They Shoot Wet Nurses, Don’t They?

March 10, 2009

Her name was Laura, and I nursed her baby.

We had met, initially, at breakfast and immediately hit it off. We sat down with our coffees and immediately got swept up in a conversation that ran the gamut from the advantages of Twitter over Facebook to the challenges of leaving one’s baby for a night. Which is precisely what I had done: I had left my baby to attend a symposium on parenting. And it was, as I told Laura over coffee, in some ways profoundly liberating, and in others completely terrifying. Also, my boobs hurt. Badly. I had forgotten my breast pump and an hour of hand-expressing in the shower that morning hadn’t helped much. I didn’t mention that part, though. I just said, I miss my baby.

She said, I know. Her own baby – a dark-haired sprite, just one year old – bounced happily on her knee. I would find it hard to leave her.

Yeah.

I liked her. I offered to help her sort out her Twitter/Facebook conundrum, and introduce her to some New York area bloggers. She invited me to a parenting event in Albany later in the month. We chatted throughout the day. The chirps and coos of her baby reminded me of my own chirping, cooing baby, who had accompanied me in the previous month to two conferences, who I was unaccustomed to being without, especially in this environment. My heart hurt, and my breasts ached. They ached. I kept my arms pressed against my chest for most of the morning.

At lunch I fled to my room and tried, unsuccessfully, to hand-express. I returned to the symposium, and sat down near Laura, and another woman that I had met that day. We were supposed to have a conversation about our parenting successes, or something like that. I said, you’ll have to count me out. I’m in a lot of pain and don’t know what to do. I huddled on the chair, squeezing the rock-hard contours of my chest as tightly as I could without screaming. I explained about the missing breast-pump, the terrible ache of my engorged breasts, the hours remaining before I would see my son. The other woman asked, is there a store nearby? I shook my head – the concierge had told me that there were no pharmacies in the immediate area. Laura cocked her head thoughtfully, and looked at her daughter, who was beginning to fuss. Would you consider, maybe… I know it sounds sorta weird, but… I have no problem with it, and she’s hungry… She looked at me, and waited.

Really?

Really.

I paused. My head spun, a little. Would I do this, really? Would it be weird? And then I thought, no. There’s nothing weird here. Boobs are boobs. Breastmilk is breastmilk, in all of its liquid gold glory. I bond with my son when we nurse, but it is not because he is latched to my breast. It is because I have him in my arms, and because I love him. Our intimacy derives from that love, and that love would be just as forceful if I fed him with a bottle. So would it be weird if someone else fed him from a bottle? No, of course not. These are only acts of nurture, whether they involve the bottle or the breast. And this is what the breast is made for.

I nodded, and reassured Laura that as a nursing mom I did not take any substances or medications that might compromise my milk.

And so. I took Laura’s daughter in my arms and she smiled at me and I lifted my shirt and she happily bent her head and drank her fill.

(Was it weird? No. It was different. Describing the thoughts and emotions that accompany nursing another woman’s child requires more space than I have here. It was intimate, but not inappropriately so – no more inappropriately intimate than someone holding your baby and cooing in his ear, whispering sweet baby nothings. If anything, it brought me to a deeper, more visceral understanding of my body as a miracle of biology, as a work of nature that is built to do certain things, one of those thing being – in my case; this is not necessarily true for every woman, and no woman is lesser for not being able to do it – nursing babies. My breasts are not sacred or magical objects, they are not quivers full of milk-arrows that can and must only be directed to blood-offspring. They provide milk. They nourish. They are both utterly mundane and terrifically awe-inspiring for that fact.)

I was grateful – so, so grateful – for Laura and her child; their generosity and open-mindedness and open-heartedness saved me a great deal of pain. At the end of the day, a mother was released from some considerable discomfort, and a child was nourished. Wonderful, no?

Well, as it happens: no. Not for everybody. Someone was watching, and someone did not like what they saw. Someone was watching and decided that what I had done was deviant. Irresponsible. Disgusting. Eww. So she wrote a post describing, in entirely misleading terms (we were total strangers! we had no discussion about it! a lady just blithely and irresponsibly passed her baby to a total stranger without a word! and that stranger – me, if you’re keeping track – might have been diseased!) (she has since admitted to me that her representation of what happened was misleading), what she saw and explaining why she thought it was wrong. And it was wrong, from her point of view. Unsanitary. Dangerous. Wrong. Her commenters went even further: why, I might have AIDS! Be homeless! A drug user! Sexually loose! In fact, was what I’d done really any different from wandering into a bar and asking some strange man to grope my titties? Really? Also: AIDS! Or some other horrible virus. That, and my boobs – this helpfully noted by the author – were probably unsanitary, to boot. Also, I’d probably been drinking.

I can’t even begin to describe how hurtful it was to read these things. This was me they were talking about. And Laura, who was as lovely a woman as I had ever met. Laura and I had just met, sure, but I think that we both hoped that we were becoming friends. And we share a belief – a healthy, woman-affirming, baby-adoring belief – that we mothers are all in this together, that we’re all served and enriched when we trust each other and help each other. She had a hungry baby; I had excruciatingly painful breasts that needed to be released of their milk. We came together with our needs. You’re welcome to say that you couldn’t see yourself doing this; you are welcome, even, to cringe and shudder a bit in distaste. Whatever. We all have our issues. Just don’t flaunt your disgust. And certainly don’t use it to publicly shame mothers who make choices that you might not make. What I do with my boobs – what any mother does to ensure that her baby gets fed – is none of your business. And your public expression of disgust and alarm hurts. It hurts me, it hurts all of us. It reinforces the idea that breasts and breastfeeding hover on the very razor’s edge of shamefulness, that these things on our chests are somehow, in some way, dirty and icky and bad, unless we operate them under the very strictest rules of propriety (only if they’re covered up! only if it’s your own baby! only if it doesn’t make us uncomfortable! only if WE SAY IT’S OKAY!)

Memo to everybody: these? Are not your boobies. They are mine. And my babies? Also mine. I will nurture and nourish them as I see fit, and I will champion any other mother to do the same. Your disgust, your judgment threatens to undermine us, weaken us, take away some of our power as mothers who demand to make their own way and their own rules. Which, fuck that.

This is MY motherhood. These are MY boobs.

Hands off.

Memo to everybody: in case you missed what I said above – “You’re welcome to say that you couldn’t see yourself doing this; you are welcome, even, to cringe and shudder a bit in distaste” – I’ll say it again (it seems that I need to): you are welcome to disagree with I did, and/or with what Laura did. You are welcome to say that you would not do this. You are welcome to voice a contrary opinion. I encourage it. I’m fascinated by so many elements of this discussion (not least, something that one commenter brought up – trust and community. Under what circumstances do we choose to trust or not trust each other, to take each others’ words, or not do? Laura trusted me when I said that I was healthy and not taking anything that might compromise my milk. Perhaps this had everything to do with my appearance, or with the fact that I was obviously a nursing mother, or perhaps just with the fact that she had decided that I was simply worth trusting. I was moved by this. We need more of this kind of generosity of spirit in daily life) and I enjoy hearing different opinions. What I don’t like: inappropriately expressed judgment or shaming. That’s the whole point of the latter part if this post: shaming hurts everybody. If you’re here to express an opinion, respectfully – great. I’ll support and defend that. But if you’re here to call names or point fingers or say anything that you wouldn’t say to someone you loved, then maybe just turn back now.

Let’s be kind.

Which means, too – and forgive me if it seems hoity for me to take this on – that everybody is very welcome to NOT direct opprobrium at the blogger mentioned here. This has no doubt been hard on her, and although I remain hurt and (yes, am juvenile) angry, I do not want her to be put through any more of a ringer than she already has. Please. Both she and I deserve some peace around this.

Comments on this post are now closed. I’m happy to read other posts on the subject – yes, even they disagree with milksharing – so if you write about it, please do let me know.

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    { 502 comments }

    jessica March 11, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    I wish this would let me enter an email address but omit the URL, I don’t care if YOU know who I am but I’m not interested in garnering attention from the people who did not get your memo.

    Anyway, just my name will have to do.

    I’ve got a wriggling nursling on my lap so forgive me for not reading the hundreds of other comments. I just wanted to chime in with my own story.

    I am so confused by America’s attitude towards nursing. It just continually blows my mind that such an innocent thing is constantly shunned by the masses. We are so messed up here. These issues aren’t issues in other countries (to my knowledge).

    My mother nursed my cousin when my cousin was a baby. My mother was babysitting and my cousin was accustomed to breastfeeding, missing her mother, and would not take a bottle. My mom popped her on and everyone was happy. My cousin’s mother was grateful, not disgusted.

    I nursed my best friend’s baby when my friend was volunteering at the Utah Winter Olympics. She too was used to breastfeeding and my friend specifically asked me to babysit knowing I’d be able to nurse her child, having given birth to my own some months before.

    I nursed my aunt’s newborn during a horrific time when my aunt was dealing with a retained placenta, a blood clot, and a pulmonary embolism just a week after giving birth.

    When a new mom was ill and her grandmother was trying to get her grand-daughter to take a bottle at church, I offered to nurse the baby seeing how upset both grandma and baby were (baby refused bottle). She politely told me no thanks, but I would have if she had been comfortable or felt it was needed.

    When a woman in my neighborhood died unexpectedly in a car crash, my friend who had a little baby at the time rushed to help the family breastfeed the 2 month old infant she left behind. She continued to nurse that baby until they got him used to a bottle.

    I had NO idea any of this could possibly misconstrued as disgusting or foul. I had no idea anyone would ever look on this aid as inappropriate. Of course I didn’t know then that breastfeeding even your OWN child could cause a fuss either. I of course know better now; I know how people react. How things that are foreign or different to their way of thinking can shock and appall. But it doesn’t change what I’d do. If your baby needs some milk and I’ve got some, I wouldn’t hesitate to help. I don’t understand how this can be viewed as anything less than good.

    Jane M March 11, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    It’s been a while since I felt this good about being single and child-free.

    Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com March 11, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    You know, I was at another website the other day that was discussing wet nurses and the validity in this day and age.

    What I came up with is that I would not do what you have done with Laura’s baby – but not for the reasons you think. I have an autoimmune disorder. My immune system is hyperactive and I have taken a substantial number of immuno-suppressant drugs over the years. Should they have leeched out of my body by now? Yes. CAN I GUARANTEE THAT? No. And I would never want to put another woman’s child in the position of intaking something into their body that could harm them in a way that it might not harm my own child’s body. In addition, I’m a chicken shit about potentially getting thrush from another baby and passing it on to my own, BUT in a case like your own I can’t honestly say that would be my primary concern. I’d be more worried about harming the other woman’s baby somehow.

    I’ve thought, too, about whether or not I’d be willing to provide my baby to a woman like yourself under those circumstances, and I think that I would. I probably wouldn’t want to – after all, you would be passing on a normal level of antibodies to a baby that would likely need and be accustomed to the higher level of antibodies that my body produces. In addition, at such a young age, I may not know whether or not my baby has inherited my disease, which means that it is possible that your diet may disrupt my child’s digestion in unforeseen and phenomenally negative ways. But what is one feeding in the grand scope of things if it will alleviate some pain and if the odds are that I could handle even the most extreme of potential outcomes with my child’s short-term health?

    So I’d probably have offered my child up too.

    I just would be scared to death to feed yours.

    There is no ick factor here – biology is biology all the way around – and there is no judgment as it’s none of my concern how other people parent so long as abuse or neglect are not involved (and this certainly does not constitute either). I don’t really agree or disagree with the choice that you and Laura made, because I’m neither of you and don’t know what is best for either of you or your children or your bodies. I haven’t read the five million comments before me, but I hope that more people than not are at least on a similar wavelength with me here.

    Not that it’s wrong to disagree with me. I just can’t believe that we’ve all come so far and fallen so far at the same time.

    gatorgumbo@rocketmail.com March 11, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    I think we would all have to agree that this situation is not the “norm”. Maybe some day it will be, but we’re all just not there yet. I don’t know if I want to be there myself. I’m just not comfortable with the idea of someone else breastfeeding my child to relieve THEIR discomfort. Maybe if my child was starving and it would aide them (my child) in some way, I would consider it, but just because an acquaintances boobs are hurting (and I KNOW what you were feeling) that is not enough of a reason for me to put myself, nor my child, out there for people to judge me. In a public place. I would also feel kind of crummy, after the fact, to find out that my child is somewhat in the center of a story that has gone ugly on the internet.

    I think the cheers stating how courageous an act this was speaks volumes as to how uncomfortable most people are with the idea. Even those who are commenting with support. Normal everyday things don’t need courage. They just are.

    With that being said, I don’t think you are a horrible person and I’m sorry that somebody has made you feel this way.

    Rebekah March 11, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I’m sure my comment will be terribly unique and not at all repetitive of what the other 30 kajillion commenters have said about this post but I’ll say it anyway – good for you. I think it is great that you nursed this baby and that you wrote about it. That’s all.

    Oh, one more thing: wouldn’t it be lovely if mothers could be more supportive of and less critical with each other? You may not agree with what another mom may do, but how about just saying that?

    lorrielink March 11, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    @ new (I assume) saddened anonymous= umm, so since she wasn’t “discreet” the other person should be able to blog about it untruthfully, but HBM should not feel bothered by the post at all? and also keep her mouth shut. on her own blog?? umm….

    I am still loving all the “double think” going on with how the other blogger should be able to blog about it but how dare HBM do it cause she’s like popular and stuff. I mean, don’t you see the contradiction? at all?

    if your wondering why breastfeeding discussions “go so badly” you might want to stop calling them nazis. just a thought.

    HGM cetainly does not seem ashamed for what she did, why should she? she posted about it because of the rudeness on the other post. how can that not be clear. it has been stated more than once.

    I’m pretty sure HBM has already had 15 minutes of fame. and falls right out of that category since she will certainly be having more minutes of fame in the future: that Warhol statement is meant for common people who normally don’t get any spot light at all. your referance doesn’t even apply to her.

    about the “keep it private” remarks, wow. i. just. wiat i need to travel foward in time from the midwestern 50′s for a moment i just won’t start on that except to say that ..

    i think it’s wonderful that we are so advanced now that there are people who have no idea that breastfeeding is an issue at all. i wish i’d been in on that, and the many many many other woman who have been ostracized from their families, friends, churches,etc., been asked by security guards to leave public museums, public pools, public PARKS for the vulgarity of breastfeeding thier child.
    Stores made you use the bathroom-with your child!, multi-million dollar companies with thousands of employees were not required to give “pumping breaks” even to new mothers and they had to use the restroom at their own place of work.
    woman have been forced off of airplanes before take-off by stewardesses for breastfeeding a newborn,
    cps has been called many times on a mother nursing her child over 6 months.

    it has only been about 6 short years since the American Pediatrics Association caught on finally and changed their official standing from 6 months only to at least a year and beyond.and it took years for most pediatric doctors to catch on to that.
    even now, places like facebook will delete pictures of nursing mothers from their profiles even if there is NO BOOB SHOWING, but bikini-clad models with wet hard nipples are all over the place.
    does every woman experiance these things? nope, have millions, yes.

    so, you didnt know all that? thats great, it means maybe we are evolving, but you dont get to say “why are we so upset, theres no reason for it?”,because there is.

    and that is why all the comments about bravery and courage are right on. because it is a risk, because it is a beacon for getting slammed. because people cant even keep on-topic with this. including me.

    JB March 11, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Found a fantastic website for nursing mothers..

    http://www.breastpumpsexpress.com

    Anonymous March 11, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Again. Hung up on breastfeeding is not the case. Hung up on her sharing breastmilk isn’t even the case. The case was not even her blogging about it. She has a right to it also. However, having people call the other blogger names and saying she was closed minded because she observed it and commented badly on it is. /shrug

    Last I checked there is a huge movement of mommies who feel like because the way they feel about breast milk is the gospel, they’ve taken up this cause to become very vocal about it. Fine. But don’t put others down because they don’t agree with you.

    I don’t have a problem with women feeding in public if they have any sort of decency about it. But I shouldn’t have to explain to my 4 year old god son what a breast is and why that woman is showing hers in public.

    Mamajama March 11, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    fantastic comment lorrielink. I was trying to come up with an eloquent response, but yours was perfect!

    Lara March 11, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    I think you are outrageously awesome and brave – for doing this, and for posting about it.

    And I’d really love to know what brand of bra you wear – it looks really comfy.

    I’ve been reading your blog since I had my own baby 15 months ago, and I can’t thank you enough for your clever, insightful, brave and often confronting posts. I am a bad mother too, and it’s wonderful to know I’m not alone.

    Lara in Australia

    Ashley March 11, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Coming back to respond to Karen who asked why this is courageous…

    An act does not have to be courageous in itself in order for the person doing it to be courageous. Sitting on a bus seat is not a courageous act in itself. The social context sitting on the bus seat during Rosa Park’s time made her act courageous.

    Similarly, relieving breast engorgement is not courageous in itself. Relieving engorgement in a society that will then make hundreds if not thousands of comments about it … well, that’s courage to me.

    Scattered Mom March 11, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    I saw the twitter drama yesterday and came back today to see what the fuss was all about.

    A few thoughts occurred to me:

    1. I personally couldn’t/wouldn’t allow someone I just met breastfeed my child, nor could I breastfeed another woman’s child. Sure, I’ve never breastfed and so some people would say that I should just shut up then, but for me it’s something I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing. It’s a line of intimacy that I wouldn’t want to share with any children other then my own. Call me selfish, but that’s how I feel about it.

    2. I find it interesting that commenters have said that the person who wrote about it should not have taken something she saw, that was none of her business, and then written a post on it and judged. Don’t bloggers do that fairly often? We write about our kid’s teachers or friend’s parents, we judge the lady in the Walmart with the screaming kids, our relatives, or celebrities we see on TV. Are any of us immune? Or is it just bad to do so when the person is well known on the Internet and can possibly find the post? Do we then censor we say?

    In other words, had the incident happened in a McDonalds, with two people that nobody knew, would it be okay to write about it then? Or would it still have been considered judgmental and none of her business?

    I’m not making a judgment here but instead a curious observation. My philosophy is to each their own. It’s an interesting topic, and certainly food for thought about being careful about what we post.

    ALL the time.

    Fairly Odd Mother March 11, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    You know, this was between two consenting adults who had a discussion and made an agreement. It’s not like you clubbed her over the head and then snuck the baby under the table to nurse. I’ve been engorged like that and it is miserable—she showed you an act of true kindness and friendship. I’m sorry some people can’t see that.

    The Daily Blonde March 11, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    Scattered Mom:
    You said this far better than I did. Point #2 is what I’m referring to. So, so true. We can talk about celebrities, people in the market, bad drivers and people in politics. We can bash them and they’ll never know. Or we can say great things and they’ll probably still never know. But bloggers are a special breed. Most I’ve met are some of the greatest people I’ve encountered. Then there are gossipy people who don’t want you to write about others but they want to gossip about it.

    It’s a no win situation whatever we do. I will not change who I am for the sake of a few comments.

    We need to be careful, yes…but we also need to feel free to be ourselves. ALL the time.

    HollowSquirrel March 11, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Late to the drama and just catching up, but hope I’m not too late to tell you that I completely and utterly support you and Laura one hundred percent. Hugs.

    Anonymous March 11, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    I loved your story, up until the point where someone else freaked out and apparently used exaggeration to stoke paranoia and fear in others. Sheesh. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    If I’d been in your position, I would have been hesitant to accept the offer. Not because I personally find anything wrong with it, but because it goes against so much of our cultural training. I hate that my first reaction was discomfort. My deeper, final reaction is a combination of awe and happiness. I find myself thinking, “Yes! This is the world I want to live in.” In reading your story, the walls have already begun to crumble. Should I be in a similar position one of these days, the knee-jerk fear will already be weak and irrelevant, allowing me to move forward confidently (and possibly even bring others with me).

    Hm, I think I started to ramble there. That happens sometimes, when I try to express transcendent emotion. Bottom line: Thank you for this.

    Desiree Fawn March 11, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Good for you :) I don't think this is wrong at all and you are SO RIGHT to stand up for yourself.
    Kudos & love.
    <3

    Laura March 11, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    I am so sorry that you experienced something so hurtful- honestly it was nobody’s place to judge you. I know I would have done this. I was nursing twins and my boobs might have exploded. I never really tried hand expression…I loved the hospital pump I rented. I carried that heavy beast with me all the time.

    Candace March 11, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    Wow. 480 comments already. Most controversial post ever?

    Frankly, I am surprised at how controversial it is.

    I personally might do as you did, though I doubt I would allow someone else to feed my baby if I did not know her EXTREMELY well and if I was right there, able to feed him. If you were my closest friend for years, and I couldn’t feed him at that time, I would have definitely done it.

    You are now the Selma Hayek of the mom blogging world ;) May your breasts be as spectacular and nourishing.

    Lazy Daisy Marie March 11, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Hi Catherine, Cheryl, and Commenters!

    I’ve never read this blog til today and hadn’t the slightest idea who you (Catherine) were when I originally read TDB’s original post on the topic. And possibly because I don’t know you, I didn’t find it inflammatory at all. And, this was the first post of Cheryl’s I had ever read, so I wasn’t exactly batting for one team or the other.

    I just reread TDB’s original post to make sure I wasn’t misremembering it, and still, I see absolutely nothing hateful or personal there. I think that most of this drama has risen from the comments of that original post, but I wouldn’t really blame Cheryl for that. Some people have strong reactions to the idea of breastsharing/babysharing. I do not believe any of the reactions were intended to shame you for choosing differently from what someone else would’ve done.

    And, in rereading the OP at TDB, I found only one comment from Cheryl that could be taken personally, that “feeding a stranger’s baby is just a little nuts in my eyes”. Even if someone is looking to be offended and is personally identifying themselves with their choices/actions, the worst being said in that post would still only be “whoever does that must be nuts!”. . . and that’s seeking out the insult!

    And even if someone had posted something as obviously deranged as “any woman who chooses to do x, y, or z with her boobs is bonkers”, who cares? If you know it’s not crazy, it’s not, and whatever so and so thinks, writes, or shouts through a megaphone doesn’t change that!

    I don’t think Cheryl implied that you or Laura were blithe, irresponsible, deviant, or disgusting. I don’t believe Cheryl was disgusted with you and I don’t think disgust was flaunted. Yes, people said dumb things in the comments. People have said dumb things in these comments too. That’s not the blogger’s fault or responsibility and I’d hate it if all of us were held accountable for everything our commenters said. It seems clear that those people who said “what if the person had HIV” or “didn’t have the same standards of health as me” did not know who the original post was about, so it’s unnecessary to take those comments personally and be hurt by them. And it’s unnecessary for a mob of supporters from either side to gang up on the original poster because of what commenters have said.

    What do those people know anyway? You can be sure that in your situation, with the information you possessed, you made a fine choice! But an observer does not have the information you had. Onlookers can just work with what they do have, and all Cheryl knew was that you and Laura had only met recently. And for some people, it doesn’t matter what was discussed or if she was nice and appeared healthy. For some, the fact that these two people met not long ago means this isn’t even close to the threshold of something they’d be okay with. And that’s fine.

    The beautiful thing about understanding differences and agreeing to disagree is that just because I might not be okay with sharing my baby or my breast does not mean I’m not okay with a woman who is. And I direct that towards both original posters and the commenters on both posts.

    … I guess coming by and singing KumBayYah would’ve been easier? Oops! =X …

    Lazy Daisy Marie March 11, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    P.S. I’ve never been close to being in this situation myself, but I can’t imagine I’d breastfeed another’s baby for my own relief or that I’d offer my baby in the situation. Family? Probably. Close, long-time friends? Maybe. New friends? Eh, not so much.

    Props to you all for being okay with your choices. The tough part is being okay with others’ choices too.

    The only thing I found disturbing in this whole exchange was everyone’s cruelty and contention with one another. Live and let live.

    lorrielink March 11, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Again. Anonymous: HBM never had people call the other blogger names and say she was close minded because she observed it and commented bady on it. __ some of us did that on our own. some of us are just not as evolved as HBM, and im not sorry.

    Again. Anonymous: last i checked this post and following comments have nothing to do with any “huge movement of mommies”: nobody here even knows what you’re talking about with that. if you have issues with some other “huge movement of mommies” then take issue with them. or better yet, just leave them alone, since you are obviously not interested in them, so there, now you can relax.

    Again. Anonymous: yes, you should have to. we don’t care if you have a problem with it or not. its not about you. at. all.
    you do not get to define decency. you are entitled to your opinion. we are entitled to our rights and our childrens’ rights. which i dare say are more important. no its not anyone elses problems what your hang-ups about why 4 year olds should not know about breastfeeding are. you are welcome to them, we have no right to say anything against you about your choices.
    thats what this is really about; choices, freedom of choice, even uncomfortable ones we’re still not sure were the right one.

    breasts can will and should be bared freely by nursing mothers (and maybe some others;)) who are sitting in a PUBLIC (as in, does not belong to you alone) area trying to hitch up her shirt and keep the undertank down over her tummy while holding squirming babe in the other hand while attempting to get that damn bra unlatched while keeping the pad in place with her other hand while watching out for dissaproving glances from total strangers who are doing not a damn thing to help her out.

    @Mamajama don’t make me blush, no one has ever accused me of being eloquent. chronic foot in mouth girl, yes.

    i don’t know this other woman or her blog or anything. i’ve certainly said some dumbass things in my life. not on a blog, but there is still time for that ;) people that i have intentionally or unintentionally hurt certainly have a right to be vocal about it. by whatever means they have. how could you say they wouldn’t have a right to that? or maybe they shouldn’t if they have more friends than me? or more minutes on their phone? what’s the line to draw?

    and since HBM has rightfully chosen to stop repeating herself for those not able to keep up with the point of this post.
    it is not an issue of it having been blogged about: it IS an issue that the post by the other party was DELIBERATELY inflammatory and fanned the flames in the comments to said post and on twitter.
    said original blogger EMAILED HBM to the truth of that.
    only a few commenters here have openly flamed other blogger for that.
    HBM posted her in HER OWN BLOG about her hurt FEELINGS about it. no one (logical) will say she has no right to do that in indirect response to other blogger.

    sorry about using words like “us” an “we” so much. im not trying to represent everyone here. it just sounds more dramatic that way.

    i don’t mind repeating myself. there are three penises in my house. i’m used to it.

    crazymumma March 11, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    what people find is wrong is so astounding to me. don’t doubt the mutual decision you made with Laura.

    you had milk. her baby got fed.

    end of fucking story.

    iMommy March 11, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    Wow, guess I was under a rock yesterday!

    I just wanted to chime in, though the discussion is dying down, and say that this is a real tough subject, but an interesting one.

    I breastfed my baby girls for about 6-8 weeks, each, and couldn’t continue. Because of that, I think I might have some personal issues around another mother breastfeeding my kids… mostly a jealousy/self-worth issue, I think. And since I didn’t breastfeed for long, I don’t know whether I would have been comfortable breastfeeding another child. I hardly had time to get comfortable feeding my own!

    But in the end, I think that it’s a perfectly OK thing to do. It was Laura’s decision to let you breastfeed her daughter. It was your decision to accept her offer. Since neither of you are currently on trial for child neglect or abuse, I’m figuring you are at least halfway decent mothers, and have the best interest of your children at heart.

    So if it made sense to you, then great! I hope that this discussion hasn’t tarnished your memory of that moment, because it was obviously a great moment for you.

    And, cheers for keeping comments open here. That is the bravest thing of all, I think.

    Me March 11, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Just to throw another “what if” into the works: did you tell Laura you had recently been tattooed? Because milk donors, like blood donors, are discouraged from giving donations for 12 months following the tattoo, just in case.

    I think I could nurse someone else’s child, and vice versa, but I also think I would have to know that person a lot better than a “just met” sort of knowledge. And the needle exposure thing…well, I’d certainly want to know about that.

    I'm Anon 12:24 PM March 11, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Still anonymous, but at least I’ve distinguished myself a bit. :)

    Mamajama, I just reread my comment to Catherine four times, and at no point did I ever say that she should muzzle herself, or “tell her to take the criticism without giving any herself,” tacitly or openly. Where are you getting that from? I’m really trying hard to see it (and indeed, I read and reread my post quite a few times before posting to make sure my message was respectful and on point), and I’m confused as to how you got that from anything I said. Furthermore, I didn’t say anything about CATHERINE being snarky/bullying, but rather, that a lot of the people who have rallied around her have engaged in those activities. It’s just my impression, and it doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. It’s just what I’ve observed as someone on the very fringes of this world. Can you please explain to me where you’re seeing that? Because if there’s anywhere you’re seeing that, I’d like to know, truly.

    And Catherine, I do sincerely thank you for:(a) not taking issue with my comment (I hope!) and (b)writing such a detailed, thoughtful response. I only want to now clarify that I didn’t intend any part of my comment to say that you should stay quiet when hurt because you’re a popular blogger. No. That’s ludicrous. What I was trying to get at with that point was that when a big blogger says “Hey! Someone hurt me/pissed me off!” they HAVE to be cognizant of the ripple effect it has in the blogosphere, where a number of followers viciously (yes, viciously) attack the offending party. REGARDLESS of whether the offending party was wrong, two wrongs don’t make a right. That’s all I was saying about that. I’m NOT offering a solution (I don’t have one, really, other than that we should ALL be a little bit nicer, and as you said, think if we’d say to someone’s face the things we post in comments), and I’m NOT saying that you have to be silent when hurt; I was simply saying that I keep seeing this pattern repeated all over the blogosphere, and I was only trying to call your attention to it, here, since this situation went down.

    Thanks again for listening, responding to my very real questions, and allowing dissenting commentary/overall thoughtful dialogue on this matter.

    Michelle March 11, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    the new girl said, “It’s just amazing how far we’ve all come (gone?) in just one generation. When my father was young, wet nursing was COMMON. It happened all the time.”

    I generally object to these type of assertions for this reason: a generation ago children didn’t wear seatbelts. Were our parents right or wrong? After all, we’re talking about the same generation.

    Historically wet-nursing was acceptable because of circumstances, not because people were educated about its safety. Anytime you have transmission of bodily fluids, there is cause for concern, or at the very least – caution.

    I don’t believe this makes me “anti breastfeeding” either.

    I can appreciate that you are a healthy nursing mother, but you are also a stranger who might have lied about her health, or even been unaware of a medical condition. Laura took a leap of faith that many wouldn’t have taken with their own child.

    Does it mean she made the wrong decision? Only she can say for certain.

    Regardless, I’m sorry that both you, and the person who opposed you, have had to deal with angry, flaming comments.

    Stacy March 11, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    You know, I actually went and read the other post, and I think everyone reallllly overreacted. She didn’t personally attack you – it seems like MOM101 started most of the cattiness and turned it into something more involved than it needed to be. What you did was controversial. That means some people will disagree with it. To each his own goes both ways.

    Secret Agent Mama March 11, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    I don’t know? but what if? what if we as a society did this more? what if it would make us all the more compassionate? I’m leaning towards it being so. It’s unfortunate to hear/read negative comments on something so perfect, so natural, so giving.

    I think what you both did that day was compassionate and good. I’m in awe.

    Heather March 11, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    I went and read TDP’s post too. Her description of what happened between two mothers was rather one dimensional, and engendered the kind of responses it received; not the thoughtful discussion TDP says she intended.
    HBM has once again eloquently and articulately presented an interesting and complicated situation for all of us to think about and discuss respectfully.
    Before today, I can honestly say that breastfeeding someone else’s child, or allowing another mother to bf my own child is something I never would have even considered. After reading all of this, though, I don’t know that my response would be so automatic.
    Something about walking 1000 miles in another’s moccasins……

    Cheryl Lage March 11, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Hey Catherine–
    Let me start by saying I was very happy to have met both you and Laura this past weekend. I found you both to be lovely women, committed to your children and extremely thoughtful in expressing your views. (I’ve read your blog for a while, and you had some very kind word and ideas for me.)

    While I don’t know that I’d have offered my breast to another baby or my babies to another’s breast, (and as a mom who breastfed twins, I’m quite familiar with the pain of engorgement!), the decision was absolutely yours to make.

    I also had the chance to meet the other blogger…who also seems to be equally lovely, committed to her children and thoughtful in expressing her views. Reading the post she initially put up, I didn’t get the condemnation, so much as curiosity…
    questioning…
    and a seemingly genuine interest in feedback. It IS an interesting topic for 21st century westernized mothers…breastfeeding supporters included.

    Here’s hoping this episode helps us all work toward supporting all mothers’ perspectives…regardless of their coincidence with our own.

    Glad to have met you, to have met Laura, and to have met the blogger whose post spurred this one. (and am ever-so glad I missed the Twitter aspect of it…)

    Wishing you peace and happy parenting—keep in touch–

    A Lawyer Mom's Musings March 11, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Alright. I’ll go ahead and add comment # 1,000,000. My son was born at 4lb. 13 oz. Small. By C. Per doc instructions, I walked and walked the halls. Went by the nursery. There was a tiny baby in there, just my son’s size. His dad was loooking at her through the glass. “Where’s Mom?” I asked. “Oh,” he said, “she’s in a coma. Hasn’t even held her yet and she’s two weeks old.”

    So I bit my lip hard so I wouldn’t cry and said to him, please, please let me nurse her. “Oh, no mam, that’s okay. She’s getting fed. They’re giving her formula,” he said (he clearly didn’t understand). “But breast milk is better for her, especially at her size. I’d really like to,” I said.

    It was pure instinct, and pure normal. I still wonder about that little tiny girl whose mom hadn’t held her yet. And cry, of course. The hormones never go away.

    Suzanne March 11, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    I came over from Imaginary Binky.

    As I read your story, I am appalled that something so wonderful for two mothers and one child has been reduced to words like ‘dirty’ ‘diseased’ ‘drug addict’ and ‘immoral’.

    Hearty BRAVA to Laura, for seeing your need and her child’s and creating a bonding moment between mothers. Don’t we need more moments like this? Isn’t this what “it takes a village” all about?

    I’m sorry that you were villified for being in pain and taking the solution offered. Shame on the blogger who feels that this is something dirty to disparage.

    Ann of Green Cables March 12, 2009 at 12:40 am

    You and your friend did no wrong. I know you don’t me to tell you this. It’s for others who will say differently. There used to be a perfectly accepted position of ‘Wetnurse’. That is what you did when you nursed her baby. ( I loved nursing my 4 babies) WetNurse..an honourable job/lifestyle and accepted as such. People should just MYOB. If Nosey Noras have that much time on their hands to gossip about you, they should put their time to better use and actually help people who are in dire straits….no money for food, shelter, clothing, etc., instead of sitting on their fat A**es writing harmfull crap! So, this Gra’ma sends you both a big hug and a wish for all the best in life.

    squishsplash March 12, 2009 at 1:26 am

    You did good. Proud of you. If only there were more of it!

    Bianka March 12, 2009 at 3:32 am

    Wow, TONS of comments already on this one! I’m sorry some people have trouble expressing their opinions without being mean. I like to call those people.. not so smart.

    As for my take on the matter, I would have no problem what so ever nursing someone else’s baby. I see nothing wrong with that, because you know, I know where my boobs have been and I know what I’ve put into my body. On the other hand, I’d have a hard time letting someone else nurse my baby for the same reasons.. I don’t know what the other person has been doing.

    Bravo to you for nourishing a child! Bravo to Laura for trusting you!

    Anonymous March 12, 2009 at 3:49 am

    Forgive me for not reading through all of the comments to see if someone has already posted about this, but did you know Salma Hayek very publicly breastfed an infant that was not her own child on a trip to Sierra Leone last month? I think people responded very positively to it. Isn't it interesting how the same behavior provokes different reactions when it is done by a celebrity vs. a non-celebrity? Here's a link to the story in case you missed it: http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/Story?id=6854285&page=1

    AimeeRosie March 12, 2009 at 5:45 am

    Good for you!

    Belle March 12, 2009 at 6:06 am

    Your comment policy on this issue amuses me. Who decides on the difference between ‘opinion’ and ‘damning moral judgement’? Do you have a panel, or is it just you? You met a woman at a conference. You had coffee with her and you had a ‘discussion’ with her about breastfeeding and health issues. Just so that I’m clear on this – she was NOT a stranger to you for these reasons? So you breastfed this woman’s baby. I have no problem with that whatsoever. It was your call. I just would never have done it myself. As for trust and community. I would trust people at face-value with many things, but NEVER the welfare of my children.

    6:03 AM

    BGC March 12, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Laura’s baby was a year old, right? At one year old, my son was eating dog food off the floor and possum poo. I don’t see how breastmilk from a stranger could be worse than that. :-)

    Seriously, I thought that your post was a lovely heartwarming story. I have a breastfeeding friend with a baby – toddler now – the same age as mine and always wondered if we could share. I’m not sure I would be completely comfortable with it, but I certainly don’t think it would be wrong.

    Her Bad Mother March 12, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Belle – who decides the difference between opinion and damning moral judgment here? Me. My space. My rules. I’m under no obligation to permit anyone to say whatever they want here, none at all.

    And, I’m not trying to justify anything. Just telling my story. Something was written about me that was inaccurate, and a comments thread was *encouraged* – and fed by the author, who actively supported the commenters – to speculate about the degree of disgustingness of what happened (the author even dropped in comments implying that I might have been drunk). Borderline defamatory.

    Readers and friends brought it to my attention, and I responded. Why is this so extraordinary and amusing?

    Anonymous March 12, 2009 at 10:16 am

    I, in an emergency, nursed another woman’s baby. Her husband dropped the baby at my door as they were on the way to the hospital (she had broken her leg). The father said to me…. Sam might be hungry…. Could you nurse him if necessary. At the time my still nursing son was one. Sure enough the baby got hungry…. I nursed him (he was only two months old and had never had anything else). It felt perfectly natural…but not the same as nursing my own.

    I wonder what the objectors would think of this true story. I met a woman who had lost her baby immediately after birth. An adoptive baby came available within weeks. She put the adopted baby to the breast and there was milk. She nursed that baby for two years. The baby was not biologically hers…yet she nursed her and raised her as her own. She told me that it felt perfectly natural and she felt blessed to be able to feed her adopted daughter.

    Jessica March 12, 2009 at 10:54 am

    I applaud your action, your courage and your honesty. Most of all, I applaud your willingness to moderate this important discussion.

    Katie Kat March 12, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    I do want to chime in to say that I think Anon 12:24 has a very valid point regarding the “pack mentality” and the viciousness shown for anyone who might disagree with Catherine.

    I found out about this whole thing through Twitter, and there were definitely comments left there that would make people who wanted to share a differing opinion think twice about it lest they be flamed, or worse. This included a comment from one person who said if anyone messed with HBM they would “drop an f’ing bomb on them.” I respect the person who wrote that and her loyalty to someone she truly cares about, but it does send a rather harsh message to people who might feel a lot more like Anon 12:24 and who aren’t willing to risk the fallout (hence using “Anonymous”).

    Anyway, I just think it’s something to think about. As a very popular blogger, your actions DO become public “fodder” if you will for discussion and criticism. It’s why I think all bloggers such as you are so brave and so valuable. I just think it’s important to keep in mind that if you choose to do something controversial (which I think you knew it was after reading your comment that 2 weeks ago you weren’t sure you would have done it) and then comment on it in your blog, you might want to call off the dogs just a touch to allow your real message to be heard without too much catty rehtoric getting in the way.

    Still and all, I think this is fascinating and I have learned a lot by reading your account of it!

    Her Bad Mother March 12, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Katie Kat – I’m still sorting out my thoughts about my responsibilities as a quote-unquote popular blogger. I feel badly about the fire-and-brimstone that hailed upon the other blogger’s head. But it still feels weird, the idea that I need to ‘call off my dogs’ – people act of their own accord – and apart from what was being said here, I had no idea what was said to her/about her, because I was avoiding her comment and twitter streams to protect my own feelings.

    But – full disclosure – I did know that there was a backlash going on, and I knew that it was because, in part, I’m liked and respected and that some of that backlash had little to do with the debate and much to do with people taking sides and that it was probably hurtful to her, and I feel badly that I wasn’t quicker in saying publicly that I wanted people to be nice to each other.

    So, yeah, I’m conflicted. And feeling badly, and a bit guilty, and still trying to sort out my feelings.

    paperfairies March 12, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    HBM, I’ve been really thinking about this, hard, because I am convinced certain topics illicit these reactions for reasons that are culturally complex and fascinating. Can I share? Thanks.

    I am positive that aside from the possible health issues involved in cross nursing there is FOR SURE a bigger societal stigma with breasts and sexuality than there is danger. The past five decades have skewed reality sexualizing what is created by nature to nurture, nothing else. The reason men are instinctively attracted to large breasts is the subconscious thought that “those boobies will feed my offspring so it will thrive.”

    Even though milksharing happens in certain cultures it usually stems from need, if not necessary, moms just feed their own. (we know all about how maternal milk is formulated specifically for one’s baby) I think what swayed your decision stemmed from the need to relieve your pain.

    If it is true that you would let your baby feed off another mom, then that means you are willing to accept the risks however negligible they are. You in your heart don’t believe it is dangerous, no more than any other daily activity. But, what made you question whether you would do what you did (before you did it) is that very societal stigma. Heck, even the medical community advises against it, so you pause, and think because you can make decisions for your son and for yourself based on your belief but not for someone else. I think that is why in your post you had to say that you tried expressing, you couldn’t find a pump, you looked into every venue before doing “the deed”.

    Ultimately if this served to reaffirm your belief it goes to show that those cultural standpoints are sometimes worthy of a big ol’ “suck it”.

    Perky March 12, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    First off, let’s get my basic bio out of the way, shall we???? I was adopted and my children are adopted. My brother was adopted. Many of my friends have adopted and most of the rest bottle-fed.

    Therefore, I have precious little experience with breast-feeding. I readily admit that I KNOW NOTHING!!!!

    Accordingly, I have very few opinions on whether what you did was “right”, “wrong”, “icky”, “brave”, or anything else.

    So why am I posting????? Simply this — I agree with you 100%! It’s your boobs, your milk and her child.

    WHO CARES WHAT ANYONE ELSE THINKS ABOUT IT OR WHETHER THEY WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME THING?

    You helped a new friend, relieved your pain, and fed a hungry child – those are all good things in my book.

    Those other people who are freaking out need to chill out and worry about the things in life that are within their control!

    Would I have done what you did? Who knows. BUT, I’m SURE I wouldn’t have gotten up in your face about it!

    Katie Kat March 12, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Oh, and one last comment! I truly believe the overall most important thing about this entire situation is that you and the other mother TALKED AND AGREED about it. Therefore (IMO) the only thing people really have a right to comment on is the public venue or their feelings about the subject. As you have said many times here, the way in which it was done and the resulting vitriol was not only unnecessary, but hurtful to both of you as well as to all women and the idea of furthering our knowledge about the subject. Sometimes we are out own worst enemies!

    Liz March 12, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    I’m loving the conversation about breast feeding other people’s children and I’m loving the learning and sharing of experiences this has brought out.

    I’m totally not getting the moral outrage–by you (Catherine) or a lot of commenters on both “sides.”

    Someone disagreed with you breast feeding another person’s child, blogged about it and had people who regularly follow her blog agree with her?

    SHOCKING.

    Come on.

    I mean, hey, I get that it stings to be talked about (especially by people who don’t know you), but that’s sort of what you open yourself up to when blogging/twittering/whatevering in this day and age, no?

    I very much appreciated your post describing the experience, it was something I never really thought about before (just reactively thought, “Nah, not for me.”) Now I’m thinking more critically about it and I appreciate that (a lot of your writing does that, so thanks!).

    But to react at all to the other person’s blog post? Eh. Whatever. She wrote about it. She wanted to talk about it. It was basically a hypothetical. Why react at all? You believe in your actions enough that you don’t have to defend them, right? The thin skin argument falls a little short when you clearly put yourself out there as a woman-centered, feminist mom (which I shout BRAVA to, by the way.)

    And the “gang” mentality is unimpressive. “Followers” are a scary thing to have I think.

    Thanks for sharing, though, I think the best part of this shitstorm is the thinking it’s made a lot of people do.

    Sincerely,
    Liz

    Mamajama March 12, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Anonymous from yesterday, I just reread both of our comments, and I guess I don’t know what you were asking Catherine to do if you weren’t saying that as a powerful blogger she shouldn’t have called attention to the fact that she was criticized and that it hurt. I simplified that by calling it taking crit without giving any. Because I think that’s basically what it amounts to.

    I don’t think that because Catherine is a more popular blogger that she should have to eat extra crap. It’s hard enough being a Mom and having all the usual criticism.

    I wasn’t saying that you called her snarky, I just pointed out that she wasn’t. I also wanted you to realize that she doesn’t really have control about what her readers do with the information. Some want to fight for her honor, some want to tear the other lady down, some get mean and nasty, some start a good discussion. I was just saying it’s the nature of this medium, and blaming HBM for people getting mad at the other lady doesn’t make much sense to me.

    I kind of think that the whole thing is pretty fair game. I think the original blogger had a right to post on the topic she did…I haven’t read the original post, but HBM felt it was an unfair portrayal. I think she has every right to post her own side. She’s an honest blogger, and that’s why so many of us love to read her.

    I hope it’s more clear to you now what I was trying to convey. I did appreciate the tone of your post. It was so much more respectful that most of the other Anonymous posters.

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