous cause boys no longer wanna look at her droopy bags of curd. You go girl.

    Mandy August 8, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Some of my friends went to the H&M protest. If I were still breastfeeding, I'd have made the trek too. The store was pretty quick to "retract" what they said, but I'm amazed that it even happened. I breastfed both my kids just about everywhere in public and never once, ever, had so much as a sideways look. I guess I was luckier than I realized.

    Jack's Mum August 8, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    I love the picture – she even has the ‘football hold’ correct. She will make an excellent mother one day.

    Bill August 8, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    I have to play devil’s advocate – is it possible she was just pointing out the boys in case you hadn’t seen them? Not everyone would be comfortable showing their boobs to 8-9 year old boys (heck, I’m a guy and I don’t even like taking off my shirt at the pool!), so she might have just been alerting you to their presence. Maybe?

    Of course, she could have been one of those idiots everyone else is talking about. Lord knows my wife caught some comments while breastfeeding in public.

    Ree August 8, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    It’s simply amazing to me, (who, incidentally, couldn’t breast feed my son), that such a wonderful, natural thing still has to be protested. That women don’t understand this. That women who complain that they’re seen as objects are the ones who complain about breast feeding the loudest.

    Chelsea August 8, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    I know you can’t see me, but I am totally giving you a standing ovation right now for that post… I am lucky that I have only gotten supportive comments while breastfeeding – but I am awaiting the day when I can really give someone a piece of my mind for challenging me….

    ceeb August 8, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    okay, I’m going to be the voice of dissent.
    I am a mom who bottlefed both my children. I wasn’t comfortable with the sucking boob thing. I really don’t know why. And when I see people breastfeed, it kind of weirds me out a bit. I’ve seen my friends nipples and it’s made me uncomfortable. Intellectually, I understand that it’s life-giving and natural and all those good things. But… it makes me feel icky. (yeah, I’m in Grade 3. I really don’t know how else to describe it). Seriously, do I just have some boob issues or does anyone one else out there feel the same?

    Pgoodness August 8, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    nicely written (as usual!). And you’re right, shame on them for trying to shame a mama feeding her baby. What in the world?!

    Great picture, too!

    Mommato2 August 8, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Ohhhh….this really hits a nerve for me. Both of my children, one, gasp is even an almost 8 year old boy, know that they were fed by Mommy’s breasts and that is really good for babies….

    Don’t let them get you down, and keep on nursing your baby ANYWHERE ANYTIME!!!

    Her Bad Mother August 8, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    Anonymous, ceeb – I totally get that some people feel uncomfortable about seeing any boob, and while I think that we should be trying to move past that, as a culture, I would never force my boob down someone’s throat (um… that didn’t sound right). What I mean is – I do try to be discreet. I don’t wave them around. But neither do I want to force the discomfort onto myself or my baby, just because someone else has hang-ups. And they are, totally, hang-ups. Whether it’s us, and/or an attitude we’re transmitting to our kids, it’s a hang-up. Breasts are only sexual in sexualized contexts. And if we accept (sexualized) cleavage in fashion but don’t accept (non-sexual) nursing boobage, there’s something really, really wrong with our culture.

    Her Bad Mother August 8, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    I should add – I get uncomfortable with the whole ‘seeing boobs makes some people uncomfortable’ argument, because I totally want to respect other peoples’ comfort, and I don’t want to dismiss someone’s feelings on the matter of what causes them discomfort – but I also don’t think that nursing should be on the table as something contestable on the basis of it causing discomfort. My baby’s right to be fed trumps any other person’s right to not be made uncomfortable.

    I don’t say this to bat away anyone who comes here and wants to articulate their discomfort – I’m totally open to hearing about that – but I want my very biased cards on the table at the same time as I welcome the disagreement.

    Brandi August 8, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    Thank you.

    I just weaned (mainly because I was just tired of it) my youngest and he turns 2 next week. Two years, not two months! I sometimes feel I should get a medal for all the askance looks I’ve put up with. However, I don’t know if I was in the right place at the right time or what but I have been approached by several women over the years who thanked me for nursing in public with no shame. I never just whipped it out on the table so to speak but my son would not tolerate a blanket, he wanted to look around so I let him. There were times, at play areas, when younger children would approach and ask me what I was doing, I just told them feeding the baby. Some babies drink their milk from a bottle and some prefer their milk from a mommy. Kids are usually just curious, unfortunately, nursing is not something they see every day. But they should.

    So, because of the encouragement I’ve received from those few anonymous women I usually smile at any women I see nursing and if we make eye-contact, I’ll thank them for nursing openly as well.

    I guess it’s a pay-it-forward kind of thing maybe it would help if all of us did that. Start small but it really makes you feel better to know not everyone is disgusted.

    heffernhyphen August 8, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    I tend to view Nursing In Public as my own little PSA, and I broadcast often. My little nursling will be five in a week. Yes, that’s five YEARS, not months.

    I have such fun watching the faces around us. Raised eyebrows? Sometimes I think they’ll twitch ‘em right off their forehead.

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