“Ew” the young girl whispered as she walked by while I nursed my 3 week old at a local National Park.
“Nice tits!” He yelled from his car as he drove by while I was walking home nursing my 5 week old.
“High five lady! You rock!” I received as I walked around Walmart nursing my firstborn.
Hi, my name is Michelle. And I am not an exhibitionist. I do not want the attention. I do not flaunt. And I most certainly do not need to cover up.
I am a breastfeeding mother.
My breastfeeding journey with my first was rough, with the first 6 weeks littered in tears and cracked bloody nipples. Post partum depression and a colicky baby lead to long days and nights of nursing. Breastfeeding is hard work. It takes grit and stamina, support and encouragement to see it through, and even then sometimes it’s not enough. It’s hard to learn and even harder to do in public, with the judging stares.
I always knew I was going to breastfeed without a cover, because that’s who I am. I’m confrontational at the best and worst of times, and when I knew the struggles of women to just feed their babies as they saw fit, it was an issue I was willing to bind myself to and take on. I was going to stand up for my own rights and the right of others. I was going to push back against a society that makes you feel like you should not show any skin whatsoever if you’re going sans cover.
But I was surprised at how embarrassed I was.
I am a strong, confident and powerful woman.
Nursing in public made me feel weak, insecure and powerless, especially among friends and family.
Nursing at all made me feel weird at first when someone mentioned how it’d be weird because I have a boy.
[I’d like to add here that anyone who ever insinuates or says to me again that it’s weird to nurse my son because he is a boy “sucking on my tits” I will promptly and fiercly punch you in the face for insinuating there could ever be any sexual feelings between my sons and I. Shame on you. And shame on me for not speaking up then.]
I was graced with people coming up to me in nothing but positive ways with my first born, who I nursed for 17 months. I never covered him once. I never even tried. But I had the art of tank top underneath and loose shirt on top thing down and when people would say to me, “but you can’t even see anything on you when you do it!” I would feel like I had accomplished some great feat. Like it was acceptable due to lack of skin and if any skin was showing, I was being exposed.
Now, 6 weeks into nursing my second boy, I find myself caring less … ok not at all, about the skin you see, and I’ve had so much more negative reactions to nursing. Yet strangely, I feel more confident than ever to nurse in public, sans cover, however I see fit.
I’ve realized a lot of women don’t make it through breastfeeding because it’s just plain frustrating to learn this incredibly difficult thing at times under the ever scrutinizing eye of the public and because it’s not seen enough, it’s not done enough.
I don’t need your attention. I don’t need the spotlight. But I will take both to highlight an issue near and dear to my heart, and that is the right to nurse and not be talked down to for it. To not be sexualized and harassed by men. For it to be recognized as a normal, and healthy thing to do.
I’m most uncomfortable specifically at church, not that I’ve ever been approached or asked to leave, but because of me. It’s always awkward when there’s a special room for nursing which is comfortable and nice and thoughtful but am I expected to go there?
I hate the idea of my friends and my church being uncomfortable with me or something I’m doing. It’s the last thing I’d ever want to do to someone, but I realized I’m not making anyone uncomfortable, people are uncomfortable because of their own feelings towards it.
And that’s not my problem. And it’s not gross, indecent or showy.
As a Christian, I shouldn’t feel the need to cover up more because I should know in my heart that my brothers and sisters in Christ are striving for the same thing I am. To not sexualize women, and if someone has a problem or a struggle for them to simply not look.
Again, I’ve never been approached at my church to ask that I nurse privately, but it is there I am most uncomfortable to test. And that is something I have to work on, but wouldn’t it be nice to be encouraged?
Wouldn’t it be nice if I never wondered what someone might be thinking?
Sure, in a perfect world I just wouldn’t care, but I do.
And because I feel that discomfort, I recognize others do to, and because of that might not experience the wonders of a long term nursing relationship.
Because of breastfeeding and babywearing I was able to stay connected to my son through post partum depression.
I hated when he latched on and sometimes I would cry out in anger that he was still nursing, but the oxytocin that is released when nursing always helped calm me and allowed me to connect with my son. To feel some joy.
With all that being said,
My name is Michelle. I am a nursing mother, a lactivist and committed to raising awareness about post partum depression.
I don’t need attention. I don’t need agression. I need encouragement and love.
Like all nursing mothers do.
If you see a mom nursing in public, thank her. Encourage her. Look her in the eyes and let her know she is accepted.