I was recently asked my opinion on openly breastfeeding in public. It fascinates me this is an issue with the current fashion trends. I am actually surprised anyone could take offense to a baby being nourished in the mall when a half-naked 15-year-old is standing in line at the cookie factory. I am no more surprised by the word “juicy” scrolled across her short shorts than the gaggle of full grown men strutting to the arcade with their whole butts hanging out of their pants. My brother is one of the “big and tall” brutes who can’t ever find pants because all the skinny “gangsters” have cleaned out Old Navy in an effort to wear pant 22 sizes too big for them.
Gasp. “I can see that baby nursing!”
Yes, well… I can see your nipples, yet you aren’t lactating, and your tramp stamp does say “Want some?” We are a society of conflicting and nonsensical standards. But breastfeeding a baby? This offense is something I do not understand.
My feeding stories are a calamity of sorts. I currently have 7 children ranging in age from 1 to 21. The oldest four are our biological children. One was breastfed and supplemented with formula. One erupted from my womb, asked me to cover my bare breasts and hand him a cup. The next two I was able to breastfeed exclusively, successfully, and with the last; even through an emergency hysterectomy. Then we adopted Sam. Sam was 10 days old the first time I held him. My body was overcome with emotion. One part of me was horrified he’d been alone for 10 days. Another part of me wanted to bathe him, scour him from head to toe, so he would cease to smell like a foreign being and more like… us. Still another part of me ached to feed him. Besides holding him close, I had little else to offer him but nourishment. He welcomed the bottle, he ate well and thrived.
The next child to come into our care was baby Charlie. He was injured. I was informed from the beginning, foster care is just “glorified babysitting,” but I knew, Charlie knew I was entirely devoted to his care. He had my whole heart, no matter what, no matter for how long. I was careful with him, tender. I slept with him in a recliner and warmed his formula just so. He grew and thrived. Feeding him was a time of comfort in an otherwise painful and stressful time.
Our latest foster placement is here with me now. She is a cherub. I am all for her too, but feeding her has been a challenge. She has genuine tummy issues. I think the hardest part of not being able to feed her well, and with confidence, is that feeding is essential survival. This is the minimum I can offer her, yet it is a trial. Recently, I was in the grocery store with her, buying her very expensive, very smelly formula and the woman in line behind me said, “If you breastfed her you wouldn’t have to buy that crap.” I didn’t say anything. I could have slain her with “She is my foster daughter.” But I determined the woman wasn’t worthy of the time or the excuse. And this baby girl isn’t an excuse or a dramatic story to be slandered. She is a precious life in need of tender loving care.
We have come a long way in our journey with her. Over the year she has been in our home there has been many an ordeal with keeping her nourished and comfortable. Most likely she will be leaving us soon to go back to her biological mom. And perhaps it is true, maybe I am just a glorified babysitter, but I know these little ones. In the middle of the night, when everyone else is sleeping, the weight of helpless life and the privilege of feeding them is something I never grow weary of. A whisper in the cry, “I need…” is an intimate calling for help.
I guess I have run the gamut. From breast to soy formula, goats milk and predigested corn proteins, feeding a newborn has its challenges, but it is also the most primal and private parts of mothering. So watch what you say, stay out of my womb – and in this case my bra, and just keep being the best mommy you know how to be.
May your floors be sticky and your calling ordained. Love, Jami
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