Butter Rum Cartoon

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

PUBLIC BREASTFEEDING

Thorough readers of the Butter Rum Cartoon are aware that I've had a good deal of experience in the nudist lifestyle. Around 1990, my growing family and I lived even full-time in a nudist camp for two-and-a-half years. Micki cleaned the lodge and so our cabin rent was free. It was the only time in our lives that we actually tithed ten percent of our gross income to the Church. We discussed our nudist lifestyle with our priest, having recently joined the Church and wanting to do things right, and he said that he had no problem with it, but that he might have to meet us at the gate to give us anointing of the sick (last rights). He said that the main concern is scandal in the Church, that some parishioners would have difficulty with this, and so we kept our nudist lifestyle under wraps.

Yesterday I found the Normalizing Nursing in Public League (the NNIPL) on Facebook, and was thrilled. I clicked "Like" and added the comment: "I am so happy to have found this group! Every mother has a right to feed her baby when it's hungry." And I've received positive feedback for that simple statement.

Micki has breastfed all our children, until they weaned themselves. This helps children grow up with a sense of security and well-being. We have one picture of her nursing two of our children at once (isn't this why there are two breasts?). But of course she's been told by some that they're offended by breastfeeding and to do it in private. Not wanting to offend, Micki gave in. She was hurt and I was angry, but we respected their wishes. The next day, elsewhere, she'd nurse openly again. I grew to respect the nursing mother, to consider it one of the most beautiful aspects of nature, and to appreciate the economy of it.

"For we were nursed upon the
self-same hill."  - John Milton
And at times I was very pleased with people's reaction. In 1980, Micki and Leif (then just under two-years-old) and I hitchhiked over four thousand miles. In Wisconsin we were picked up by a businessman in a large, nice car. I sat in the front seat, and Micki and Leif were in the back seat. As we traveled through the beautiful country, passing idyllic farms and hearing about the quality of Harvestore silos, Micki lay down and began nursing Leif. At one point the driver turned and noticed her breastfeeding. He took a second quick look in surprise. Then I saw his shoulders relax, his whole body seemed to relax, and he gave a pleasant smile to no one in particular and said quietly, "That's nice."

The driver who said, "That's nice."
People like this are a blessing. And everyone has the potential to be a blessing. I would go to prison before saying that there's anything at all obscene about a mother feeding her child. For that matter, there's nothing obscene about the breast. This is a conditioned problem of our society. There's a Canadian video online in which a young man and woman, both topless, are distributing fliers on a city sidewalk. Public nudity, per se, is not illegal in that city. Several passersby casually accepted fliers. But eventually a police officer comes up and tells the woman to put her top back on. They explain to him that it's not against the law, but nevertheless he repeats for her to put her top back on. And so, not wanting trouble, she obeys but expresses how hurt she is that her partner is allowed to be shirtless but she isn't. It's not fair, she said. I agree.

In the nudist camp, nudity of course is normal. And anyone in the camp who is disgusted by nudity would of course be considered perverse. Perverse is the opposite of normal. Why is that? It's simply that what's accepted in a society is acceptable. I would have a conversation with people in the (clothing optional) camp, and later that day, thinking back, I honestly wouldn't remember if they were nude or not. Nudity was normal; no big deal. There's nothing sexual about it; it was simply natural and acceptable.

In January 1966, National Geographic magazine included an article, with photos, about The Waurá: Brazilian Indians of the Hidden Xingu. At seventeen, a preacher's kid, I was fascinated by a society in which nudity was normal and natural, and it was later that year when I found and sneaked into a nudist camp and passed myself off as a member for seven hours before leaving with an open-mind and new realization.

But I'm not pushing nudism here. I'm pushing only the acceptance of public breastfeeding. This is a given. No matter what you think of the human body and how obscene it is, although everybody has one, if a mother can't feel free to feed her baby without shame when it's hungry, there is certainly something wrong with our society. Have we come this far away from nature?

In my opinion, the breasts are the second most beautiful aspect of a woman. They used to be my first choice, but that's when they were tabooed by my environment and a rare sight to behold. Nowadays I believe the face is the most beautiful aspect. The Muslims understand this; that's why the most austere of them insist a woman's face be covered. It's conditioning by society. And it took me only seven hours in 1966, actually less, to be unconditioned. An attractive feature of any person is not necessarily obscene...thank goodness. When Pope John Paul II visited the South Pacific and was approached by topless natives, he didn't freak out, but was as cordial and loving as always, understanding it as acceptable in that society, without criticism. On the contrary, he wrote the Theology of the Body.

Recently a mother was breastfeeding her baby in a Houston area Target store. She was asked to move to a private location (the restroom) and refused. Three separate employees harassed and humiliated her. She then called Target's corporate customer service number and was told by both the representative and her supervisor that they knew about the laws, but that "just because something is lawful doesn't mean it's acceptable in the store." Enter, Target Nurse-In. On Wednesday, December 28, 2011, at 10 a.m., a crowd of nursing mothers came to feed their babies openly in the store. It's my understanding that by then the store had changed its unnatural policy, but the women staged their Nurse-In anyway, to assure the point. Good for them! We need to be strong about this, and follow what we believe is right, despite the guff. It has worked and is working for other civil rights movements, and it will work for this one. And hungry babies will thank us. At the risk of seeming hard-core, I'd savor the moment of seeing someone come tell a nursing mother to go do that in private, and have the mother say, "Breasts are soft, but noses break. Go sit down."

Breastfeeding is the "new thing" now. More and more people are hearing from more and more media that mother's milk is much healthier and beneficial than formula. The Nestle Company got into hot water, and boycotted, for pushing its formula on third-world countries. The main problem is that formula must be mixed with water, and the water in many poor countries is polluted, and babies were dying. All the while, the mothers could have fed their babies healthy breastmilk, but they were convinced that artificial formula was the impoved, civilized way to go.

Our son, who works at McDonald's, told me the other day that the restaurant has made a special, screened-in area for breastfeeding mothers to feed their babies. It was spurred into being by an incident there in which a pervert was staring at a nursing mother enough to annoy her. My son was pleased that the mothers now have a place to escape this kind of behavior, but I threw out the statement, "Stop perverts, not mothers." Our other son, listening in, who is more congenial than I, corrected me, saying, "Stop perversion, not people."

The Normalizing Nursing in Public League has a website where you can buy clothing and all sorts of things with its logo on it, and also shirts with various sayings on them. I'm going to order the men's T-shirt sporting the logo along with the words: "If breastfeeding offends you, feel free to put a blanket over YOUR head."

I wasn't breastfed as a baby. I grew up in the era of Dr. Spock and bottles of formula. I sure wish I had been breastfed, for both health and well-being, but I'm not so envious as to want to deny this privilege to other children, or have their mothers be ashamed of it. Godspeed, natural mothers! Good job!



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3 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this. As a mother who refuses to nurse in private, and refuses to cover my baby, it reaffirms that there are men and women out there who support the rights of babies and mothers. And an extra thank you for supporting "extended breastfeeding" as people in America like to call it.

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  2. Thank you so much for this! it is truly inspiring to hear such words come from a man. I have been nursing my daughter for 22 months and still going strong and I always wish for a time when some one tells me to go hide while I feed my daughter! Wonderful post!

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  3. Great blog Dale, it includes so much and I'm so thankful for the way you supported me and our children for 20 years of breastfeeding in public and private! Nursing is hard enough on it's own and the hostility of strangers only adds to the challenges. Thanks for helping me to stay with it and encouraging me to have the most incredible loving connection with our children! Love Micki

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