Normalizing Breastfeeding in Bars and at Home
For the past couple of years, a few friends and I have been frequenting Show Tunes night at one of our favorite gay bars. It’s a great bar with fantastic food and a really fantastic cocktail menu. It is also home to one of the most fabulous servers in the whole entire universe. (We’ll call him “B.”)
B knows that most of us in this group are doulas or midwives. He’s also heard us talk about birth and breastfeeding throughout our many visits, including my comment to him the other night that “THESE CHEESE FRIES ARE GOING IN MY MOUTH AND OUT MY BOOBS! I LOVE BREASTFEEDING!”
(What–don’t you say things like this to the servers at the bars you go to?!)
This must be part of the reason why he felt comfortable enough to sit down at our table one evening earlier this week and say, ”Hey ladies, can I ask you something about breastfeeding?”
(What, the people at your bar don’t ask you about breastfeeding? Pshaw. You’re going to the wrong bar.)
“Of course!” we replied.
B proceeded to tell us about a friend of a friend whose child was “still breastfeeding” despite the fact that the kid could “ask for it.” And B wanted to know how long we breastfed our children. He wanted to know if the friend-of-a-friend’s kid was, you know, weird. Because the whole situation seemed weird to him.
Now, before you call for us to raise up our pitchforks and shout, “NO IT’S NOT WEIRD, STUPID, IT’S NORMAL!!!” take a step back and think about how most people experience breastfeeding within most Western cultural contexts: it’s something that it done behind closed doors, or at least behind a nursing cover, and only teeny tiny babies do it, and there really doesn’t seem to be much of a benefit for older crawling-talking-walking babies to breastfeed, and a woman’s boobs shouldn’t be showing at all unless they’re being used to sell chicken wings or sports cars, thank you very much.
That just about covers it, right?
But instead of pouncing on our beloved B, my friend and I chuckled and said, “Well, it’s really not that weird. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization even recommend breastfeeding until age one or two or beyond, and plenty of kids at those ages can ‘ask’ to be breastfed. Of course, we are lucky to live in a society where we have plenty of other food options to offer older children, so breastfeeding a toddler isn’t as much of a necessity for adequate nutrition as it might be in different circumstances and times in history.”
I even added that Eric could sign for breastfeeding before he was even able to stand on his own. In other words, even babies can “ask” to be nursed!
(Note: the conversation might have sounded a bit more…colorful and silly, what with the sparkling pear martinis we had in front of us.)
In any case, I applaud B (who is not a parent or birthworker) for feeling brave enough to ask this question, and I applaud us for not getting all bent out of shape after hearing someone describe full-term breastfeeding as “weird.”
What’s more, I hope our conversation made breastfeeding-a-non-teeny-tiny baby seem a bit more normal to someone who, like the vast majority of people, probably doesn’t see breastfeeding–even the “non-weird” breastfeeding of teeny-tiny babies–all that often. Just think about it: when you don’t see something all that often, it can seem pretty weird when you first encounter it. But when you have the courage to ask about it, that “weird thing” must turn out to be more normal than you once thought.
So the moral of the story is: sometimes normalizing breastfeeding just involves a couple of martinis and a good sense of humor.
And maybe some facts and compassion too.
As a side/concluding note: Speaking of teeny-tiny babies, I just rediscovered this gorgeous picture of Alec, Eric, and me from right after Eric was born. Some people might recoil at the thought of a three-year-old seeing his mom breastfeeding his newborn baby brother, but I think the whole moment was quite beautiful and sweet.
Society might sexualize my breasts in a way that is both perverse and disgusting, but in our home, we normalize breastfeeding in a way that (I hope) reconfigures my own children’s perception of women’s bodies.
(In addition to rocking the whole “breastfeeding is normal” perspective, Alec is also rocking some mighty fine red-painted fingernails here. So the moral of THIS story is: breastfeeding is normal, rigid gender norms are weird.)