Thursday, 31 January 2013

Should you breastfeed in front of strange men?

Yesterday I went to a baby group that I attend on occasion.  As usual (especially with added new baby influence) we were running late.  Not only were we cutting it fine, but I realised I needed cash on the way, so it was a bit of a frantic drive.  On arrival I leapt from the car, bundled the baby under one arm and dragged the boy by the hand.  I tried to make it a game by giggling and shouting in a high pitched voice, 'Quickly, quickly', where actually I wanted to shout 'hurry the hell up!!'  We just made it and settled down in the ring of other toddlers.  There were around 7 or 8 mums, and, a dad.  One of those wonderful men (like my husband) who happily goes to baby groups when they are available to do so (of course, many are at work and so don't have the opportunity).  I like seeing men at baby groups and I wish there were more.  I worry that some are concerned about entering this traditionally female environment.

My son started playing and having a nice time.  The baby was sleepy, but then started to whinge. Judging by the fact that she was trying to suck my arm off, I was fairly convinced she had just decided she was hungry.  Well, that was OK, surely.  I had fed at plenty of baby groups.  But, oh no, there was a man!  'Oh well',  I thought, 'that's OK, I have my breastfeeding apron'.  This piece of equipment was such a lifesaver with my son.  My husband's Grandma bought it for me and it was easily the best present I was bought.  In those awkward early breastfeeding days it provided me with a cover that wouldn't fall off and allowed me to see what I was doing.  Seriously, I can't recommend it highly enough.  However, in my haste I had left all of my stuff in the car, including the apron, muslin cloths an d a baby blanket, all of which I could have used. I wasn't able to go back out to the car.  I suposed I could use my coat but that was a little conspicuous.  I decided it would actually draw less attention if I just got on with it.

So, that;' what I did.  Now, being ever unconventional, I usually pull my top down to breastfeed rather than up.  This developed because I do not wear nursing bras, so it is easier.  However, it also is far more revealing.  This time, in the name of modesty I went under my T-shirt.  I felt totally covered up.  There is no way anyone could see anything that way. 

The dad didn't really bother me ultimately.  He was at a baby group.  Baby groups are normally full of mums, so inevitably there are going to be mums breastfeeding.  I don't think then that a man at a baby group could be uncomfortable with it.  Anyway, if he was I didn't sense it.  In fact, I relaxed immediately since I felt covered up. 

It was still a milestone.  I have never fed my baby uncovered in front of a man other than my husband. I generally don't worry too much when in all-female company.  But, I have never breastfed in front of my brother, my dad or my father-in-law, let alone a stranger.  Should I feel this discomfort?  Does it make me sexist? Or is it respect for their comfort?  I honestly don't know. But funnily enough, feeding in front of a strange man worries me a lot less than feeding in front of male family members.  I think it's because of the whole 'I'll never see them again' idea.  So, maybe that's the next step, feeding in front of men I know, but if feels like a big step.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

I breastfed in Church!! Well, sort of...

Leaving Daddy and the boy at home, the new little girl and I went to church this week. The boy was still in his pyjamas and determined to play trains rather than get dressed so there was little likelihood of him being ready in time to join us. Even I had rushed out of the door to make sure I wasn't late. Baby didn't seem too impressed at the haste but I hoped the walk in the sling would make her nice and sleepy, ready to snooze through the service. However, I guess the icy winter wind didn't help. She spent the whole walk gazing about at the world with a look of wonder on her face, wide awake. Of course, on arriving at church, the second I sat down in the pew she started to complain loudly.

I had chosen a pew at the back and to one side with a view to breastfeeding if need be. Also it was nice and near the door if I needed to dash out (you never know when you might have to escape an angry mob when you publicly breastfeed... :D). Even in the reserved Victorian era, women breastfed visibly in church (according to Gabrielle Palmer's 'The Politics of Breastfeeding'). Surely there could be no issue in our liberated times? However, my baby's cries had drawn too much attention. I felt watched, whether I was or not. I wasn't completely at the back so there were people to my right who could easily glance over. This church welcomes young children but there were no others there today. The parishioners today were all over 50 at least. Would they judge me? Was their generation kindly towards this behaviour or not? I was unsure. Nonetheless, I picked up my baby's blanket and swathed myself in it planning to start to feed. It felt awkward. Could anyone see my flesh? Would they know what was going on under the fabric? Would anyone think this behaviour inappropriate? I certainly didn't want to ruin anyone's spiritual experience and cause a cacophony of British tutting around the church to boot. I just felt too exposed. My reserve melted and I scuttled away to the vestry to feed with the door ajar so I could hear the service at least. As it happens, it was likely a good choice as my baby was fretful and putting up a bit of a fight. I would probably have become exposed at some point of the proceedings. However brave I am about public breastfeeding I don't think the time was right for nipples during Holy Communion

Anyway, on my return twenty minutes later 'The Peace' was in progress. The vicar, doing her rounds of the congregation, came to wish us peace. As she shook my hand she asked if I had gone to feed my baby. I said yes, truthfully. I was burning to ask her about the 'appropriateness' of feeding in church, but before I rustled up the courage the vicar smiled and walked on to the next congregation member. However, in her face there had been no judgement. No disapproval. Would this have been the same if I had sat and fed in the pew? I actually think it would have. Another congregation member commented on how my efforts to keep the baby quiet reminded him of his wife and their children when they were small. I wonder if he knew why I had left the room and whether his wife had done the same. Others told me that me and my baby were quite welcome and they didn't mind being disrupted by cries. But then, did they know what had gone on in the vestry?

To me, my naked breast makes no difference to my communication with 'Him Up There'. He knows what goes on between me and my baby and I am sure would not avert His eyes (Wow, quite philosophical for a first blog). Also, as far as I am concerned, the alternative was either a screaming baby (which nobody wants) or me missing out on a service that at that time I felt in need of (just a lot to be thankful for right now). Breastfeeding in church was really the most sensible option. I only wish that I had the strength to stay in the pews. I bet that nobody would have noticed, and if they did they would have taken no issue. But I was too scared – and that is a shame. Why should I feel concerned? Where has that fear come from? But, I still breastfed in church. I didn't go home. I didn't just walk around trying to quiet a starving baby with bounces and pats while her cries got on everyone's nerves. And, if nobody else, the vicar knew what I did (and God if you are inclined to believe such things). Next time I'll have to be brave and stay put....maybe.

"and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,
and bounced upon her knees.
As one whom his mother comforts,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem." (Isa. 66:12)