You Don’t Have to Leave

DSC_0034Nursing in public is a complicated thing.  But it really shouldn’t be.  In fact, I’m angry that it is.  It’s just feeding a baby for goodness sake.

I must admit that I smile to myself every time I nurse in a new public place.  (In fact, I try to nurse everywhere I go.  If Gabe sleeps through the outing or isn’t particularly interested at the time, I get a little sad that I didn’t get to nurse in X new place).  Nursing in public makes me feel proud.  And brave.  And strong.  And all like, “Haters can hate — I’m doing this!”  There’s no way I can keep this list up forever, but for now, I’d like to memorialize in this post all the public places I have thus nursed:

Church (at least once every Sunday)

Sprint store

Bread Co

Chili’s

Friends’ houses

At my parents’

At my in-laws’

Bailey’s Range (restaurant in downtown STL)

First Watch

Red Robin

Schnucks (grocery store)

Pediatrician’s office

Chiropractor’s office

Galleria Mall

West County Mall

Uncle Bill’s (diner)

At a wedding

Springfield Brewing Company (restaurant in Springfield, MO)

In the car, in various parking lots (when Gabe was melting and pulling over was necessitated)

At numerous dinner tables

St. Gabriel’s Fish Fry

Yo My Goodness (frozen yogurt place)

Outside (on a walk)

Olive Garden

Joo Joo (a Korean restaurant, pictured above)

(Apparently we eat out a lot, huh?  That’s not the point.  What IS the point is that Gabe should be able to “eat out” also!)

Perhaps you’re thinking that I’m bold and fearless for nursing anywhere and everywhere.  I do feel bold and pretty darn fearless now, but despite my longstanding passion for a mother’s right to nurse in public, I still had to blaze my own trail as a new mom and figure out how to do it my way.

If you don’t already know this about me, it’s time you did: I’m incredibly stubborn.  I also always think I’m right.  So considering these personality traits of mine, you can imagine that I already had pretty strong feelings about how I was going to nurse in public before Gabe was born.  Sans cover.  Loud and proud.  A la Dr. Suess (I will nurse him in a house, I will nurse him with a mouse, I will nurse him here and there, I will nurse him ANYWHERE!).  

(And after laboring for 28 hours in my birthday suit in front of my birth team, with my stretch marks on display, I really wasn’t worried about modesty).

But then my first opportunity to nurse in public arrived.  Gabe was 6 days old.  Simon and I brought him to Riverside’s staff meeting to show him off (my husband is the youth pastor of our church and meets with the rest of the church staff weekly).  Being the holiday season, the meeting was at our church secretary’s home, rather than at the church office, and it was an end-of-the-year brunch meeting (with egg nog — my fav).  I knew I’d have to nurse him there, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.  Everyone was sitting in a circle, so it would have been really obvious that I was nursing; it wasn’t as if I could have gone unnoticed.  Plus it was a group of mostly men, that my husband works with, that I go to church with…and for some reason that I can’t really explain, all of that together felt awkward, especially for my “first time,” particularly when paired with the biggest reason I felt apprehensive about the whole thing: Gabe was only 6 days old.  I only had 6 days of nursing experience.  It was still a fair amount of work to get him latched on, and I needed to be able to see my breast (and therefore have it exposed) to do that.  I certainly could not nurse very gracefully, and I certainly needed a few pillows!

So I did something I thought I would never do, being the “lactivist” I am: I excused myself to another part of the house and nursed in private.  And it was nice.  We nursed in peace.  The main accomplishment of the outing, at 6 days old/6 days postpartum, was that we nursed successfully period.

As the weeks passed, I nursed in several establishments.  I never used a “cover,” but I did use a blanket at times, to varying degrees.  (I didn’t and don’t like covering up Gabe’s head, but I’ve learned that he is easily distracted so sometimes I use the blanket to decrease his field of vision and get him to focus on nursing).  I’d say Simon and I both felt comfortable with my nursing in front of random strangers at restaurants and such.  After all, you’re never going to see those folks again, so you really don’t care what they think.  The trickier part, we found, is becoming comfortable nursing in front of people you DO know.  Because you generally care at least a little about what they think.

So first there was the church staff meeting when I nursed in an upstairs bedroom.  The next episode of “baby needs to nurse and we’re with acquaintances or friends” came at a House Group Xmas party.  I was feeling more comfortable with the mechanics of nursing at this point, and I was fairly confident I could nurse discretely.*  But I was feeling social pressure.  None of these people had ever seen me nurse before.  And I was a very new mother — there is SO MUCH rediscovering of identity with being a new mother…Am I the kind of mother that is going to nurse right here on this couch?  Do they think I’m going to?  Do I care what they think?  Should I care?  What am I communicating if I stay?  If I leave?  He’s crying louder and louder…

I got up and went to another room.  I told myself it was because of Gabe’s loud crying, but it was really because of fear.  While I nursed in the other room, I could hear the White Elephant exchange going on without me.  I heard an uproar of laughter as our offering was opened (hideous Christmas ornaments), and all of a sudden I felt a burn of anger and a wave of frustration.  It’s not fair that I’m stuck in here missing the fun just because Gabe was hungry!  Why did I do this?  This is so stupid!  It probably would have been fine!

That was the last time I sought out a private place to nurse over concern for what others might think.  Sometimes I still do seek a quiet corner, but it’s because GABE sometimes needs it, not because I feel pressured to excuse myself (the kiddo gets so wrapped up in the sights and sounds of this big world!).  And the next time we were with our House Group, and Gabe was obviously fussing for the boob, a jolly woman with grown children put her hand on my shoulder and said to me, “You don’t have to leave, do you?  I always hated feeling like I had to go to another room to nurse.”  Her words were such a gift to me.  I gave her a big smile and told her I wasn’t going anywhere.  And I latched Gabe on right there and continued to enjoy my meal in the company of my friends.

Since then, I’m always looking for a new place to nurse.  For another badge of bad-ass-nursing-mama honor.  After nursing Gabe around the clock for a few months, I’ve become quite the pro!  I know how to dress for nursing.  I know how to hold him right.  I know how to convince him (usually) if he’s being a stinker — this is often when I seek the quiet corner.  I can socialize while I do it.  I can be quick.  I can be sneaky.  Or, if I don’t want to be sneaky, I don’t have to be.  Every time I nurse in public, I transform all of my pre-baby, feisty ideals into softer (but fuller) real-life mothering glories.  (That sentence needs to be unwrapped in a blog post of its own.  Later :)).

 

*I feel there is a wide variety of preferred levels of nursing discretion among mothers.  Each woman over time finds her own place on this bell curve of public nursing options.  Personally, I like my belly and breasts to be covered by my clothing, but I do not like to use a nursing cover (the picture above captures my public nursing “style” perfectly).  I have friends who prefer to always use a nursing cover, and other friends who don’t worry about covering their breasts/belly with clothing, let alone a cover.  I feel it is up to the mother to decide for herself what level of modesty she prefers, and not up to society at large.  Ultimately breasts are for feeding babies/young children, and the sight of them being used for their primary function ought not cause a ruckus.  I dream that someday our culture will see nursing as entirely normal, if not mundane, regardless of individual mothers’ nursing styles.

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5 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Leave

  1. Halley, I love reading your blog about being a new mom (and can I borrow the term “lactivist” because that’s awesome!) I remember the first time I nursed Megan as a new mom in public (I.e. in front of people I didn’t live with) and it was when my in-laws came to see the new baby. I was not yet a confident nursing mom, as you are now, and the thought of trying to nurse in front of my father-in-law was a bit much. I went into another room too, and it was nice and peaceful and we could do our beginning, awkward adjustments in private. After a while though, I nursed her everywhere and with nary a touch of shyness. I’m sure half of St. Louis saw my breasts at some time. Thank goodness there weren’t iPhones back then 🙂
    Thanks so much for sharing your special times with Gabe…it brings back lots of great memories.

  2. Harmony is one of those easily distractible babies too, but she pulls off any cover or blanket that I try to use! Sometimes I have to go to a quiet room just so that she will nurse, because otherwise she would just look around and smile at everyone ; ) And during the cold weather, I have MUCH preferred to wear a nursing tank top, so that my poor tummy doesn’t freeze!

  3. This is lovely, Halley! My experiences were a lot like yours, I think. I also mastered the art of leaving or turning away briefly to get a baby latched in the sling, and then coming back to actually nurse. That saved me a number of times. I nursed in the front pew at church for more than a year, and a couple years later found out that pastor and deacon never realized what I was doing, and are both totally pro nursing in church. Totally beats trying to convince a screaming child to take a bottle of EBM when what they want is Mama!

  4. “Every time I nurse in public, I transform all of my pre-baby, feisty ideals into softer (but fuller) real-life mothering glories..” <—yeah, this! I look forward to reading more 🙂

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