In the time since I've been blogging about breastfeeding and in the name of its advocacy, I've heard several nursing in public horror stories, as well as tales of polite moments of affection and affinity between strangers over the beauty of the presence of new life.
This week is World Breastfeeding Week and while I've been rifling through my brain cells about how to celebrate this on Huff Post, I've concluded that the message I'd like the world to hear about breastfeeding this week is that it's normal; pretty bog-standard really. Mothers, babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, children and the glorious gift of breast milk: it's all so very regular and run-of-the-mill. Life saving, life giving, life-sustaining, produced by mothers and their babies working in a perfect lactation dance. And also totally normal.
The images and anecdotes below were sent to me on my Attachment Feminism Facebook page.
Breastfeeding in public, images of breastfeeding (including but not limited to the #breastfeedingselfie) and just... the simple act of nursing, have sadly, appallingly, absurdly become taboo. What many mothers breastfeeding in public hope for is to just be ignored. Occasionally there will be the odd viral story of someone being lovely to a publicly nursing mother and her baby, and these are awesome if a little too few and far between. Re-introducing breastfeeding as an everyday act, in public as well as private, is taking a while.
So to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week here are some everyday mothers, breastfeeding their babies and getting through the day, doing their thing.
I've written a million articles, rhetoric in paragraphs trying to persuade the world I live in to view breastfeeding as the awesome liquid-infant-nutrition that it is. I've considered the health 'benefits' (a misnomer, since something as standard as breastmilk can't, as I see it, really be described as being a benefit) to baby and mother, the ease of bonding that takes place between the suckling pair, and how it's just what it is, a way of feeding babies. Today, for World Breastfeeding Week 2014, I'd like to invite you to see breastfeeding in all its quiet wonder, in all its everday nothing-to-see-here glory.
"My teething 10 month old has been feeding A LOT this week and we are both really tired. While at a fancy dress shop today I sat down on a sofa to feed and was made a cup of tea and a glass of water by the owner who couldn't stop smiling and said it was lovely to see. Reminded this tired mummy what a special thing I'm doing."
"I once had a group of teenagers shout 'nice one missus, got ya tits out!" I was on a bench outside a shopping centre."
They also came out of their mothers' vaginas. I mean, it's not really a secret that women have breasts to feed their babies, and vaginas to push the babies out. Right?
"The first time I fed in public was on the platform of a busy train station during rush hour. My daughter (about a month old) had been screaming for a while, but I was so nervous and stressed. Several people walked by and said she was probably hungry. I bit the bullet and fed her on the bench on the platform. No one batted an eyelid! A lady sat next to me and told me how beautiful she was. I think everyone was relieved that the screaming had stopped! It really empowered me and I didn't look back, I've fed her everywhere and anywhere. She's now 2.5."
"Not sure this counts as a positive experience but I didn't have one negative experience which made the whole experience more positive for me."
"I was feeding baby in my car outside a supermarket with the door open as it was a very hot day and a man pointed me out to his wife and she said 'Oh my God, do people still DO that?!'"
"When baby was a few weeks old, I was doing the school pick up for my eldest. He was feeding in a wrap and I was struggling with carrying my eldest's scooter and his school bags while he'd run ahead with his friends and another child's grandad came and carried them for me. I've had one of the mum's carrying things for me before too, but this guy had never even met me, he just said 'You've got more important things on your hands'."
"I was feeding my tiny son in a ring sling at the doctors, so all you could see sticking out were some tiny feet (he would have been only a few days old, maybe a week) and an old lady asked if she could have a look. Usually i would unlatch but i didn't think it was fair so didn't bother. She looked in and jumped away looking shocked and politely said, "Oh. Very cute". After that she went to gossip with a friend, I was sure she would say something negative, but she was just amazed and wished she had been able to do that with hers."
So nursing is a pretty ordinary thing, what mammals have evolved to do. However, at a time when the world is in turmoil, when people across the globe are displaced from conflict and natural disaster, breastfeeding advocacy is at its most relevant. Breast milk, with its immunology and nutritional properties, provides free food and protection for vulnerable children. Which is why it is not only absurd but dangerous for any society to start viewing mothers feeding babies from breasts as an option chosen by a few, even something a little odd, shocking and provocative. The survival of our species (particularly in the face of adversity as so many of us are) is under threat.
With thanks to those on Attachment Feminism's Facebook page who contributed to this piece.