Before I had a child, I was very supportive of breastfeeding, even though my experience with it had been minimal. Many of the women in my family had breastfed their children and have, for the most part, fond awareness of it. Breastfeeding was never a big deal. I do, however, remember wondering a few things when I was near a breastfeeding mother: where do I look? Do I try to act casual and pretend I don't notice at all? Do I make a comment about her nursing (a positive one? but it would draw attention to the fact)?
When I was pregnant, I discovered lactivism by reading stories of women breastfed and received rude comments or who were asked to leave certain establishments. Like many new mothers, I was terrified to nurse in public for fear of being ridiculed. I expected that I would be told to cover up, leave, or be stuck at home until my baby weaned. When my baby was born, and for a long time after, I was the first and only one in my group of friends who breastfed. And even though I had a nursling of my own, I was still uneasy around other breastfeeding moms. It was easier for me to breastfeed around others than to be around another woman who breastfed. Over time, though, things got much easier.
The most important step for me was being around more moms who breastfed. I started going to LLL meetings and baby play- and music-groups where there were plenty of other nurslings present. As I saw the confidence of these breastfeeding women, my own confidence grew. I began to question why I felt uneasy. I knew that breastfeeding was normal and not obscene or indecent. I knew it was the right way to feed a baby and that, as a breastfeeding woman, I was legally protected against discrimination. In my mind, though, I tried to approach my feelings of confusion. Was I struggling with my understanding of modesty? Was I sexualizing breasts? Was I uncomfortable with my own body and my breasts and their function? Was I imposing my own discomfort on the breastfeeding mother next to me?
After some subconscious contemplation, I realized that I was afraid that the breastfeeding mother would feel uneasy if I was looking at her during conversation. What happened when the baby popped off and I saw a teeny bit of nipple for a tenth of a millisecond? Would she be uncomfortable? Then it dawned on me. If this woman is comfortable breastfeeding in front of me, then she is comfortable with whatever I might happen to see. After all, if the mother was handing a piece of fruit to her child, I surely would not look away or feel uncomfortable. And, if I was the one breastfeeding, it would not bother me if someone saw my nipple when my baby was latching on. I figured, then, that it was safe to just keep talking and enjoy myself.
Being a breastfeeding mother was what contributed most to me beginning to feel at ease around other breastfeeding mothers. Experience is often the best teacher. I learned what it was like to be on the other end; it is what helped me to be comfortable with my body and my breasts, as well as being comfortable around other breastfeeding mothers. After nearly seven years of nursing two children, breastfeeding is nothing I haven't seen before. And, now, I am the experienced one, the one who can reassure the new breastfeeding mothers out there that, not only is it ok to nurse in front of others, it is also ok to look at other breastfeeding women and not feel ashamed or uncomfortable.
And now I leave you with this lovely comic, Distract-a-ta-tas, from my favorite lactivist, Heather Cushman-Dowdee, for further contemplation.