13 Jan 2012

Nursing in Public

I haven't written in a while because the whole family has been sick with colds and nasty things. The illnesses have been pretty awful, but they did provide interesting opportunities to breastfeed publicly while waiting around in doctor's offices!

Today I fed Jacob immediately before leaving home for the walk-in clinic down the street, but after forty-five minutes of waiting perfectly quietly, he started to get antsy. I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting across from me, distracting him and biding myself some time. She mentioned that she has twin baby boys, seven months old. We compared notes for a while, and she said she breastfed them until six months and then gave up out of sheer exhaustion. I applauded her effort, congratulating her on breastfeeding through a very important period in her sons' lives.

Then she mentioned that she always pumped for them. I commiserated, "Oh, that is difficult. Were they born premature?"

"No, they got to full term. 37 weeks to the day."

"That's fantastic! Great job." But I was still wondering. "Did they have trouble latching then?"

"No, I never tried. It's the same way I did it with the first one. I just pumped. That way somebody else can do the feedings too. It takes so much time to pump though."

Bizarre! She thought it was easier to pump than to breastfeed, so that somebody else could feed them too? What about getting up to do the pumping, getting up to feed the babies, cleaning the pumping equipment, cleaning the bottles? And to miss the closeness of a breastfeeding relationship! I guess she never considered doing some feeding at the breast and then pumping some so that her husband could feed the boys. I am so sorry for this woman - I don't think she knows what she missed.

Anyway, soon enough Jacob just had to eat, so I fed him. Right there. About two feet away from old ladies, and young ladies, and scruffy men, and big fat men, and the receptionists. And they mostly frowned and looked away. The ones who had been smiling at Jacob before didn't smile at him anymore once we were done nursing. But none of them dared say anything. I love it. If anyone questioned what I was doing, I planned to ask if they would prefer for him to cry, for the pleasure of the whole waiting room. One way or another, we will assault your senses, either visual or auditory. It is much easier to look the other way than to shut off your ears. I suppose they figured as much.

A friendly new woman came in, who hadn't seen me breastfeeding. She asked how old he was. I told her, and she mentioned she has a six month old. I told her we had a trip coming up and I was wondering how to make it go smoothly for my little boo.

"Oh, make sure you get onto the plane with him on an empty stomach because he'll need to drink a whole bottle on the way up and a whole one on the way down to help his ears adjust to the pressure changes."

"He's still breastfed. We'll make sure he eats."

"Wow, really? Still breastfed? Mined weaned herself at four months."

How does a baby wean herself at four months? Did she really decide to commit suicide? Stop eating her available liquid food before she would be able to chew and swallow even rather soft solid foods? I can't imagine an infant so young having a death wish like that. I know that somehow there was a communication failure, but I'm sure that this baby didn't want to wean herself.

When I got in to see the doctor, he tried very hard to be respectful. "Well, hello Dad! How are you today?" He looked at the chart. "I mean, Mom!! How are you?"

"No, it's Dad," I said.

"But why does your chart have an F on it?"

Here we go again, I thought. "Because I'm transgendered. I was born female, transitioned to male by taking hormones. I identify as male. But my birth province won't change my ID unless I get a complete ovariohysterectomy. It sucks."

"Well, would you like me to change it in your file here?"

I thought about this for a minute. It was a kind offer.

"No, probably better not, because my government health card still says F. It would mess up your system and they'd likely decide I'm not insured or something."

He nodded sympathetically. "So, what's up?" And we got down to business.


  1. This is my favourite post. And so I am commenting, because it is a crying shame that there are no comments here.

    I am not going to pretend that LGBT stuff is something I understand. I don't. It just hasn't been a part of my life. But I do appreciate you candor, your experience and your honesty. And even though I may still not completely get it, I understand more than I used to. Keep writing.

    1. Hi Lisa! Wow, I really appreciate your willingness to learn more about something outside of your experience - thank you for your open mind.

  2. loving your blog, I'm breastfeeding my son Jack at 19 months, he has Downs Syndrome so apparently he cant breastfeed, no one told him! Have shared your blog with my breastfeeding group so if you get hits from the South of England you'll know why!

    1. Wow, good for you and your son. He knows what is best for him!!

  3. wean themselves at a year+ sure, maybe even once they start solids. but at 4 months? um no, id guess nipple confusion :P reading your blog from archives to current, loving it so far <3 thank you for sharing your story!

  4. hey, I was having a conversation with someone just the other day about a child self-weaning when under a year old... Mine fed for a couple of years each, generally stopping as the new baby got priority but still having a pleasure suck now and then. I can't imagine under what circumstances a baby would actually 'decide' not to breastfeed - but never thought to call it what it is - a child who 'decides to commit suicide'?! Thanks for that, and great blog by the way.
    Much happiness to you and your family.

  5. Hi, thanks for this blog it is generous of you to share your experiences with others so candidly. I think that what you are doing is fantastic. However, I just have one concern. Your comments regarding the women in the clinic that didn't breastfeed or whose babies weaned earlier for whatever reason, comes across as a little judgemental and perhaps hypocritical. Some mothers and fathers don't want to breastfeed because they find it uncomfortable or they don’t enjoy it, it doesn't matter why they didn’t breastfeed or stopped breastfeeding at some point. I think it is problematic to "feel sorry for them" and to suggest that they "don't know what they are missing out on.” It comes across as patronising and it seems like you are suggesting that they are deficient parents who have an impoverished experience of parenting. It is problematic in the same way that suggesting that people (particularly women) who choose not to have children are “missing out” and feeling sorry for them. It just reinforces socially prescribed norms regarding parenting (particularly mothering). Your post regarding the woman that confronted you about breastfeeding your son on the plan comes to mind. You did not like being judged by her or made to feel that you were a deficient parent because of how your chose to feed your baby, and rightly so. But this is what you are doing to these other women, judging them not because they are a man / father who breastfeeds but because they are mothers who do not breastfeed.

    1. Hi JP,

      Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you are enjoying my blog.

      This post, for me, was about the information and support that I wished these parents had access to. I absolutely do not judge someone who chooses not to breastfeed or who chooses to stop breastfeeding for personal reasons. For example, a parent who has experienced sexual abuse around their breasts may not wish to breastfeed. A parent with gender dysphoria may not wish to breastfeed. A parent who wants to go back to work very soon after the birth may not wish to breastfeed. I understand these situations completely. However, if someone makes a choice not to breastfeed because they *think* it will be too hard, I believe that probably has to do with our society in general not being great at supporting breastfeeding. I think this is a shame.

      Hearing that a four-month-old has "self-weaned" does not compute. *Something* must have happened. There would have been a nursing strike or something going on, and it was interpreted as weaning. The mom in this case seemed surprised that her child had stopped nursing. It didn't sound like the mom *chose* to stop nursing. If she had told me something like, "I decided to stop nursing at four months for personal reasons," that would have been a very different story. In fact, she believed that her child did not want to nurse anymore. It sounded like the mom wanted to nurse for longer, and I'm sorry that it didn't work out for her. I'm sorry that she didn't get the support she deserved to make it work. There are plenty of techniques available for getting through a nursing strike, but you have to know about them.

      In the case of choosing to pump over breastfeeding right from birth because it is "easier", I believe this also has to do with a lack of information. Many people in North America experience great difficulty with breastfeeding for no other reason than that they did not have sufficient information and support to succeed. Many people here perceive breastfeeding to be very difficult without ever having tried it. I believe it is a shame that we, as a culture, have lost much of this important skill. Again, I do not judge someone who says "I don't want to breastfeed for personal reasons." However, if someone says, "I don't want to breastfeed because I think it will be too hard," well, I would hope that care providers could help make breastfeeding an easier, viable option in such a case.

      I hope this adds some clarity to this post!


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