This week many of my friends, and others in Facebook Land, have been raising
awareness of breastfeeding and its rightful place as a natural, normal, and
(should be) publicly accepted part of our society. As a non-mom, I wasn't
sure what I had to add to the discussion, besides "Well, that's
obvious!" and a general sort of "Go, moms, go!" encouragement.
After all, others have already mentioned the endless scientific research
that clearly demonstrates that science cannot replicate that which Mother Nature
has designed, and the blatant hypocrisy in a society which objectifies the
female form but all too often finds the natural purpose of the female form
somehow objectionable. What more, I thought, could I possibly add?
And then I remembered something: the first day I learned that some people
actually considered breastfeeding inappropriate for public (if you'll pardon the
I was 8 years old, and my youngest brother was 7 months and two days.
It was the Fourth of July, and my family had gone out to watch a parade.
Bands, floats, people on stilts and horses, the whole bit. Now you'd think
as an eight year old, the parade is what I would remember, but I don't, and
My baby brother began to fuss. He was hungry, and he wasn't enjoying
the marching band nearly as much as the rest of us, so he probably needed some
comforting, too. My mom did the rational thing, and tried to get him to
nurse, but the marching band was really quite loud, and he was wiggling all over
the place, so my mom told my dad, "I'll take him over there in the shade
and see if that helps."
This was nothing new to me, and barely registered over that marching band.
You see, I was the 8 year old veteran of three younger siblings, all of us
breastfed. I could sing a lullaby and change a diaper with the best of
them, but I knew that 4 times out of 5 the best thing to do with a cranky baby
was for Mom to nurse them. I also knew that sometimes it took a little
while to convince the cranky baby of that fact so it didn't surprise me that Mom
didn't come right back, but after a few minutes, I started to wonder what was
taking so long.
I looked back over my shoulder, and there, standing what seemed like a long
way off, in the shade of a tree, was my Mom with a contentedly nursing baby.
"Well, this is ridiculous," I thought, with an 8 year old's
clarity of purpose. "Mom's going to miss the horses!" I told my
dad that I would go stand with Mom, and went over to ask why she was still
standing so far away from the parade.
"Well," my mom said it the extra even tone that I knew meant she
was going to tell me something because I was oldest and could understand it.
"The parade is a little loud for the baby, but also...
some people are actually a little uncomfortable about seeing a baby nurse in
I was flabbergasted. I did not understand this bombshell.
Looking back, I can only assume that my mom saw someone in the crowd who
disapproved and decided hang back out of sight, but I certainly didn't see
anything that would make someone uncomfortable. All I saw was my baby
brother happy and nursing, with his long eyelashes resting on his cheeks and the
soft curls around his head. Instead of the clamor of the parade passing
by, I heard the soft, quick rhythm of his breath interrupted at random intervals
by an extra eager slurp. I smelled that wonderful smell that a baby must
give off all the time, but that you only get the chance to notice when they are
quiet and happy. I looked back at my mom.
"Why?" I asked. She shrugged.
"They just are." The universal answer for the vagaries of the
world. "I'll just wait until he's done nursing and then go back."
She meant it to be reassuring.
I looked at the backs of the crowd watching the parade and wondered if all
the horses had already passed. It didn't seem fair. There were
horses over there and my mom had to miss them just because she had a hungry baby
and some people were silly?
"I'll wait and go back with you," I decided.
We stood in the shade and watched the nursing baby, and for me that moment
held more of the true meaning of "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness" than a dozen Fourth of July parades.
Even ones with horses.