19 March 2012

Wait. Where's the leather La-Z-boy room?

Adam and I have lived outside the United States for about 6 years now. I don’t deny my American upbringing. I don’t try to put a “u” in color or insist that drinks without ice are “way better.” I'm American cultured through and through. But Jill’s breastfeeding post made me think about how I totally missed the boat on the American culture of breastfeeding. The baby thing happened to us after we left the States, so I had paid zero attention to this while we were still Stateside. Therefore I find myself embarrassingly oblivious when it comes to how Americans think about nursing. This article about Beyonce seems like it’s from outer space.

My guess is the readers of this blog also find it ridiculous that Beyonce nursing in public would be trendsetting.

I've totally missed out because Charlotte was born in South Africa where the malls in Cape Town have rooms with leather La-Z-Boys for nursing mothers. Then the remainder of the time I nursed her was in Congo, where it’s obviously a non-issue.

Be seated by Iain Farrell, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Iain Farrell And those Cape Town rooms looked kinda like this.

Annaïs, however, was born in the States. Enter a very strange feeling on my part for having no idea what is culturally acceptable in my own country.

I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know until we were at T.J. Maxx with one week-old Annaïs. (We usually spend the entirety of our summer vacation in American discount stores.) So Adam looks over as I’m casually shopping while very obviously nursing Ani. He runs over and yell-whispers, “WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOING??” I paused in panic and thought, Oh, I…I…I have no idea what I’m doing. Is this ok? Am I going to get in trouble? What’s the social norm here? I looked around to see if anyone had recoiled in horror, which they had not. But that may have been because there were only Mexican women around, and I’m pretty sure they were ok with it.

I'm still pretty out of touch with how and when and where it’s considered not-so-weird to be nursing Stateside. My guess is that the social norm falls somewhere between my complete obliviousness to breastfeeding in public and Adam’s terrified we’re-about-to-get-arrested response.

Now, I’m not crazy. I realize private leather La-Z-Boy rooms are not universal and nursing involves a part of your body not normally exposed. But I still don't understand why Beyonce nursing in public is news. My beloved Facebook has an anti-nursing photo policy? And the group that thinks that’s wrong is called lactivists. People have to stage nurse-ins. There's an entire industry of nursing cover-ups. A woman got kicked out of church for nursing? What is this world?

In our church I’m rarely the only woman nursing mid-sermon. But I’ve recently discovered it is socially acceptable to go sit outside the church to nurse. I suspect, however, that this is because it’s much cooler out there, and I happily joined them in using the excuse of nursing my child so I can get a breeze. (Congo Mamas: I’m on to you and your schemes of skipping the sermon for fresh air!) Last week a little tot saw me finish with Ani and reached down my shirt as if she was next in line.

The idea of sharing milk isn't so strange either. Thanks to the wonder of the breast pump, I've shared milk in several countries and not even considered it strange to ask someone if they're interested in my donation. In the middle of the night the idea of a wet nurse seems really amazing. Ask Jill, I've flirted with this idea often. The point is, what's weird when it comes to nursing and what's not weird? I go for everyone nurses everyone else's babies anywhere, anytime. Ça va?


  1. I laughed when I saw a huge cover thing for breastfeeding for sale in Target. All the women in South Sudan whip out their breasts like it's nothing. Middle of conversation, devotions, meeting new people? nbd.

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