Oct 28, 2010

My Post About Breasts

I was in voice class last night. My baby needed nursing. I have a nursing cover. I grabbed the baby, hoisted her under my nursing tent, and began doing the thing that I am biologically inclined to do as a mother of an infant under age 1.

"How was singing this week, [NoSurfGirl]?," My voice teacher asked. "I don't mean to catch you at a delicate moment."

"No, not at all," replied, suddenly feeling all delicate and tense, and aware of the fact that I have breasts and some people think of them as more than baby-feeders. "No... uh... good. Singing was good."

Here's the thing.

Breasts ARE baby-feeders.

Babies get hungry.

And they need to eat.

Babies are not like adults-- they don't have much ability to control themselves when they are upset about something, and they have a very low self-denial threshold. So I feed mine, when she gets hungry.

I understand that people could have moments of discomfort, seeing me take out my nursing shield and slide my baby under it. I understand that our society has sexualized breasts and there is no escaping the fact that people might be uncomfortable/horrified/titillated at the thought of breastfeeding, and might feel vaguely assaulted (or just downright assaulted) to see it take place in front of them without warning.

Here's the problem I have with that: God created my breasts to feed my babies, not to grace the cover of a men's magazine. My breasts have ducts in them that create milk. They are functional organs. I don't give a crud if some people have decided that they are too sexy to mention, or acknowledge in polite company. I don't care if the world has relegated the act of breast-feeding to the same level as bathroom functions, and therefore unfit for public consumption.

One time I was participating in an online conversation about breast-feeding and church. Someone brought up that all-too-familiar dilemma-- the sacrament is being passed. Unruly toddler won't keep a blanket on. Mom just has to make do, and hope nobody looks her directly in the breast.

Someone complained, in response to this, that while passing the sacra ment, her 14-year-old son always struggled to feel "spiritual" and not titillated when this happened, and so it was wrong of women not to leave the room, even if it meant they would miss the sacrament. The spiritual need of her son trumped the spiritual need of the nursing mother.

The response I had, but did not write, was this: Then you've taught your son wrong.

You've taught your son that breasts are objects of sexuality, forbidden fruit. You've taught your son that the sight of a child receiving nourishment from his mother is a lewd act, one that ought to be kept firmly closeted.

How will your son handle the reality of having a living, breathing wife, with functional breasts and a baby to feed them with? Is he going to be as horrified then by breastfeeding, as he is now?

And one more question: do you go and hide from your kids when you breast-feed them? If so, you've done them a real disservice.

I can't help the fact that I am a woman. OK... I'll refine that statement. I LOVE the fact that I am a woman. Women come blessed with an extra set of functional pieces that provide for and cause motherhood, which is supposed to be our divine calling... our stewardship. Its our equivalent of priesthood bearing; it is how we fulfil our roles as queens and priestesses.

One of Satan's biggest lines of attack has been to objectify women's bodies... to make them sex objects alone. And to emphasize the sexual nature of women, to OVERsexualize women. Satan's done a good job with us when we make breasts a dirty thing, something to either laugh about or run away from when encountered in a non-sexual setting.

Is this how God would have it?


There are some cultures where breasts are not so sexualized.

I mean, I think Latin men probably find breasts beautiful, because they are womanly--they are a symbol of womanhood. I'm sure that, in India, breasts are an attractive feature on a woman, noticed and admired by men, like any stereotypical trait of womanhood--long hair, rounded faces, larger eyes. But they're not dirty.

It's not dirty, in Latin America, to feed your babies in public. And guess what? Babies are able to get a far larger amount of nourishment from their mothers in this way, in countries where breastfeeding is more accepted as normal, as something that is just mundane, a piece of living life. Toddlers and children on up to age 4 or even 5, sometimes, are able to receive the nourishment that God has designed so perfectly for young childhood.

I've been in situations many times, where someone tells a mission story of a four-year old boy running up to his mother, flipping up her shirt and nursing. The person telling the story always acts horrified about it, or like it's amusing for some reason. And I usually chuckle and nod, but behind it all I'm thinking... this is so wrong. To be laughing about this. To be treating it as dirty or ridiculous somehow.

I'm a mother. And I'm coming out of the closet and saying: I feed my babies with my breasts, and I'm not ashamed of that fact. I'm grateful to the Lord for blessing me with organs that produce an inexpensive source of perfect nourishment that cultivates immune health, brain function, bone and muscle development in my child. It's an amazing mercy of God, that he created women this way, and it's beautiful and a touching example of everything that motherhood physically symbolizes. It's also, as with so many things Heavenly Father has created, a powerful spiritual symbol: the umbilical nourishment in the form of the spirit, that runs between us and God. And our closeness to God: chest to chest. Face to breast.

As a woman and a potential queen and priestess, I say: let's take the breast back.

16 comments:

TopHat said...

Good for you for "coming out!" I am also a nursing mom- and I'm one of those that has never used a blanket or cover or left a meeting- except for once when my daughter was 4 months and refused to nurse unless we were lying down. It's kind of hard to do that in a pew!

I've spent a lot of my blogging energies trying to support LDS women to breastfeed wherever and however. You can find links to 2 of those important ones on the right side of my blog (called Modesty and Breastfeeding and Keepin' On). I think you'll like Keepin' On- based on past posts I've read of yours. I even have a video of how I nurse my toddler in my dresses here: http://itsallaboutthehat.blogspot.com/2010/04/inquisition-monday-church-breastfeeding.html

Breastfeeding in Church has kind of been me "thing" off and on in my blog posts. It's so fun to find other moms who are sharing the breastfeeding love!

Tracy said...

This is great and I love it. I guess I've never really thought of breast feeding in some of the ways you have said it, but I agree completely. I love breastfeeding my babies and now reading your post I feel even more proud to be a breastfeeding mom. Thanks!

merrilykaroly said...

This is beautifully written.

I think you make some very good points. One thing I think is beautiful about breastfeeding is how dependent mother and baby are on each other-- being separated for more than a couple of years can be painful for both! It keeps us close. I love that.

I breastfeed without a cover in the mother's lounge or at home when gals come and visit me, no problem.

But I have also been on the other side of the situation -- before I was ever a nursing mom myself -- when I felt a little uncomfortable. So I know what people might be feeling. Are they wrong to feel that way? Yeah, probably. But I agree with you that a large part of that is the way our culture has shaped us.

So I don't necessarily mind leaving the room or going to the mother's lounge to feed my baby. Some people are uncomfortable with seeing it, and I'm okay with that. In a perfect world they wouldn't be, but I also think that more and more these days our culture is improving in that area. When our mothers were nursing, sometimes it wasn't "in style" to feed your baby anything but formula.

As far as nursing without a cover in front of men, are/would you be comfortable doing that? I kind of feel like my breasts are something I like to keep in the family.

What a wonderful, interesting topic and discussion. I love you and how passionate you are about important things!!

merrilykaroly said...

*being separated for more than a couple of hours, not years.

Dave L said...

Oh I'm going to get in to all sorts of trouble, aren't I? :-)

Can I just end this comment here as if I had already said all the silly things you'd expect me to?

Just one story though... I was always a very shy and easily embarrassed child, so my angel mother, in an attempt to help me overcome that, would sneak up behind me, get really close to me, and then say "boobs!"

Is it any wonder I turned out strange?

Sigh...

So I actually agree with you for the most part. I think part of the "problem" so to speak is the social norm of society. While you are certainly correct that most of the world has no issue with breastfeeding, I think it is important to distinguish between the dual nature of breasts. Yes, they are "food" for junior, but they _are_ also sexual. The issue, I think, is that the rest of the world actually defines the difference where we, as Americans, don't necessarily do that. Perhaps it is the over-sexualization of our society, perhaps not. And while I certainly agree with the right to breastfeed in the manner you and baby find most comfortable, I find it equally necessary and perhaps even essential to consider that our society _does_ view breasts with a measure of sexuality.

I almost feel like ignoring that interpretation is a bit naive. Hmmm... Let me change that... I almost feel like anyone expecting the rest of society to ignore the sexual nature of breasts is a little naive. Maybe even ignorant and, certainly in some cases, rude.

And please remember that I actually _do_ agree with you and the other commenters for the most part.

Donnell Allan said...

This is so beautifully written. Please submit it as a guest post on Feminist Mormon Housewives. I will be surprised if it doesn't get published there.

Putz said...

i am with dave on this one and your write up was beautiful>>>the only time i was privy to breastfeeding was in the civil air patrol>>>>curious boys on top of a hanger for airplanes observing down below>>>5 of us , 11 years old, i attribute this to the fact that i was brought up WRONG>>>>you will have to forgive men for having a different view of it, although if brought up correctly would not have this problem

Camie and Bryan said...

Love this! I nursed all four of my kids. I never bothered with a nursing cover. My kids wanted to eat and see what was happening in the world. The shortest amount of time I nursed one of my kids was 18 months and the longest just over 3 years old. Keep on nursing!!

NoSurfGirl said...

TopHat: Thank you! I wish I were as brave as you. I think that my "coming out of the closet" right now means nursing with a cover everywhere... it's one step. :) I really wish I were comfortable with just going without at this point, but I'm not yet... and I know it's a function of the problem itself. But it's not just on my side, I think. The fact that breasts ARE oversexualized makes me worried about subjecting mine to too much scrutiny. So right now... I'm coming out of the closet as a nurser... everywhere. I'm going to nurse in sacrament meeting, with a cover, this week. Or at least... I'll try it.

Tracy: It's awesome, isn't it. I feel bad for women who find they can't nurse for one reason or another... but I think motherhood in general, and womanhood in general, can be celebrated in the same way, too.

Adelle: yes, these breast are staying in the family for now. I can't change the whole word by writing something... people who look at a breast will still see a sexual object and I don't want to subject myself to that. I think that nursing itself, though, shouldn't be thought of as dirty, so I should be able to do it everywhere... with various layers of cover, or not, depending on the situation. But I WILL say... if I'm in a place where I can't find a cover, and my baby needs to eat... I'm feeding her. And I'm going to do my best to not worry about what others, including any men who might be around, are thinking. I might, if I know the men in question, mention I'm about to nurse without a cover because I don't have one and I need to nurse, thus giving them the option of looking away. But... yeah. Nursing itself shouldn't have to mean frantically looking for a restroom or other spot when the baby's screaming at the top of his/her lungs, etc. You know what I mean.

Dave: yes, breast ARE sexual. I'm not saying they shouldn't be... I'm just saying, they shouldn't be as OVER sexualized as they are. A lovely long neck, a feminine shape... a nice pair of eyes or lips, these things are also sexual, but we here in America have yet to pass any burka laws.

I guess what i"m saying is... my breast are first and foremost baby feeders right now, and I'll be using them as such, wherever I am, and i will try to be discreet in situations where discretion would be wise considering our social norms, but if I can't... well then, baby comes first. And people who would object to that, well... THEY can be the ones to put a blanket over their heads ;)

NoSurfGirl said...

TopHat: Thank you! I wish I were as brave as you. I think that my "coming out of the closet" right now means nursing with a cover everywhere... it's one step. :) I really wish I were comfortable with just going without at this point, but I'm not yet... and I know it's a function of the problem itself. But it's not just on my side, I think. The fact that breasts ARE oversexualized makes me worried about subjecting mine to too much scrutiny. So right now... I'm coming out of the closet as a nurser... everywhere. I'm going to nurse in sacrament meeting, with a cover, this week. Or at least... I'll try it.

Tracy: It's awesome, isn't it. I feel bad for women who find they can't nurse for one reason or another... but I think motherhood in general, and womanhood in general, can be celebrated in the same way, too.

Adelle: yes, these breast are staying in the family for now. I can't change the whole word by writing something... people who look at a breast will still see a sexual object and I don't want to subject myself to that. I think that nursing itself, though, shouldn't be thought of as dirty, so I should be able to do it everywhere... with various layers of cover, or not, depending on the situation. But I WILL say... if I'm in a place where I can't find a cover, and my baby needs to eat... I'm feeding her. And I'm going to do my best to not worry about what others, including any men who might be around, are thinking. I might, if I know the men in question, mention I'm about to nurse without a cover because I don't have one and I need to nurse, thus giving them the option of looking away. But... yeah. Nursing itself shouldn't have to mean frantically looking for a restroom or other spot when the baby's screaming at the top of his/her lungs, etc. You know what I mean.

NoSurfGirl said...

Dave: yes, breast ARE sexual. I'm not saying they shouldn't be... I'm just saying, they shouldn't be as OVER sexualized as they are. A lovely long neck, a feminine shape... a nice pair of eyes or lips, these things are also sexual, but we here in America have yet to pass any burka laws.

I guess what i"m saying is... my breast are first and foremost baby feeders right now, and I'll be using them as such, wherever I am, and i will try to be discreet in situations where discretion would be wise considering our social norms, but if I can't... well then, baby comes first. And people who would object to that, well... THEY can be the ones to put a blanket over their heads ;)

NoSurfGirl said...

for some reason, every time I try to type the word "breasts," it comes out singular. I don't know what it is about that extra "s" that my subconscious is rejecting. :)

Rachel said...

I agree. I love breasts and what they are meant for. I am proud that I nursed our babe for 19 months - sure she was driving a the same time but hey. She loved it :)

I have mixed feelings about calling motherhood the equivalent of the priesthood. Motherhood is cool and all - but fathers have fatherhood we don't have priestesshood. I don't have a firm opinion about women not having the priesthood - I really don't care. I do have an opinion on the comparison. (and since I generally find this blog open to feelings etc I hope you don't mind my sharing...)

NoSurfGirl said...

Rachel:

I've thought a lot about that one. I follow feminist mormon housewives, and this is a topic that comes up a lot.

My feeling about it is something like this: Holding the priesthood really isn't that big a deal. I mean it's a big deal, that the priesthood is restored to the earth and God's power is here to bless us directly. BUt the whole idea of "holding" the priesthood, I don't see "holding" as an active verb, as in, a man is given some kind of power. It's more like, the man is transformed into a vessel for that power. And he is responsible to keep himself clean and righteous and all that, so that he remains a good vessel for the priesthood.

Women are also a vessel for the priesthood, we just don't act officially in God's name outside the temple. Instead, our role on earth at least, is to be a vessel for God's children, and the active role we play as God's representatives is in actively nurturing our children.

Thus:
Men=active priesthood holders
Women=channeling the priesthood, but outside the temple, not the active ones who act in God's name in offical situations.

Women=active nuruters of children
Men=also nurturers, but not the ones who have the babies inside them, nurse the babies, and, depending on how firmly you believe in various church doctrines that our preached, the ones primarily responsible for the nurture of children.

And yes, I am a feminist, and i've taken sexuality and gender classes, and know that most of what makes men and women different is "socialized" but I think the more I think for myself instead of believing what my professors say to me, the more I think men and women are *actually* different.

How's that? ANd of course you can say whatever you want (barring profanity, maybe... certain profanity at least) and I think most people who come over here, myself included, love these kind of discussions.

So now, tell me what you think of what I have said. ;)

Putz said...

so women are the real gods, creator, vessel carrier of the most important of all things and men the drones{any sperm doner will do in a pinch}read my council of the gods on barlow putz>>real true doctrine

Rachel said...

Thanks for taking the time to make a thoughtful reply! Unfortunately, I am not as thoughtful )in the typee-typee verbal sense:)

I think we agree on most parts and there are some semantics issues going on that I am not up to clearing up...

I enjoy questioning such topics because sometimes I find people trying to fill a void or explain away a truth. Men have the priesthood women don't.

And yes, I think men and women are different too!