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Monday, January 13, 2014

Undercover no more

Can I talk about nursing covers?

You know, those pretty-patterned apron things that breastfeeding women use to cover up "the girls" while they nourish their babies...

I have one, and all my breastfeeding friends have one.  Mine is uber-fancy with two pieces of boning through it so that I can see to get the child latched and so that the cover is not touching the child. Wooooo.  It is also a great pink and grey print, and it is for sale, because I do not need it anymore.

"What??!" Gasp the modesty proponents. "But how will you breastfeed in public places?! What will my husband think?? What about all the innocent children??"

These questions are what has stopped me for 4 years from abandoning the sweaty, pain-in-the-ass, brightly-coloured nursing tent that really just serves as a happy-looking way to oppress women.

"Now, that's a little extreme." Hmm... yes, perhaps. But think about this for a second:

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two years.  Our North American health care systems are all up in women's faces about breastfeeding as soon as they have a baby. Then, we thrust these women back into their lives and tell them, "You can breastfeed, but you can't show anyone that you're doing it".

We hand her a cover or point to a bedroom (or one of those awful "nursing rooms" at the mall) and say, "Keep it secret. Keep it safe."

We tell the young Catholic mamas like my circle of friends, that it's about modesty. It's about guarding our brothers and son's eyes from sexual fantasy, not thinking that maybe the reason a nursing mom's breasts could be the object of sexual fantasy is because we've hidden the natural process of breastfeeding from these men and boys and made breasts into dirty objects of lust.

I breastfed at Mass yesterday.
I (gasp) did not cover.
The only people who noticed when Zachary paused for quite awhile to suck his fingers while searching for my exposed nipple, were our priest, who politely nodded and averted his eyes, and a young altar server.
The altar server came up to me after Mass and asked to see Zachary. She (oops, did I forget to mention it was a female altar server) then sweetly said to me, 
"He was so quiet all through Mass. You expect babies to just cry at any second, so I was a bit nervous for you.  I think its because you fed him right away when he was hungry."
I nodded and said that it probably helped.  Then she asked,
"Were you feeding him the entire time after that? Because I couldn't even tell."
"Yes," I replied, then she said,
"That's probably easier than those aprony things."

That's when the bells went off for me. It was easier. I've spent 4 years inconveniencing myself for people whose good opinion I am not even seeking. For people who don't even notice I'm feeding the babies till I bring out the big pink and grey flag that says "Hey, look at me, I'm feeding my baby!"

It also occurred to me that all it took for our priest was to look elsewhere.  He didn't say anything specifically about breastfeeding to me after Mass, but he did say that Zach looked like a big healthy boy, and added, "Good job, mom."

If our priest can look elsewhere, so can other men/women. All it takes is some rationality and will-power, whereas for a nursing mom, it takes

1. Remembering to bring the nursing cover.
2. Taking said cover out and putting it on.
3. Calming the baby under the cover (which is especially difficult with a handsy 6 month-old on a sweltering day).
4. Latching the baby
5. Making sure the cover doesn't slip aside, blow aside or get pulled aside (sometimes involving wrestling it from the baby, who then unlatches and fusses, beginning the process over again).
6. Sitting there trying to be discreet with her big huge pretty nursing flag.

Alternately, if covering is an issue - it takes leaving a conversation and isolating herself in another room. I've never been so lonely as the Thanksgiving dinner that I spent up in a bedroom alone nursing my first, while friends of ours talked and laughed below.  

It was in those moments that I first thought something was wrong if moms have to spend hours housebound, or socially isolated in the name of the natural God-given practice of nursing a baby.  I've even had people say to me while I'm wearing my cover, "Oh, you're feeding, so I'll leave you alone." So the pink and grey thing that was supposed to make everything better actually made it more awkward.

My midwife said to me one day that if women keep covering, it will just further perpetuate the feeling that breastfeeding is something that needs to be covered, something dirty and bad. To be kept locked up.  I think we all just need to take a look at ourselves and apply a little rational thought to the situation. I'm not intentionally flashing people, like I'm a starstruck fan at some concert  - I'm feeding my baby.

I’m all about simplifying life with kids – not complicating it. So from now on, the cover is one complication I’m leaving behind.   

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