To cover or not?
I was on the plane after spending a few days in Arizona, dreading the return flight to New York. Our trip to Phoenix was one for the record books (read all the gory, puke-covered details here) and while I had done a ton of laundry once I got there, I failed to wash my nursing cover. A beautiful hand-made, hand-dyed nursing cover that I simply didn’t have time to hand-wash (weird, right?…. no time to wash something by hand with a baby around?).
Anyway, the cover reeked like it had been sitting in puke for four days so I didn’t even bother to bring it in my carry-on – I figured I would just use a blanket to cover up and make do. As the baby started getting hungry, I started setting up logistics in my head – I had to juggle a nursing pillow, blanket/cover, baby, and myself in the cramped airplane seat. It was already uncomfortable enough, and with the Arizona heat and poorly circulated airplane air, I was sweating and not looking forward to layering up just to feed the baby.
My thoughts turned to a few days prior at JFK when I saw a woman nursing her baby, sans cover, in the middle of the airport. If I was just a passer-by, I would never have even noticed. But I knew what she was doing, and I knew she was my people – a nursing, traveling mother who just wanted to get to her destination without anyone losing their shit. I thought if she could do it, why couldn’t I?
Want to know why nursing in public is such a big step for moms to take in our fair country? Because people react like total assholes, and the last thing a tired mom wants to do is deal with someone outside of her family giving her a hard time (is it not enough that she deals with pint-sized tyrants at home – must she deal with adult-sized idiots in public?). Look at the search results for “breastfeeding discrimination” or see how many women have “nurse-in protests” for stupid shit like someone being asked to stop breastfeeding because she was “scaring children.” These were news stories I never really paid attention to until they pertained to me directly – I began to wonder, as a breastfeeding mother, when I might be impacted by this type of discrimination – not if. It seems inevitable.
My rant beings
For whatever reason, we’ve gotten away from breastfeeding being the norm and it’s seen as the exception to the rule or something people do “in private.” It offends people, it makes people uncomfortable, boobs are “private” parts, the library is no places for nipples… and so on. But really, how could you justify taking offense at a mother feeding her child? It’s like, one of the most harmless, selfless acts EVER to share your nourishment with a baby. Amiright… or amiright?
How often do people excuse themselves from an activity to go eat “in private”? Do they put blankets over their heads to eat a sandwich simply because it’s lunchtime? No, and no. So why would we expect these beautiful, tiny babies and their lactating mothers (who, quite honestly, have enough to worry about) to hightail it out of the room/restaurant/wherever when hunger strikes or literally take cover? (And before anyone jumps down my throat – I recognize that there are cultural/religious/personal views that require covering up in public. This post isn’t about that.)
I wish I knew what about breastfeeding makes normal people turn into awkward, bumbling fools because their totally unsupportive (and dare I say… selfish?) reactions to maybe seeing a nipple for 3 seconds can send a shy nursing mom into corners, under covers, and into closets. There are so many double standards going on it makes me sick. When someone gets all weird the second they see a mom expose 3 square inches of flesh to feed their baby, I hope they don’t think they’re fooling anyone into thinking they’re modest and really truly offended because in today’s day and age, I seriously doubt that they offered a blanket to cover up the scantily clad woman walking down the street, someone wearing a string bikini at the beach, the man without a shirt on playing basketball at the park, or had a hissy fit when an ad for Victoria’s Secret comes on during the commercial break of their favorite television show.
Guess what people? It’s a boob and there is nothing “scary” going on. It’s nothing sexual, or “adult,” or XXX happening. The 3-second flash of a nipple you might see if you’re looking close enough while baby latches is not going to blind you or cause any lasting damage. In fact, it’s probably going to calm the fussy, hungry baby and allow everyone to get on with whatever they were doing in the first place – shopping, taking public transportation, or enjoying the park.
But if this all isn’t sad enough, it breaks my heart that our society is so ass backward that we had to go and pass laws protecting nursing mothers – stating that they have the right to nurse their child in a place where they have the right to be. While I’m glad the laws are there – because people harass nursing mothers kind of a lot – I can’t help but think it’s pretty pathetic that breastfeeding is such a hot button issue that we spent money passing legislation to protect something that mammals have been doing since the dawn of time. Breastfeeding isn’t new. It’s not deviant. It’s not harmful. In fact, it’s healthy, normal, and natural.
How can we fix this? Do better next time!
OK, I’m done ranting. It’s time to figure out where we go from here. Maybe you’ve been a total ass to someone without even realizing it – whether it be gawking, offering a cover, leaving the room/business, or otherwise being a totally unsupportive human being/family member/friend. Maybe you thought you were making mom more comfortable by offering a cover – or whatever you did – but probably not. It’s time to do better next time.
Try this: act normal. Be yourself. Don’t turn into a bumbling idiot because ohmigod there’s a nip. Smile, make eye contact, continue your conversation, and for pete’s sake… don’t gawk. Bring that mom a glass of water or maybe a little snack because nursing is exhausting, and dehydrating, and literally sucks the nutrition out of her body for another human being (I told you it was selfless). At the same time, it’s also breathtaking, and beautiful, and amazing so let her know that, and let her know what a damn good job she is doing. Take the opportunity to teach your children, your husband, your friends that breastfeeding is how babies eat – just like kittens, puppies, and baby mammals of all kinds - and there’s really nothing offensive or scary about a lactating human.
Basically, if I had to sum it up in a nutshell, I’d say: OFFER SUPPORT AND DON’T ACT LIKE AN ASSHOLE. It’s that easy, folks.
A Phoenix returns (oh please, I couldn’t help myself)
So I went for it on the plane – coverless. I popped my boob out of my shirt, latched the baby on, and much to my surprise, no one had a hissy fit or called the authorities (but I was ready to go all mama bear on them if I had to). It was pretty much a non-event; I switched sides, put myself back together, and the baby went right to sleep for during the red-eye back to JFK. And you know what? It felt AWESOME. I didn’t have to mess with the cover, neither of us started to overheat, and I didn’t feel like I was very publicly hiding something that I wasn’t ashamed of to begin with. We were both happier, and so were all of our seatmates on the plane. Since that moment, I’ve never looked back and nurse freely all over the place – restaurants, airports, parks, parties, while I’m walking the dog around the neighborhood, wherever. I can only hope that another mom will see me and think, “I can do that too.”
Because she can, and dammit, she should.