Earlier this week, a waitress in Iowa extended an unusual gesture. Comping one of the meals on a families dinner receipt, she wrote a note which read:
“I bought one of your pizzas. Please thank your wife for breastfeeding!”
The mom in question was emotional when asked about the act of kindness. She explained that she had breastfed her little boy for a while that evening in the booth where they ate. She also shared that she had breastfed three children in total, often receiving stares and negativity when doing so in public. This gesture, she explained, wiped away all of that.
It is one of the more positive breastfeeding in public stories to hit the news circuit recently.
The topic has been spreading like wildfire through media outlets the last few weeks – a cycle that seems to have this hot button issue popping back into circulation every couple of months. In early July, police were called when a diplomat’s wife began breastfeeding at a restaurant in New York. Officers explained that in Sri Lanka, babies are used by terrorists – as if that justified the extreme reaction to this particular mother feeding her child. Last week, the words of poet Hollie McNish went viral; a poem she performed titled “Embarrassed”, detailing her own shamed breastfeeding experiences in soiled restroom stalls.
Even Kate Middleton has not been spared, public discussions already sparking regarding whether or not it would be proper for her to breastfeed outside the palace walls. Her baby isn’t even born yet, but the question lingers – does anyone actually want to see her stripped down and exposed in all her motherly glory?
The irony there, of course, is that Middleton’s breasts have already been exposed – paparazzi staking out a private and remote vacation where they captured and released photos of the unsuspecting Middleton topless. But the thought that she might actually choose to use those breasts in order to feed her child in public? That is enough to stir up true controversy.
Breastfeeding is hailed as the ideal option in infant nutrition. Pediatricians advocate for it, national campaigns market its superiority, and mommies unceremoniously cast judgment upon those within their circles who, for whatever reason, opt out.
Yet heads turn and disgust boils at the sight of a woman cradling a suckling infant across her chest in public.
Breast is best, so long as no one else has to see it.
What is it that spawned this public aversion to breastfeeding in the first place? Was it shame over our own bodies, or just a preference to keep women sexualized for as long as possible? Are we really so afraid of associating the perky appendages on that bouncy 22 year old with body parts which might one day be used to nourish a child?
Because breasts are everywhere. On billboards and television shows; strutting across the beach far more brazenly than they ever would be seen with a baby attached. So why are we so afraid of a little extra skin shown in the name of breastfeeding? Why does this even continue to be a controversy?
Every day, our eyes are accosted by the offensive and outrageous. It is the world we live in, a place where shock value reigns supreme. Yet we have an expectation of breastfeeding mothers to cover up. Or hide in bathroom stalls. Or simply remain isolated at home, so that we don’t have to see them doing something which may ruin our sexualized image of the female form.
The whole thing is ridiculous. Women being arrested, or thrown out of stores; judged and harassed and ridiculed for doing exactly what is so regularly touted as best. There is no common sense to an argument that admonishes them for continuing to live their lives. Most mothers have no interest in putting on a show. They simply want to accomplish what needs to be done, without feeling forced into hiding to do it. When the social discomfort of grown adults becomes more important than meeting the physical needs of an infant, we are doing something wrong. And if you are afraid of the flash of side boob you might receive as a mother feeds her kin perhaps that says more about you than it does the woman with her breast out.
After all, she is simply doing what is best.
While you are the one left leering and complaining.
Hollie McNish finished her poem with a powerful series of words:
So no more will I sit on these cold toilet lids
No matter how embarrassed I feel as she sips
Cos in this country of billboards covered in tits
I think we should try to get used to this.
In a few months’ time, it is surely a controversy which will cycle through the news once more. Gaining attention when some poor mother is asked by a manager to leave her meal, or exit the shopping center where she has chosen to feed her child.
But McNish is right. It’s time we get used to this, and stop freaking out when a woman brandishes her breast to nourish rather than titillate.
If you can’t handle it, man up.
Or boob up, as the case may be.