I wasn't going to get involved in the debate about nursing on airplanes.
I don't even fly Delta.
My baby is 9 months old now, and it's pretty rare that I can convince him to nurse under a cover.
I've flown other airlines and breastfed Ben discreetly in my seat. I pull my blouse up and my tank top down, and my baby eats. Because he gets hungry. Just like you and I do.
So when the brouhaha started over Delta's response to a nursing mother on Twitter, I was a little surprised. Not because they told her that she had to cover her breasts and her baby as she fed, but because she even asked in the first place. Do you ask if you can bring a ham sandwich on board to eat while you're flying somewhere over the Rocky Mountains? Never. Do you call ahead to make sure that you can sip your Starbucks latte while you're headed to Vegas? Nope. So why would someone tweet an airline to ask if they had permission to feed their baby while flying? Especially when nursing in public is protected by law?
She must be looking for attention.
So I stopped paying attention to the whole story.
Until someone tagged me in a chain of tweets, along with the other cofounders of the I Support You campaign.
Shit. So much for staying out of the fray.
I figured that I should read some of the tweets and articles before giving my two cents. And perhaps I was a little flattered that anyone even wanted my two cents anyway. So I read. And researched. I paid close attention to what other nursing mothers were saying. And suddenly I realized exactly why someone had mentioned me in those tweets.
I have said very publicly that I support you, no matter how you choose to feed. I have said that I will not be ashamed when I nurse in public, and that you shouldn't feel ashamed either. And when I stopped to think about how emotionally loaded breastfeeding can be, how scary and foreign it can feel at first, and how sometimes it seems like the eyes of the world are watching you... I realized exactly why someone would tweet at an airline to ask them if it was OK to nurse on board. It's the same reason why I still toss a "Sorry, do you mind if I feed him real quick?" out into the air when I'm on a playdate. It's the reason why I cover in certain situations. It's the reason why my cheeks get red when a dad walks into the "nursing mothers room" to change his child's diaper. Nursing in public isn't accepted yet. It isn't commonplace to see a mother feeding her child without a cover. People still throw phrases like "whip it out" and "needs attention" and "feeding your baby from your genitals" at women who use their breasts for what nature intended them for. No wonder she asked. She was afraid.
I made a promise to Ben 9 months ago, on the day that I first held him in my arms and tried to feed him. I was so scared. I had no idea what I was doing, and our amazing doula sat behind me and helped me to latch Ben's tiny lips to my breast. I was terrified that I wouldn't make milk. I was sure that I was doing it all wrong, that my body was broken, and that I would never be enough for the tiny boy whose little hands were curled into my chest. In the first few weeks, I cried every time he latched on. I was terrible at breastfeeding, but we kept going. And with a lot of help, we learned together how to do it. I made a promise to my sweet son on that first day, that I would not be afraid. That whatever happened, I would try my best and I would feed him with love. I understand so well what it feels like to be afraid. I am still afraid, on many days. I'm afraid that my milk supply will dry up. I'm afraid that Ben won't gain enough weight. I'm afraid that someone will ask me when I plan on stopping. I'm afraid that I'll offend someone when I unbutton my blouse. Even though we are nine months into a relationship that has been more amazing then I ever imagined it could be, I am constantly afraid that I will do something to screw it all up. I've lost this chance before.
But I've learned that my fear doesn't matter. Ben matters. My tiny boy, who has grown into a laughing, standing, crawling, healthy 9-month-old, is thriving. He is thriving because I wasn't afraid. And if we are going to create a place where all of us can feed our babies without fear, then we need to stand together and say out loud that we are stronger than the voices that try to cover us in shame. Feeding our babies, comfortably, is more important than feeling embarrassed. Nourishing our little ones is our job, our beautiful responsibility, and we don't owe anyone an apology for that. Our babies are worth it. Our self-esteem is worth it. And the mom who is holding her tiny newborn to her breast for the very first time tonight, is worth it. To that mama, and to the mama who tweeted at Delta airlines, and to the mamas who are nursing their babies in public whenever their little one is hungry, I say "Well done, Mama." Let's be fearless together.