There’s a photo floating around the internet right now of a young, black woman breastfeeding her baby at her college graduation. When I first saw it, it wasn’t the boob that drew my attention, not in the least. My immediate thought was: how the hell did she do it? You see, everyone’s been telling me that I’ll be utterly useless to the world for at least the first three months to a year after Tiny Human is born. Yet, here’s this woman – this utterly remarkable woman – who completed her college degree with an infant. I found renewed hope.
It was only after I started reading the comments on some of the news articles discussing the picture that I realized how many people found the partially bared breast to be a really big deal. “Disgusting!” some decried. “Who wants to see a stretched-out, low-hanging boob?” complained others. “The baby had no right to be there in the first place,” wrote others still. “Cover that up!” “Classless!” “She should have put it in a bottle.” “She should have hired a sitter or had her mom to watch the kid.” The comments went on and on. And they made me sad.
It’s never been a question to the husband and I if I would breastfeed. If Tiny Human and I can make it work, it’s happening, period. It’ll save the expense of formula and give her exactly what she needs to get her start in life. Of course, I’m hoping that she’ll also accept the bottle, so I can pump and have a bit of freedom when necessary, but I understand that each baby is different and we’ll have to see what kind of eater she is when she arrives. And I guess that’s what depresses me about all these breastfeeding comments: each baby is different. I’ve known babies who never took to the bottle; I’ve also known babies who refuse to eat when a blanket or shawl is draped over their head (and I can hardly blame ’em, would you like to consume your meals beneath a sheet?). And no, you can’t just let a baby go hungry until it decides to feed the way you want it to, as some of those thread posters suggest – there are ramifications for that, among them clogged milk ducts, reduced milk supply, engorgement and leaking for mom, and a screaming, hungry, unhappy infant for everyone else. Babies can not rationalize or understand, those are just two of the reasons they are so supremely reliant on us.
Now, just for a second, let’s get into the aesthetics portion of this argument. There are lots of unnatural things that people do to their bodies, which they proceed to show off in public, that perhaps I’d rather not see, but it’s still their right to do them. Just like it a new mother’s right to feed her child. If you are so offended by a milk-bloated, stretch-marked boob, may I make a couple suggestions? One – turn away; there are lots of other interesting things out in the world to look at. Two – never knock up your wife or girlfriend, because pregnancy comes with a whole host of physical changes. Most of them rather unattractive and unpleasant. (Ankle-less Hobbit feet, among them.)
Of course, people warned me about stretch marks when I got knocked up. “Stomach and thighs,” they said. Thirty-three weeks in, my stomach and thighs still look great, my left boob (and hilariously only my left boob) not so much. It got all marked up early in the Tiny Human-building game and, for a while, I was very self-conscious about it (even though the only person who ever gets a good look at it is the hubby). I even said I probably wouldn’t mind it as much if the stretching had at least been symmetrical, but pregnancy is weird and what you get is not what someone else might get. You see, I was afraid that my husband would be like these message-board idiots, all icked out by the loss of my previously flawless skin, but he wasn’t. He was simply happy we were having a baby and if these were the things that came part and parcel with it, then so be it. I know I’ve said this before, but my husband is an amazing man. Shortly after we had that conversation, I dubbed that breast “Frankenboob” and it’s been a running joke ever since – after all, if you can’t beat the crappy parts of life, you might as well laugh at them. My Frankenboob reminds me that all-too-soon these puppies will be much more than mere sex objects, they’ll be providers of nourishment, as nature intended them to be. So dudes, if you can’t handle stretch marks on your lady, remember to keep it bagged.
But back to breastfeeding. I’m personally a bit modest. I don’t care what other people do (in fact, I encourage them to do whatever works for them and their baby), but I’m not exactly a whip-it-out kind of girl myself. That said, I’ll become one if that’s what Tiny Human needs me to be, because breastfeeding is ultimately about her and making sure her nutritional needs are met on a schedule that works for her. I dread the stares, the comments, the dirty looks, etc., more than probably anything else, because I’m not sure how, in that very hormonal time of my life, I’ll react to them. Will I chew someone’s head off or will I burst into tears? She’s not even out of the womb yet and all the Mama Bear instincts are already there. I want Tiny Human to get the best start in life she can, and to hell with everyone else’s comfort levels, especially if they happen to fall deeply on the side of prudish. I also don’t think new mothers should be prisoners in their homes if their babies don’t immediately take to the bottle (and pump). I think they should be able to continue to live and achieve, just like our young college graduate who prompted this rant, if they are able to. Motherhood, after all, is not an ending, but rather the beginning of a new leg of life’s journey, and I suspect it will be hard enough without being forced to handle all kinds of strangers’ baggage.
And, just for the record, if anyone ever tells me that I should go into the washroom to feed Tiny Human, you can bet your ass I’m going to suggest that they start eating their lunches on the toilet too.