Monday, April 30, 2012

Cover the Debate

Copyright JSH 2007
Nursing in public. It is a hotly debated subject. There are those who believe you shouldn't do it. There are those who believe you should do it. There are opinions that fall in line somewhere between those two extremes. I have my own feelings on breastfeeding in public. I'm all for it. No woman should ever feel ashamed to feed her baby on demand wherever she happens to be. At the mall, at Church, at a soccer game, in Chuck E. Cheese, on a plane...feed that baby when that baby is hungry. Personally, people would be sorry if they came up to me and got rude with me when I was nursing in public. I don't take shit and would hope that other moms wouldn't take shit, either. However, not everyone has my type of personality. Many women are self conscious and have difficulty nursing in public for various reasons. Enter another debate - the cover.

Oh, holy Lord, the fucking breastfeeding cover. We aren't going to talk about the general public attitude toward breastfeeding in public. No, we're going to talk about something that sparks a shitstorm of debate among breastfeeding advocates. The nursing cover is a much debated subject among the lactivist set. Anytime a blogger asks the question, "Breastfeeding cover? Yay or nay?" on their Facebook page you can expect a firestorm of opinion. We're not debating the color of the covers. We're not debating the material of the covers. We're not debating who sells the best cover at the lowest price. Nope. We're debating whether or not breastfeeding mothers should ever ever use them. And it can get nasty. We eat our own kind in these debates. To an onlooker, these debates give the anti-breastfeeding set fuel for their fire and justification for using that horrible word about us - Nazis. 

I will tell you what I think of covers. I'm not fond of them. I don't think they are discreet because nothing screams, "I'M BREASTFEEDING OVER HERE!" like a big lime green cover with super hot pink flowers printed on it draped over your shoulders and a pair of baby feet sticking out. I have often joked that if I ever get a nursing cover, I want one that says, "Discreetly breastfeeding." I think they can be hot to the baby. There is the risk of rebreathing stale air. I don't like women to feel like they have to use them. I tried to cover with a blanket twice when my son was a newbie. On both occasions it lasted all of 20 seconds. He hated it and I am super clumsy so I ended up getting myself all tangled in the blanket and that is probably the only time in my public breastfeeding career that I did flash a nipple. So, do you think I am sitting next to covered women telling them they need to pull that Hooter Hider off? Hell to the no.

I have been sickened to read other women tell breastfeeding mothers that they are hurting all of us by covering. I have seen a lot of public shaming of mothers who cover. The following comment is real, "Those women discredit all breastfeeders. They do a lot of harm to the whole breastfeeding rights movement." Um, no. You do plenty of work to discredit the whole "breastfeeding rights" movement when you judge other mothers and shame them. I get that you don't want women to feel like they need to cover. I don't want women to feel like they need to cover. However, there are women out there who feel the need to cover in order to breastfeed in public comfortably. Do I hope they are able to feel more comfortable uncovered someday? Sure. And, if I can help them feel more confident then YAY! I will help women in any way I know how to feel more confident and comfortable in their ability to nurse in public without a cover, but I refuse to shame them. When you publicly shame women who prefer to nurse covered then you are no better than the people who come up to a mom in a mall and tell her to nurse in the bathroom. Sorry, that's how I feel. And when I say, "sorry," I mean I'm not sorry.

Unfortunately, I know quite a few women who are victims of sexual molestation, assault and rape. Several of them are mothers. All of them had emotional issues they felt the need to overcome when it came to pregnancy, giving birth and breastfeeding. In the context of breastfeeding, each of these women has had to overcome a great deal of emotional and physical discomfort. For them, the idea of nursing in public can be terrifying. We all know they are not exposing themselves, but they feel exposed due to the trauma they endured in the past. So, you want me to tell these women that they should force themselves to feel comfortable with breastfeeding without a cover? I think they've dealt with enough force against their bodies in their lives, don't you? The fact that they are breastfeeding at all is quite an accomplishment as it's well known that many sexual abuse survivors can have a lot of negative feelings about it. So, let them cover. You have to realize, it could be an issue of breastfeeding with a cover or not breastfeeding at all. What's more important to you? You don't know a woman's story and the reason behind wanting a cover. It may be deeper than you think. Let's reserve judgment.

We need a society that does not readily make women feel as if they must be hidden and covered when they are nursing in public. There is no denying that fact. However, we could already live in a society where nursing in public is accepted and encouraged and you will find that there would still be women who feel more comfortable when they are covered up. So, let's learn to be okay with their personal preferences. It's easy - say fuck you to a society that makes women feel ashamed to nurse in public, but embrace women who decide that a cover is best for them. Every single woman I know who uses a cover does not mind if other nursing moms do so uncovered. Most of them are not telling other moms that everyone needs a cover. It's usually an issue of personal choice to them. Now, I acknowledge the fact that there are covering moms who believe everyone should keep it under a blanket. I'm not okay with that. Again, it's a personal choice issue. That's great if you feel comfortable covered, however it's not comfy for me or my baby so we will not be hiding under a blanket.

I don't want women to feel like they have to breastfeed under a cover, either. I get that part. But, I don't think it's right to put pressure on women to uncover if they are not comfortable because, apparently, an entire movement rests on their backs. No. You nurse uncovered. I nurse uncovered. There are many of us who have no problems sitting down or standing wherever we are and nursing without a cover. Keep doing it. Keep showing society that it's normal and beautiful and not shameful. Eventually, things will fall into place and the act of breastfeeding in public will be seen for what it is - feeding your baby. We will see a day where the majority of women are comfy nursing in public without throwing anything over their children's heads. There will still be women who will prefer a cover and that is absolutely acceptable.

Let me leave you with a short story. I was in a store and my baby needed to eat. I found a set of benches to sit on while nursing. There was already another mom nursing there. She was using one of those covers. Did I look at her and say, "Great. You just set the women's movement back by decades because you are using that cover?" (BTW - that is an actual argument I read in one of the debate threads) Nope. I sat down on a bench next to her and nursed my baby. After about two minutes, she let her cover slide off and she continued nursing her baby without it. I never said anything to her. She never said anything to me. We smiled at each other once and that was it. Perhaps my confidence rubbed off on her. I hope so.

Be an example, not a judge.


The Mom said...

I never covered up. You couldn't see anything anyway. My kids hated being under something as well. That being said, I applaud any woman who breastfeeds, especially in public. Couldn't care less about the details.

Tesha said...

I love this post, I have to say I tend to cover up, but I have no problem with mommies who do not. I would turn red as a beat if did not LOl. I found your blog from stillbirthday I wanted to invite you to my weekly link up for grieving mommies. I love your about me :)

Nikki said...

I was just thinking about this subject. I breastfed 4 kids for varying lengths of time, and never covered, but depending on the environment I would go out of my way to find a quiet secluded spot (though never a bathroom, ick). I'm totally OK with everyone else doing what works for them.

Last week I saw a woman breastfeeding in the middle of our busy science center, on a bench surrounded by other kids and parents in a place that would have been totally impossible for any of my kids to feed due to the noise. She had one of those large tent-like covers on, and just down a small hallway maybe 15 feet away there was a nice quiet bench (with a curtain for nursing or quiet time) next to a quiet baby play area with toys and books. It's sort of hidden so I figured she might not know it was there, and I also figured that someone who felt more comfortable covered might also feel more comfortable in a quiet spot.

It was a total disaster. I am not really good with social interactions, so I must have approached her the complete wrong way. It was pretty clear that she thought I was asking her to move to the curtained bench because I was uncomfortable with her instead of making her feel like she had an ally giving her insider information, she felt like I was judging and shaming her. Had she been nursing WITHOUT a cover, I wouldn't have said anything and just assumed she had a kid who could nurse through the chaos. We have autism in the family so there really was no harm intended...I have a mental map of all the best distraction-free places to nurse in the city :(

The moral here, is that I will pretty much just leave other nursing mothers completely alone about nursing, no matter the subject. There are so many stupid things we get judged for as mothers that I do not want to unintentionally contribute to someone feeling bad about feeding their baby. That poor woman probably went home and vented to her LLL group about how this awful woman at the Science Center didn't want her to NiP EVEN THOUGH SHE HAD A COVER, and now she'll be wondering if others are silently judging her where ever she nurses. ugh.

I love this post though, because it's a much better articulation of a few of the things I've been thinking for the past week.

The White's Family Blog said...

I dont always cover up and at church one morning a was covered with a light blanket because my son was trying to go to sleep and I was asked to go to the "nursing room" it was a cold walk in closet with a broken recliner chair. I think every woman should nurse the best way she feel comfortable. If that means covered or uncovered so be it. I hate hearing stories of nursing mothers being kicked out of places for nursing its horrible.

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