Featured image: The Holy Family by El Greco
When I was in the hospital after delivering Rhea, I was infinitely grateful that I was able to receive the Eucharist while I was there from a visiting priest. It was one of the most awkward experiences of my life, though. First of all, I spend 99% of my hospital stay after having a baby mostly undressed and nursing. I had no idea that the priest was going to stop by, so I was in my default post-baby mode (namely, mostly undressed). I had expected one of the nurses was coming in, so we asked him to give me a minute as I got as fancy as I could (robe and hair in a ponytail) and let him back in. I received the Eucharist and the priest lingered a little while to chat afterward.
“Are you breastfeeding the child?” he asked us.
“Why, yes,” we replied.
“Good. Because you know, Mary didn’t give Jesus a bottle.” he stated matter-of-factly.
Yikes. I’m sure Mary didn’t use an electric swing either, but we sure as heck put that thing to good use. Guilt free! I thought that was a pretty weird thing for a priest to say, and I really hoped he doesn’t place shame on other mothers if they don’t end up breastfeeding. Because let’s face it, folks. There are much more pressing moral issues than whether you are giving your child a bottle or not. I am sure there are plenty of saints in heaven who bottle fed their kids. Both my mom and my husband were formula fed, and we haven’t noticed any long term ill effects yet. They are both attorneys and in perfect health.
I have a love-hate relationship with breastfeeding myself. Breastfeeding my eldest was torture. I was in so much pain, she hated it and would scream and cry at the breast, and my supply completely died when I got pregnant again, much to both of our relief. Once she switched to the bottle, she was a completely different, completely content baby who was growing and thriving. My other three have been a dream to breastfeed, and I simply love watching with pride as they get chubbier and chubbier from my milk, and experiencing those precious moments holding them and seeing that little dimpled hand clasp my shirt as the eyes flutter and she drifts off to a contented sleep. But I don’t know, I just have a hard time believing it is a moral Catholic imperative to breastfeed. I could be wrong, though. Is there something in the Catechism or in an encyclical that states we MUST breastfeed? The reason being that Mary did it? Feel free to tell me in the comments because I am genuinely curious.
And on the flip side of the coin, why are breastfeeding mothers being put to shame as well? I used to roll my eyes at the “Normalize Breastfeeding” movement. Nobody cares if you breastfeed or not, naive Sylvia said. Until I heard my aunt tell the story that she was nursing in a bathroom sitting room during a formal event with a nursing cover. She said a gaggle of 12 year old girls were in the bathroom preening and chatting. And the whole group of girls were curious as to what my aunt was doing. One girl was so nonplussed, she went over to my aunt and lifted up the nursing cover to see what was going on underneath it. Then, it hit me. The “Normalize Breastfeeding” people could be right! I mean, here were a group of girls who probably knew at this point where babies come from, but had no idea how babies were fed! It’s absurd! What is so wrong with children knowing about breastfeeding? Will it corrupt their innocence to know that moms can nourish children in ways other than with a bottle? I really don’t see how this could possibly be the case. And why should we be ashamed to breastfeed in public? You are exposed to no more breast from a breastfeeding mother than you are on a daily basis from underwear ads, bikinis, and the latest fashion trends. Sure, there might be a nip slip every now and then, but that happens to non-breastfeeding women in a low cut top too. The majority of us use a nursing cover and remedy that little problem anyway. I’m so tired of hiding by myself in a room to nurse like I am doing something undignified or embarrassing.
So we should normalize breastfeeding. I think it would be a beautiful and wonderful thing for children to know that some mommies nurse their babies, and that is perfectly normal. And moms shouldn’t have to feel defensive about formula feeding their children either. Because I’m sure Mary would feel nothing but compassion for mothers assiduously feeding their children something that will help them grow and thrive, no matter the medium.