Kudos to Katrina Bolduc, who is making headlines this week for breastfeeding her baby after finishing a triathlon. A triathlon!
The 28-year-old’s baby was hungry, so she made it happen. Bolduc told SELF, “I had an easy-access top on. We were right there at the finish line, and I unzipped my top. He latched right on, and he was as happy as can be. He looked up, smiling at me.”
She feared jeers as she nursed her 7-month-old, but instead folks cheered. After asking her husband to take a photo, she posted it to the Facebook group Breastfeeding Mama Talk. It quickly went viral, with over 4,000 likes and comments like “Good job, Mama!,” “Amazing,” and “I love this picture, mommas can be strong, accomplish amazing feats and still nourish their babies!”
“My hope is people will share the light and the love surrounding breastfeeding and motherhood and going out and being active,” Bolduc told SELF. “And also focus on the positive rather than the negative. And just girl power — we can do it.”
The first time I breastfed my baby in public, he was 3 weeks old. We sat in front of a dusty diorama at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Even though we were in a dark corner near the taxidermic bears, I covered us both as much as possible with a blanket, which my husband had to hold in place to keep from slipping. I felt as if all eyes were watching and judging, including the animals’ glass ones.
The last time I breastfed my baby in public, he had just turned 2. We sat in a busy cafe on a street in Athens. As he nursed, I ordered souvlaki and fries. Not only was my boob totally exposed, but I made full-on eye contact with the waiter. I have no idea if anyone was watching or judging, because I stopped caring long ago.
I’m incredibly lucky and grateful for all kinds of reasons: that I was capable of breastfeeding, that I could pump in order to keep up my supply after I went back to work, that my child was willing and able to continue nursing as we passed the 3-month, 6-month, and even the 1-year mark. At no point was I shamed. I was never asked to leave a restaurant or hide in a bathroom. I was never made to feel uncomfortable about feeding my son — not in a park in the center of Cartagena, Colombia, not in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, not in the shadow of the pyramids at Giza — and I recognize exactly how extraordinary that is. Apparently, not even fame can protect some women from leers or judgment, as Mila Kunis explained to Vanity Fair a few weeks ago:
“It took us a little back because people actually looked at us in a shameful [way], and we were like, ‘Oh my God,’ because it’s so not a sexual act. It didn’t matter to me what other people thought. That’s what I chose to do, but I think it’s unfortunate that people are so hard on women who choose to do it and do it in public. … If it’s not for you, don’t look.”
I was never aggressive about breastfeeding in public, but, after the first few times, I stopped trying to actively hide what I was doing. I was careful and modest, but I think the way to destigmatize, or desexualize, something is to normalize it. In the same vein, I talked at length about extended breastfeeding (breastfeeding past the age of 1), because so many people find it odd to nurse someone who regularly wears shoes.
Like the recent pictures of a woman breastfeeding at a wedding reception or a bride breastfeeding during her wedding ceremony, Bolduc’s snap celebrates a very special bond between mother and baby. These photos encourage women to breastfeed, assuming, of course, that it’s the right decision for their bodies and their families. And that brings me to another cool thing about Bolduc’s photo. This one also celebrates Bolduc as an individual with an identity beyond “mom.” As a yoga instructor and endurance athlete who completed several triathlons before becoming a mother, Bolduc obviously likes to exercise. Recognizing the importance of working out for her wellbeing and sense of self, Bolduc found ways to modify her routine to include her baby. And that makes this photo extra special. She didn’t quit doing something that mattered to her because she had a kid.
My point isn’t to body-shame those of us who don’t work out. On the contrary. When my son was tiny, getting us both dressed felt like an accomplishment, let alone biking, swimming, and running all in the same day. And I’m not trying to shame those of us who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed. We’re all working with what we’ve got.
A lot of my family and friends balked when they found out that I’d be schlepping my kid to South America, North Africa, and Europe. But travel matters to me and my sense of self. As women, none of us have to look very far to find a critical voice (thanks, American culture!). Bolduc’s photo reminds us about the importance of balancing our needs as people with our babies’ needs — and of standing by whatever choices bring us balance. Having a baby changes lots and lots of things about our lives, but it doesn’t have to change everything.