Friday, May 4, 2012

They're just boobs.

This weekend, someone I met commented that when you have children, whatever age those children are, it's the most interesting age. I thought that was rather astute. I certainly tend to tune into news stories or blog posts about things involving children around 4 years old or around 5 months old. (Sometimes this is bad. I don't even want to get started on some of the news stories.) Tonight I was thinking that maybe this is why the breast vs bottle war continues among mothers. There are always women having babies and babies usually eat (you know, except Robbie...) so that's the most interesting thing in our lives just then.

Obviously my experiences with both kids has been dramatically different. There were similarities. Robbie's first time at the breast went surprisingly well, as did Charlotte's. Both of them hate(d) bottles. But in the long run, drastically different. Robbie hated food. He'd cry because he was hungry, eat 1/2 oz and then scream because he was in pain from eating. It didn't mater whether that was from the boob, the bottle or eventually a tube. Charlotte? Well, she loves to eat. She doesn't want any manufactured nipple, but she's never met a boobie she didn't like.
This monkey's nose looks like a nipple.
She keeps trying to eat it.

When Robbie was still eating by mouth, we were in quarantine, so we never really had to deal with people's comments in public. I don't know if anyone would have said anything about his bottles or not. By the time we were allowed to take him out, he was 100% tube-fed. Rarely did anything about it, but we definitely got some strange looks. I couldn't fault any one for it. It's not every day you see a toddler with a feeding bag attached to him. I didn't like the stares, but I understood them. We would occasionally get a question about the tube in his stomach- always by kids. I didn't mind that at all. They would ask what it was, I would explain as simply as I could and they'd either accept that and move on, or look confused, but still move on.

Pumping was another matter altogether. I went back to work for a few weeks while Robbie was still in the NICU. I wanted to save my leave time for when he came home. That meant having to pump at work. To say it was a pain is an understatement.

Firstly, my boss acted like I was asking for a corner office with a view when I needed a place to go. It didn't matter that there were 2 completely unused offices in our space at that time. I was told I had to submit a request for a job accommodation with our disability department to be allowed to pump at work. When I called to do just that, they had no idea what I was talking about. I spent a couple of weeks jockeying between HR and management to figure out who would officially give me permission to do something that I was legally allowed to do (it was protected by Illinois state law at that time.)
My boss repeatedly made comments about my "special" privilege and frequently passed along complaints from my coworkers. Apparently they felt it was unfair that I "got" to lug my hospital grade pump into a room and spend every second of my break time hooked up to a vacuum.

One day I replied to yet another email from my boss with a complaint from a coworker about my "special treatment" with a copy of the state law permitting me to pump at work. I also advised that if I had to make another call concerning the matter, it would be to a lawyer to uphold my rights. I was finally granted one of the empty offices to pump in.

But that didn't stop my coworkers. There was one who always seemed to need something from the office I was pumping in when I was in there. Nevermind that sign on the door, the blanket hung on the window, or the fact that the light was on in an unoccupied office. I'd think maybe she just really wanted to see my boobs, except that she was the same one who liked to make snide comments, too.

Once when I was walking out of the office with my bottles in hand, she stopped, sneered and said "that's ALL you got? That's not worth it." In my mind, I knew it was worth it. With all of Robbie's digestive issues, breast milk was the only thing he could even sort of tolerate. But outwardly, it really did hurt my feelings and I had to fight the urge to cry. Fortunately a coworker who pumped for her premature twins heard her and stepped in and assured me I was doing a good job.

The supportive comments came, too. They were always so appreciated. It's funny the difference a tone can make. "You're still pumping?" could mean "Wow, you're hard core! Good job!" or it could mean "You freak! I can't believe you're still doing that!"

Now that I'm nursing Charlotte, it's different but the same. You really will never please all of the people all of the time. Again, no one has said anything out-rightly rude to me, but there are plenty of strange looks.

Last month I needed to feed Charlotte while out shopping with my mother-in-law. We were at a Target that I wasn't familiar with so I just looked for the first place I could sit down. That was their snack area. I chose a corner table and turned towards the wall. I draped a blanket over me and fed Charlotte. I was the only person in the area at that time, but at one point I saw a worker come out from the back and look at me. She looked puzzled, mostly. Then she went to the back again. A minute later, she came back with another worker. Both of them stared at me for a long minute. They had a conversation, looking back and forth from each other to me. Neither looked very happy.

I was on the other side of the area and couldn't hear them. Maybe they were discussing what a treasure it was that I was nursing my baby. Maybe they were wishing I'd get the hell out of their area so they could go home. But it sure looked like they were saying "oh my gosh, look at that lady with the audacity to feed her child in public!" It was the first time I'd felt like I shouldn't be doing what I was doing.

There were lots of times when I got an uncomfortable reaction. People obviously avoiding eye contact with me, willing themselves not to notice what was happening. People exclaiming about leaving the room while I did that. It was usually said as though they were leaving for my benefit, though it never really bothered me.

I cover as much as possible. It's not as easy as it looks. Charlotte hates a blanket over her head and will tear it down in a second. It's difficult to keep the blanket out of her hands and the boob in her mouth at the same time, especially in public where I'm often balancing on a chair w/o arms or anything to rest Charlotte's body on. But I try. I almost always end up scolding Charlotte and holding a blanket with my teeth for at least a minute while I get situated.

At home, I usually ask my female guests if they mind, and if anyone does or we have male guests I cover or take her to my bedroom. It doesn't make me uncomfortable but I don't want other people to be so, either. I'm not looking to make a statement. I just want to feed my baby.

This last weekend, I actually had my first positive, public reaction. I was on a bench at the mall, covered, feeding Charlotte. The bench was perpendicular to the walkway, so I wasn't completely in everyone's sight, but I wasn't hidden either. Most people walked by completely oblivious. Two twenty-something boys at a table nearby seemed amused, but I couldn't tell you if they were amused by the feet sticking out of the blanket or that there was a boob just one layer of fabric away from being seen.

And then two women came around a corner and caught my eye. One of them smiled and nodded approvingly. Honestly, she may as well have hugged me. It shouldn't matter, really. I tell myself not to worry about what the naysayers think, so why should the opposite matter, either? But it did feel good. I don't know if she was nodding at the breastfeeding or just at a baby in general. But either way, I enjoyed it. Again, not trying to make a statement- I just want to feed my baby.

Of course, then there are moments that I wonder if I should be making a statement. One day when I picked Robbie up from school this week, the teacher who will be Charlotte's came over to coo at her a little. We were chatting a little and I mentioned that I was having trouble getting her to take a bottle. The teacher looked shocked. "Oh.. are you uh.. " she patted her chest, "... feeding her.. from... there.."
I raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I'm nursing."
She said "oh, um, I can't say that word.. you know.. around the kids."
I said "You can say nursing. Nursing. Yes, I'm nursing her, still."
She said "oh yes, I can say that word. Just not the other word."

I was genuinely dumbfounded. I mean, first, yes, I'm still nursing at 5 months. It's not like she's 5 years old. Five months seems like a reasonable amount of time. And then.. she can't say breast? Really? That is what they are called, right? What if the children have chicken breasts for lunch one day. I was stunned that a grown, educated woman was so uncomfortable with the word breast.

I couldn't help but think of a day not long ago (I was pregnant with Charlotte at the time) when I was sitting on the floor putting Robbie's shoes on to take him home. One of his classmates came up to me, patted my chest and declared "These are your boobies!"  The teachers in the room froze, waiting for reaction. I couldn't help but chuckle inwardly. To the girl, I just shrugged and agreed. "Yep, they are. Go play, you." It's funny that a 3 year old is smarter than a grown up.

I guess what really gets me is that we spend so much time thinking about it. Everyone seems to have an opinion. And more importantly, everyone seems to think their opinion should be shared by everyone else. Breast is best! Formula is great! 

Yes, I have chosen to feed both of my children breast milk. Robbie got formula mixed with his (once we found one he could take.) I had hoped to combo-feed Charlotte, but Miss Picky Pants won't even take breast milk out of a bottle, so she's a boob girl. That's what worked for me and my circumstances.

Because this has worked for me, I sometimes have to feed my baby in public. And there are more opinions. Take that to the bathroom where it belongs! At least cover up! You can't infringe on my rights!

When I'm trying to feed Charlotte w/o flashing everyone, not because I am uncomfortable, but because I don't want to make others uncomfortable, I can't help but wonder why it matters. Why do people feel so strongly about this? What makes someone tell a woman to cover or leave? What makes someone tell a mother that they're feeding their baby poison in a bottle? What gives people the audacity to boss people around that way? I don't think I'll ever understand the rudeness.

I think we take an interest because we like babies. (Not all of us. I know!) And the majority of people have a baby at some point or another, which makes them interesting. It's familiar. I just wish we could all accept each other's feeding choices and support each other instead of trying to drag each other down. A smile goes a long way. Next time you see a mom feeding a baby- either by breast or by bottle, don't be a boob- offer some encouragement.



Bridie said...

Oh man, I can't believe your co-workers and pumping! That is awful. It is so hard to keep up the routine at work, and that just makes it worse.

And I can't believe in an era where boobs are practically hanging out on the cover of every magazine (even if it's not playboy or maxim, US weekly and every other rag has bikini clad bodies all over them), people can't handle a boob that's providing nourishment to a BABY. I get when people get uncomfortable when the kid is over, say a year - not because I believe there is anything wrong with it, but it's not a cultural norm, so people are uncomfortable. But I think nursing a baby til they are a year old should be pretty universally accepted at this point, right?

And, kudos to those that go past a year. I personally think it's awesome that anyone tries to attempt nursing, ever for as long as it works for them. It's not easy, and everyone should be supported and commended whether they only last a day or a year (or more).

Mrs. V said...

First, your boss and coworkers sound terrible! You deserve a standing ovation for dealing with their reactions in such an honorable way.

I'm not sure if you read my blog or not (don't feel compelled, I'm not trying to become famous for blogging and don't do anything fun like million dollar giveaways or anything. Heck, I barely blog at all), but I nursed my daughter exclusively until she was four months old, and then nursed and gave her formula until she was 6 months old and we discovered she had a dairy allergy. I had some positive and negative reactions from all sources.

I discovered the most of the negative reactions came from people who looked at breasts to be more sexual organs instead of what they were actually created for. Which is to feed your offspring. It actually got to be quite a debate with one of my coworkers when she told me that she was disgusted and wanted to vomit at the thought of my tiny baby drinking milk from my breasts. Obviously, I'm not against formula as I used it with my daughter, but I did feel the need to defend my right as a mom, and as a woman, to use my breasts in a way that was natural.

Bottom line to me is, you are a great mom for feeding your child. Whether it be from breast or bottle, formula or breastmilk.

A and W mom said...

Great post. Parts of it made me tear up. I'm such a sucker for your posts. ;) The story about the "That's all you got?" CW kills me. I really want to smack her.
People are so weird.

ggop said...

Ugh..that's all you got woman needs a retort right there. Your work environment is toxic to new mothers.

And why use boob as an insult :)
I object!!

Trish said...

ggop- I thought about the same thing, but it was really just a joke.

Bridie- I agree. Boobs are great unless there's a baby eating out of them? I don't get it.

Mrs.V- that's so strange! I have a coworker who feels the same way. She told me that she didn't nurse her kids because "those are for my husband." I don't care what her reasons were- that's her choice. But when she said it was gross for OTHER people, she lost me.

Christine said...

Some people are just uncomfortable with bf in public. I am actually one of them. Just my opinion but I personally think it should be done in private and not in public. I did bf my daughter for 4 months so I know first hand. I am also not trying to start an argument I know this topic can get heated. I am not even sure why it bothers me like it does but it does. For the record I think your a great mom and I enjoy your blog.

Ruby said...

I've had many both positive and negative experiences.

I was nursing my first son when he was tiny (I did nurse in public, I didn't use a blanket or anything else, never did, and I don't particularly care what others think), under a month old. A small boy (as in probably about 4 years old, did not know him) came up and said "Are you practicing or feeding him for real?" I replied "For real" He looked at me seriously and said "Okay" and marched away. A few days later, we were at a party, and a 3 year old girl family friend came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I answered nursing the baby. She then asked what that meant. I said feeding the baby. She then lightning quickly stuck HER head up my shirt to see what was happening (awkward moment). She informed me I couldn't be feeding the baby because I didn't have a bottle. So I then did a brief "Some families feed babies using bottles, some mommies feed babies from their breasts" She looked at me like I was an alien.

The other was when my first son was 15 months, I was sitting on a bench with a mom whose daughter was 4 months. I always have been a confident public breastfeeder. She was very uncomfortable but wanted nurse in public. Both of us nursed of children. Mine came up, signed "milk please" and he then nursed until he popped off and ran to play. Her daughter cried, she got out her cover up thing, then nursed her daughter. My son came back and signed "milk please" and proceeded to nurse again. Some lady came up to us and started yelling at my friend that nursing a baby was disgraceful. My friend became more flustered than normal. I started engaging the lady. The lady actually said she was fine with me nursing in public, but not my friend because I was appropriate because no one knew what I was doing. Now 1) I was NOT using a blanket/coverup. 2) My nursling was 'old' (as in 15 months). I've told this story to other moms considering NIP, and the moral of the story is "Have confidence"

I never make negative comments about breastfeeding or bottle feeding. NIP or only in private. Moms have enough "real" problems then to criticize each other over something like that.

Laura said...

and it doesn't stop at the boob...

the pre school you chose...
the decision to homeschool...
the haircut you give your child or the hair cut you DON'T give your child
the snacks you bring to the park
the tantrums your kid throws in public
the pacifier you use
the sippy cup choice
the food you feed them
organic or not
the stroller you buy
the car set you buy
the karate class
the ballet class
the time your kid goes to bed
the time your kid wakes up
the naps they take
the naps they refuse to take

the judging never ends...
my youngest of four turned 6 yesterday
my oldest is 13

I still get comments
always from other moms

I will never understand why another woman is a woman's biggest judge

and you are welcome to nurse TOPLESS in my house
you can even take your pants off
I've got your back
and your boobs :-)

Maggie said...

Isn't it funny how one positive reaction when nursing in public can stick with you? I was nursing at a small outdoor festival once, when finn was small enough to tolerate the nursing cover, and while holding him up with one arm, pushing the stroller with the other hand and hollering at Eddie to stay close, one woman looked at me and said "you go, momma!" and it made me smile so big. It would have been so easy for someone to look at me like I was insane, but one comment of support had me walking on air.

Heather said...

Keep up the good work! If I was one of the ladies walking by, I'd smile too. I nursed our daughter for 7 months and it was awesome! I did in public too and never had anyone say anything to me. I do remember once an old lady was admiring her while I was nursing and asked if she was sleeping, I said yes. The lady had no clue she was eating, LOL! I was covered up by a nursing top, which I think are one of the most awesome inventions ever! I used to save the few I had for when we had to go out in public, so I could nurse discreetly without a blanket, as she hated those over her head too. I could only nurse the twins for 7 weeks, because they were so premie they still required a lot of individual help. With both of them needing help to eat, it was nice to be able to hand someone else a bottle and go take a nap every now and then. I did miss the closeness I had with our daughter though.

Tiffany (berty12777) said...

Your post is perfectly timed for me because I've been feeling lots of judging from other moms lately about having a 2 year old that's still nursing. I needed to hear that it's nobody's business but my own as long as I'm doing what is right for my family. So, thank you! It's hard not to get caught up in that judgment, though. You'd think I was sexually abusing her with the way people have reacted to her breastfeeding at 2 years old. *eye roll*

Geohde said...

You are right, they're just boobs.

I recently returned to work for a day and a half of locum fun ON AN OBSTETRIC WARD and had to pump in all sorts of daft locations because everybody got wierd when I said I had to pump.

That was the times I managed to actually to get away to pump, as opposed to all the times I got asked to do something else instead, but I digress.

It's an emotive topic, eh.


Me said...

I'm still nursing DS. He's 19 months and HUGE - 36" tall and >30 pounds. And while I try hard not to flash the nips, I will whip a tit out to feed my kiddo pretty much whereever I am. Cuz. Um. That IS what my tits are for. And really, that's ALL they're for. People need to get over themselves. :p

Sam said...

to me-Using the word TIT. Really? Your why people are uncomfortable. Grow up. Gets some class.