Everyone Has a Problem With Breast Feeding

23 Jan

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.


Posted by on January 23, 2008 in Life, Personal, Video


13 responses to “Everyone Has a Problem With Breast Feeding

  1. dipali

    January 23, 2008 at 11:55 am

    I was eight or nine years old when I first became aware of breast feeding- one of our neighbours had a lovely little baby girl whom my sister and I really found fascinating. Her being breast fed was a new learning which we internalised. I guess that’s when we realised that that was what breasts were for, ultimately. Cousins had babies after that, but they were also very modest in their nursing. I was still most fascinated by the process. By the time I had my kids, I was quite bindaas- as I usually wore sarees nursing anywhere didn’t seem outrageous. ( I probably shocked quite a few people in my time , though). I guess a little covering up wouldn’t hurt anyone, though.

    Pregnant women being sexy? I wonder if you’ve seen the old Streisand movie, Funny Girl? The protagonist is supposed to be singing in a show, “I am the beautiful reflection of my love’s affection”, dressed as a virginal bride in a white wedding dress. She goes through all the rehearsals, not satisfied with her performance. On the opening night she’s singing with all her heart, same white wedding dress, but hugely pregnant!
    I guess preggy girls are sexy!

  2. OrangeJammies

    January 23, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    There you go again…echoing my sentiments perfectly!

  3. neha

    January 23, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I don’t even stop to think if it’s sexy or not. It’s about as normal as crossing your legs, or placing your palm under your chin. But you’re right – the only thing that does make me uncomfortable is if I feel like the other person needs privacy and isn’t able to communicate it. You see – if I walk out on my own – it might appear like I had an issue with breastfeeding – when I don’t. It’s .. umm.. complicated!

  4. the mad momma

    January 24, 2008 at 12:58 am

    there you go… oh wait.. I’m repeating what OJ said 🙂

    you’re right. before you have kids, you dont think about breastfeeding. well i didn’t. cousins, aunts, the maid who brought her baby to our place, everyone fed their baby and no one stopped and bothered. life went on.

    also, for most women, after you’ve been through childbirth and the whole world and its brother has looked up your birth canal, a little bit of boob is not an issue! arrgh. i am not doing a good job of explaining myself, am i?! it doesnt matter. you’ve already done the good job.

  5. Anindita Sengupta

    January 24, 2008 at 2:41 am

    Nice post and lol about mandakini and that awful girl in julie. I think it does all boil down to nuance — a friend told me once about how she was uncomfortable about MIL letting her FIL into the room when she was breastfeeding so in her case, she would have liked more privacy but couldn’t get it because people around her wanted to be gung-ho about the whole thing. I don’t know what i’ll be like when I have kids but I suppose everyone has different thresholds for these things and I’m on the shyer side so maybe i’ll have to give up going out for a while…yeesh! Never actually been around women who are breastfeeding (strange but true) but I do have issues with other people’s nakedness. But as you said, that is my problem, not theirs.

  6. apu

    January 24, 2008 at 4:15 am

    well said. I honestly don’t understand what the fuss is about. do these people want babies to starve or moms to just stay home all the time so that no one sees a bit of *gasp* boob and dies of shock? its ridiculous considering how discreet most moms are while feeding…why don’t they go slap some sense instead into all those men who think its their god given right to pee on the roads…

  7. the mad momma

    January 24, 2008 at 8:36 am

    @anindita. you’re right. for instance if i am out of home, i cover up with a dupatta, but if its my bedroom, i dont bother. and when i had the brat, i was extremely uncomfortable with others in the room and would keep asking them to leave. had a huge showdown with my MIL because I didnt even want her in there. this time around, i dont care. so really, i dont know why ppl make such a fuss. the poor mother who has to open up, is more uncomfortable than anyone else…

  8. the mad momma

    January 24, 2008 at 9:01 am

    @apu: damn right. why didnt i think of that? bloody adults who cant control their bladders, want little infants to control hunger pangs. bah.

  9. DesiGirl

    January 25, 2008 at 4:47 am

    Every time I see some woman’s O-face, my subconscious says “Baby has no food!” Talk about trauma.

    How come no one else can come up with such scintillating thoughts?! One of a kind, Ams, one of a kind!

  10. Amrita

    January 25, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Dipali – well who said your days of shocking people are over? Breastfeeding might be out though 😀

    OJ – awww, hugs!

    Neha – I never thought about it either until I saw that Bill Maher clip and I was like, whoa! I mean, I love him but when Bill Maher has an opinion on breastfeeding, something is going on! LOL, so true about getting up and walking away.

    MM – more than anything else, it’s the world and its brother looking up the birth canal that freaks me out! I guess I’ll be in too much pain to bother by then but … argh! And I’ve heard there are these ladies who come to bathe you after the baby is born? I dont know what the hell they do exactly but the few things my friends have mentioned sound absolutely horrible.

    Anindita – maybe people around you were sneaky like Dipali and MM and feeding their babies when you thought they were merely cold 😀 No, i dont think its weird you’ve never met a breastfeeding lady. I wouldnt have if it hadnt been for my inordinately large family. In a weird way, I think I would mind less feeding my baby in public than feeding my baby in front of my FIL. Or my dad. Unless I had a blanket or something to cover it all with. Complicated is right.

    Apu – omigod, if only! But no, I guess thats apparently an accepted part of life.

    DG – You have to see that movie to understand 😦

  11. desigirl

    January 27, 2008 at 9:56 am

    People actually come by to bathe you after you give birth? Where in world does this wondrous thing happen? I was told to toddle along post Pratik and just told to “clean myself up” on barely stable legs. I was glad they offered to let my mum stay there and look after my newborn then!!

  12. Amrita

    January 31, 2008 at 2:24 am

    DG – this is what a friend of mine told me. She said after the delivery some dai comes and pours boiling hot water all over you to tighten up the skin. Bleurgh. So thats an urban myth then?

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