“As a first time mother, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I attended every birthing class, new parenting class, and did my fair share of googling. I had it all made up in my mind and I was as ready as anyone could be… or so I thought.
I watched videos on how to help your baby latch, what tricks you can use if your milk doesn’t come in, and everything in between. Although I tried to prepare myself for issues that could arise, there was one problem I hadn’t thought of.
It all started in the hospital with my first born. With the birth of any child, there is a slew of visitors. Everyone wanted to come in and see our new baby boy.
They wanted to hold him, cuddle with him, and just be in his presence… except when it came time for him to eat. The awkward glances, uncomfortable expressions on my close family and friends’ faces, and the going as far as to leave altogether wasn’t something I could have ever prepared for.
I remember thinking, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ Why would everyone leave or turn away as soon as I started to unbutton my top? What was so horrible about me feeding my son? Was I doing it wrong and no one wanted to mention it? What could it be?
Although the reactions I got from those who visited me in the hospital left me feeling less than enthusiastic about the start of my breastfeeding journey, I shrugged it off and attributed it to the newness of everything. Maybe I had mistaken their excitement for discomfort. After all, I was on a lot of drugs after having an emergency c-section.
But after arriving home, it didn’t get better. Family came from out of town to meet baby Karson. When feeding time came, my mother-in-law said, ‘Can you please breastfeed him upstairs where my father can’t see you?’ To this day, I’m not sure if she was personally ashamed or just thought they would be offended. But it’s something that has stuck with me for quite some time. Not having the support of family and friends only made it that much more difficult when complete strangers would pass their unnecessary judgement.
New to breastfeeding, I was already pretty nervous about going outside with my baby. Having had a c-section, walking and breastfeeding simultaneously hadn’t been a big thing at home for me. I mostly sat and propped him up to keep the strain off my back and abdomen.
But I couldn’t stay in the house for the first two years of his life, so I eventually ventured outside.
My first trip was to Walmart, as we needed diapers and a few other things. I decided to go with my husband. I always feel empowered when he’s near. If no one else had my back, I knew he would. I brought with me a sling gifted from a friend. I had looked up a few YouTube videos to see if it was possible to breastfeed in one, so I felt pretty confident and prepared.
As we entered Walmart, I thought to myself, ‘If I can get out of here in 20 mins or less I wont even have to feed him.’ But, alas, it was Walmart so that was completely unrealistic. As he started to fuss, I put the sling on and tried to get him comfortably in it while figuring out how to keep from exposing my stomach while I nursed. Feeling frustrated and defeated after 30 minutes of taking him out and putting him back in, I gave up. He was now at the point of screaming for milk, which was causing more attention than I wanted. I hurried to lift my top and shoved my nipple in his mouth. At that moment, my husband decided he needed a new toothbrush and had walked off. Of course he did.
Already feeling pretty embarrassed by the whole sling situation, I frantically searched the diaper bag for a blanket to throw over Karson while he ate. Unable to find one I decided to try and find a place that maybe a lot of customers wouldn’t be while he nursed, but I mean it’s Walmart. Does that even exist?
As I made my way over to the outdoor sports aisle, a woman tapped my shoulder. As I turned around, her expression said more then she ever needed to. ‘How dare you expose yourself to my husband like that,’ she snarled. ‘You should be ashamed of yourself. What type of mother doesn’t cover themselves up? Have some decency.’ And just like that, she just walked away. And although she was no longer with me, her words would linger in the back of my mind for years to come.
From that moment on, I made it a point to always pack a blanket or cover of some kind in the diaper bag. I even packed a few in the car, just in case. That way no matter where I was going, I would always be prepared. And for a while that worked, until it didn’t anymore.
As Karson grew, he started taking the covers off. He hated them and honestly so did I. But I fought him on it. On one end I felt bad because a lot of times he would be sweating, or even I’d sweat, but I wanted to avoid any negative comments at all costs. Again, I felt like I was doing something wrong. I mean, like that woman said, what type of mother wouldn’t cover up?
Fast forward to my second child. After breastfeeding Karson until he was almost two, I had gained a little more confidence. Taking the kids out wasn’t nearly as daunting and I rarely requested my husband to accompany me. I hadn’t had an ‘occurrence’ in quite some time, so I was feeling pretty good about myself. And then it happened.
Standing in the baby aisle at Target one day, Kinley was hungry. I picked her up out of her carseat and began to feed her. I had mastered walking and breastfeeding by this time so I was happily going from table to table looking for cute little baby tutu’s. I approached a display of dresses that two other moms were also peering at. ‘Oh good,’ I thought. ‘Moms. I’m sure they wont have anything to say.’ Boy, was I wrong.
Although neither of them directly spoke to me, they made no point in hiding their conversation. ‘I hate when women seek attention,’ one mom said. ‘Right, it’s so annoying. It’s like, that’s how she got into this mess to begin with,’ the other replied. At first I wasn’t sure what they were talking about, so I continued to browse those sweet baby girl dresses.
‘Do you think she knows who the father is?,’ the first responded. ‘I doubt it, I mean, look at how nonchalantly she is walking about with her breast all out, I’m sure that says a lot about her morals,’ the second mom commented. At that moment, I knew they were speaking about me. Mortified, I walked away and left the store, completely leaving everything I had in the cart.
The amount of negative comments and looks I have had over the years is immeasurable. From restaurant managers requesting I feed my child in the restroom, men telling me to cover up, other moms telling me children were present and I shouldn’t be flashing them at a public park. The list is pretty long.
As time passed, I began to join breastfeeding support groups online. It was nice hearing that I wasn’t alone and knowing what I was doing wasn’t actually bad. It was completely normal. It was okay for me to feed my child in public, and yet still I hesitated.
It wasn’t until I moved from Indiana to California that I really gained confidence. I don’t know why, but for some reason it is just more welcomed. Everywhere I go, I see a mom breastfeeding their child. At the park, the mall, restaurants, even at the doctor’s office. Literally everywhere I turn. Plus I have seen numerous billboards in support of breastfeeding as well. I remember the first time I saw one. I was almost in shock by it. I thought, ‘Is that legal? Is that okay? Can they have a woman with her breast out on this billboard?’ And see, that’s the problem right there. Why should that even be a question? She was doing what she was meant to do, what God created her to do. And this isn’t to say that women who choose or need to formula feed are any less than, because I am an advocate for doing what works best for you and your family. But why can a woman freely walk about in a bikini or a man completely topless, but if I want to feed my child I should run and hide?
It’s taken years and a lot of positive self-talk to build my confidence back up. I still have days when I am nervous about going out with my youngest, fearful I may have to feed him while I’m out. I’m not sure those feelings will ever completely disappear. Although they aren’t as prevalent as they used to be, they still linger. But I no longer allow those feelings, thoughts, miseducated glances, or inappropriate comments to stop me.
My whole family went to the museum the other day in Indiana, and I breastfed. I sat on a blanket in the middle of an outside art exhibit and fed my child. Outside of birthing my children, this was one of the best moments of my life and one I am thankful to have achieved.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jazmyne Futrell of Mixed Mom Brown Babies. You can follow her journey on Instagram here. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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