I read today that a group of people have started a campaign to shine a light on the importance of breast feeding. Apparently there are still some people who make the women who choose to publicly breastfeed feel rather ashamed. I’m sure there are one or two luddites and misogynists out there who behave appallingly, but I can’t help but think there are greater issues for women to get worried about. Unfortunately, and I’m going to say it, breastfeeding can be an anti-social thing which becomes particularly uncomfortable when the child doing the feeding is old enough to walk over to Mummy and ask for milk!
Above all, I get slightly irritated by the militant mothers who feel that, because they’ve CHOSEN to have children, the rest of the world needs to feel somehow grateful. To those of us without children, breastfeeding can be a slightly odd sight. I know it’s good for the baby; it’s natural, it establishes bonds, and delivers nutrients, but it’s also divides people. I for one don’t particularly like the sight of breasts. There are many who don’t like penises, and that’s why, when I have a wee, I don’t whip it out and piss in a pot in a cafe!
Furthermore, (and more importantly) I know plenty of new mothers who are desperate to breastfeed their children, but don’t have the ability to do so for whatever reason. Many non-breastfeeding mothers are made to feel rather (for want of a better word) emasculated by their inability to produce milk. There are also women, whose children have died or been adopted, who spontaneously lactate whenever they hear a child crying, and seeing a woman breastfeeding can be hugely distressing. Moreover, there are women, many, many women, and some men, who are desperate for children, but whom, either for medical reasons, or through circumstance, cannot have babies.
I personally think making a song and dance about breast-feeding or any aspect of child-rearing can be devastating for many. “Look at me and my fecundity, whilst you’re sitting opposite all barren and withered...” I once heard the story of a woman who poured her heart out to her friend (a mother of one) saying how terribly sad she felt that she didn’t have children. When she looked up, her friend was in tears. It very quickly transpired, however, that she wasn’t crying in sympathy with the woman, she was crying because the conversation had made her realise that she was probably never going to have a second child. I mentioned this story recently to a mother-of-two who said, “of course she was crying, the desire to have a second child is as strong as the desire to have the first.” She’s probably right. But what of the woman with no children at all? I use this example to suggest that the behaviour of young mothers can periodically (and unwittingly) be quite cruel. There’s sometimes a bombastic quality about their drive to be the most tired, the most put upon, the most amazing career woman, which can lose sight of the fact that, for some, they’re the luckiest women on the planet. Us non-parents are often told we simply don’t understand, without anyone realising that the views of the outsider can often be if not important, at least relevant.
The bottom line is that there are some things which need to be handled with a degree of subtlety. I am a proud gay man with law on my side, but I would never dream of showing a huge amount of romantic affection to another man in public, because I don’t want to offend, and frankly, don’t want to appear undignified. Quite why we need to suddenly go all militant about breastfeeding I’m not sure. After all, most of the women I know are hugely discrete about the act. They use cloths and blankets to hide their nipples to protect those who may find the sight a little bit too free and easy and I don’t see why we need to offend for the sake of being liberated. With all of these issues, we surely need to simply establish an understanding all round, without banging our drums too loudly simply because we have right on our side.