So Breastfeeding huh? Right now that word created a feeling in you didn’t it? For some it’s a memory of feeding your child, maybe an idea of what feeding your child will be like, maybe you’re disappointed you couldn’t or actually maybe you just didn’t want to. If it’s the latter, I bare you no criticism, a choice is a women’s right, own your decision and be proud. I caveat this post now as I read this wonderful article by Emma Pickett about the term “breastfeeding”, so from now on nurturing is the term I will use.
I’m not here to tell you what’s right. For my self as a passionate advocate for nurturing, I do have to admit that I don’t think “breast is best” I just believe it is the norm. Formula/artificial feeding has its place and can be a lifesaver for many, but like it or not humans of the female gender produce milk to nourish their young. (There are far better professionals who I highly recommend you read who discuss the politics behind breastfeeding and formula. I do urge you to read The Politics of Breastfeeding by Gabrielle Palmer and Breastfeeding Uncovered by the amazing Dr Amy Brown )Having said that I don’t necessarily believe just because it’s in nature’s design for us to nurture our young that it means it’s easy. Like pretty much everything in our life, even the instinctive parts, sometimes we need guidance.
Take walking as a simple example. We aren’t born walking, our bodies know how to walk, yet we spend the first year of our life watching and learning and practising until one day we get the hang of it and do it for our selves. Certainly, in the two experiences, I have had in nurturing my children, neither journey has been easy. Even having fed my first for over 3 years before his sister arrived, I still had to go back to basics and get help. Let’s me be frank, there is an element of determination needed to successfully nurture your child. Despite all my training and helping other parents, I still needed to reach out for help. The problem is so many parents don’t know where to get that support or don’t realise that support could make any difference.
I could talk for hours about my journeys and maybe one day I will, but this post isn’t really about that. Although it’s part of the understanding. See this post is more about social pressure.
You hear parents talk about being shamed for using artificial milk, yet honestly, after 6 months the shame usually turns on to parents “still” choosing the nurturing option. I often read posts like “if your baby still wants human milk, why not express” so the issue isn’t really the milk it’s self it’s the vessel in which it’s delivered.
We have got to a place where we have sexualised the female body so much that most people are either embarrassed to see or embarrassed to be seen feeding a child. Even now with nearly 5 years of consecutive nurturing of my children I still get the pang “is someone going to say something” “am I going to get a look” and I can sense when someone is uncomfortable about me feeding, even if they don’t say it, their eyes start to look anywhere but me in this vain attempt to make sure they don’t see the top of my breast or a quick flash of a nipple. It’s crazy when I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t care less if I was childless and wearing a low cut top.
When my first child was born, I could sense how hard it was for my partner when I fed in public, I had to use shields with my son for the first 6 months, so that made feeding clumsy and awkward and I’m sure people did see more than they expected. However, as the years go by you seem to realise that it’s just one of those things and I suspect most of our friends and family are well used to seeing me with a child attached to me at some point in the day.
However, having said all that. There is something that saddens me about myself. Pictures of me nurturing my children. I have some beautiful pictures of me and my children, I’m very lucky to have a talented friend who has taken some very personal photos of my journeys. Recently I saw a well know hairdresser in the UK post photos of her feeding her newborn son and I couldn’t have given anymore likes if I could. Whenever Tamara Eccleston or Alyssa Milano posts a picture of her daughter and their Nurturing relationship I get excited. In fact, any celebrity gets a huge thumbs up when the post a picture feeding. Because all these wonderful pictures normalise what is normal. If we see a picture of a dog feeding their young or any other animal the usual comments are of “aw” or “oh so cute” yet with humans, it doesn’t get the same response. Instantly people become awkward and strangely offended. People have babies and they proudly show off their newborn and with that maybe a picture or two or dad or granny feeding the baby, but a picture of a baby feeding naturally and that’s just a “bit too much sharing”
It’s with this sad stigma that I’ve never shared my wonderful photos on social media, other than a few groups, aimed at parents with a similar ethos. Not because I’m ashamed, because I love my photos, but because of others people embarrassment and because I know despite my partner support he will say its odd. Somehow, my photos will be deemed weird or too revealing.See the difference in a photo is people can’t do that awkward looking away, or you get this sort opinion that you’re doing for some sort of attention. Or basically that you’re a bit strange because you have a photo of you providing comfort and love to a 3-year-old who you know by now should be drinking from a cup. Or as one wonderful friend asked “why is he still feeding from you? He can ski”
And yet, it’s these very pictures that I should be sharing. It’s the same pictures I see other people posting and I think “yes, well done you for sharing and normalising” and despite my huge passion, I still conform to the stereotype that I’m doing something wrong. I still perpetuate the myth that it shouldn’t be seen. I need to own that I am actually as guilty as those who judge nurturing to nature term by not celebrating my own journeys. My pictures show despite cracked nipples, severe tongue ties and countless allergies, my determination, the support of other professionals and support groups online, I’ve made it, I’ve given my all to my children. I shouldn’t be hiding that I should be celebrating that. I should be proud to be the mother I am and display that. In the same way we post a video of our child as they take their first steps or celebrate their first year of life, this is just as normal.
I’ve fed up a tree, on a plane, in the House of Commons, at the BBC, at parks, at countless restaurants and in front of every family member and close friends, and yet sharing these permanent stills scare me.
So today I face that fear and post them here. I may forget to share the post. But I need to break the silence, I need to stop being complicit in shaming parents whose choice it is to nurture their young and stand proud of my journeys and journeys to come.
Photo credits to the wonderful Hannah Palamara of Honestly Feminine Photography.