Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Under Cover No More

For those of you who may not have heard, my littlest kiddo was hospitalized with RSV at Children's for four days in the beginning of February. To say the very least, BJ and I were distraught and concerned about our six-week-old little guy as he struggled to breathe, but before he was admitted to the hospital we didn't realize how bad it had gotten. Van was truly in respiratory distress and was illustrating what the medical staff termed "retracting" (a word I quickly came to understand well) in order to breathe because he wasn't getting enough oxygen. On Super Bowl Sunday at around noon, we got the green light from a friend of mine who works as a physician's assistant in an ER, telling us that we needed to take action and get Van into Children's ER because his struggles were significant. It took little time for me to gather some necessary items that we might need for Van. My dad arrived to drive me, and I was out the door.

Within that five-minute scramble, I made a semi-significant decision for Van and myself--I abandoned the nursing cover that I always breastfed him under. Now, at that point in time Van had to make the choice between eating and breathing because he couldn't do both, and naturally he was choosing to breathe. Still, I thought he may change direction and eat in the ER, so perhaps I should pack my cover just in case. One look at it though, pretty as it is, and I immediately felt disgusted and angry. I muttered aloud to BJ, "Forget the stupid cover. I'm not taking it. If someone has a problem with me feeding my baby in a children's hospital without a cover, they can screw themselves." Simply put, there wasn't an iceberg's chance in hell that I was going to put my poor little guy who could barely breathe under a stuffy cover to help some possible random stranger feel more comfortable about perhaps seeing a flash of my breast. I was suddenly so angry about the nursing cover, and when that emotion combined with my panicked feelings about Van, it suddenly seemed like an easy decision to leave the cover at home. The flash of anger, I believe, was born from being repeatedly told in social media that I'm doing something I should be ashamed of by feeding my baby in a place other than a bathroom. If you don't believe me, check out this TMZ article lambasting Selma Blair for breastfeeding her child in public...and then for bonus irony, check out the photos at the bottom of the page of scantily clad women somehow deemed socially acceptable promoting other articles that have nothing to do with breastfeeding, and decide which photos are actually more revealing!)

I hung my nursing cover in the mudroom on my way to the hospital six weeks ago, and I've only used it on one occasion since then.

On the Mend
Now, don't get me wrong, dear reader. I'm about as interested in you catching a glimpse of my breast as you are about seeing it yourself, which is to say not at all. I am an exhibitionist only by Middle-Eastern standards; my swimsuit has shorts, for heaven's sake, and I'm not talking about the sexy hot pants kind. But what I'm really not interested in is forcing my sweet baby boy to eat his meals under a hot, stuffy cover that he hates. His breathing problems have gone, but my semi-posttraumatic feelings of panic are very much there whenever I think about covering him up and compromising his breathing. Believe me: once you go through that as a parent, you don't come back unchanged. So instead I choose to be discreet, using scarves or receiving blankets or Van's head to help facilitate coverage without actually covering my baby completely, and nurse my baby without a cover in public. I feel that doing so is making the best decision for Van and me. I will always be polite about my coverage, but I won't spare any words for the first stranger who chooses to confront me on the decision (hopefully no one will). My exception for using the cover would be if I am a guest in someone else's home that isn't family or a close girlfriend.

My friend Laura, who is a lactation consultant, sent me a video of a song written by an Australian mother who grew tired of the dirty looks that she got when she nursed her baby in public. Hilarious as the video is, it's truly a sad commentary on the state of breastfeeding in the western world today. Why mothers have to defend themselves at all about where they choose to feed their children (and by what means and up until what age) is a trigger point for BJ and me. The over-sexualization of breasts detracts from their actual intended purpose, which is to feed little nurslings. The lyrics of this song are quite clever and make the point that breastfeeding mothers are not actually out to ruin people's days by feeding their baby. Here are the chorus lyrics: “Everybody knows new mothers are exhibitionists/Taking every chance they get to ruin your day with tits!" In the video the singer busts into a bathroom stall and finds a father sheepishly sitting on a toilet feeding his baby a bottle. Who doesn't agree that such a thing is disgusting? And yet asking mothers to have a seat on a loo and feed their baby in there with every bathroom germ imaginable is somehow more acceptable to some people?

In conclusion, here's my statement: I'm done retreating to bathrooms and hiding under covers. I did it with my first two sons and I'm not doing it anymore. I'll respect people, and people can respect my baby. My under cover days are over! I venture now into very charted waters---explored by mothers all throughout human history.

By the way, this is not a picture of me nursing.

***If you're interested in reading more about nursing in public and the history of perceptions, this is the best article about it that I've ever read: Breastfeeding and NIP: A Primer. ***

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