Breastfeeding has always really freaked me out. Like I think I truly had an irrational fear of it. I hated seeing breastfeeding women in public, their babies attached to their boobs like an oddly adorable parasite clinging to a mammal. Something that is a little repugnant but you decide to adopt it and keep it anyway. I was definitely pro-covering; I didn’t think anyone should be displaying this kind of behavior publicly. “I don’t want to see that shit when I’m eating in a restaurant,” I would think, shuffling by a mother with what I am sure was a disgusted look on my face.
Cut to me 12 weeks postpartum. Now I am rocketing towards the opposite end of the spectrum—by not giving a damn about who sees me breastfeeding in public. My husband is a lot more squeamish than I am about me whipping out my boobs when called upon by my darling baby boy. In anticipation of dining out he once asked me, “Well won’t you just go feed him in the bathroom?” “HELL NO,” I replied vehemently, “The restaurant doesn’t serve people dinner in the bathroom and I will not feed my son in there either. If they don’t like it they can look somewhere else.” The mix of sheepish and shock on his face was one not to be missed.
My first experience breastfeeding in a public place was when I went to my first new mom’s event. I had found the group on Facebook and finally worked up the courage to go and meet these other moms that I had only interacted with virtually thus far. The event happened to be at a winery, and the moms, strollers, and blankets were sprawled across the vineyard’s main covered patio. There weren’t that many other guests there at 11 am. “Mom life,” I giggled to myself as I ordered a glass of wine.
By noon there were many more patrons. Some were seated near us along the covered walkway, others were at the picnic tables in the sun. There was a family party being held on the grassy lot adjacent to us. The longer we stayed, the hungrier the babies got. I got to truly see all manner of feeding in public. Some moms went with the less offensive bottle, whether because the babies were formula fed or they had pumped and prepared a bottle in order to avoid public nudity. Other moms had clearly had practice, wearing a nursing dress or shirt and discretely making direct contact of nipple to hungry mouth. Yet I was most intrigued by a tattooed mom about my age, who was wearing a loose tank top but had dropped the strap off her shoulder, the wind pushing it about as her baby latched on, his head the only thing covering her breast from prying eyes. I was probably staring, inappropriately so, but I was fascinated. I was intrigued. I was inspired. She is only doing what comes naturally, and I thought it was so bad-ass. She clearly didn’t give a second thought to who was watching.
Then it was my turn. Baby T was very hungry, so I took out my infinity scarf I thought could double as a nursing cover from my bag, and then proceeded to struggle to balance T on my lap, support his head, lift my t-shirt, undo my nursing top, and simultaneously cover both of us with the scarf. On a hot August day suffice it to say I was profusely sweating, most likely due more to anxiety than the heat. We struggled to unite, my scarf slipping from my shoulder. When T finally found his rhythm and ate happily, I did the best I could to support him while making sure my t-shirt covered what his head didn’t. When he was done, he promptly pooped and was changed. He almost as promptly spit up all over my t-shirt. Down a layer, I felt cooler but without a layer of privacy, should he want to eat again.
He did. I again struggled with the stiff and unforgiving fabric of the scarf, sweating all the while, until I thought TO HELL WITH IT. I whipped the scarf off of me. I felt as free as my bare breast did in the open air, and I felt relief. I didn’t care who might look over from their patio table and wine bottle and see me. I didn’t care what family member might pass by on the way to the main house. We were finally free to eat and bond in peace, and we couldn’t have been happier.
That day was a breakthrough for me. I saw breastfeeding much more differently than ever before, due in part to the tattooed mom at the next table. Not only do I feel free to cover—or not cover—as I feel appropriate in public, but I support any amount of coverage any mom chooses to have. There are few things more awesome than a mama caring for her baby in the most ancient and emotionally tied act, and it should never be shamed. So go ahead mama, free yourself and your lady bit and let your mama flag fly proudly.