Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nursing Is Normal

I’m so excited! I just read Happy Bambino’s latest website update. It’s about a photographic project called Nursing is Normal which started in Fort Worth (Hello there, Texas! Finally, something I can be happy about has come from you!) and to which Madison is adding a chapter.

Pictures of mothers nursing their babies in public. Simple. Lovely. Local.

Why make a big artistic deal about something like feeding a baby? Because too many women seem to feel they must justify their choice to breast-feed in public. And that’s just sad. No mother should feel as though she must carry bottles of breast milk around with her if she normally nurses her baby when they’re at home. No mother should feel like she must seek out Border’s darkest back corner if she’s browsing the travel section and her little one is hungry. And that’s the purpose of this exhibition: to promote the normalcy of breast-feeding in public. Mama’s unite!

Personally, I’d go one farther. I think I see a couple of pics (from the TX show) of mothers with covers over their nurslings, and while I’m happy to see a mama breast-feeding, I wonder about that cover and why it’s hiding that sweet babe’s head (or, more accurately, the mother’s chest). I know that there are many who will say that they choose to use a cover or a bottle of breast milk because they want to. And okay. I don’t intend to be a voice that says everyone must be like me, flouting mores. But that’s just it: feeding a child from your breast in public goes against societal manners in the US, hence the manufacturing of those covers. That any of us feel the need to cover up what is a totally normal expression of love and care of a baby is painful to me. So I hesitate to say ‘you-go-girl’ type things about covers or the like because I find myself wondering why the woman who chooses to use them felt that they were the most appealing option. Feeding your baby under a cover because you’re at the bus stop and it’s 30 degrees outside? Practical. But feeding your baby under a cover at the coffee shop? On the airplane? At the in-laws? It seems a pain to be monkeying around with all that paraphernalia, practical only in the sense that Mama doesn’t feel as though she’s being ogled or thought indecent. Hiding your breast-feeding under a bushel (no!) Oh come on, am I the only one who instantly sang that? a cover doesn’t strike me as a choice of style (as in, “I like the color red better than the color green”) as much as it does a choice to protect one’s honor (worried about the “Did you see the boobs on that one?” or the “Can you believe she’s got her shirt pulled up? I mean there are children around!”). And that, as I said before, is sad.

I am not saying that a woman must breast-feed. Especially after my struggle that first month with Uli, I can see breast-feeding doesn’t work for everyone nor that everyone would want to breast-feed. I’m glad that those who choose not to can do so without having to beg a doctor’s prescription for formula (as they must do in some countries). I’m glad that those who do not breast-feed have the option of human milk banks and formula instead of having to rely on goats’ milk or wetnurses. However, those who choose or need to bottle-feed (regardless of what is in their babies’ bottles) are not more acceptable than breast-feeding mothers. There should be no thought to the decency of either method. There is nothing inappropriate about breast-feeding in public; there are just the people who promote that it’s indecent; and they need to stuff it and stop staring.

To those who have issues with breast-feeding, who say it’s embarrassing to be around an openly breast-feeding woman, who say that feedings should be private and kept behind closed doors with the window shades pulled, who say that sure, breasts are meant to feed babies, but-lets-get-real-they’re-too-sexy-to-be-on-display-like-that, to you let me say: stop. Just stop. You’re protecting no one. You’re perpetuating a hideous taboo. We’re not ‘displaying’ anything. We’re putting our breasts to good use. Normal use.

And that’s exactly why a project like NIN is important. Nursing cannot be obscene—not at home, not at the library, not out to dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town. Because it’s normal, healthy, and right. Those that cannot or choose not to nurse are a normal part of the mothering spectrum as well. But they are not more normal than breast-feeding mothers. They should not be more accepted or preferred. Openly breast-feeding your baby is not something that anyone should ask be tolerated any more than a person sitting in public is tolerated or women talking in public is tolerated. It’s normal for women; it’s normal for babies. Breasts are normal. Babies nursing are normal.

So, I’m going to put my name in as a volunteer for the NIN project. Don’t know if I’ll be picked or not, but I hope I am. Not because I’m a crusader but because I’m a normal breast-feeding mama who wants other mamas to be unashamed and unafraid to tread upon a horrid sense of propriety that deserves no place in Madison. I’d love to help with that.

Gosh, insert ‘maverick’ for every time I wrote the word ‘normal’ and you start to have flashbacks…


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