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Lisa Belkin

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It's Not Porn, People, It's Food

Posted: 05/15/2012 11:28 am

A mother in Virginia, who also happens to be a member of the state Senate, plans to nurse her newborn at work, and that fact is covered by The Washington Post

A mom in Los Angeles visits the Design Exhibit at the LA Country Museum of Art, and pauses on a bench to nurse her 21-month-old. An employee asked her to cover up, and that fact goes viral on Facebook and Twitter. 

And you might have heard mention of the mother on the cover of TIME magazine who was shown nursing her nearly 4-year-old son last week? You know, the photo that was either a desperate grab for attention, a beautiful depiction of the mother-child bond, or the latest attempt to make women doubt their parenting methods -- depending on who you ask? 

I have one question. 

Why do we care?

After all, Jamie Lynne Grumet would not have been on the cover of anything handing her son an apple or a piece of cheese. And Jill Vogel would not have made news if she'd announced that she planned to change 18-day-old Olivia's diaper as needed during the time the baby spent with her mother in the office. And Katie Hamilton would have been left in peace to rock her sleepy daughter on that museum bench. All these tasks -- feeding, changing, soothing -- are mundane, repetitive, everyday actions that parents everywhere do without notice.
 
The thing that's different about breastfeeding, of course, is the breast. And isn't it time we grew up? 

Reading the coverage of these incidents, you would think that the readers and writers alike were all adolescent boys. "An LA mom whipped out her booby," the article about Katie Hamilton on the LA Weekly website began.

"Mom puts boob in Preschooler's Mouth," read the headline on Gawker about the Time cover. 

"Mmmm titties!" reads a typical comment on the website of the Business Insider on the same subject. 

Sigh. 

Once upon a time pregnant women didn't go out in public after they began to show. They rarely used the word "pregnant," but rather euphemisms like "in the family way." (CBS executives insisted that Lucille Ball use the word "expectant" for fear of offending viewers.) Teachers were forced to quit their jobs in their second trimester, lest their charges be exposed to evidence of their sexuality. 

Now as then, sex leads to pregnancy, but over time we have managed to unlink the two in daily use, and when we see the result, we do not de facto think of the cause. Pregnancy is about babies now --  something to celebrate, or, at least, nothing to hide. 

Can we ever reach that collective point when it comes to breastfeeding? Can we look at a woman nursing and think "lunch"? Yes, there is a nipple involved. But a breast in use to feed a child is no more titillating than a vagina being used to give birth to one. We have learned to stop blushing at the sight of a pregnant woman. It's more than time to give nursing mothers the same break. 

I am not advocating that every breastfeeding mom strip to the waist whenever her baby needs nourishment. (Newsflash -- none of us really wants to.) Mostly I am suggesting that we stop paying any attention at all -- except the kind that makes it easier for mothers to get their children fed. 

That means yes to longer maternity leaves, and more abundant lactation rooms, and laws like the federal one requiring employers to give lactating employees regular breaks to pump, and the one in Seattle declaring breastfeeding to be a civil right. It means yes to training programs at places like the Los Angeles County Art Museum that make it clear to employees that women in all 50 states have the right to nurse anywhere they have the right to legally be. And yes to a more civilized conversation that recognizes that choosing breast or bottle is not a measure of love. 

And it means no to results like those in the latest report from the National Partnership for Women and Families showing that 14 states earned a grade of "D" when it comes to laws protecting new parents, no to any more incidents where nursing mothers are asked to leave any place at all, and to anyone who would attempt to make a mother feel guilty for choosing bottle or breast or vice versa, and to headlines and comments that giggle and point. 

Finally, it means a very big no to magazine covers that make breastfeeding sound like an identity rather than an action. 

It's not porn, people, it's food. 

Mostly it's not our business. 

Get over it. 

A thank-you to Rebecca Silverman Fitzgerald, whose conversation with us over lunch here at HuffPost Parents a few months ago got us thinking of the parallels between "pregnancy shame" and breastfeeding in the first place.

 
 
 

Follow Lisa Belkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lisabelkin

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