I had a conversation recently with a woman about breast-feeding her child. Let me begin by saying I'm pro breast-feeding. I was breast-fed. My sister was breast-fed. My sister's kids were breast-fed. Most of my relatives, as far as I know, breast-fed their kids, as did most of my friends. I myself do not have children, but if I'd gone that route, yes: I would have breast-fed. Would I have removed my top at the Four Season's restaurant to give my son a nightcap, or breast-fed my daughter until she was seven years old? Uh, no.
So this conversation, which started out simply enough (I asked how long she thought she would nurse her child) evolved into a lecture series on the benefits of breast-feeding children. Addressing me as though I'd just arrived from the Klingon Empire, the woman informed me about the benefits of breast-feeding to both mother and child, how the longer one breast-feeds the more balanced and stable and socially healthy a child becomes, that "Americans" (as far as I knew all of us present were Americans) have prudish concerns about breast-feeding in public, and that breast-feeding is a very natural thing with documented health benefits. She wrapped up with the shot every mommy, in the end, takes at every non-mommy: that as a woman without children I couldn't possibly understand how important breast-feeding is to the mother, the baby, our culture, society as a whole, and the universe as we know it.
I did not, in turn, inform my conversational partner that I worked in the women's health field for 30 years, and that while I am in fact a non-mother I do know how to read, to think, and to form opinions based on life -- albeit observational -- experience on this topic. I could be wrong, but I'm fairly sure I don't need to become pregnant, push out a child, and consequently lactate to understand the benefits of breast-feeding. I get it. Breast-feeding is a good thing. One of the many points of this chit-chat that bugged me was the implication that women who do not breast-feed for as long as both mother and child are into it have somehow failed in their maternal duties. Most of the people I know who breast-fed had to stop because they ultimately had to go back to work, or because in some cases breast-feeding just didn't work for them for longer than a year, a few months, and in one case that I can think of, a few days. Does that suggest that those children who don't return home from Burger King and request some liquid refreshment from the nipple are going to be socially backward? Or that mothers who adopt are going to have twisted kids because they weren't able to breast-feed them?
As for nursing in public: yes indeed, breast-feeding is a very natural thing. So is urinating, defecating, and breaking wind. Are we to assume that because all of these behaviors are "natural" that it should be perfectly acceptable to engage in all and any whenever we feel like it? At the dinner table? On a talk show? At the top of the Space Needle? The next time I pee on the floor of the supermarket I guess I'll calmly explain, "Come on! It's a natural thing! What's the problem?"
I realize I may be in the minority on this subject, but it seems to me that the beautiful bond of breast-feeding is something of a private moment. I have no issue with a woman breast-feeding in public, although I do prefer that the moment is handled a bit discreetly. I'm not interested in sipping at a glass of wine while my couch neighbor's breast comes tumbling out of a cocktail dress at feeding time. Breast-feeding mothers can rail away that people who aren't into watching this procedure are prudes or unevolved or anti-nursing. The fact is though that many of us backward Americans understand breasts serve several purposes in our society. One is to feed a child. Another is of a more intimate and, dare I say it?...sexual nature. Most of the women I've encountered over the years who elect to breast-feed in public have done so with discretion, maybe being evolved enough to realize that not everybody is comfortable with a topless mother and a suckling baby. Even the Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health, which extolls the benefits of breast-feeding, suggests mothers "slip into a woman's lounge or dressing room to breast-feed." There are plenty of "beautiful and natural" moments we humans enjoy, not the least of which is sex with a person we love. Does it mean, then, that when two of my guests fall to the rug in a beautiful and natural sexual act that I'm unevolved if I don't want to watch?
Breast-feeding has been going on since the first mammal crawled out of the slime. I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way the act of giving nourishment to one's child became a social revolution, spearheaded by modern mothers who insist they have the right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and if others don't like it, tough. To all those moms who talk about it and brag about and insist that others must accept and embrace this very natural thing in any setting...well girls, if you ask me, you're just showing off.