Sunday, November 19, 2006

Boobs on a Plane

I am still reeling from this. I feel like I was punched in the gut; I can't catch my breath, and feel slightly sick. A woman got kicked off a Delta flight for nursing her 22-month-old daughter. The airline says she was being indiscreet. That they support breastfeeding provided it's done discreetly.

Who determines what is discreet?!? And why can't breastfeeding be just fine as it is, anywhere, anytime?

Email Delta here.

Mouse wrote a great piece about this too.


Ok. I've had time to cool down and I think I can be slightly coherent now. I think I felt so horrified by that story because I identify with that mother quite personally. We will be flying with Swee'pea in January to South Africa and I feel slightly less nervous about the trip knowing that I always have my boobs. To think that someone could be offended by me nursing him on the plane, where even if I wanted to go somewhere private, there is absolutely nowhere to go; except one of those tiny bathrooms, which I'm quite sure the two of us couldn't fit into comfortably anyways, and anyways I promised myself and Swee'pea long ago that I would never ever feed him in a bathroom (except at Sears because they have a separate sitting room with couches).

I've mentioned before that I'm not a huge nurser in public. I do it when necessary but if I can avoid it, by nursing him before we go out or when he was younger scheduling outings for the time between feedings, I will. Lately this has gotten harder to do, because he's eating more solids and his nursing times are less predictable. So in the past week I have found myself nursing him at a pub, at a dance performance in the theatre during intermission, and at the Farmer's Market. These times have made me realize that I just don't care anymore. He's on and off the boob pretty regularly and easily distracted so I'm sure I flash the odd flesh and/or nipple. And it just takes too much effort to care. It's enough just to hold onto this squirmy bundle of joy now, and not let him fall on his head again.

I also mentioned last week that I went to a workshop on deciding whether to wean when returning to work. I have pretty much decided to continue nursing him, pretty much until he doesn't want to anymore. I will play it by ear, and I may whittle down the number of feeds at some point, or I may not. I am still waiting to hear if I can return part-time, and obviously that will affect the logistics of our continued breastfeeding relationship. My sister continues to breastfeed her 2 1/2 year old daughter, although only twice a day, and never in public. Thanks to my sister, I learned that breastfeeding doesn't have to be an all or nothing thing with an older child, and you don't have to wean when you go back to work.

The other night when I was out with some friends, my young single friend asked if I was going to keep "doing it" when I return to work; she didn't even want to utter the words breastfeed or breastmilk. I discussed my breastfeeding relationship without thinking twice, but I did notice some tension around the table. I have no idea where it was coming from but it was most definitely there. And my other friend, who has two boys both born at home, both breastfed, said that one son lost interest at 9 months and with the other one she figured "she should stop this" around 14 months. I thought her choice of language was pretty telling: should, not wanted to; this, not nursing or breastfeeding.

I used to think that nursing a toddler was a bit weird. I had a few friends and acquaintances who did, and while I said more power to them, and recognized that it was my problem that I felt weird not theirs, I didn't think it was the thing for me. But since I've been breastfeeding, I realize it's really not weird at all.

Somewhere, since I started breastfeeding, I saw a quote from an African man who could remember nursing as a child. It was a beautiful quote and he talked about the sun and warmth and scent and dust... and comfort. I thought it was on the web, but perhaps it was in some book. Anyways I can't find it now. But when I read it, I thought hmmm, that's kinda weird. A child nursing so long that he can remember drinking at his mother's breast.

Yesterday I mentioned this to Sugar Daddy as we discussed the question of weaning. And he pointed out that this kind of memory is only weird because we oversexualize the breast. I love that he can unravel these things for me.

Regardless, in deciding to join the extended nursers' club, I was quite clear in my own head that it wouldn't necessarily be something that I talk about with just anybody. That I would be a bit in the closet. That I'm not really an activist. That's why I didn't come out and say in last week's post that I was leaning towards child-led weaning. I didn't think it was something I wanted to blog about. But now I have to.

This news makes me want to become a lactivist, in the most inclusive and supportive sense of the word. At the workshop, we discussed the issue of nursing your toddler in public, and how it's pretty normal in many other parts of the world, and very much the more natural choice, but that many in our culture of the oversexualized breast are uncomfortable with seeing a nursing toddler. And the lactation consultant said that maybe if more people see nursing toddlers, eventually it will become more acceptable and normal. So perhaps there is some responsbility in choosing to continue our nursing relationship to make it a little bit public? To be a bit of an activist? To make it easier for those who come after me? I don't know. I'll see when I get there. (And I hope I don't need to clarify that with discovering this sense of responsibility, I am in no way judging my sister or others who choose to continue their breastfeeding relationship in safety behind closed doors.)


Julie Pippert said...

I feel the same way/ That story appalled me. Discretion requires you to smother your child with a germ-laden airline blanket?

Okay okay I'm not a germaphobe, but neither of my children ever would nurse with anything on them. I'm pretty sure if Special Blankies were no-nos then those scrtachy ariline blankets would be.

I NIP when I need to and am always, always discrete. I don't want any part of me on display.

I'm kind of tired of the nursing prejudice. It's past ridiculous.

I'm also kind of tired of people saying to me with shock, "Oh! Are you *still nursing?" as if my one year old is filling out college applications.

Good piece, thanks!

Mad Hatter said...

Nurse, nurse, nurse. Where Swee'pea wants, when he wants, and for as long as he wants. Damn the bastards that try to intimidate you.

Aliki2006 said...

Yes, it was an awful story--I was incensed when I read it.

In contrast, I remember when Tessa was still quite young (I nursed her until she was 21 months old) I was on Southwest with both kids and headed for a trip home by myself. At take-off Tessa wanted to nurse and so I let her and fumbled witha blanket. A nice older businessman was sitting right next to me and I remember he turned to me and told me how he was so glad to see that I was breastfeeding. Then he proceeded to tell me about how his wife had nursed all four of their kids. It was a little awkward chatting with him about this while I was nursing, but I would take that any day over the *other* reaction.

jouette said...

omg. I'm flabbergasted. This? seriously ticked me off. I believe I will write a little note to Delta. I told my husband about this and HE was ticked too. What a crock, I think that idiotic stewardess should get a new job.

jen said...

you go, girl. it is all about societal hang ups and nothing to do w/ what is natural, free, and healthy.

i mean...sheesh, people. it's just boobs. it's just milk.

I KNOW....on the plane, wear a Got Milk shirt, and a GIMME MILK one for the babe.

Em said...

You know, I never was able to breastfeed for more than 6 months... but I am in awe of women who do and if I see a woman nursing a toddler I think "WOW - that's amazing" (in a good way!) Nurse your little boy all you want, whenever and wherever - and ignore the idiots who dare to say otherwise.

cinnamon gurl said...

jouette, it's interesting that you assume the flight attendant was a woman. I assumed it was a man. But I went back to the original story and there's no way to tell.

Em, there were many times when I didn't think I would be able to continue, but now it's a lot easier than it was for the first six months when breastmilk was his only food. Not that I had any particular difficulties, it was just intense and emotionally hard.

Mad Hatter said...

Oooooo. The title of your post makes me want to make a short satiric film. I'm thinking lots and lots of boobs and Samuel L. Jackson coming completely unhinged. Good title!

Beck said...

That is really, really awful.
My son was the champion all time nursing in public baby - I quickly lost any residual modesty I still possessed. I nursed him until he was 18 months old - he was mostly nursing at night by that point and when I cut him off, he stopped nursing all together. He then spent the whole winter sick. The moral? Wean in the springtime, I guess.

ewe are here said...

I griped about the flight attendant as well. Was really glad to see the airline disciplined her. Finally.

Mouse said...

Thanks for the link!

I started out as a very timid public nurser, but moved past that as I got more proficient with the nursing bra and my son became more efficient.

And I still can't figure out who might have even been able to see her breastfeeding if this was on one of those commuter planes where she and her husband had the two seats to one side.