In one’s life before children, most women do not envision themselves as breastfeeding warriors. In fact, many women may have very different views of breastfeeding than they will later espouse as mothers. It is human nature to lack empathy for a cause that is not part of our world. While I respected breastfeeding mothers, the childless me of my past did not UNDERSTAND what it feels like to nourish a baby exclusively with my own body.
Breastfeeding is the ultimate supplication of ourselves to another. You are a food source and a haven of comfort for a nursling. Being the origin of such fundamental primal needs is of utmost importance landing your needs and desires as resolutely secondary. It is a momentous thing to breastfeed a child… but it is also draining. The younger me failed to recognize this piece of the equation when I sat at holiday parties unintentionally judging young mothers for breastfeeding at the family table. Couldn’t they just excuse themselves? I’m ashamed to admit I harbored such narrow-minded thoughts.
Breastfeeding makes people uncomfortable in our culture. It is an unfortunate truth. So many who lack empathy for nursing mothers prefer breastfeeding be done out of their company… out of sight. It is easier that way. Easier for the persons who are not burdened with the life sustaining task of feeding and nurturing another human being.
To many young mothers find themselves on the opposite side of this divide after having a baby and they quickly understand the panoramic reality that had previously eluded them. Yet, they still feel the societal pressures that they once shared to not breastfeed in public and make those around them feel uncomfortable. Not all women are able to shed their former restrains and breastfeed defiantly at the Thanksgiving table. Many will go quietly to the back room without so much as a word to breastfeed alone while the festivities continue without them.
I am making a plea is to all of you without infants. Try and remember the young mothers in your family. Becoming a mother and raising small children is a full time job. It is hard, it is isolating, and at times it contains little room for pleasures to fill that mother’s heart. She is looking forward to a holiday season just like you. Even as she is rejoicing in this new love bundled in her arms she is mourning a loss of freedom she previously enjoyed during this season. Holiday parties are no longer about pleasing her appetites. They are about mothering.
So don’t judge her if she is decides to try on her new skin as a breastfeeding rock star in front of you. She is balancing the scales of her former self while blossoming into her role as mother. It takes courage to break an old mold. If she decides to go breastfeed alone in the backroom, ask her if she would like some company. Being able chat with a friend instead of being ostracized will lessen the sting.
Becoming a mother is a about undergoing a transformation of mind body and spirit. Nursing mothers are giving of themselves in every way imaginable. Asking mothers to hide in a backroom while feeding their baby is a slap in the face. Breastfeeding is hard enough without feeling shame.
Embrace the true meaning of this season and instead of judging or excluding breastfeeding mothers, why not show them a little mercy? Perhaps, you can remember that she is not nursing her baby in front of you to make you uncomfortable, she is simply feeding her baby amongst her family and friends. The greatest gift you can give a breastfeeding mother this holiday season is your understanding. Even if you have never been in her shoes you can make space for her in your life and not exclude her in the backroom. She is doing an amazing, beautiful, difficult thing and you have the opportunity to lift her up instead of break her down. Show the nursing momma in your life you support her this year by including her so she can be a part of all that is merry and bright.