Monday, 17 March 2014

The milk of human kindness?

Last week a mother was photographed sitting on the steps of a restaurant in the Staffordshire town of Rugeley, breastfeeding her baby and consequently had her photo posted on a public Facebook page, along with the label of ‘tramp’. (Read the story HERE) I know I am one of many who will have taken to their soapboxes about this ridiculous turn of events, but seriously? 

As a mother who struggled to breast feed my first son, I felt hugely lucky that second time round I succeeded. I don’t consider this an achievement, nor do I congratulate myself in any way, as it all felt rather out of my control and more down to the good fortune of biology working in my favour. However, once I had nailed it I realised there was another obstacle I needed to overcome: the first feed in public. I couldn’t deny, even after completely embracing the indignity I felt around the experience of giving birth, that I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect or whether I would be able to do it, let alone the reaction of others (although I did always wonder what business was it of theirs). Even the thought of doing it round a friend’s house filled me with dread. I had watched the BBC3 programme with Cherry Healey about breastfeeding, where the only mother she could find to follow who was able to breastfeed was so terrified of doing it in public she would decamp to the nearest toilet to feed her baby.
I remember deciding that I would just go out and when the situation arose I would just have to get on with it. I also had one of those rather lovely feeding shawls so had no worries about protecting my modesty. I recall it was overlooking the ice rink in London's Bishopsgate circle, swarming with suited city workers on their lunch breaks, that I conducted my first feed outdoors. In retrospect I can't think of a more child unfriendly place, but actually it was perfect, no one batted an eyelid or even gave me a second glance and my confidence soared. 

Suddenly I realised I could go anywhere without any preparation or organisation and possessed the powers to pacify my baby wherever I was, be it on a tube train or Madame Tussauds (I did it on or in both of these places). If I could sit down then I could feed my child. I quickly also realised that my worries about people being able to see my boobs were pointless. Once a baby has latched on there is nothing to see. So I quickly abandoned my feeding shawl in favour of a scarf, but only if it got cold, to keep out the draft.  

I am pleased to say I never had a bad reaction from anyone (although I did have a rather hilarious pervert attempt to loiter too closely in Westfield - I remember laughing in his face, as it was genuinely hilarious). However, in those early sleep deprived days, things were very different especially my sensitivity to the reactions of others. A scornful sideways glance from someone, who was being held up as a direct result of my buggy wheel becoming wedged whilst I was getting off a bus, meant I, quite irrationally now I realise, avoided buses for months. I don't like to think what I would have done if someone had reacted badly to me feeding my baby, despite the laws in place to legally allow mothers to breast feed wherever they like, unless it poses a health and safety risk. (for clarification on this read HERE

So fair play to all those ladies who on Saturday showed their support the mother in question: Lucy Slough, by taking part in the giant public breast feed (read about it HERE). If I was still lactating I would have proudly joined them. 

When it comes to breastfeeding, mothers need all the help and support available and this atrociously ignorant behaviour by this spiteful individual purely highlights how brainwashed a nation we are when it comes to breastfeeding. I would put money on the fact that whoever was responsible for this abuse has no issue with drinking cow's milk. Having a baby is meant to be the most natural thing in the world, yet feeding your baby calls for public vilification? 

To think I raised my eyebrows at the government's scheme to incentivise mothers to breastfeed for longer by offering vouchers. The stupidity of this rogue photographer last week demonstrates that we clearly need all the help we can get. 

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