It’s dark outside. Quiet. Warm. The ceiling fan is on above us, and you lay by my side on a simple green blanket with an embroidered butterfly at the bottom. I won this blanket as part of a clothing lot in an auction years before you were born. It belonged to each of your big brothers and now it belongs to you. Somehow it has managed to avoid the stains of frequent use and it has made the move between four homes and three states over five years.
I, too, have made a journey. Not only between each of those places, but also through motherhood.
More than five years ago, this green blanket ended up in the black Similac diaper bag that I had taken home from the hospital at the insistence of the cheerful blonde nurse that stepped us through your oldest brother’s discharge after he was born. It accompanied us to your brother’s first pediatrician’s appointment. It was the blanket that I pulled out the first time I ever tried to nurse in public.
I was unprepared.
Your brother was a week old. For the first three days he refused to latch on (other than once) and was fed colostrum from my fingertip. When he was three days old and we were home for the first night since he was born, my milk came in and he finally latched on. Engorgement made my breasts larger than his head. I struggled with a terrible latch and he managed to suck a second nipple onto my right breast. A second nipple that leaked blood rather than milk and that was black and blue. My mother took us to the drug store the next day and picked out a tube of lanolin. I gritted my teeth and held my breath when he latched on. I cried in the shower when the water hit my breasts. I tried to pump with a pump that I now refer to as “The Nipple Shredder”. I was inexperienced. Struggling. In pain. Without support.
I was unprepared.
I had nursed him just before we left the house just a half an hour before.
He taught me this: Babies don’t know how to tell time.
He couldn’t possibly be hungry.
He taught me this: Even babies that are completely full will want to nurse for comfort when they’re out and about in a hectic world where the breast is that one comforting and familiar thing.
He needed to nurse.
I had no clue to how to nurse in public. Most of what I had heard about nursing in public was people telling me “for the sake of everything that is good, DON’T DO IT! It’s gross.” Or they told me that it was fine as long as I covered up. Covering up sounded easy. You just take a blanket and.. Cover it up.
I quite possibly cannot repeat this enough times. I was unprepared. Horribly horribly unprepared. Unprepared emotionally, unprepared physically, and without any sort of knowledge that would have made my first experience nursing in public any easier.
I laid him down on my lap. My Boppy pillow was at home. I put a blanket over him. I looked at a blanket-covered screaming baby and realized that I couldn’t see my breast. I couldn’t see him. I had enough trouble getting him latched on at home when I could be naked from the waist up. I had no idea how to work the clasps on my nursing bra. I fumbled with one, getting it unlatched and watching in horror as my reusable cotton nursing pad fell to the floor. I ignored it and tried to latch my son on blind.
You, I can latch on in the dark in my sleep with a single hand while updating this website with the touch screen of my cell phone with the other and counting backwards from one hundred. You are the third of three. I am a pro.
The screaming escalated. Everyone was staring. I considered the bathroom but then I saw the line. Finally I ducked my head under the blanket and lined everything up just right and your brother latched on. Chomped down. I stifled a squeal of pain and held my breath and then emerged disheveled. Sweaty. On the verge of tears.
The first face I saw was the very unhappy looking face of an older woman who looked like she had just seen a prostitute wander into the pediatrician’s office to solicit everyone.
This was not the first face I needed to see.
Daughter of mine, I can tell you unequivocally now that this woman was WRONG to look at me and your brother this way. Horribly horribly wrong. Cruelly wrong.
She could have smiled. She could have come to sit by me and offered to hold the blanket to help. She could have reassured me that it didn’t matter if anyone saw. She could have looked away. Instead she chose to inflict shame upon a young first-time mother who was struggling to provide the best for her child.
I, too, could have done things differently. I could have used that moment to wither in shame and choose to let your brother go without milk and without comfort. I could have made the choice to switch to bottle feeding. I could have lashed out in a reaction to my own shame and started to tell other mothers to cover up.
Breastfeeding is not like breakfast lunch and dinner. It is something that is a part of a baby’s day constantly. When woken suddenly from sleep by an unexpected noise. When woken by the need for a diaper change. When they are awake in an unfamiliar place. When mom is stressed out and they pick up on it. They want to nurse. Babies come from a world where every need is provided for before it is even a need. Where food comes from blood pumped through their umbilical cord. They are driven by instinct and design to replicate this through constant contact with their mother and seeking food and closeness in times of stress.
It is not by accident that each state of this country where you live protects your right to nurse, and protects me from any fallout from doing so. It is for a reason compelling enough to craft a law that seems to go against the outspoken voices of the minority who seek to cast shame upon women who are simply feeding their children.
I have many positive stories as well. Of smiles and of people who have brought me paper cups of water in waiting rooms in other offices or that have purchased me bottles of spring water when they saw me nursing on a bench in the summer. I have many many stories where people simply didn’t notice. Or didn’t care. I have only a small handful of negative stories to tell after three years of nursing on the go.
This simple green blanket with its pink embroidered butterfly has made this journey with me, with each of your siblings that came before you, and it will be among the gifts that I will give you when your first child is born. Not to act as a cover, but to act as a reminder. The difference between my positive stories and my negative stories were simply a choice that another person made. The negative stories come from someone else’s poor choice to be cruel instead of supportive. I hope to be by your side to offer you all of the reassurances that I wish had been offered to me that first time that I nursed in front of strangers. However, if you find yourself alone.. Know this: You are feeding your child. There is no shame in that. Ever.