There is a man, who has never breastfed a child, with some opinions about how women should breastfeed their children. David Whitley, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, has a cute li’l op-ed piece out today about how breastfeeding activism has gone too far. Moms are now baring their breasts to feed their infants with far too little consideration of his feelings. You see, a bare nip makes him kind of uncomfortable!
Whitley was inspired to share these feelings in response to two recent stories about women breastfeeding in public. In one case, a woman went viral last week for throwing a blanket over her own head when asked by a restaurant to cover up. In another, there was a public outcry after a breastfeeding woman’s doctor reportedly asked her to cover herself during an office visit.
Whitley’s piece includes such gems as “OK, but where does it end?” and “How about if Junior gets hungry during a funeral?” He asks breastfeeding moms to “please do it discreetly if possible” and adds that “tolerance is a two-way street.” The solution—says this man who has never breastfed, and who admits his wife has never breastfed—is simple: “I don’t think that gently draping a light blanket over the mother’s shoulder interferes with the actual transfer of milk or bothers the baby in any way. So I just can’t see the harm in doing it.”
Thank you for sharing your entirely uninformed opinion. As someone who has ever tried to wrestle a screaming, ravenous baby with flailing balled-up fists underneath a blanket, I would like to share my opinion right back. My opinion is: Fuck off.
Allow me to illuminate the reality of the “no harm,” “light blanket” situation. Your baby is crying and hungry. Once your baby is crying and hungry, that baby wants to eat as fast as is humanly possible. It is a goddamned emergency, says the baby. And yet here you are digging around in the stroller’s undercarriage, looking for the diaper bag, and then searching around for the cute swaddling blanket with the pastel giraffes, which is tangled up with a bunch of toys and soiled onesies that must first be extricated, all while trying not to drop the squealing baby.
You unfold the swaddling blanket and then place it over yourself and the baby—who, do not forget, is screaming and punching the air with rage—and then use your one free hand to unbutton your shirt and undo your nursing bra. The baby is grabbing at the blanket while you’re trying to do all of this, so maybe out of desperation you bite the top of the fabric in your teeth, as droplets of sweat form on your temples and you make that teeth-bared emoji smile that ironically communicates to passerby, “Motherhood, heh!”
Even once you get the nipple into the baby’s mouth, the air-punching continues, because the baby is wondering why the fuck you’re hiding it under a blanket. The baby pulls the blanket down, you pull it back up—again and again. So then you pull the top of the blanket over your own head to tell the baby that it is not alone is this bizarre exercise, as I often did in the first months of my baby’s life (which led my husband to once tell me, “I feel like I’m eating dinner with a ghost”). From spending some time under that blanket, I can tell you that, actually, it gets very hot and sweaty and unpleasant under there!
Do this a few times and all that sweat and stress—and, quite possibly, tears—will reveal the “no harm,” “light blanket” situation as the puritanical charade that it is.
I say this as someone who is uncomfortable with participating in any form of public nudity—even in a locker room, a spa, or a bra fitting. I’m not a “naked person” in the slightest. Pre-baby, I even got one of those magic nursing covers—the apron-like kind that allegedly makes for a hands-free, no-fuss, fully covered-up experience. Yet, when my baby was four months old, I found myself walking down a busy street with him in the Ergo carrier and my uncovered boob in his mouth. Just walking down the street, tiddy out—past a construction crew, past a car waiting for me at the crosswalk, past some surly teens standing at a bus stop.
I wasn’t trying to make a political point. I wasn’t trying to flout social convention. I was just trying to get through the freaking day.
Here is what Whitley and his ilk seem to not understand: breastfeeding moms are not brash, unrepentant exhibitionists. Few of us are trying to show off our breasts to unwilling participants. Yes, some of us have fully evolved beyond the twisted hypocrisy of a culture that says a billboard of a lingerie-clad boob is A-OK while an uncovered nursing infant is offensive. May their casually uncovered boobs be beacons for us all. But some of us are, unfortunately, still deeply ambivalent about baring our breasts in public—and yet we do so anyway out of desperation, necessity, or simple practicality. So, you think you’re uncomfortable? I’m uncomfortable, too, buddy. Let’s all try to get over it.