Fourth grade was a milestone year for me. It was the year I grew boobs. It was the year that one of my favorite teachers encouraged me to become a writer. And it was also the year I made the super rad decision to perm my hair for school picture day.
As I sat in the beauty shop catching a little buzz from the fumes coming from my head, I cooed at my hairdresser’s new baby, who was snoozing in her car seat in the corner of the shop. The baby started to squirm as her mother rolled my hair into some very tight curls (a hairstyle that I still regret to this day).
Eventually, the hairdresser left my hair to set as she scooped up her baby. I looked at them thinking how adorable they were together, until the hairdresser pulled her boob out of her shirt for seemingly no good reason. I was completely horrified. I was used to being around babies, but our mothers fed us all formula. I’d never seen anyone breastfeed before.
20 years later, after I got married and had my own kids, I found myself in the middle of Chili’s, shoveling chips and salsa down my gullet while I cradled my youngest daughter, feeding her with my big giant boob out and proud for the world to see. I had become a proud, fierce breastfeeding advocate, and I firmly believed that there was nothing wrong with using my breasts to feed my daughter in public. Yet I was apparently the only one who felt that way. Over the years, I've been repeatedly shamed for breastfeeding in public — even though doing so is perfectly legal.
While I might've thought breastfeeding was icky that one time in the hair salon, I quickly changed my tune by the time I got pregnant with my own daughter. I spent months researching the benefits of breastfeeding: I learned that breast milk took on antibacterial properties based on bacteria found in the baby's mouth, and that the composition changes based on the baby's age and nutritional needs.
I learned that boobs are kinda like poodles: originally, they'd been designed to be working puppies, but somewhere down the line, someone got the idea that they were pretty, and they became more ornamental than functional.
I had always seen my breasts as purely decorative, but after I got pregnant, I realized they were specifically designed to create and sustain life. I learned that boobs are kinda like poodles: originally, they'd been designed to be working puppies, but somewhere down the line, someone got the idea that they were pretty, and they became more ornamental than functional.
When my oldest child was born, breastfeeding got off to a rocky start, but we pushed through together and I felt triumphant. After a few weeks, however, one issue became apparent: my daughter seemed to be something of an exhibitionist. I had all of the cutest nursing covers in various patterns, but she just couldn't stand to be covered up while she ate. We tried using the cover for a while, but I was always fumbling around to keep her under wraps so we were just a flurry of fabric and nipples everywhere, which led to us drawing even more attention.
I noticed that if I just popped her in the Moby wrap, whipped my boob out, and did what I needed to do, I got way less attention than I did when I tried to cover her up. There we were, out in public, boobs out and fresh out of damns to give.
I figured it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if someone saw my breasts. After all, for the past decade, numerous men had offered me goods and services in exchange for a glimpse of my knockers, so if anything, I thought this would be a good free show. But oddly enough, that’s not quite how it was perceived.
She couldn’t even look me in the eye as she explained that the stadium had a nursing room, and she was happy to escort me there.
Once, when I was at a baseball game in Indiana, I sat down in the grass to top off my 3-month-old. It was blazing hot outside, and I didn’t want her to dehydrate, so I fed her from the milk tanks. A few minutes later, a ticket booth attendant approached us. She couldn’t even look me in the eye as she explained that they had a nursing room, and she was happy to escort me there. I told her I was fine, but I sincerely appreciated the offer. When she pressed the issue, I laughed.
“I get it," I told her gently. "You’re worried my boob is giving people the willies. But it’s the bottom of the seventh, and if people would rather watch my tit than the game, then maybe they came to the wrong place.”
She insisted again that I follow her to the restroom, where she could get me a comfy folding chair to finish “this stuff” up. She explained that she was worried because there were little boys playing nearby who might see my breast. I just looked her straight in the face, smiled, and continued to nurse my baby in the sunshine. She finally got the message and left.
I couldn't believe that I had been treated so poorly at the baseball game, in large part because I was doing nothing illegal by breastfeeding my daughter in public. According to Indiana law, I was not only allowed to breastfeed in public, but it's also against state law to force women to express milk in toilet stalls.
I didn't have my breast out because I was looking for a fight. I just wanted to give my kid a drink.
I could have told that ticket booth attendant to f*ck off, or reported her to management, or even spoke to the press. But I wasn't feeding my baby for the glory of being hailed as a proud breastfeeding mom. I didn't have my breast out because I was looking for a fight, or because I wanted to raise my voice in protest. I wasn't better than anyone else, and I didn't feel entitled to any extra privileges. I just wanted to give my kid a drink.
Maybe the ticket taker was right, and those little boys playing at the ballpark were traumatized by seeing a booby in public. But if they'd already been conditioned at a young age to see breasts as purely sexual organs, then seeing mine casually feeding my baby could have served as their own catalyst for change. Maybe it would help them realize what I hadn't as a child at the hair salon; that breastfeeding wasn't icky, and that it was totally natural and normal.
From then on, I decided, I'd just feed my baby with a smile on my face, and without shame. People might still be shocked, but people were shocked the first time women started showing their ankles in public. Eventually women just wore what they wanted to wear with their heads held high, and society set us free from the shame of our ankles.
Just to be clear, though, my bare boobs aren’t a statement that I’m right and you’re wrong. It’s not me out trolling for your husband, or trying to get attention. It’s just me using my poodles as hunting dogs, the way they were meant to be used. So maybe one day my own daughters, if they so choose, can use their puppies in public without a problem.