We were standing in front of them at Target. Trying to figure out how to best spend a gift card I got for my shower.
“One of those?” My mother was right. They were ugly.
“But, I want to try to breastfeed,” my usual confident resolve sounded uncertain and reduced to question.
They were just so ugly. It looked like a tent. Worse. Remember the Carol Burnett bit where she rips the curtains to fashion a gown? That’s what came to my mind. The fabric was like sand paper. And the design was paisley. Paisley went out of style in the 80s. Who would buy a brown tent with pink paisleys on it. And why does the woman on the package look like she’s hiding stash from a bank robbery? I didn’t buy one. Figured I would find someone to just sew me one or search for something that was far less cumbersome.
Then the baby came.
He latched in the hospital like it was something he’d been waiting to do for 9 months. It felt weird and wonderful all at once. And our journey began.
I pumped because they told me it would keep up the supply and I just figured I’d have to have reserves on hand. The pump was even uglier than the nursing cover. I can remember thinking immediately “A man designed this”. “A man who hates women designed this.” I hated everything about pumping. I hated watching drops spider leg down the bottle like when your dishwasher leaves a remnant. I hated the sound of that machine. I hated watching my breast get squeezed. Sucked into a plastic flange over and over again for more than thirty minutes only to yield maybe two ounces. I pumped constantly.
I used what milk I pumped to let my mother feed him so I could rest. I used it during nursing strikes to alleviate panic. I used it to keep my breasts from swelling at work and to keep my supply in check.
And I breast fed.
“See, that works. I don’t think you can see anything.” I was so afraid our server would tell us to leave. His baby blanket was draped over my shoulder covering his face. I couldn’t even see his eyes. But I tried. I kept taking peeks when I thought no one was looking. I wondered if he could breath under there. And what he was thinking.
Our waitress didn’t say anything. So when mom and I went out, I just kept to the same routine. His navy baby blanket with animal print. It was soft and discreet. It was classy. It matched every stitch of clothing I owned and rolled up in the diaper bag effortlessly.
“Don’t worry, I brought a little in a bottle.” He was starting to cry as I attempted my first lunch outing alone with the baby. “I made sure to bring some so I don’t have to drag all our stuff to the ladies room. Sorry.”
“Been there, done that! He’s fine. Enjoy your meal.”
I loved that she said that. It made me feel good. Someone didn’t mind that my infant would cry. Because that’s what babies do.
And that’s what nursing mothers do. They bring it in a bottle or take the baby to the ladies room. That’s what I knew.
I spent a lot of moments alone nursing my son. During family dinners, when company came over, at my brother’s or mother’s or in my own home.
There was one morning at breakfast with my mom my shirt fell and my son’s latch was fully exposed.
“Sorry,” I said as I put my fork down and tried with one hand to wrestle my top back up.
“Yeah…I’m eating.” She took a bite and chewed her toast as she conveyed her disgust.
It was a knife through me.
That was breastfeeding.
In May of 2012, while sifting for show prep, I happened upon the latest viral “mommy” lede. Time Magazine’s upcoming cover was causing a stir.
The cover pitch was sexist and divisive and everything I expected from a media rag. It was my industry, so it wasn’t surprising to see women chalked up to a trope and sensationalized to sell a story. And while I wrote up a blog for our station and participated casually in the water cooler conversation, secretly, in the recesses of my heart and mind, I was breaking. I was changing. I was strengthening.
My eyes scanned beyond the narrative and towards something else entirely. A beautiful, strong, empowered woman standing tall in the face of controversy and a child almost bewildered that anyone was noticing.
This would be breastfeeding.
That would be me.
Someday, I would put my three year old child on a wood chair and toss on a tank and pose. And I’d do it to celebrate my own personal goal.
For the first 8 months of my child’s life, I was going it alone. From that day forward, no more.
I scoured every study I could find. I lurked on social media boards. I listened and I learned. I downloaded peer reviewed papers. I joined parenting forums. I watched videos, read essays and I searched for pictures. More pictures. As many as I could find. I needed them. I longed for them. I relished every single image that ever hit my feed. I cried and I smiled and I took our own selfies. Of nursing.
And that became our journey.
“Look mommy! Nursers!”
We were in a never ending line on Halloween. Hulk costume in hand my three year old spotted fake boobs in the aisle. Strangers surrounding us as he delighted in wondering what on earth they were for.
Nursers are a part of his world.
He’s latched as I scroll my newsfeed. He spots a child on the breast and points and smiles and looks at me. He loves seeing other little boys and girls doing what he’s doing. Because he’s three. And that’s part of being three, wanting to identify and know he’s a part of something.
We nurse before naps and bed and in the morning. We nurse in the middle of the day when he just wants to hang onto mommy. We nurse in the arms of my man and we nurse in the midst of tantrums and we nurse sometimes just because we are both willing.
And sometimes I tell him we aren’t nursing. That consent is important for him and for me. That we’ll wait or that my body just can’t take the fatigue or aversion I’m feeling.
Someday, I know he won’t reach for me.
And that’s breastfeeding.
“I want to start posting photos of men checking for prostate cancer. That’s what all the breast feeding photos feel like. I mean I get it but geezy…”
That was my nephew. Last Spring. He went on to call for modesty and reminding us all that “boobs are still boobs” regardless of what they are doing.
I wondered what he would do if he saw his cousin grab at my breast for food. I wondered if he knew how deep his knife had cut through. That he had dismissed our course. That he had shown no support. That he had ridiculed.
And I contrasted his words against all I had learned. Against all I now knew. Against the advocacy and normalizing I knew to be true. Against the fight for the reproductive rights of women to not be treated as second class citizens. Against the culture norms and differences. Against the research and the needs of millions of women. Against the discrimination.
The countless qualifications. The constant calls for discretion. The never ending battles against censorship and harassment. The analogies that I can’t comprehend.
And I think of that woman.
Who stood there in an aisle staring at a twenty five dollar nursing cover.
Who once sat alone with her son while her family broke bread. Who put a navy baby blanket over her newborn’s head. Who fed her child near feces and cried over a pump so she’d have what she needed to appease an offense.
And I wish I were that woman again.
Your photos. Your stories. The images I see. They mean everything. I see your child latched to your breast and it heart swells in me. Please never stop sharing. Never stop the solidarity we need.
You don’t know the empowerment your photo has in its reach.
But you’ve touched our journey. You’ve shaped our story.
“Look mommy, that baby’s nursing!”
The piece published on Medium.