As in covered or uncovered, that is.
So far in my life, I’ve breastfed for 19 months. I’ve yet to encounter any problems whilst doing it in public and I think this is partly due to my naivity when I first started. Having unintentionally found myself pregnant with Boogie, I had bigger issues to worry about (like how the hell is this thing getting out exactly?!!) and if you’d asked me about breastfeeding then I’d have mumbled something about probably giving it a go and seeing how we got on. I really had no definite opinion on the matter (I had no definite opinions on anything to do with child rearing then, being happily certain that I was never going to have kids – ha ha!), so it was entirely a surprise on arriving at hospital to discover that everybody – and I mean everybody – in there asked me whether I intended to breatfeed – and often, asked me before they’d even introduced themselves or said hello. For all I know, several cleaners asked me about my milk intentions. I learnt in about 3.8 seconds that my answer of ‘we’ll see’ wasn’t good enough, and I quickly changed it to ‘yes’ (I know, I’m weak – I like an easy life, what can I say?! but it was true). So I tried it and I liked it and I fed on demand so I fed whenever and wherever I happened to be, being completely unaware of the fact that breastfeeding in public was in any way an issue. Yeah, yeah, I know, naive but what can I say? So I fed oblivious to others around me and only gradually started to notice hostile stares or curling of lips from people around me, and by the time I really noticed them, I was too far down the breastfeeding road to turn back – not least because I’d realised how bloody convenient it was compared to bottle feeding. Frankly, my children would have spent their early months in a state of permanent hunger if I’d had to remember all the bottle feeding paraphenalia every time I went out. They were lucky if I managed to remember a spare nappy. Self-organisation is not my strong point even now, and it certainly wasn’t when Boogie was first born. So then if I noticed anybody staring or curling, I’d just stare and curl right back. And I’m still the same now. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else. I’m feeding a baby! Get over it. So, in accordance with the principle that the world will give you as much shit as you let it, I’ve never suffered anything other than a stare or curl because my own ‘wanna take a fucking picture?’ expression inevitably causes the offender to immediately look down and away. God, how I love the British! Do I cover up? Are you kidding? These days I barely remember to take the baby with me when I go out. Chances of me remembering to take a cover up? Pretty darn slim.
There’s a debate going on here http://www.phdinparenting.com/2010/01/27/covering-up-is-a-feminist-issue/ about whether women should cover up whilst feeding and I must say I was as surprised as anyone when I found myself hiking up my jumper and not being particularly bothered when I failed to cover a nipple. I’m a very private person and I don’t generally go around exposing myself, so my laissez-faire attitude was unexpected. But I was feeding a baby. And that always seemed to me to be what I was concerned about, rather than whether some random person found an inch of my boob flesh offensive. But some are asking the question, are women who cover up letting down feminism?
Well, sheesh. Like we don’t have enough things to worry about. I accept that if women didn’t cover up it would go some way to ‘normalising’ feeding in public, but fuck it, feeding a baby is completely normal anyway, so let’s just ‘normalise’ the fact that some women don’t like exposing breast flesh in public and some aren’t that bothered – that’s normal.
On the other hand, I can’t help but be a little bit disappointed when a woman allows herself to be ejected from an establishment for breastfeeding at all. That just seems an admission that you’re doing something wrong and that bothers me. I have sympathy for the individual women (hey, some people don’t like to make a fuss – it’s that British thing again) but I do think it sends the wrong message. Much to my chagrin these days, I’ve never been asked to leave anywhere (well, not because I was breastfeeding anyway) but I’m pretty sure my reaction would be: I’m happy to leave when I’ve finished both feeding my baby and consuming whatever I’ve bought here. Until then, leave me alone or I’m going to sue you for harrassment, feckless moron. Or something like that.
Seriously, I never even imagined when I started that giving my baby nourishment could be so fraught.