Her Bad Mother

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

No Shame

A confession: I was deeply, deeply ambivalent about breastfeeding before I had Wonderbaby. I knew that I was going to try to breastfeed, I knew that I was going to try my very best, to do whatever I could, to breastfeed - but I was also pretty certain that I wasn't going to like it. I was squeamish: would it feel weird? What if it hurt? How would I ever - ever - summon the nerve to do it in public?

I was pretty sure that I would never do it in public. I would just not leave the house for whatever number of months I would be breastfeeding. How could I bare my breast in public? People would look. People would point. People would think that it was gross.

I was freaked out. I don't think, now, that I was the only first-time mother to have been freaked out by breastfeeding, but at the time, I thought that I was. I was convinced of two facts: that everyone else in the world would look askance at my breastfeeding, and that I was the only new mother, in the history of time, to be aware and afraid of this.

I was fortunate - exceedingly fortunate - that I have a husband who wholeheartedly supported me in breastfeeding (I could not have perservered otherwise - breastfeeding was painful and difficult for me, and its challenges, when combined with PPD, had me on my knees for many a dark day.) His support kept me going, and his assurances that it was beautiful, wonderful, amazing -that the world should be gratefully amazed at the wonder that is breastfeeding mothers - gave me the courage to go out into the world and breastfeed without shame. That, I'm not afraid to say, may have saved my life. Certainly my sanity. I would have otherwise remained locked, alone, at home with my baby, in a struggle with my fear and my pain and my embarassment.

No woman should ever have to feel that way. No mother should ever feel trapped by breastfeeding; no mother should ever feel - ever be made to feel - that her efforts to nurture and nourish and love her child are in any measure indecent or shameful or wrong. No mother should ever be made to feel that she might be better off hiding behind closed doors. No mother should ever be put in a position where she's forced to consider giving it up, just so that she can leave the house, just so that she doesn't have to be embarassed. No baby should ever be denied breastmilk because her mother is fearful or ashamed. Never, ever.

This is what's at stake when people - be they Bill Maher or the Facebook honchos or random Internet trolls - insist that women need to cover up, or retreat to the toilets, or otherwise be discreet keep it hidden no-one wants to see that when nursing. Every voice that insists that there's something off-putting or discomfiting or shameful about nursing in public is another voice added to the chorus that's already in the heads of so many insecure, confused, scared new mothers. It's a voice that might very well put the nail in the coffin of a new mother's efforts to breastfeed. It's a voice that hurts.

This is why we've been pushing so hard to celebrate breastfeeding, as brazenly as possible. To quiet the voices that would shame us. To be louder than the voices that would put the superficial interests of those who are not vulnerable - those who find breasts titillating, or offensive - above the interests of the vulnerable - the children who need to be fed, the women who need to be supported in feeding them.

To use our voices – and our bodies – to celebrate something that is so, so far from shameful. Something that’s amazing. Something that is – when you think about it – a superpower. Something of which to be proud.

Today is the day of the Great Virtual Breast Fest over at the League Of Maternal Justice - join in and raise your voice (showing your boobs - optional).


My apologies for turning off comments for the last few days - I've been, on and off, extremely sick - still with the morning sickness that lasts for days - and I was just getting overwhelmed by the unread pages of my inbox. And, and - deepest apologies for being the Internet's worst blog citizen. It's hard to summon the will to make the rounds and socialize when your face is green and you have to keep running to the toilet. Am ANXIOUS to get back to you all. xo.


Blogger Veronica Foale said...

I truly hope you have some good moments in amongst all the puking. Did any of our suggestions help?

I think my husband would have punched anybody who dared question my right to nurse in public. I'm lucky like that.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't have a lot of support breastfeeding.

The first time, I quit after about 3months with no regrets whatsoever.

The second time, I quit after a little more than 3 years, also with no regrets. But some definite resentment against the medical establishment whose advice to quit at 4 months would have likely killed my daughter had I heeded, and whose insistence on quitting at 18 months would have left her emotionally crippled.

I'm by no means a lactivist, but I'm all about helping young, insecure women do what feels right to them, and if it makes a bunch of uptight prudes uncomfortable? Fuck 'em.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Granny said...

Now I can wish you a belated Happy Thanksgiving.

I wondered about the comments but thought you'd acquired a troll or two. Hope the morning sickness leaves and you'll be feeling better.

I support your protest completely but, like so many protests, I wish they weren't necessary.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

Why must we throw up during a pregnancy? Isn't pregnancy, childbirth and raising children hard enough???

Hope you are feeling better soon.

RE: the first part of your message: I hope for the day when a post like yours will seem laughable---hopefully my daughter will say, "WHAT??? People thought women should breastfeed in a TOILET?!?!"

8:56 AM  
Blogger Motherhood Uncensored said...


I hope my daughter is able to giggle and laugh and say the same thing.

9:02 AM  
Blogger karengreeners said...

Don't worry about the internets until you feel better. And even then, don't worry.

As for women feeling too ashamed to breastfeed in public? Like a few others have said, hopefully when it is our daughters' turn, they will shake their heads and laugh at how backwards things used to be.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Breastfeeding was such a magical experience. Why so asshats always have to rain on our parade?

I joined the Breast Fest

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this was such an amazing post, HBM.

i just want to link to it on my page. everything you just said resonates so deeply.

9:45 AM  
Blogger tracey.becker1@gmail.com said...

Just wanted to say I hope the morning sickness passes quickly...

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's too bad people have to have an opinion at all... it is your body and between you and your child. I wasn't sure about breastfeeding either and my father, of all people, had strong opinions that I breastfeed. I told him until he had boobs that a little one sucked on night and day (painfully at times), he didn't get to have an opinion. :)

10:56 AM  
Blogger Cristina said...

Wow. You are incredible to have put together the breastfest while battling morning sickness. This is such a wonderful effort - thank you for doing it!

And I agree with every point in your post. Well-sad as always.

I hope you feel better soon.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

Yes, I too dream of a day, soon, when protests like this won't be necessary. Until then, I'm damn proud that two of my own pictures are included in the Breast Fest photo montage.

PS Hope the puking stops soon.

11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great post!

11:35 AM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...


And what's more...quit saying it's for our own good. That's patronizing. "Mother's spaces" in restrooms are nice, and I've appreciated them, but the sings always, always seem to imply that because they are there---those equal but separate facilities---we *must* use them. For our own good.

I noticed this at Storyland, the mother's house. The signs.

I wish they said, "We support and encourage mothers caring for their babies anywhere they feel comfortable doing so in our park. We also provide a mother's house, if you like."

Or phrased better.

But you get the point. I think-hope. LOL

Using My Words

12:23 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Let's see...I meant "signs" not "sings" in para 2.

I also meant to say I hope you feel better, the hormones and adjustments and all settle soon for you.

If not, my sister Flavia at Less to Say is the queen of "feeling dreadful for 9 straight months" suggestions for ways to feel better. And she did it FOUR TIMES. I know.

Using My Words

12:24 PM  
Blogger kirida said...

Great post, HBM. I love your kind of superhero.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

Hear hear!

(Hope you feel better....)

12:53 PM  
Blogger Sharon L. Holland said...

Yes. The focus should be on the most vulnerable. Exactly.

When I was pregnant with my third, I took a whole month off from blogging just because I was exhausted. It was very necessary.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Ms. Huis Herself said...

Hope you feel better soon. And I'm on board with you about the breastfeeding is good, not shameful, so I posted about it today, too. Go boobies!

1:26 PM  
Blogger flutter said...

Do people have to cover up when they eat a hamburger in public? No, so why should a baby have to be hidden when they eat? How come men can walk around with no shirts on, but when women nurse it's like the end of the f'in world?

2:28 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

You're awesome! Your post took me back to my own fear, feelings of incompetence, and pain of nursing my firstborn.

Thanks for this.

2:49 PM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

I worried, too, about how I would feel, being a modest type. But what I wasn't worried about was disapproval because the neighbourhood, the family, the doctor's practice and hospital that I have been immersed in all were supportive. Lucky me.

But I think that most women are not looking to flash around more boob than they need to - but they do what they need to do to feed their child. These people wanking on about women "showing it off" and so on are displaying their own stupidity and childishness.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Liv said...

I love, rejoice and celebrate breastfeeding, but I also value what a pediatrician friend told me: If you are going to do it resentfully, reluctantly, or begrudgingly, then don't do it.

I breastfed for a total of 26 months. I loved it. I do have some friends that didn't want to do it for their own reasons. I think we all need to respect both sides of the coin, so to speak, and free each other to do what is right for ourselves.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Liv, I totally, 110% agree - the thing is, I think that had I been less influenced by prevailing social ideas about breasts being sexual appendages that need to be hidden, I wouldn't have felt so reluctant. As it was, I overcame that, and had a wonderful BFing experience after I got the hang of it (and my nipples healed!) It would be nice if the social norm were much more encouraging of breastfeeding, so that more women would perservere...

3:34 PM  
Blogger ALI said...

i wanted to offer my morning sickness advise-try to eat something small every hour or two-hard to do when the thought of food-well you know, but if i could force something down i felt a little better.
sometimes it's hard to like people-especially people who think they can tell you how and when to feed your children-as always you said it better than i could, but i wrote about my own experience breastfeeding on my blog as well.

3:35 PM  
Blogger ALI said...

oh and i added you to my blogroll, wanted you to know!

3:36 PM  
Blogger ewe are here said...

ABsolutely brilliant post. Just brilliant. Something like this should go in those packets of info they give all new moms int he hospitals.

Hope you're feeling better.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

Your LMJ site is so cool, and I love your alter ego. Thanks for organizing the Breast Fest.

I had a really hard time with breastfeeding, too, in the beginning.

Hope that "morning" sickness goes away.

4:08 PM  
Blogger S said...

I hope you're feeling better any minute now. :(

Ben took three hellishly long weeks to nurse. A combination of my overabundant milk production ("spurting" would not be an inaccurate description), and his being a bit tongue-tied.

It was not fun, not fun at all. But the next 21 months? Were great. I'm so glad I did it. (And with Jack, too.)

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I felt exactly the same way about breastfeeding my first. In fact, I gave it up after 4-1/2 months. I always had that bottle of formula with me when I went out because I couldn't imagine doing it in public. Never mind that the possibility of my boobs exploding would have been more embarassing. It hurt something fierce (where was lansinoh when I needed it) and I started back to work full time, and pumping was not very comfortable in a bathroom stall. And if I heard my husband's grandmother say "You never know if they're getting enough" just one more time, she would have never lived long enough to die a natural death. With number 2, I got a little bolder and nursed almost exclusively for 5-1/2 months. And I actually did it in a playground once, although very discreetly. I was still too insecure about the whole thing.

Once, my asshole brother in law said something to me about breastfeeding in public being absolutely disgusting (he and his wife have no children...she didn't want to ruin her figure). I told asked him which was better, ignoring a woman breasfeeding in public and going on your way, or listening to an over-the-top hungry baby screaming at the top of its lungs. He had no answer.

I never loved breastfeeding, but I figured it was the least I could do for my child, no matter how long I did it. If I could do it over again, I'd do it for a year with both of them, brother-in-law and great granny be damned! I champion and applaud every mother who breastfeeds despite the odds.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

don't worry about the comments. just feel better soon, ok?

4:59 PM  
Blogger Catherine said...

When I hear about the anti-breastfeeding-in-public people talking I can't help but wonder: do they realize the baby is eating?!

I can't imagine they suggest not eating in public themselves. I can't imagine they don't know that babies need to eat often, and there is no reasoning babies. They need to eat in public. It is literally a matter of life and death. It has nothing to do with sex or the comfort of grown ups.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I hope you start feeling better soon! Eeek.

And this is a great post. I remember breastfeeding my now 5-year-old while sitting in a stinky, unclean bathroom in a run down mall. There was no place to sit, so I stood and everytime someone flushed a toilet in that humid cramped area, Seth would almost jump out of his skin. It was miserable and we were BOTH angry after that. NO woman should have to do that just to give their child nurishment. Most people wouldn't THINK to eat in a stuffy, stinky humid, dirty public BATHROOM. Makes me want to take Bill M's toothbrush and scrub a few toilets with it on the sly! :-)

10:09 PM  
Blogger Run ANC said...

Amen. I myself had a love-hate relationship with BF, and I so hope that it goes better this time around. I need it to. But I certainly DON'T need anyone else to make me feel bad about it. Buncha jerks.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

You were so lucky! To have the supportive husband I mean. PC (Prince Charming to those who don't know us) comes from a family who shuns breastfeeding at about the same level as say human sacrifice. They think its gross, and inconvenient, and it interferes with Grandmas bonding, etc. I however, had my first two kids alone and there are two really cool things about breastfeeding (for me) 1) its free; and 2) its easy - no bottles, no sterilizing, just whip out the boobie and feed.
So, since PC was deployed when the Pumpkin was born I continued in my usual fashion with newborns alone. I breastfed... For two years (ok - one week shy of two years) - that part wasn't normal with the first two I went back to work/school when they were about 7 months old and they took to bottles and formula quite happily with only the occasional glance back at Mom's boobies. The Pumpkin - not so much. When I walked in the door he started ripping my top off. Wherever we were. (I went to work when he was only four months old and I think that is the big difference - he just wasn't ready and he got used to bottles without seeing any need to give up Mama Milk when mama was present).

Anyway - what I was trying to get to was this. My friend Amber was never a successful breastfeeder - it was a hideous experience for her with both kids made much worse by the lactation consultants (aka breastfeeding nazis) where her kids were born. But for all that, her dh CUT MY MEAT FOR ME once a week when the Pumpkin was a baby because the Pumpkins feeding frenzy started promptly at five each evening and so when they invited me over for dinner I would sit at the table breastfeeding while eating with one hand.

We used to laugh about how if we were eating in my house with PC present, I would have been banished to the bedroom to "do that."

11:00 PM  
Blogger painted maypole said...

sing it, sister!

10:13 AM  
Blogger Lisa Dunick said...

I felt almost the exact same way you did about breastfeeding. I only committed to it, because of a study that showed it reduced the likelyhood of Crohn's disease--and I've watched my husband suffer with that for the last 7 years. I never had other mothers to encourage me-- I didn't find these blogs until almost after I had weaned my son. But I think that your writing, and the writing that we all try to accomplish on our blogs can only help the cause.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Janet said...

Babies get hungry when they get hungry and breasts deliver the ultimate fast food. It's damn annoying when people criticize a completely natural act, particularly when that "natural" act can be very, very difficult to get the hang of in the beginning.

I applaud you.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

Gah. I hope you feel better soon.

Also, thank you for sharing this story. It's a powerful thing to hear someone so confident as yourself express this kind of vulnerability.

Long live the boobies!

12:46 AM  
Blogger VV said...

My two are long past the breastfeeding stage (they are far along into the "I hate you, drive me to the mall" stage") and I MISS it. So simple and beautiful.

My ex mother-in-law (does that make her a mother-out-law?) HATED that I breastfed and whenever we were visiting I was pointed to the back room to breastfeed alone on a very uncomfortable futon. I'm so angry at myself for not standing my ground back then.

I also once accidentally walked in on her pouring breast milk I had pumped down the sink that she intended to replace with formula.

Makes Facebook look like Mother Teresa.

1:21 AM  
Blogger coopkeeper said...

Our church discussion group has this little opaque screen several of the members put up so the moms could breastfeed behind it...so the moms would be more "comfortable." HAH! Tried it one time, felt too much like a menstrual tent. From thenceforth (10 mos)I whipped it out whenever the Z Man (Zack, that is) was hungry. I was much more comfortable :). Women should not be made to feel as though our bodies are dirty or something about which to be ashamed and hidden.

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Women's breasts. There is so much emphasis and interest on that female body part: The barbie doll with her epically exaggerated form mimicked and aspired by real women young and older, in the likeness of the increasingly caricatured Pamela Anderson.

Therein lie the contradictions: Sensualized but also life sustaining; Aesthetically beautiful but prone to disease. The breast is the site of suckling, both erotic and motherly.

In public spaces, there are further tensions of povocative images of the scantily clad, revealing bosom - the Calvin Klein ad, for instance, clashing with the nursing mom sitting underneath. It is in part, I believe, in these dichotomous, contradictory views, that women hide in shame and discomfort.

We've become immune to some images, yet react with outrage to others. Ironically, public spaces are no longer controlled and defined by the very people who inhabit them.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm sorry you were so fearful at first about nursing wonderbaby catherine.i, even with my first had no qualms about nursing in public.they are our boobs ladies and moms and if we want to nurse our babes why shouldn't we?i listened to a clip of bill maher shame on him .but how many people feel like that about boobs?they are okay to look at in ads for whatever or girlie mags or hooters or bars but everyone is so offended by a mother nursing her child.how pathetic is that?....sorry the nausea is so bad HBM.i hope it gets better for you.LAVANDULA

12:26 PM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

Breastfeeding is such a terrible-wonderful thing.

I haven't had anyone say anything to me about nursing in public, ever. And I don't know anyone who has been asked to cease and desist or move someplace less visible.

But I have witnessed so many individual problems, fears and self loathing which all seems more pervasive and damaging than public opinion.

I know we are all different beings, but in some ways I wish we were all the same: able to accept whatever we are.

2:41 PM  

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