Monday, January 21, 2013

My Baby Makes me Brave: On the Thoughts of Strangers

On our way out to Utah, Sam and I stopped to eat in a restaurant in the Boston Logan airport. As we walked in, Henrietta was fussing a little, and I tried to decide if this meant she was hungry or tired or wet or what. I suspected she was hungry and this was distressing because we were seated at a table right next to a couple having a quiet meal, and they seemed to be glad to be having their quiet meal, and I somehow got this vibe that they would not be interested in having me feed my baby one seat over.

I'm a discrete breastfeeder, dedicated to using a cover, but still. You know this vibe? This sort of stiffening in the room when you walk in with a baby? I mean, there are rooms I've walked in that I can instantly tell are full of moms, or people who understand kids, and I feel like whatever goes down is going to be okay. But when I sense that stiffening, when I can tell people are eyeing my baby like it's only a matter of time before she ruins their meal, it makes me nervous.

I was nervous about this couple. They ordered another glass of wine, and the man looked out the window, and the woman pushed around the french fries on her plate. They weren't talking much, and I wondered if they were having a disagreement, or had just generally run out of things to say. I pulled the baby out of her seat, tried to bounce and hold her into chilling out, but she was having none of it. Sam tried to walk her around the terminal a little, but she didn't wish to walk about. She was hungry. There was only one way to fix it. And though I knew they wouldn't dig on her crying through the meal, I somehow thought they wouldn't be keen on my breastfeeding in public, either.

You see, I'm the kind of person who cares a lot what people think. I wish this weren't so. I think about what you might think of me and I try to anticipate and control it and it's endlessly impossible. But this is one of the lovely things about this baby: I'm learning how not to care. There's this focused priority, this person I'm somehow more comfortable being responsible for than I am being responsible for myself, and if it comes down to disappointing the couple next to me or feeding my hungry baby, I feed my hungry baby. Their peaceful grown-up lunch be damned. I'd rather have Henrietta happy. It's deeply liberating.

So I fed her, and she made her slurping happy noises, and by the time the couple got up to leave she was back in her car seat, kicking her legs and cooing happily. And the woman bent down to me as she was leaving and said, "You're lucky to have such a sweet baby."

So see? Maybe I have no idea what people are thinking anyway. Maybe the stiffening is in me, and I project it out into the room ahead of me. But all I know is that I've spent my whole life trying to listen to the part of me that knows what needs to be done, and that part of me is much less muddley now. What a relief.  

13 comments:

David and Melanie said...

Huzzah! So glad you're conquering your fears, and even more that nursing is going so swimmingly for you :) You're fabulous!

Amalie said...

oh I feel the same about the stiffening and the worst is trying to teach piano in someones home and my child is having a tantrum or just upset or frustrated. Glad that she was happy for you after eating. that always makes things better.

Giuli said...

Trust me, after the second kid, you don't care who has a problem with you breastfeeding. I'm not quite at the whip it out and feed them without a cover hippie stage, but I'm tired of cowering in bathrooms to feed my child. I had a very nice udder cover for Kizzie, thank you, and if people get upset at even the thought of slurping noises, then they have some serious problems. Can I tell you that in our last ward the mother's lounge was the bathroom. Yuck! I just sat in the foyer and fed her, and if people didn't like it, then I suggested that they eat their lunch next to a stall, thank you. Gosh, I've turned into a bit of a rebel, haven't I? Good luck!

Annie said...

Bravo! I can relate to this so well!!

ginger said...

Perhaps you still care very much what people think...but people has become person and that person's name is Henrietta and world be damned she is going to know that you're her ever loving mother who will meet her needs and respond appropriately to her no matter how old she is and no matter what the problem. Way to go mama.

ginger said...

Oh, and I'm also intrigued by the nursing cover phenomena. The fancy-shmancy ones you wear around your neck didn't exist when my first two were born. Even the more conservative moms I knew just kept a blanket handy to cover any exposed skin. Now I see women in the mother's lounge who apologize for forgetting their cover. The shift to seemingly more need for coverage over the years has been interesting to watch.

Deja said...

Guili, you go girl! My thoughts exactly, though I'm just getting comfortable with them. My new building does have a mother's room, and at first I thought, eh, too bad, folks. I'm nursing wherever. But then I tried it. And it was so quiet ... and it was sort of a welcome break, honestly. So I may use it again. That is, when I'm brave enough to take Baby back to church. In the middle of a flu epidemic, I'm opting to keep her home a little more than I might. Anyway, kudos to you!

Deja said...

Ginny, I'm finding there's a whole range of feelings about coverage (and means of covering). I tend to be a discrete person when it comes to this sort of thing. I used to be too shy to change clothes in front of my sisters. Pregnancy and childbirth has made me less so, but I'm still inclined in that direction. I can say my decision to cover has far more to do with that than any opinion about what anyone else ought to do. There are women who are comfortable and elegant while nursing coverless (you!) and I'm pleased they manage it. I just feel safer with a fancy shmancy cover. They're easier than a blanket, since you can be (relatively) hands-free.

belann said...

I always felt more comfortable being discrete. Wish I would have had the fancy shmancy back in the day.

ginger said...

Shoot, sometimes my e-wording is poor and I should clarify that I've been intrigued by watching the evolution of the cover, but certainly cast no judgement over someone using one or not. I mean, people can stand on their heads if that's what they need to do to help their baby eat.

I've been pondering this more though and I'm thinking that it isn't that I've seen more women covering themselves, just that I'm noticing women nursing more often since they often hang a pretty flag over their neck while doing so. From that point of view I'm a cover advocate as people seeing women breastfeeding (cover or no) is what will continue to normalize breastfeeding in America. In my nine years of cover-less nursing no one ever commented after looking at me, but several people did come up to touch my babes, only to jump back and apologize for not realizing I was nursing. Perhaps I should have been flashier ;)

Deja said...

Ginny, no sweat. I got your vibe. I wonder if there actually ARE more women nursing in public, if the covers have freed them up to do so. People like my mom would have just hid away, since there wasn't an adequate cover. And like Guili said, the alternative is "cowering in the bathroom." I know for me, as I say in this post, there's usually a little spark of shame, when I first bust out the goods, so to speak. And I have to remind myself this is totally normal, totally beautiful and important, and if I can't do it in public, there's something wrong with the world. Here's to feeding the babies!

ginger said...

Oh, I definitely think more women nurse in public because of covers. It's a good thing to be sure.

I think I started having babies too young to realize I "should" cover up. Really, I didn't have a single friend who had had a baby before and I had just joined the church so I had no context for appropriate or normal nursing or mothering in general. So I blazed my own flesh baring trail. Perhaps I still felt quite modest compared to me not so distant non-member self.

Deja said...

Should, shmould. I have a clear memory of one of your babies indicating his interest in nursing during sacrament meeting, and your quick and natural response was lovely and far from immodest. I don't remember seeing any flesh I shouldn't have seen, so I think you managed to figure it out how to be discrete. But really, the ease of it all made an impression on me. An iconic Ginny image in my brain.