Saturday, July 4, 2009

Breastfeeding, A Debate

I breastfed my first daughter, Teenybop for eight months. The first four of those were exclusive, with no other juice, formula, or baby food added. I wasn't at all shy back then, breastfeeding my baby whenever and wherever she chose to eat whether it was the middle of the mall, the middle of my mother's living room, or the booth at a Chinese restaurant. I didn't care what anyone thought, and I wasn't at all uncomfortable about feeding my daughter in front of other people. She needed to eat too, right?

My new daughter also periodically needs to eat, and I have also chosen to breastfeed this baby exclusively for as long as possible, or at least until six months when I'd like to introduce some foods ... But I am more shy this time, more aware of the people around me. More aware, I suppose, of their reactions to my choice. MY CHOICE.

Today we went to the local Independence Day celebration at World's Fair Park. It was me, Fiance, my father who is here on vacation, Teenybop, and Piglet. We went early in the afternoon planning to make a day of it, and we all had a great time. There was a brand new playground there, the splash pad/fountain was at its best, and Teenybop was having a blast. I also got to try out the new Baby Bjorn chest carrier that we bought for Piglet to start riding around in. And she liked it for a good long while, but by then it was getting late and she was more than ready to go home and get to bed for the night. So she got a little fussy and that's when the trouble started ...

During the early afternoon, Piglet wanted to nurse, and there was a semi-private place I could take her to eat, so I did. We went to an old building that was about fifty yards away from where we'd all been hanging out at the playground, and she nursed while we sat on the steps in front of the building. My father and Fiance stayed with Teenybop at the playground while I took Piglet and we ventured off in search of quiet and privacy for her to eat. There were no interruptions, and she ate well in spite of the awkwardness of it being our first time practicing how to nurse while she was still in the chest carrier.

But the second time? Once the night was coming, the sun was going down and the day was wearing off, people were starting to really crowd the area and settle in to watch the fireworks show that was coming. But Piglet? She was fussy, she wanted me to cuddle her and nurse her to sleep. Unfortunately, this time around I am more careful about breastfeeding, and much more discreet ... At least, I try to be. At home I just wear a big t-shirt that can easily be pulled up to feed the baby, but for times when I am out and need to be careful, I have a couple of nursing shirts and today I was wearing one. This equals less skin exposure to others but it also equals less skin contact with me, so Piglet was a little annoyed. She would nurse a little but then pull away to let out a tired, frustrated cry, then she would drink some more. And it didn't help that there was an old man and his wife right near me, struggling to make me uncomfortable.

They walked up together a few minutes after I settled into nursing, and I could feel the old man's eyes on me. It had been the most private place I could find in such a crowd, and I admit it wasn't very private at all. But it was fine, and my baby wanted to nurse, so I was going to nurse her, people be damned. Until this couple. The man was very offended that I was breastfeeding in public, and I could hear them talking together about me while I sat there trying to nurse my daughter.

"Well, dear," the old woman said, "This is something that just has to be done in nature ..."

"Yeah I know. But do they have to do it everywhere?"

Yes, I do have to "do it everywhere". I was offended at that point myself. Offended to have my rights as her mother questioned. Offended to have to hear an ignorant old man complain about me breastfeeding my daughter even though it is quite likely that he himself was breastfed. And all I could think of was how bad I wanted to stand up and shout at him, "Excuse me, but is this the first time you have ever seen another person eating? And do you always eat alone in a dark closet the way you think my daughter should? Or do you get to eat whenever and wherever you want? And another thing ... why would you not be offended if I simply popped a bottle in my baby's mouth?"

Now don't get my wrong ... I'm not knocking bottle feeding. Teenybop was actually weaned onto formula at eight months because she was no longer growing properly and needed more calories. So I'm not completely against formula per se. I know that some women do not produce milk to breastfeed, some women are unable to breastfeed because of the pain that can be very much a part of the breastfeeding process. Some just don't do it because it is inconvenient for them. But that's their choice. And this is mine.

When I breastfeed my daughter, I see it as being no different than if I were to get hungry and make myself some lunch. Breastfeeding in public? Quite the same as if I were to get hungry while away from home, and choose to hit a fast food joint for a burger. Either way, hungry people have to eat, right? It can be in the car, the house, the sidewalk downtown. But why is eating a bad thing when it is an infant who is nursing at her mother's breast the way God intended?

I am so frustrated with the ignorance and bigotry that fills this world today. It is entirely too hard to keep my cool, to continue to be polite and mannerly. And I pray for the ability to forgive those who have offended me in treating me as though I am rude or disgusting or any less of a person because I choose to breastfeed my daughter ... I pray that I will somehow find a way to be less offensive to others, but I also pray for the stamina to do what is right even in the face of adversity.