In the parenting blogging community there is a lot of noise made about the shame breastfeeding women experience. Constant judgement from others forces women to hide in toilets and wrestle with elaborate cover ups to disguise the task. I decided early on that I wanted to breastfeed my son and after a difficult initial month we did so happily for almost a year. I fed him in the bustling crowds of East London, where we lived and in quiet leafy suburbs when visiting his grandparents. I fed him in supermarkets and restaurants in planes, trains and automobiles. In fact I would schedule my feeds to be in public. If we were heading somewhere I would plan my trip to include a feed on the train, this would keep Roscoe quiet throughout the journey and meant he would be content on our arrival. I figured given a choice between a screaming child and a flash of my nipple the latter would win for most commuters. Of course I was aware that I might be offending people but I was ready, I had planned a handful of one liners to rebuff anyone that would dare question my decision to breastfeed my child. I was ready and yet what I experienced was...nothing.
I'm sure some people did a double take but from my experience British people are very skilled at politely ignoring the obvious. The only stares that I noticed were from children watching in unbridled fascination, which made me very sad - they literally could not comprehend what I was doing. In the many months that I breastfed in public I received two comments:
1) A man in a health centre waiting room asked if I'd like to move to a room with more comfortable seating.
2) A woman in a pub saw me feeding as my chips went cold and when I had finished she smiled and said, 'Now he's eaten, you can.'
So why are so many women expressing that they find the breastfeeding journey so complicated and shameful, when what I found was a whole heap of nothing? These are my thoughts:
They're not ready for it. I was so firm in my belief that I was doing the right thing, that I was completely ready to give what for to anyone that would dare to question me. To be honest, I kinda secretly wanted it. When you're secure in what you are doing, I think people can sense it. Bullies pray on the vulnerable - believe in yourself and your boobs.
They don't love their body. I'm no Kim Kardashian, there's plenty about my body that I'm really not okay with but I accept it as the body I've got to work with. I think I'm lucky that I grew up in a pretty naked household, boobs and bottoms weren't seen as shameful things. If you believe that your boobs are something shameful you will subconsciously seek out confirmations of this from society.
They have experienced too much privilege. Living in this wonderful country many of us live a pretty blessed life. We all have our challenges but for a lot of women breastfeeding is the first time they have experienced negativity from complete strangers and that must feel pretty affronting but to be honest it's not that big a deal. There are idiots everywhere, it's not about you, it's always about them. The other day I was called n*gger in the street (thank you Brexit) and I thought, I'm so happy I live in a place where that numpty is an anomaly. I'm not saying to dismiss the negativity, I'm saying there are women in the world that are worrying about protecting their children from war and famine, not a dodgy look from a lady at the bus stop. We owe it to those women to keep on breastfeeding in public and doing so with pride.
Did I just get lucky? What were your experiences of breastfeeding in public?
photo credit: Chris Alban Hansen My wife breastfeeding my daughter #freethenipple #normalizebreastfeeding via photopin (license)