A friend of mine recently emailed me a link to a wonderful article by Christopher West that defends breastfeeding and describes a nursing mother as “one of the most precious, most beautiful, and most holy of all possible images of woman.” Amen! You can find the rest here.
This article really hit home with me. I’ve always been a strong advocate of breastfeeding and even as a new mom, I felt comfortable nursing in most public places. I never understood women who locked themselves in dark rooms and nursed their babies in seclusion. It’s no wonder they hated breastfeeding and wanted to wean as soon as possible. While I’ve always enjoyed the intimacy and the special bonding that takes place during those middle-of-the-night feedings when it’s just my baby and me, I also enjoy being a part of family events and the hustle and bustle of life. I doubt I’d enjoy nursing as much as I do if it forced me to be a hermit. Now, with two kiddos, I often have to nurse in public out of necessity. If Madeline and I want to head out to the playground, we do it. If Baby Rae needs to eat while we’re out, so be it.
I’ve nursed at the airport, sitting on one of those obnoxious 50 cent kids’ rides that you see at Chuck E. Cheese’s or in the mall, in the grocery store (while my baby was in a sling), on the beach, at the zoo, on a pontoon boat with my baby clad in a bulky lifejacket and at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. However, there was one place where I was initially reluctant to breastfeed. With my first child, the idea of nursing at church made me feel uneasy and frankly, about as modest as a Playboy centerfold. I just couldn’t get myself to do it. Not surprisingly, Mass wasn’t a very peaceful experience for me in those early months when Madeline was eating every couple of hours (or less in her case) and planning around her feeding times was next to impossible. Even later, she was my eager nursling and sought comfort at my breast frequently throughout the day. I was always torn. I didn’t want to miss Mass or to retreat to the bathroom to feed my baby during the Homily, but I didn’t feel like breastfeeding was something I should do at church.
Then, when Madeline was a little over a year, I was at a church event and noticed a woman nursing a toddler right there in the pew in front of me. She happened to be the wife of the event’s main speaker and the mother of the nine children who filled the pew beside her. I couldn’t stop watching her (I hope she didn’t think I was uncomfortable with her nursing; I’d meant to praise her, but I never had a chance to speak with her as she was not a regular parishioner of my church). I was so impressed by the way she was able to discreetly and comfortably feed her child and be present – not just physically but emotionally and spiritually present – at the prayerful event. When it came time for us to quietly pray, she shifted her child’s position and knelt just like the rest of us. To me, seeing her provide nourishment to her little one with her body in God’s company was, just as Christopher West suggests, the most holy of images.
I realized that if, as I strongly believed, nursing was a part of God’s plan for helping mothers bond with their babies and a way of using my body the way he designed it to be used, then of all places, I should feel comfortable breastfeeding my children in God’s home. Why should I feel shameful nursing in church but not at the mall? Did I believe breasts were made to feed babies or to be squeezed into rhinestone bras for surfers to ogle on the Internet?
Nowadays you’ll find me nursing Rachel Marie using my Modest Mum nursing cover (no, I’m not getting paid to endorse this, but I love it and I’ve had several moms ask me where I got it) at the mall, the library, the park and at Mass. As of yet, I’ve never heard any rude comments or noticed any raised eyebrows or disgusted looks. Honestly, I’m not sure if anyone other than fellow nursing moms can even tell I’m breastfeeding, but if they can, I hope they will recognize this act for what it is – an expression of love for my child. And just as that loving mom of nine did for me, maybe as Christopher West encourages, the image of me nursing will inspire another mom to embrace breastfeeding during Mass and otherwise.