Breast feeding. Does that make you uncomfortable? If so, are you uncomfortable at the thought of it (babies! suck! food! out! of! women!) or is it the actual physical act of it (baby! sucking! nipple! just! like! ME!) that’s disturbing? Or are you one of those folks who find it erotic? Or do you, like me, not think about it?
I ask because I was reading this post by the Mad Momma, written in response to this other post (lots of pics, so don’t click if you’re squeamish / your boss is squeamish / your colleague might take it as a come on / your spouse thinks breastfeeding is porn-y) and it sort of made me wonder why so many people – especially people who don’t have kids – spend so much time thinking about this.
Perhaps I’ve mentioned before that I usually walk around in a haze? Well, that means I’ve never had a random breastfeeding mother actually impinging on my consciousness long enough for it to “traumatize” me. However, I would like to think that if that ever happened, I’d look elsewhere or something and go on with my life rather than feeling victimized by the sight of a stranger whipping out a boobie in public so that their baby doesn’t starve. On second thoughts, I’d rather they fed their baby in their frickin’ birthday suit than sit through the heartrending wails of a baby who doesn’t understand why the promised meal has failed to arrive. And I say this as a woman who once witnessed a threesome, complete with the most awkward poledancing known to man, in a subway car. I know I can look elsewhere.
But on reading those two posts, it occurs me this whole feed/don’t feed the baby in public is a matter of nuance. I mean, most things are but this is especially so, it seems.
I guess it starts pretty early, with the kind of family you come from. I think it was Patrick French who said he was shocked and disgusted to discover that Gandhi spent quite a lot of his time quizzing people about their poop, but you know what? Indians, especially of a certain generation, might be prudish about sex but they have no problem discussing other intimate details of their lives. Hang around these folks long enough and conversations can switch with bewildering ease from, “Hey, I like that saree” to “Why do you think I bleed when I go potty?” I think it’s one of the reasons older people are so interesting. They say the darnedest things.
Therefore, I’m pretty sure I was breast fed because I remember my mother cracking jokes about me making faces when she switched over to the bottle – I was apparently a finicky diner from the start. We have a large family and someone or the other is sure to have a tot in tow so I’m used to being around parents and simply filtering out child rearing information. I mean, I like kids and I really like the kids I’m related to, but do I want to know about the composition of their poop or the details of what they spit up? Uh, no. I guess things change when you become a parent but I’m happy to wait until then.
So… breast feeding. The first woman I ever saw feeding a baby was Mandakini with her pretend baby in Raj Kapoor’s Ram Teri Ganga Maili. I try not to think about that awful movie and haven’t seen it in a long, long, long time so I’m missing context, but what I remember of it is that it took place on a train and something about it felt vaguely dirty. But then that entire movie gave me the heebie-jeebies so maybe it wasn’t specific to that scene?
The next thing I remember about breast feeding are these awful faces made by Lakshmi and Rekha.
Lakshmi played the title role of an AngloIndian unwed mother in Julie, and I don’t know what her problem was (again, awful fucking movie) but it was like she wanted to masturbate but didn’t know how. The camera lovingly tracked her Wonder-Bra’d breasts with milk seeping out as she made some more of those faces and – oh my God! As I type this, I just realized this is why I can’t stand porn. Every time I see some woman’s O-face, my subconscious says “Baby has no food!” Talk about trauma.
Then there was Rekha – not the scary, maneater Rekha of these days but the quasi-arthouse Rekha of the 80s (when she was able to escape the clutches of, er, fashion for want of a better word – Khoon Bhari Maang, anybody?). It was a remake called Sansar and again, I have never lactated so I have no idea what her issue was, but she eventually ends up gasping in agony on the floor, unable to feed her child. By this time she was on the top of her game so unlike Mandakini and Lakshmi, the camera was very respectful and there were no shots across the bursting with milk bosom. But she did writhe around and moan and break out in a sweat.
And then I met a woman in real life who fed her baby in front of me. It was my cousin – my incredibly shy cousin – and she was perfectly okay unbuttoning her blouse before a group of us (this is a woman who wouldn’t show me how she looked in a flirty nightie she got as a wedding present because it was too “daring” thanks to the modest slit up one side). And I have to admit, that breast didn’t look anything like Mandakini’s perky, fake-mommy ones and yes, it was uncomfortable for a quick second.
Why? Because I got the feeling I was intruding in some sort of private, special ritual between mother and child. And also, I’m not used to being around naked people. Not that she was naked but you know what I mean.
And then I realized I was projecting my feelings on to her. I’m sure it is pretty special to feed your baby but she’d been doing it every two hours for days by that point and was looking forward to least five months more of the same. She tells me it doesn’t hurt to have another human being chomping on your lady bits but frankly, the whole child bearing thing is so freaky – to have a real, live human grow inside of you, absorbing nutrients from your body and then slowly push out of the most sensitive part of your body – that if you’re okay with that stuff, then breastfeeding isn’t exactly going to make your palms sweat. Breastfeeding only sounds “strange” to people who don’t do it, I guess. Have you ever seen an animal feed its young? The mother looks totally bored with the whole process. No wonder human mothers multitask when feeding.
But what if you’re one of those people who find breastfeeding mothers sexy? Not just the way they look (big boobs! Who hates that?) but the fact that they’re lactating? Ew, right? Would it be more acceptable if a man said that about the mother of his child though? Like pregnant women – how come men who find pregnant women sexy are creepy unless they’re the father of that child when everyone says “Awww!”
Nuance. That’s what I’m talking about.