Nursing Politics

By Kylie Turley

I DO NOT MOON PEOPLE. I can safely say that I have never, will never, could never, in my entire life, moon anyone. I have absolutely no desire nor inclination to drop my drawers and—well, this is clearly a place to avoid vivid description. So why would I, a woman who would never expose one half of her body, lift my shirt and expose the other half of my body in public places, such as the stake Relief Society training meeting or McDonald’s? There are many reasons. But first: more about me.

I am a conservative woman, though in Utah I have sporadically been mistaken for a liberal feminist. However, my five kids, Utah residency, and stay-at-home-mom status tend to give away my voting tendencies. The math of party politics adds up like this: I have a quiver full of children, I go to church every week, and I drive an SUV. But I want to say that I am very sorry about the car; I would love to drive a nice little hybrid, except for reason number one: all those kids. So I am conservative (though my snappy retorts about gender stereotyping sometimes cause confusion). Naturally following all this is my belief in modesty. No Daisy Duke short-shorts, no neon pink underclothing, and no tank tops. I wear nylons to church and skirts to my knees.

And that brings me to the crux of the issue: nursing. I breast-feed all my babies for the full year prescribed by the American Pediatrics Association, but I am confused as to my motives. Does this stem from my fondness for following the rules, or my (Utah) liberal feminist/hybrid-car-craving naturalism? Am I modestly doing things the way they have always been done, or bucking traditional values with my avant-garde approach to feeding my three-month-old? Whatever the cause, I have been persuaded to nurse, so I nurse away.

Coincidentally, the APA establishment is part of my exposure problem, as I see it. Have you noticed that every bit of literature about breast-feeding refers to “the breast”? As in, “Offer the breast every two to three hours” and “If the breastbecomes red and swollen, call your doctor.” Have you ever read anything that refers to “your breast”? I think not, and I find it odd. Even my ob-gyn is mine(“call your doctor if the problem persists”), while my body parts only deserve one of those infamous articles: a or the. Let’s face it: if I want to breast-feed, I cannot afford to get all conservative and modest—the lactation specialist is coming to stare, lift, adjust, and angle my baby and the breast, so that I can succeed. Can I help it if I get used to objectifying my body? After reading all the handouts and being “treated” by the specialist, I cannot help myself; I begin thinking of it (my breast) as it. It is that thing I use to feed my baby. It is that thing that got mastitis. It is that thing that turned red, chapped, and so cracked that my toes curled every time my baby latched on, despite the experts’ reassurance that “feeding with the breast should be minimally painful for a few days.” It might as well be a bottle, except for the pain part. How can I help treating it like an it when all the doctors and nurses do?

I seem to be surrounded by people who do not see things as I do. No one says a word when a mom or dad whips out a bottle and pops it in the mouth of a crying infant during sacrament meeting or in a crowded theater. We are relieved that the crying stopped so that we can hear the message over the yelling babies. But Wo! unto the woman who tries the same thing with her body. Even if that breast is hidden discreetly beneath a blanket. Or not. Honestly, I do not really mean toexpose myself. I am modest. Careful. Not a risk taker. Unfortunately, I have it on good authority (two of my sisters) that I have at times revealed more than I was meaning to.

The problem is that I hate the blanket thing. There is nothing like sitting in a sweltering “mother’s room” and tucking a hot little baby tight in your arms to nurse. And, so as not to offend the one other mother in the room, you get to drape yourself with a cozy fleece blanket. My poor baby comes out red-faced and sweating, as if she’s emerged from a sauna rather than a meal, and that says nothing about the drenched state of my own clothing. Plus, I cannot see what is going on under the blanket. Sure, there are some veteran nursers who can breast-feed blindfolded and asleep, but some of us—even after five bouts of breast-feeding—still have to see what is going on down there. And in the process of arranging things, apparently a couple of my brothers-in-law have seen a flash of something they would prefer not to have seen. But just two of them. I have five, so I think my average is still fairly good. Unless the others have not worked up the courage to tell me. A possibility. Um, okay. Let’s move on.

The point is that I have a job to do; it is part of my homemaker-mommy employment, as I see it. I work at this particular profession eight times a day, ten minutes per side, and I do it with the best tool available: the breast. I have done it every day for months and plan to do it for at least a year. I have gotten quite good at my job and do it in the quickest (and consequently, the flashiest) way possible in the privacy of my own home. But my job is not always done at home, and I sometimes forget that the tool is supposed to be private.

I cannot really be blamed for forgetting, either. During the same season that I nurse my babies, I am also extraordinarily sleep-deprived. My baby is three months old today, and I can say without any exaggeration that I have not slept more than a four-hour stretch during this time period. Often I sleep much less. I have read studies comparing sleep-deprivation with being intoxicated. They say it is just as bad to drive tired as it is to drive drunk; you are dazed, you lack coordination, and your reflexes are terrible. Short-term memory is shot to pieces, and communication is impaired. It all makes sense to me. My high school acquaintances used to sing boisterously, sob in public, and otherwise display themselves in embarrassing ways after a beer or two. One girl even ran naked down Main Street, according to high school folklore. I breast-feed my baby while tucked in the corner booth at McDonald’s Playland after getting a grand total of five-and-a-half hours of chunked-up sleep and cry if someone looks at me askance. There is a connection here; I’m sure of it. And once we all (the new mommies and the intoxicated) sleep off our pounding headaches, we will be able to figure out what it is.

I think the problem most people have with breast-feeding is the exposure. Personally, I feel rather uncomfortable even talking about my inadvertent displays. But wait. Indecent exposure really cannot be the reason, can it? Far more women expose themselves in scanty bikinis, midriff tummy shirts, and plunging necklines than La Leche League has ever had on their roles. Did you see what Miss Ohio wore at the Miss USA contest? Or maybe it was Tennessee. Whichever. “Plunging” hardly describes the nosedive her dress took from her neckline to her waist. I am not kidding. The V-neckline plummeted right to her belly button where it then intertwined in a fabric belt of sorts (insert gasps of conservative horror). How it stayed put was a feat that could have been investigated by Discovery Channel’s “Extreme Engineering.” So I hardly think the momentary glimpse one might catch of a woman’s body before her baby and blanket completely block the view is the real reason people are horrified by nursing. It does not seem logical that one can casually watch women prancing around in high heels and swimsuits on television, yet file a lawsuit when a woman feeds her child in public, the most natural act in the world.

Of course, you will point out the flaws in my logic. For one thing, just because an act is natural, should the public see it? And perhaps the same modesty that prompts my gasp of horror for Miss Midwestern State is also what prompts others’ gasps about nursing mothers, though this would indicate that liberal feminists should side with conservatives here. Are liberals fine with both nursing naturalism and objectifying beauty pageants? I think not, so there is another flaw. Obviously my parallel between intoxication and sleep-deprivation falls apart about the time a crime (public nudity/underage drinking) is committed. And last, and hopefully least, is the acknowledgment that the appalled looks I receive when I nurse are not people offended bythe exposure, but rather body-epicures offended by myexposure.

You are right. I have no answers. I just do not understand why we pick on nursing when there are so many other body-baring incidents that could equally offend us. Or how, if we are a conservative people downright appalled by all flashes of skin, can we simultaneously claim to value children and nursing? These are mutually exclusive ideals that force mothers and children out of public and into lonely back rooms—or at least under blankets—for hours each day.

Frankly, I am stumped. Who is running this conspiracy? Who recruited all the beauty contestants and naturalist/conservative mothers of the world to unite in exposing themselves to a shocked conservative public (myself included, despite the fact that I am the one doing it)? Or did the hostility all begin with the shocked feminist public, outraged at the objectification of the female body and the ostracizing of nursing mothers (me again)? Apparently nursing is a mystifying political activity—a defining moment, a strong statement of party identification for those engaged and those viewing. But the defining moment is un-party-definable, at least by me. Personally, I am baffled.

And thus I end this essay where I began: at a perplexing political juncture. I am a faithful feminist Latter-day Saint; I am aghast at Miss USA’s immodesty and annoyed by the glares I receive when I breast-feed my babies; I tote my hoard of children in a gas-guzzling SUV both to church and to the recycling center; I am planning an environmentally friendly xeriscape yard, and I cannot imagine life without those landfill-destructive disposable diapers. Could any of you political junkies map that set of characteristics in red or blue? Perhaps I am a sleep-deprived centrist? To wit: I will nurse as discreetly as I can, avoiding public displays whenever possible. If you find it bothersome, perhaps you could avert your eyes momentarily? My baby is hungry, the howling darling needs to eat, and I happen to have just the Right—and the Left—body parts to provide the meal.

About Kylie Turley

Kylie Nielson Turley’s sister, Jadey, wants to say that she was jealous of Kylie’s hair in high school, she remembers doing the ironing, and she thinks the boys loved Kylie, not her. Like her sister, Jadey is thrilled that high school is over. Kylie wants everyone to know that in spite of her facetiousness, she is actually glad she has any hair at all after being on a mild dose of chemotherapy for the last six months.

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