Laura, a NursingFreedom.org reader, had the following incident happen to her and her son (Cole) recently. She would appreciate your gentle, constructive advice about how to approach the director of the program, and how to handle breastfeeding during future classes. Please, no negative or disrespectful comments about the religion, the church, etc. What happened to Laura is not a reflection of her church or of Catholics/Christians in general, rather it is the result of a very few people who have succumbed to some negative cultural pressures.
Thank you Laura, for this wonderful post and question.
I’ve breastfed all my babies and, with every child, have done some sort of volunteer work while they were nursing. I always brought my babies with me and nursed them as if we were at home: on demand, without a shawl or blanket. (I have nothing against shawls or blankets, I just don’t use them.)
As a new mother, I often asked if it was okay if I brought my nursing baby with me. Obviously, if someone said no, then I would have had to back out of my commitment; but I was always told yes. To my surprise and pleasure, I found many, many mothers at my old parish who nursed babies AND toddlers openly. Some women used blankets, but most did not. Children of all ages were accepted and welcome at the functions. As another mother told me, “Laura, if you are going to be pro-life and accept the Church’s teachings on birth control, you have to be welcoming to children of all ages!” As time went on, I stopped asking and simply brought my children with me. Once they became a distraction, they stayed home with my husband, but young, nursing infants simply joined me in my endeavors.
Last year, we moved and began attending New Parish (“NP”). We love NP and it completely fills our needs as parents of young children. We are all enjoying the opportunities to grow in our faith. I am also volunteering to teach Confirmation with a co-teacher and working in the Atrium at another parish.
Right before the CCD year began (CCD = religious education), the Director of Religious Education (“DRE”) contacted all the teachers and asked if we would like to take an additional training. I said yes, of course, but I would need to bring my nursing infant. She said that bringing Cole would not be a problem and, “we love babies at NP!” I brought Cole to all the trainings and nursed him on demand.
At the end of the training, I discussed bringing Cole to classes with the DRE. We did not specifically talk about breastfeeding, but she knew I was nursing him.
During our first class, we had the teens do a “get to know you” activity. Cole needed to eat, so I stepped out of the circle and fed him. Some of the students could see me; others had their backs to me. I participated in the activity by making comments and asking questions, but I still sat apart from the group until he finished eating.
I was unable to attend the next session. At the third class, I remembered a blanket and toys for Cole. I made it a point to feed him in the classroom before class began, with only my co-teacher and her daughter present. During class, one girl asked me why I brought Cole. I said, “I am nursing him, and so I need to bring him in case he needs to eat. He won’t take a bottle.”
Soon after that third class, I got a call from the DRE about feeding Cole during class. She told me some of the mothers had complained to her and her assistant. She was nice about it, but she said some of the boys were uncomfortable. I understand: young teenage boys are young teenage boys, and I can see how knowing there is a breast out (even if it is covered) could be uncomfortable for them.
She said she had no problem with me bringing Cole to class, but I would need to take him somewhere else to nurse. I agreed and suggested just stepping outside. She said no, as the other students in other classes might see me.
She then suggested the adults-only restroom down the hall, adding that she would put a chair for me in there. The only reason I did not freak out? The bathrooms are large, very clean and brand-new. We have CCD in the school building; in the actual church, the bathrooms have lounges attached to them with couches and chairs.
I suggested a different room that is large, with tables and soft chairs. She agreed, as long as “no one is using it and you close the blinds.”
“Close the blinds?” I asked. “But if I shut the door and sit in the chair, no one is going to know what I am doing unless they try to look in!”
“We need to be as discreet as possible. We have to be respectful of everyone and their different beliefs.”
Ah, here’s the rub. I agree with her.
Yes, I think I should have covered up at that first class. I knew some teenage boys might not be down with the boob out. However, we are trained to have two adults with the students as much as possible. Cole needed to eat; he was sucking on his fingers, drooling, and arching towards my breast with his mouth wide open. It was my fault for not bringing a blanket or warning my co-teacher that I might need to leave.
I agree we should be mindful that everyone has different beliefs.
BUT! BUT! I was teaching at a Catholic Church! We all have the same beliefs, the same faith in God, the same religion. It was a religious class aimed at children of the same faith!
|Madonna and Child
Gerard David, 1490
Photo credit: aiwaz.net
That faith has a long history of art depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary nursing baby Jesus. For many centuries, churches were adorned with statues and icons of Mary and a baby (or toddler or young child) Jesus receiving nourishment from Her breast. Why? Because, yes, Jesus was breastfed. All babies were breastfed, unless the mother could not nurse. In that case, a wet nurse would be employed or the baby would receive milk from another animal or, yes, die.
In many of those pictures Mary was anything but “discreet.”She used no blanket, no towel, no Hooter-Hider. Jesus is nursing out in the open, looking around. Why? Because this is how babies nurse! Most nursing mamas have a story or ten about how their baby likes to play “latch-on, latch-off” and smile at people while enjoying a snack. It’s funny and frustrating and, until about the Victorian period, very normal.
Then came the wars, mothers going back to work, formula and bottles and prudish Puritan beliefs. People became appalled at the thought of -gasp!- baby Jesus sucking at a breast for nourishment! Mary lactating! How. . . un-divine! (Although apparently there once was a devotion to Our Lady of La Leche. Go figure.)
I also agree that we need to be respectful of different cultural beliefs. However, in my culture, babies are breastfed as long as the mother desires. In my culture, babies stay with their mothers as long as the mother wants them with her. In my culture, babies don’t “need” bottles unless the mother wants her baby to take one. Babies are worn on the mother’s body, sleep in the mother’s bed. That is how I was parented and raised; that is my culture.
In asking me to respect their culture, a culture that views breasts as only sexual objects and not as a container for feeding babies, they are disrespecting my culture. By asking me to hide in a room with the blinds drawn in case someone might chance to look in while I was feeding my son, they are saying that part of my culture needs to be hidden. They are saying my culture is wrong.
I have formula fed a child and supplemented with formula for another. I respect a woman’s right to make a different choice than I have. I know firsthand how hard nursing can be, and I understand why a woman would stop trying to nurse and use formula. I would never, ever ask her to bottle-fed her baby in a closet, bathroom or with the blinds drawn. She is feeding her baby. How is that a problem?
I suggested using a blanket and, if I forgot it, leaving the room. This is not an option, nor is nursing in the empty classroom before class. She does not want to me nurse in front of my co-leader and her daughter, as it might make the daughter uncomfortable.
Class is during bedtime, when Cole likes to cluster feed, and it simply isn’t possible to leave him with my husband since Cole doesn’t take a bottle can’t. But part of me thinks I should keep the peace and leave him at home anyway.
The other part of me, the militant lactivist part that would happily stage a nurse-in, wants to bring him. To just park it in the back of the room and nurse like no one said nuttin. I want to show them that they can’t win, won’t win, and that my baby belongs with me. It is normal, natural and, yes, what women have been doing for ages.
I want to keep teaching; I love teaching Confirmation. I have a baby who needs me (but who could possibly be left with his father for a short period of time). I need to decide how much of an issue I am going to make this and how much I am going to let slide.
In the end, though, I am going to do what is in Cole’s best interests and his alone. I just wish I could help open some minds in the process.
So, readers, what advice would you give Laura? Would you approach the director? If so, what would you say? Would you keep bringing the baby? Where would you nurse? Or would you leave him at home or stop volunteering?