However, as my wife has been nursing our infant son over the last six months, the issue has taken a new dimension for us. More than once, we have found ourselves without a comfortable place for her to feed him. Several meals have taken place in the car (he is an American after all, and Americans eat in their cars.) We have even been unable to find a proper nursing room in a hospital, a children’s hospital. (It was suggested by a female security guard that we use a bathroom. More on that later.)
What has interested me most, however, has been the feelings we are torn between as we search for suitable feeding spots. Part of me wants her to just plop down on a bench any place we please and let ‘er rip. The other part of me is more sensible and knows that our son doesn’t feed well with distractions.
We also know that we are a microcosm of a cultural debate about the place of female bodies in general. And in general, I think we are getting it wrong.
Think of the Children
A few weeks ago, I saw this story in which a woman found a picture of herself posted on Facebook. She had been nursing her child in a restaurant, when a male patron snapped the pic, posted it online and asked his friends if this was appropriate. “There were children around” after all.
I was incredulous, that for all of the sex education we push on our children, this man (and many others) could be so radically sheltered and ignorant of the natural functions of the human body. There are children around? Then they should be told what they are seeing! They should be told that this is where they came from.
But this is typical of Americans.
I’m actually surprised Facebook didn’t suspend the guy’s account, as social media has been known to censor such photos.
Now, there are plenty of breastfeeding militants who will tell you that nursing a child until age six is “natural” and breasts are not sexual, and they are of course, wrong. To answer both, it isn’t and they are. (Bodies and body parts can serve more than once purpose, though not usually at the same time.) However, we have become so sexualized in our culture, that we cannot see our bodies apart from sex anymore. Go to any third world country. Heck, go to half of Europe, and you are going to see public breastfeeding. That is because those people, those primitive, uncivilized, un-American people are more enlightened about their bodies than we are.
Meanwhile, we Americans don’t know what to do. We pass by a Victoria’s Secret store and there, right on a bench in the middle of the mall, we see a mom and baby, and we flip out.
We have body issues, people.
The problem is, whether we are fat shaming, skinny shaming, or mom-shaming, we have issues with everyone else’s bodies.
This Isn’t The Discovery Channel
What do people see when they watch The Discovery Channel?
We see nature. We see animals eating each other. We see baby animals.
But we don’t see ourselves.
In our culture, we have been taught that humans are not a part of nature. We are an outside, almost alien force, and largely a negative one. The Earth would be better without us. We are not a part of any ecosystem.
We have told ourselves so long that humans are outside of nature, that we no longer see ourselves as creatures, animals, mammals. There are few things in human life that remind us so vividly of our creatureliness. (Yes I just made up that word.) For all of our enlightenment and our education and our scientific advances, we are still mammals. We weren’t manufactured in a factory. We are not cyborgs.
Do you know what a lot of mothers were told to do in the mid-twentieth century, when breastfeeding was not in vogue? They fed their babies condensed milk with corn syrup.
Was that more natural?
Was it more enlightened?
Was it healthier?
It’s funny how often the old ways turn out to be better.
You Eat In Bathrooms All The Time, Right?
A few weeks ago we were at a children’s hospital getting routine tests, when lunchtime came around. We searched and searched for some kind of nursing area. Finally we asked a female security guard, who shrugged her shoulders at any such idea. My guess was she knew very little of the hospital beyond her tiny desk. After suggesting we find a bathroom, she actually said, “I don’t have kids so I don’t know how all that works.”
What is there to know? Except, you know, that people generally don’t eat in bathrooms?
But for all the value, the worship we place on babies and children, that is the status of infants at mealtime. Find a toilet stall to eat.
We should have just sat down by that guard’s tiny desk.
Practically everything we believe about raising children is cultural, not scientific. Across the ocean, people believe that nursing is completely inadequate by six months of age, while over here, we are told that exclusively nursing for a year is best.
As for our son, he is starting to take solid food, and so his days of nursing are numbered, and I am glad for it. But can we please find some way to have a balanced view of ourselves?
Can we learn to empathize with people rather than post their pictures on social media?
Can we remember where we all came from?
At the very least, can we be adults?