There is awkwardness in dealing with a hungry baby in public in Michigan. When the baby is hungry, he cannot wait–he will cry until he chokes on his own tears. And I am not in love with hiding in the bathroom to feed him. I already can’t feed him when I drive, or even really when I’m sitting next to him in the car. If I want to have a relatively smooth time feeding him in public, I have to prepare by pumping at least two bottles in advance, which usually doesn’t happen. And if I did that every single time I went out, I would never leave the house. As it is, I get traumatized each time he cries–screams, howls, chokes–in the backseat while I drive. So if he’s hungry and we’re at a restaurant, I’m going to feed him, which means I’m going to unbutton my shirt in public, and I’ve never done that before now. I have a bebe au lait nursing cover, which has come in handy so far twice–once at a restaurant, and once when I didn’t feel like exposing myself while in the company of a 75-year-old friend. In church twice I left and found a lonely chair in the hallway because I wasn’t sure how indecent it might seem to hear intense sucking sounds while people are trying to pray.
There are two opposing morals: what is best for the baby, and what is proper. I could be kicked out of an establishment for breastfeeding my baby in public in Michigan, but the World Health Organization recommends that I breastfeed my baby until he’s at least two years old. I don’t know how to bridge these two ideals, and it seems unfair. I remember in Spain seeing a woman breastfeed her baby on the beach, topless. But I have not seen more than two women breastfeed her baby in public in America in my lifetime.
In Canada, women are given a year’s paid leave from their jobs to raise their babies. I spoke to a woman recently who lived in Toronto for many years, and she said that the whole first year of a baby’s life is so much different in Canada. Women are more likely to breastfeed for a full year because they aren’t forced to go back to work to provide for the family that they have to leave. Women also can easily ask one another, So what do you do? because they haven’t had to decide between their career and their family. Breast pumps, as the following New Yorker article explains, are a sad compromise. The baby gets his mother’s milk, but he doesn’t get his mother.
I read this article this morning in a January New Yorker: Baby Food, by Jill Lepore:
There are some new rules governing what used to be called “mother’s milk,” or “breast milk,” including one about what to call it when it’s no longer in a mother’s breast. A term, then, nomenclatural: “expressed human milk” is milk that has been pressed, squeezed, or sucked out of a woman’s breast by hand or by machine and stored in a bottle or, for freezing, in a plastic bag secured with a twist tie. Matters, regulatory: Can a woman carry containers of her own milk on an airplane? Before the summer of 2007, not more than three ounces, because the Transportation Security Administration classed human milk with shampoo, toothpaste, and Gatorade, until a Minneapolis woman heading home after a business trip was reduced to tears when a security guard at LaGuardia poured a two-day supply of her milk into a garbage bin. Dr. Ruth Lawrence, of the breast-feeding committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, promptly told the press, “She needs every drop of that precious golden fluid for her baby”; lactivists, who often stage “nurse-ins,” sent petitions; and the T.S.A. eventually reclassified human milk as “liquid medication.” Can a woman sell her milk on eBay? It has been done, and, so far, with no more consequence than the opprobrium of the blogosphere, at least until the F.D.A. decides to tackle this one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, does provide a fact sheet on “What to Do If an Infant or Child Is Mistakenly Fed Another Woman’s Expressed Breast Milk,” which can happen at day-care centers where fridges are full of bags of milk, labelled in smudgeable ink. (The C.D.C. advises that a switch “should be treated just as if an accidental exposure to other bodily fluids had occurred.”) During a nine-hour exam, can a woman take a break to express the milk uncomfortably filling her breasts? No, because the Americans with Disabilities Act does not consider lactation to be a disability. [...]