I’m a nursing mom and I’m not shy about it. Being the mother of two milk mongers, as well as someone who embraces ecological breastfeeding as a part of NFP, I have no problem feeding my children in public. I’m a lot like Sam-I-Am’s friend: I’ll nurse (discreetly) on a boat, with a goat (at a petting zoo), on a train or a plane, and a few places Dr. Seuss didn’t think of.
In my family, we’re movers and shakers and I’m not going to let the fact that I breastfeed keep us in when we’d rather be out. Nor am I going to sequester my baby and me in a public bathroom when she’s hungry and needs to eat.
But there’s one place where I was reluctant to breastfeed.
With my first child, the idea of nursing at church made me uneasy and I felt about as modest as a Playboy centerfold. I just couldn’t get myself to do it. Not surprisingly, Mass wasn’t a very peaceful experience for me in those early months when my daughter Madeline was eating every couple of hours (or less in the case of my firstborn, who expected access to fast food 24 hours a day, give or take). Planning around her feedings was next to impossible. Even as she grew older, she refused to take a pacifier and sought comfort at my breast frequently throughout the day.
So every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation and regular, old day I needed a taste of Jesus, I found myself in a pickle. I didn’t want to miss out on Mass, but I didn’t feel that breastfeeding was something I should do at church. What was a nursing mommy to do?
Thankfully, the Big Guy decided to help me out. When Madeline was a little over a year old, I was attending a church event when I noticed a woman nursing a toddler right there in the pew in front of me. She was also the mother of the nine older children who filled the pew beside her. As a newbie mom, I couldn’t keep my eyes off this veteran. I only pray she saw my look of admiration and didn’t have me pegged as a boobophobe. Actually, I don’t think she noticed me or anything else other than her child and God. This mom wowed me — the way she was able to discreetly and comfortably feed her child and be present — not just physically but emotionally and spiritually present — at the prayerful event.
When it came time for us to quietly pray, she shifted her child’s position and knelt just like the rest of us with his body cradled against her own. To me, there was nothing more beautiful than seeing this nursing mother provide nourishment to her little one with her own body in God’s company.
This was an ah-ha moment for me. I realized that if, as I strongly believed, nursing was a part of God’s plan for helping mothers bond with their babies and a way of using my body the way He designed it to be used, then of all places, I should feel comfortable breastfeeding my children in God’s home. Christopher West, the Catholic author best known for his insightful commentary on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, describes a nursing mother as “one of the most precious, most beautiful, and most holy of all possible images of woman.” So why should I feel ashamed nursing in church — in the presence of the Most Holy Eucharist — but not at the mall? Do I believe breasts are made to feed babies or are they just meant to be squeezed into rhinestone-clad bras for surfers to ogle on the Internet?
Nowadays you’ll find me nursing my baby at the mall, the library, the park, and at Mass. As of yet, I’ve never heard any rude comments or noticed raised eyebrows or disgusted looks. Really, I’m not sure if anyone other than fellow nursing moms can even tell I’m breastfeeding. But if they can, I hope they will recognize this act for what it is — an expression of love for my child. And just as that loving mom of nine did for me, the image of me and my little nursling might inspire other moms to embrace breastfeeding without shame.