Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why are we hiding?!

Last week my husband, Charlotte and I spent a week in Michigan to visit grandparents and great grandparents and relax on the many lakes that dot the state. We were fortunate that two of our good friends were also going to be at one of the lakes there so we went one day to see them and hang out as well. We brought Charlotte with us to their lake of course and our friends sister in-law was there as well with her almost one year old baby. One of the great things about being in a bathing suit all day is that it made it much easier to nurse Charlotte when I needed to. The temperature was in the upper 90s and humid so whenever Charlotte wanted to eat I’d just pull aside my bathing suit top and feed her and since we were among friends and it was so hot I didn’t feel compelled to need a cover up. While sitting in a chair outside the other new mom looked at me and remarked, “So you just feed her like THAT? Without a cover up or anything?”
“Around friends I do,” I replied. “Or whenever I feel comfortable. It’s too hot out to cover her up.” I had witnessed earlier her trying to feed her baby under a towel.
“And people don’t look at you strange?” she asked. “I feel like people would say things.”
“What can they say?” I asked. “I’m feeding my baby. If anyone feels uncomfortable then they are staring too long.”

probably can't even tell I'm breast feeding here can you?!
My 18 year old self was not as brave as I am today. I remember specifically saying at one time that I did not understand why women breast fed in public. “Why don’t they just pump a bottle?” I thought. “That’s how I would do it. No one needs to see your breasts in public.” I am embarrassed myself to say I thought this way for many years, especially when I saw women on the airplane while working.
“Doesn’t that women feel uncomfortable?” I would think. “She’s sitting next to a GUY she doesn’t even know. I would never do that.”

Then I had a baby and got over myself.

I have to say my doula was a key component in this change of heart as well. Upon coming home from the hospital and having my milk come in I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t get Charlotte to latch and I had a house full of people and I was trying to hide in the nursery every time I had to feed her which was about every hour. Here I wanted to spend time with my family and I felt alone and isolated with a crying baby and sore breasts. Thankfully my doula did not care about or respect my privacy. After all she had just witnessed me give birth naked on a table so what hadn’t she seen?! Watching me struggle she finally said, “Here let me help you” grabbing my boob and helping coax the baby to latch. She showed me how to massage them because they hurt and, with the help of my husband, gave me the courage to do it in front of people. I didn’t want to hide and miss out on my family time I wanted to enjoy it while they were here so I would feed Charlotte whenever needed.

The thing I never understood about breast feeding is that pumping a bottle and taking it with you isn’t always practical. You can forget bottles but you can never forget your breasts. In the cases where I would bring a bottle sometimes we would have overstayed at that friends house or out to dinner and Charlotte would need to be fed again. So it was either deny my child food and rush home or feed here right where we were. The thing I never understood about nursing covers is that while useful they are also hot. You can’t clearly see what you are doing. You have to put the screaming baby down, dig out the cover, put it over your head, unclasp your bra, lift up your shirt and finally latch the baby on. I equate it to trying to dress a cat in a dark room. That’s about how frustrating and difficult it can be for an already frustrating and difficult process. All to feed your baby.

So somewhere along the line between giving birth, flying on airplanes with Charlotte, having to pump at the galley at work, locking myself in the family bathroom at Wanderlust to pump 3 times a day, having a busy lifestyle where I wanted to take Charlotte out and about with us and being at the lake in practically nothing all day, I stopped caring. I stopped caring what people thought and did what I thought was right. We went to Ikea when Charlotte was about 8 weeks and she had a meltdown so I put on the cover and walked around nursing her. Grown women would walk by and remark, “Oh my goodness is that lady BREAST FEEDING?” I went to the zoo with my friend Jessica and even with Charlotte covered under a blanket people said things as I walked by nursing her. I started to realize with a cover or not, if you are in public doing something as normal as feeding your child than people make remarks so what did it matter either way? Why should I be the one to care what others thought about me?

I have read countless stories about women being shamed into hiding in the bathroom to breast feed. It is a federal law that it is a woman’s right to breast feed not a privilege and yet so many of us are still in hiding by our own choosing. When I am on the plane flying with another flight attendant I straight up tell them that I will be pumping in the galley. I sit down, cover up with my apron and pump to keep my supply up while I am away. You would not believe how many conversations this has started about babies, breast feeding, and struggles from women 25 to 65. I make it normal and so it becomes normal for them too and by the end of our time flying together most women remark, “I forgot what you were even doing under there!” When I went to Wanderlust with my friends from my gym Qi I would sit in a room with my friends talking while pumping. I put the milk in the freezer and made jokes about how you could use it if you ran out of creamer. Pumping and feeding are just a part of the new Natalie and I have embraced the task.

While at my in-laws house I knew that my mother in-law had very much enjoyed breast feeding so I didn’t feel the need to cover up. After a morning walk I sat down on the couch to feed Charlotte and my mother in-law, who still had my phone from taking pictures of us that I’d asked her to just snapped one of me feeding Charlotte. When she pointed the camera at me my reflex was to say, “Oh no don’t take a picture of me now.” Instead I smiled thinking I could always delete it later if I chose to. 

the original

Yesterday on my overnight I was looking for photos I could upload on instagram and came across the picture and decided to share. I feel like instagram is a little more anonymous than facebook so I uploaded it and hash tagged birth without fear. was a site my doula referred me to when I was pregnant. The website not only has stories of natural child birth shared by real women but also stories of c-sections, loss, and other stories supporting women. The moderator of the site is on facebook and has had a very hard time maintaining the site because facebook will frequently block their account when they post pictures of breastfeeding or even babies in the bath tub. So the woman running the site moved to instagram where she could share more photos without being blocked (facebook deems some of their photos inappropriate if you can believe that). The next hour when I logged on to instagram as I scrolled down there I saw my face staring back at me. My photo that I had uploaded of a candid moment breast feeding Charlotte with my caption, “Never be embarrassed to breast feed your baby!” Underneath were comments cheering me on and at last count the photo had almost 700 likes. That means 700 women (and I’m sure some men to) support the photo and me and every other woman out there who is taking a stand for herself and normalizing breast feeding. I was so proud to be featured on a site that had helped me so much that I decided to share the photo on facebook as well. 

you can follow them on instagram, twitter or facebook or their blog for more amazing stuff!
I hesitated to do this at first. I thought about my brother being on facebook and my husband and his friends and my friends and wondering if the photo would disappoint or upset anyone. The moment was so raw and real it was almost too personal to share. Then I realized that this photo could be a voice to all the other moms out there who are afraid to breast feed in public. This could give hope to everyone who was ever shamed and made to feel bad about breast feeding when they had kids. Most of all I did it for Charlotte. I want her to grow to be the type of woman who is fearless. Who embraces herself and loves her body. I have a greater appreciation now for my body than I ever did even when I was in the best shape of my life. I can sustain life and feed my child and that’s amazing because some women can’t breast feed or have children at all. I want Charlotte to know I did the best I could for her and that I didn’t want to hide her or myself from the world. If you have ever breast feed you know it can be a lonely activity. If you feel you have to go into the next room every time you feed your baby then you are missing out on half of your day. Now if I go in the nursery or another room to feed Charlotte it is because I choose to take that time out for us and myself not because I’m ashamed.

I hope by me putting myself out there I encourage other women to do the same. I have several friends who are pregnant now, some who just had babies and some who plan to in the future and I want to let you all know that it’s ok. Relax and enjoy the bonding time you have with your child and don’t take those moments for granted. If you want to breast feed in public than go for it and embrace it and the more women who do this the easier you make it for our future generations. You can pave the way. Lead by example.

If you are a husband, friend or family to a woman who is breast feeding my advice to you is be as normal as you can. Support that woman and tell her she’s doing an amazing thing for her baby and her self. Don’t make it awkward.

If nothing else be flattered that you get to witness such an amazing part of life.

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