Back in my wild, child-free years, I had a lot of uninformed opinions about feeding babies. They drank milk from bottles. I didn’t even question the kind of milk. It was white. Babies drank it. In my defense, I seldom saw nursing mothers because I grew up in the 70s and 80s, when a whole lot of American mothers were convinced that the science of formula-making was superior to the messy biological functions of breasts. I thought that boobies were simply, to quote Kathryn Blundell, deputy editor of a British parenting magazine called Mother & Baby Magazine, “fun bags.”
I know Ms. Blundell has taken a lot of flak for her comments about HER choice not to breastfeed. And there are many panties in wads over fear that the message we’re trying to send to women worldwide that breast is best is somehow compromised because of her essay. And you know what? I understand why Kathryn Blundell didn’t want to nurse her child. And, as a writer who likes to foist her own opinions and stories out into the world, I support the magazine’s defense of Blundell. Because it turns out that although I’ve got a lot to say about breastfeeding, I am really quite invested in reminding folks that it’s all about choice. Some women want to and cannot breastfeed. Some women don’t even want to try. Some women try so damn hard that it breaks your heart to see them struggle. And for some, it is easy. The choice to breastfeed or not is fraught with enough emotion and privilege and politics and cultural taboos already without adding any more, or judging someone for making a choice that you disagree with.
I chose to nurse my babies. But breastfeeding did not come naturally to me. It was foreign and a little weird. I had to be shown. I had to learn. I had to tolerate it when a CLEARLY PUT OUT maternity nurse with too much make up and not enough empathy jammed my innocent, virginal nipple again and again into my screaming, starving newborn’s gaping maw, while explaining the process as if I were an idiot. And I was, indeed, an idiot. There weren’t enough women in my life to role model the nursing mother. I had to figure things out for myself after that rocky start. My own kids are growing up in a whole different culture! They feed their babies, lions, tigers, and bears (Oh my!) from their chests, and when they use a bottle to feed their various special offspring, it’s filled with breastmilk. THEY get it *dance of triumph!*
Today, I nurse my son every two hours, all day long. He sleeps with me, and he nurses during the night, too, both for hunger and for nurturing. This is my life and has been for this latest iteration of my motherhood. I have a 9 month old, a 6 year old, and an 8 year old. I’ve done the math, and it appears that 51 of the 100 months that I have been a parent have been filled with breastfeeding one of my kids. So, to say that my life is 180 degrees different from those wild early years may be the biggest understatement I’ve ever admitted to.
Simply put, breastfeeding is what I do with my breasts. But that doesn’t mean it’s ALL I do.
These fun bags attached to my body are complicated. Like most things in life, boobies are complex. And their function is dependent on my whim, my choice. Are they sexy? Damn straight. Are they functional mammalian apparati from which my babies feed and are nurtured? You bet. It’s this duality of function, this slippage, that Americans, at least, have a lot of trouble with. If you admit that your breasts are used for feeding an infant AND ALSO play their role in some really hot sex scenes with consenting adults, well, be prepared for some criticism. There is something creepy and wrong with you.
I guess I’m creepy. Oh well. Hooray for boobies!