I have two breasts. Several years ago, I dressed them in lace and gave them a little peek of the sky above a plunging neckline. They were useful breasts. Several years ago, doors were opened for me, chairs were pulled backwards and attention secured.
I have two breasts. Today, I dress them in cotton and ensure that there are no wires to block my precious ducts. They are useful breasts. Today, milk is made and my daughter is nourished, comforted and soothed.
You see, my breasts have changed over time and with motherhood. They have undergone a major transformation -- from shallow and lofty tools, to wholesome and grounded givers of life, of soul, of peace. Yes, I mean "grounded" in the literal sense as well as the poetic sense... am I concerned? No. Am I proud? Yes.
So you will understand my confusion, my disbelief and sadness, when I hear a self-confessed proud breastfeeding mother advise another to be "discreet" while feeding her child.
Discreet: careful to avoid embarrassment; unobtrusive.
It is strange, because nobody ever asked or expected me to be discreet with my breasts before I became a mother. Nobody seemed concerned with a flash of cleavage, or the amount of flesh exposed at the beach in a skimpy bikini. It is strange, because nobody seems concerned with the lingerie billboard catapulting a 10-foot-tall bosom into the subconscious of every passer-by, and nor should they. So why, exactly, must a mother's breast be delivered to her child discreetly whilst breastfeeding? What is so embarrassing about seeing a child enjoying a drink of milk? What is so obtrusive, exactly, about the breast?
The "rules" for breastfeeding are very specific, as are the expectations. It seems that the tolerated level of "exposure" must not exceed a small amount of upper breast. The lower and side regions are strictly reserved for milk-free boobs, whilst the nipple and areola are reserved for top shelves and late-night television. The nipple, by these rules, is the untouchable, unspeakable, unmistakably censored feature of the breast, which leaves us with a bit of a problem when it comes to feeding our babies.
I suppose, then, it is understandable that Mr. Average, who doesn't have children of his own and who has been indoctrinated by every societal pressure and media outlet possible, thinks of breasts as being nothing more than shallow and lofty. It isn't acceptable, but it is understandable. Yet for a breastfeeding mother to believe this same nonsense -- for a woman sitting nursing her own baby, using her own breasts, to actually spread this dangerous word, "discreet" -- my heart really does break.
Let me remind you... Discreet: careful to avoid embarrassment; unobtrusive.
I ask again: What is so obtrusive, exactly, about the breast? Apparently, not a whole lot, as milk-free breasts are not expected to face away from a busy setting; they are thrust up and out for the world to admire. Indeed, babies fed solely via a bottle are not expected to eat in public restrooms; their bottles are not wrapped in cloth, whilst little mouths suckle beneath covers. So it seems, in simplistic terms, that the perceived "problem" lies in the pairing of the two entities, each fully acceptable when apart: milk and breasts. When we put the two together, as nature designed and intended, a storm brews.
I like this idea of a milk storm... I think it is important. You see, storms are powerful; they are headstrong and progressive. They summon strength from thin air... much like the "magic" of breastfeeding. Who would have guessed that our bodies, tired after childbirth, could produce this perfectly-tailored, antibody-rich, liquid gold? This powerful tool that we possess, to actually produce and deliver milk to our children, is utterly mesmerizing.
And yet it seems that unless we deliver our nipple to our baby's mouth with the stealth of a secret agent, we are condemned by this strange world in which we live. It seems that for all those in the world who actually support breastfeeding, a proportion still see it as something over which to exercise caution -- to be "discreet."
I am sad for the mother who feels the pressure to hide her breasts whilst feeding her child, for fear of embarrassment. Believe me when I say that I too once felt that pressure. But I am more saddened still for the mother who buys into this pressure, for the mother who genuinely believes that breastfeeding is embarrassing. If only she could see what I see now.
Because like a storm, breastfeeding is a strange combination of magic and normalcy. It is something to marvel at and respect, not hide away. If only this milk storm of ours could spread empowerment to mothers everywhere... if only it could blow away the cobwebs and breastfeeding myths and shower us with support and guidance. Because I have two breasts. Two magical, completely normal, indiscreet breasts.
This post originally appeared on Mama Bean Parenting.