Do you want to know a secret?
Come on in close now.
I’m just going to allow you a moment to comprehend that fact. All better? Please, close your half-open mouths, take away those hands from shielding your eyes. You might want to close this page altogether, maybe even type out a high-strung email of complaint to the fine folk at WordPress, but hey now, woah, wait just one minute-
-you’re not surprised, are you? Really? No, my instincts are telling me quite clearly that you Miss, and you Sir, are quite aware of that fact. And what’s that I hear? You don’t care? Oh. That’s interesting, quite liberating to learn actually. Because a very real reality I’ve discovered since Willow was born, is that there are a lot of goddamn misinformed people out there. I don’t know, maybe it’s a British thing, but for some reason, somehow over the thousands of years we humble human beings have bumped heads on this planet, a large number have developed an illusion to the very awesome fact that women have breasts.
Or at least, that women have breasts beyond anything sexual. Because surely that’s all breasts are used for? Right?
Let’s rewind a little. Sara, the Mother of my daughter, was about three months along and well into making her lists. I’m sure every man with a pregnant partner can relate to these lists. In Sara’s case, they covered a whole range of *cough* delightful topics, from organic foods she needed to eat as of yesterday, to the aftershave I wore but could no longer use or else so-help-me-God (because Paco Rabanne was offensive to her nose). Amongst these well thought out lists was, like all the others, one I hadn’t given any consideration:
‘What should our unborn child eat?’
‘Well, what are our options?’
You can imagine the look Sara gave me, but in my defence, I wasn’t exactly offering a slice of pizza for the future Willow to chow down on. She went on to tell me about formula and breastfeeding, two avenues neither of us knew much about. So my dear friends, of course the next few weeks were spent dipping our noses into the vortex of Google, as well as asking the people around us who’d had children of their own.
We learned two things: we barely knew anybody who’d breastfed, and all the research we uncovered pointed to breastfeeding as the best option. Two contradicting facts. So, as the typically male other half, I thought practically: let’s try what’s most cost effective. ‘As long as you’re alright with that,’ I added hastily, because at the end of the day, it wasn’t my breasts being rented out here.
It didn’t turn out that easy. We learned very quickly that latching can be complicated, especially in the early days, and painful. There was one dark night I remember well, three days into coming home, when we still hadn’t recovered from a long labour and the zombie-like sleepless state we were in (and still haven’t truly come out of). Willow refused the breast for hours, Sara was in tears, and I felt helpless to do anything. It was the closest we came to going to formula, because all that mattered at that point was getting Willow to eat.
Fortunately, with perseverance and a dash of luck, Sara and Willow connected, and what followed was their journey together of breast and daughter. I would like to take a breather for a minute, just to tell you how that all looked as an outsider.
In one word: inspiring. In two words: mad crazy. Because three years before, I met this girl at work, refilling a popcorn stand in a cinema, thinking she looked hot wearing a cap, and here she was giving life to my daughter. It was pretty mind blowing. Especially given the hard couple of days not knowing if breastfeeding was even going to be an option for her. She looked so happy, and Willow…well, babies are like gremlins aren’t they. Ridiculously tiny, ridiculously greedy goblins, and noisy too. Jeez, the sounds they make. But hey, we all gotta eat.
A few guys I know have admitted to me that they have, at times, felt jealousy towards their partners who breastfeed. I’ll tell anybody feeling that what I told them: don’t feel shame for that. There’s nothing wrong with feeling like you’re outside of something. What makes a man is acknowledging these feelings and sharing them with his better half, who’ll no doubt be glad to know that you care enough to feel that way. I promise you, what I’ve come to know is that my support and openness is all that matters to Sara, because at the end of the day, we’re all just figuring out how to be Mothers and Fathers. It’s just important we do it together.
What I saw in Willow in those next months, every small developing detail from a smile to a giggle to a raised eyebrow, I put down to Sara. ‘You did that,’ I told her, ‘you got her there.’ I was being supportive definitely, but I was being honest as well, as that was what I really believed. I credit everybody out there as well, for the only thing that matters and scares us in them beginning months, whether it’s breast or formula, is just getting our babies from one month to the next in as healthy a way as possible. It’s a massive achievement for us all.
Soon enough we started leaving the house for longer periods of time. First the fifteen minute stroll, waving to people we didn’t know because we were in that joyful bubble. Then the half hour walk through the park, marvelling at the formation of the clouds, admiring nature’s beauty like a couple of oddballs. What’s that, food shopping? Sure, we can do an hour, it’ll be fun. FUN. Before long it’s time to go to the town, the three of you. Deep breath. Here we go. Big crowd. Rain. Headache. Crying. Crying. Crying. Wait – is she hungry?
I’ve got to credit Sara. A usually quiet and shy person by nature, when it came to feeding her daughter, a part of her came to life. Momma Bear. I would sit with her, drinking coffee in Costa, or sat in the leather armchair of some restaurant, and we’d chat about something random like people do and then we’d notice them. Those strangely developed people I mentioned before. The ones who didn’t know that breasts could be used to feed a baby. That thought it was an interruption to their day to witness this, and were either oblivious or unconcerned by the contradiction their behaviour showed by staring at us so obviously.
Of what I’ve read and heard from people worldwide, Sara got off lightly in terms of these experiences. She suffered little more than stares, but the extent of the abuse isn’t the point I’m making. An unwanted stare is no less appalling than a manager of a store asking a woman to feed her child elsewhere, because both actions are outrageous. At the end of the day, most breastfeeding Mothers are just like Sara was and in some ways still is, women who have enough to deal with as it is without some close-minded uneducated passer-by leering and passing judgement. As a man, I can never relate to what Sara does daily, be it at home or in public, breastfeeding on demand, selecting what clothes to buy based on whether they’re breastfeeding friendly, planning around Willow’s routine, waking through the night whilst I’m snoring away next to her, blissfully unaware. Nipple cream? What the heck is that? Until Sara breastfed I didn’t even know people made that stuff, but thank God those guys and girls did, because it lessened the pain when it was there.
It really did open my eyes to some of the people around me, giving me insight into how thoughtless they can be. These women go through hours of labour, have their lives turned upside down, have a defenceless tiny little being totally dependent on them, but somehow there are people who believe it’s THEIR right to go about their life not having to see a baby feed on a breast. How insane is that? And how typical as well, that these people make everything about themselves. When they don’t matter. They don’t fucking matter, let’s not be coy here. Fuck those people.
So to all those women out there, being scolded, being made to feel like they’re impacting somebody else’s life, I say this: embrace it, lady. Raise a finger. Because they don’t know what it takes. They don’t know what it means to have a five mile radius of all the best changing rooms from your location. They don’t understand how long it took you to find a flattering dress that morning that also had a zip down the front. They’ll just never get that your breasts, any breasts, are more than mere objects of desire. But you know. You take the nipple pain, you bear the moments of self doubt, the sleepless nights, the back pain and weird angles your baby demands. You’re a warrior, a gladiator.
You’re a Mother.