Shae O'Brien is an English teacher, writer, wife, and mother to three beautiful girls. She takes life with a grain of salt and two spoonfuls of sugar! Please be sure to follow her on www.facebook.com/catholicmamablog.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Breastfeeding Mother and the Public Eye

I would like for you to imagine, if you will, Eve. She is admiring the garden around her, the literal fruit of God's creation. Though she probably has not thought to consider, she as well serves as a miraculous example of God's creation. The human body. She has been designed by God to take in seed, to bear fruit, and to nourish and care for that fruit. Scientists in centuries to come will admire the design and capabilities of the human body with a reverence, the same reverence Eve has in this moment for God. This is because we truly are God's incredible creation.

Now I would like you to imagine Mary, Joseph, and their new son in the manger. Her son begins to cry (which I can only imagine to be the most beautiful and heart wrenching cry the world would ever hear), and Joseph immediately responds with a protective yet gentle hand, cradling Jesus in his arms to bring him to Mary, who is still recovering in a makeshift bed of hay. She instinctively makes little sounds of reassurance as she opens her dress to place Jesus at an already leaking breast. He, the Son of God, has found nourishment and comfort in the fruit of God's creation.

If you would, just one more time, now imagine a young mother who has come to mass for the first time with her newborn. She has not been to church before, but somehow taking part in the miraculous creation and birth of this tiny little human being has inspired a new spark of reverence and curiosity in her spiritual life. As she hesitantly takes her seat in the pew, and the service begins, her tiny blessing begins to cry. She realizes what her child wants, but cringes at what she will now have to do in a room full of strangers and priest and God. Nonetheless, she discreetly tries to pull her shirt down and slip her breast out while quickly trying to get her infant to latch properly on her overly-sensitive, cracked, engorged breast. The physical discomfort is immediate, but it is nothing compared to the anxiety she feels in her pounding chest at all the eyes around her. Now imagine you are sitting next to her in that pew. What face are you making? What words do you say? What thoughts go through your mind?

In today's society, the human body is no longer viewed by most as the fruit-bearing creation of God that it once was. With a wide array of magazines, movies, commercials, advertisements, and more displaying the human body as a commodity to be purchased, a perfection to be attained, or a desire to be devoured, it is no surprise that we have a hard time refreshing our minds and spirits to the pure and true purpose of the human body. Sadly, the result of this societal conditioning is that mothers are now expected to abide by the sexualized standards of society and are ridiculed or judged by others for providing the nourishment and care that God created their bodies to provide. Though laws have been put in place to protect a breastfeeding mother's right to feed her child in public (http://breastfeedinglaw.com/state-laws/), the law does not protect a mother's spirit from the judgment and condemnation of the public.

I believe the most important stance we can take as a community is one of understanding and support. Can the sight of a mother breastfeeding in public make one uncomfortable? Yes. It would be naive to assume that people will suddenly forget the societal conditioning they were raised on in our country. However, is that the mother's issue to address? Not at all. We should all respect and appreciate that the mother's role is to care for her child as God intended, and her focus should solely be on that proper care--not on the bystanders around her.

What is the best way to do that? Well, simply put, the best way for us to support breastfeeding mothers is to NOT do anything. What I mean by that is, we should NOT make any kind of facial expression/sound/gesture when they attempt to feed. We should NOT advise the mother on how to breastfeed (whether by covering up, going to the bathroom, etc.). We should NOT judge a mother's integrity or manners based on her need to breastfeed in public. This last one is important. The largest complaint I receive from the community is how the mother is not being "considerate" of those around her when she breastfeeds/breastfeeds in public/breastfeeds uncovered/etc. Please be mindful that the most considerate thing a mother can do is breastfeed her child. That very act shows unconditional love and consideration for her child, regardless of her personal feelings of embarrassment, shame, or concern. Also, when a mother breastfeeds her child in public, she is being considerate of those around her by stopping her child from screaming and crying in public. It is very important to remember that our own discomfort does not always equal some wrong-doing on the part of someone else. I do not experience discomfort because a breastfeeding mother is present. I experience discomfort because society has conditioned my mind to view breasts as sexual objects instead of a source of nourishment.

As a community, especially as a spiritual family, it is integral that we uplift, encourage, and support healthy and positive behavior. A mother breastfeeding her child is the personification of health, and she is merely using the human body as God designed it to be used. If you need an example of the kind of attitude to have toward breastfeeding, here is a quote from Pope Francis himself:

Please feel free to share this post with anyone you believe may benefit, both community members and mothers alike. If you are a mother, please know you are loved and supported within the Catholic community, and we are thankful for the unconditional love and nourishment you provide your child, in whatever way you are able to do so. God bless you.

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