Your baby’s hungry; you can tell because he’s shoving his whole fist in his mouth while trying to suck the leather off the diaper bag strap. There’s no private area in the park, so you sit down on the bench and turn away from the hordes of pedestrians tromping past, throw a nursing cover over your little one, and unhook your bra, trying to be discreet.
But I see you. And I stare.
No, I’m not a creepy lurker trying to snatch a stray glimpse of your succulent rack, or shame you into packing it in. Here’s why I’ve latched on and can’t look away:
I’m fascinated with the logistics of how you’re making this work.
It’s windy out. There are a LOT of people in the park today, some of whom are sitting right next to you on the bench while you try to corral a writhing infant into a horizontal position, while also keeping the nursing cover down, and your other child within arms’ length, and … holy crap, I have no clue how you’re making that all happen.
You’re reminding me of how hard it was.
Breastfeeding was exhausting, isolating, and depleting, and my baby took forever to get it together. I remember how it hurt just to put on a t-shirt. How it felt like my boob was caught in a bear trap every time my baby bit down. How my life only existed in 45-minute intervals between feedings.
I also remember a sense of triumph. Not that I was able to breastfeed, since I knew it wasn’t for everyone, and was prepared to explore whatever path would get my baby fed. But I was triumphant over my first challenge as a new mother. I was terrible at it, my baby was terrible at it, and together we somehow became … less terrible.
I watch you now, on that park bench, and see a triumphant mother.
I miss those moments with my own baby.
This is a crazy thing to say, since while I was in the thick of nursing, I’d often curse at what a time-suck it was, wish my body was my own again, and lament how my swollen chest turned my normally-modest shirts into Vegas showgirl attire.
Now that it’s ended, I miss the hours spent holding my baby close to me, cradling her sated face, feeling her heartbeat on my stomach. Observing you at the beginning of your journey gives me that ache one gets when a milestone pulls their kids ever-so-slightly away from them.
I can’t believe that you’re out and about.
When I was nursing my first child, I was too nervous to leave my home. I spent most of my days plopped on the couch topless, watching America’s Next Top Model re-runs, trying anything to make the round-the-clock dairy buffet easier for both of us.
The outside world was not super-supportive; there was often no place secluded enough or comfortable enough for me to feel safe breastfeeding. All around me were haters and shamers and gawkers. Or perhaps they were all in my head, hallucinatory judges looking to find fault in my public attempts at taking care of my baby. Needless to say, I mostly stayed home, and I missed out on so much.
I’m getting flashbacks to the lengths I once had to go to — just to feed my baby.
By the time I’d finished nursing my second child, other mothers and I formed our own version of the game of “Never Have I Ever,” replacing our racy college shenanigans with unusual places we’ve nursed our children. Never have I ever … nursed behind a dumpster in the parking lot of an Applebees. Never have I ever … nursed in a cemetery. Never have I ever … nursed in a church confessional (wow, I just had to do three shots). Even the Mile High Club for the lactation set has a very different meaning.
Let’s face it; most nursing mothers have done some pretty weird stuff. A park bench doesn’t seem so bad, eh? At least you get to sit.
But most of all, here’s what I want you to know when you catch me looking: You’re not alone.
Whether you know it or not, we belong to the same club — a club of moms trying to feed our kids through whatever means necessary. We breastfeed for two weeks or two years, supplement with formula, lovingly pump in a supply closet at work while watching Game of Thrones on our phones, or fully embrace the Similac from the get-go. We nurse for too long, or not long enough, or the wrong way, or not at all, all under the watchful gaze of people who know better or did it differently or don’t understand why you don’t just do that in the privacy of your own home.
You’re casually trying to keep from flashing the entire baseball game happening across from you, but you also don’t give a damn if you do, as long as that latch doesn’t break. I stare at you, hoping to catch your eye, hold your gaze for half a beat, and communicate how amazed I am at how you’re doing what you need to do, where you need to do it.
And then I look away, to give you and your baby the privacy you deserve.More On