what I write about
she has fallen and now she is awake
I breastfeed. A Lot. All. The. Time. At least, that’s what it feels like some days. The days when BunBun nurses for ten minutes, sleeps for ten more then woobles for ten minutes then starts the process again. When my nipples are red raw from the constant latching. The days when Wolfman is not allowed to ask me to do anything or provide any real input beyond “wife needs food badly, wife is about to die”. I pump as well – originally so she could feed without effort, then so Wolfman could give her a feed during the arsenic hour while I got ready for bed, then to store some for upcoming surgery and now I’m pumping to donate to a little boy in Queensland. I make a fair bit of milk, find it easy to pump and usually find it easy to nurse as well.
For all my enjoyment of it, the sheer loveliness of the world when it is just me and my soft, sweet and joyous baby, it is still hard work. Hard, laborious and tiring work. I’m tired because I feed at night. I’m hungry because my beautifully chubby baby has doubled her birth weight in three months and it’s all coming off me. I’m achy because I feed in a variety of odd positions. On top of the physical I occasionally feel triggered by nursing, I certainly feel resentful on occasion when all I’d like to do is finish one job, one tiny job, but the needs of a hungry baby cannot be swayed. I get tired of the same four walls, the same couch, the same chair, the same routine television. I get worried that I’m feeding her too much, not enough, not right. I’m paranoid about becoming ill again, either the looming threat of post-partum depression or the more physical issues that have plagued me. Then, I worry about going out. Do I have enough nappies? Is she dressed appropriately – difficult in my ever-changing climate. Will she need a feed?
Will I need to nurse in public?
Most of the time I do (obviously! That picture was taken in a Cafe in Robe, South Australia and I’m talking with Wolfman and Mofo – the picture was taken by The Artist). Like I said, I spend a lot of time breastfeeding. I don’t time the feeds except to notice it’s been too long (according to the boob-clock). My expressed milk is going to another baby and even if I was going to give it to her, the logistics of trips with bottles are much more complex than ‘nappies? boobs? ready to go!’ – particularly if the trip may be a while. Boobs don’t need refrigeration. So that means I’ve spent a fair bit of time nursing in public – food courts, parent’s rooms, doctor’s rooms, surgeon’s waiting rooms, the car, cafés and trains. I haven’t had a single negative comment or ‘look’* – mind you, given that I’m feeding BunBun, I don’t give a fuck if you’re glaring at me because I’m busy gazing at her or reading or something other than looking fearfully at you as an arbiter of what is okay.
I still have nerves though – like the woman who was looking at me yesterday while I fed. Was she going to say something? She caught my eye while I had BunBun latched and Wolfman was off buying Puffy cookies (urgh, so delicious yet so messy) and I held my breath. She gave me a giant smile, outlined in amazing red lipstick and nodded as she walked past. I didn’t have my usual book so I found myself far more aware of people looking – little, old, Chinese men smiling at me, the red lipsticked woman. Wolfman’s workmate who came to say hello cleared off quick, but that’s not a real surprise. Very few people are keen to stick around for all that they may support you. I still wonder though, each time I start the sequence of unclipping, pulling up, pushing down and positioning, is this when someone yells at me? I know my legal rights but I still dislike confrontation. Not to the extent that I’ll sequester myself away just in case, but enough that I am nervous each time. I’ve used parent’s rooms on occasion, some are quite nice, but if I want to talk to my husband, if I want to continue conversations and interactions and eating and drinking and all the things I do while I’m out that I enjoy, I feed where I am.
Not to mention I dislike the loneliness of the parent’s room, the way it is at many places. When I heard of the assault that happened in a parent’s room, it wasn’t surprising – the ‘common sense’ that women should nurse far away from everyone in case someone catches a glimpse of nipple is the same that says that glimpse of nipple is an invitation. The same sense that alienates women from the rest of the world when they’re breastfeeding and when they are mothers. The same sense that leads to ‘mother’ being some oddity if you do anything other than just be a mother (don’t get me wrong, I am in AWE of Clijsters but motherhood isn’t some crippling process whereby you become unfit for anything but the home).
It leads to breastfeeding becoming a taboo, a fetish, and unspoken. I love myself some Bones but when a main character can’t say ‘breastmilk’ or talk about breastfeeding? Idiotic. When I’m accused of exhibitionism for the simple act of feeding my child? Abhorrent. Breastfeeding is normal – not normal like urination/defecation, not normal like eating. A whole special brand of normal beyond existing parameters. Comparing it to either thing demeans it – when I say I am nursing, or feeding my child, that is part of it. I’m providing BunBun with skin-on-skin contact, the warmth (or coolness) of my breasts and breastmilk in a hostile environment, I’m relieving myself of milk that will provide me with some measure of protection against cancers, sickness and fertility. I’m showing a world where women who breastfeed are accused of an array of maladies from psychosis to addiction to obsession that breastfeeding it perfectly and totally normal (see these posts for a more coherent explanation of that desire).
Ignoring the way breastfeeding impacts mothers is a neat and tidy way to keep the status quo – it’s only those horrible mothers demanding humane amounts of break time. Mothers demanding that family life be respected. Mothers demanding the right to feed their children however they want without sexualisation.
To say that I should stay home, stay hidden and unseen, stay away from public discourse, work and any other endeavour is not only sexist, but obscene. My child will be raised as part of the world, part of our lives – not as an accessory to be trotted out when convenient for the onlookers to coo and carry-on at, or a burden to be shouldered, ignored wherever possible and resented (for all my own resentment on occasion). Feeding her is an intrinsic part of my life – if you cannot accept that, you cannot accept my autonomy as a woman and you cannot accept me. Even if, in the future, you welcome me back with open arms, I will remember the alienation and ostracism. Even if you treat me kindly in your ostracism (“for your own sake dear”) I will remember. I will know. And I will not forget.
*edited to add that I received my first glare – while I was breastfeeding in a parents room. I have no idea what this woman thought I should do, but she glared at me as she left with her daughter and grand-daughter. It was…odd, and infuriating. I’m apparently doing everything right, but it still isn’t enough?