My first brush with nursing in public was not after I had a child — nor did it involve my mother. I was 15, almost 16, and my stepdad was telling us about how he had been reprimanded by his boss for inconveniencing a nursing mother.
Before we vilify my stepdad here, let me spell out the details: he was managing a kind of small restaurant on base when we were living in Japan. The place was full that night, and there were two families next to each other: one with a couple young children, and the mother with her husband and nursling. The parents of the young children complained about the woman breastfeeding, and my stepdad had to step in to try to placate all his customers. I believe he asked her if she could cover up, or if she would like to be seated at a different table. This was 7 or so years ago — the details are fuzzy.
While he wasn’t in trouble, the whole thing ended with a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
I’ll admit, at the time I fell somewhere between, “It’s natural, she shouldn’t have to go else where!” and “Well, it’s not that inconvenient to step aside…” Now, as a mother who has tried to nurse a newborn in a small bathroom stall, I fall pretty squarely into the first. But I got to thinking about this.
I grew up in a very open household; we didn’t have a lot of taboos. But breastfeeding was one of things that my mother kept private — my only memory of my mother breastfeeding is her excusing herself to my grandmother’s guest room and emphatically telling us to stay out. I never thought about it again; she didn’t breastfeed my little brother for more than a couple weeks.
After I was a mother myself we got to talking about it, and she admitted that she found breastfeeding painful, and she breastfed less with each child.
It wasn’t until I was 14 that I met an openly breastfeeding mother. Kalynn is a dear friend of mine, and she breastfed her son Kohlmyn for 18 months. She was open about breastfeeding in front of whoever happened to be there, and would gladly talk about it if I had any questions. She didn’t draw attention to it either, though — it was just a natural thing that she did.
In retrospect, it was this example of breastfeeding that made it seem like a normal, comfortable thing to do. I never really thought about it, but I knew that someday I wanted to breastfeed. When I was pregnant I was pretty blasé — I would breastfeed “if it worked,” but wouldn’t sweat it if it didn’t — and here I am, almost 18 months later, adamant about what breastfeeding can (and should!) be to the world at large.
And I realized this: my success with breastfeeding had everything to do with seeing it as normal. I’m not the first person to say this, nor am I the most qualified who has, but it seems to me that the best thing we can do to help more mothers breastfeed in the future is to make breastfeeding normal for our daughters. The more girls that grow up understanding that their breasts are not just toys, the more women who will realize the power they have to nourish their child after birth.
So keep it going on, breastfeeding moms: lets never let the world forget that we’re doing something perfectly normal.