Monday, July 12, 2010

Nursing...feeling fake and bitter and ashamed and proud and confused

I wrote a post for the Carnival of Nursing in Public about how I've become more and more comfortable with nursing in public.  As I wrote the article, I felt a little fake.  I felt fake because I was careful to state that I didn't cover up IN PUBLIC.  That has been on my mind since then.

You see...I still do cover up around family.

My mother and mother-in-law both breastfed their children.  As I said in my other post, my mom was quick to give advice about the environment of breastfeeding.  She had no advice about the actual act of breastfeeding, but rather how to make sure I had the remote control and to have a comfortable set up in the bedroom for when company came over (assuming that I would relegate myself to the bedroom as she had).  She wasn't particularly comfortable with the idea that I had no plans to leave the room to feed.  But I knew she'd get over it...or at least I hoped.  My mother-in-law seemed more supportive.  She told tales of how she breastfed her 6 children.  She said that she, too, had hidden in a bedroom to feed her children...which ultimately led to her nurse for decreasingly less time each child.  Despite the fact that none of her 3 daughters breastfed, I hoped she'd be a good source of support for me.

The pattern of my comfort began in the hospital.  My husband still jokes that not a person entered our suite without checking out my boobs, my nipples, and Squirmy's latch...every nurse, aid, LC, doctor, EVERYONE.  Somehow, that was okay.  I didn't know these people and they were trying to help.  But the moment it was time to feed Squirmy with visitors in the room...I'd ask our visitors to clear out.  Between my own modesty for my body and my insecurity over breastfeeding, I just couldn't chance the audience.

Once home I was not about to hike my happy, recovering arse up the stairs to hide away and nurse.  Quite frankly, it was a week or two before I could even carry Squirmy up the stairs myself.  No, no...I was going to keep myself plopped on the couch.  So the covering up started.  At first it was no big made me comfortable.  The first signs of trouble began fairly quickly.  My mom refused to listen when I asked her for the baby back to feed him.  She insisted she knew better and he didn't need to eat nearly as often as I thought he did.  That's her, though.  When I did feed him, she politely gave me space...She'd take care of some chore, get me a snack or drink, and sit and talk to me.  I was surprised she was okay with it all.  Several weeks later my grandparents came to town and she sat them down to explain this "bizarre" behavior to them.  I was shocked, hurt, and offended by her little sit down.  You might say she was trying to be helpful, given my VERY proper grandmother whom bottle fed all 6 of her children...but you'd have to know her.  That was her way of telling me she was awkwardly uncomfortable with what I was doing.  :(

And what of my perceived ally?  My mother-in-law?  She expressed and early and overwhelmingly painful discomfort with me feeding around her.  After leaving the hospital, I've never once asked her to leave the room or turn her back or avert her eyes.  She offered to bring us dinner one night shortly after we came home.  My brother-in-law came over, as well.  She ran out to pick up our order and got back just as Squirmy was settling in to eat.  I choked back tears as she turned her back on me and refused to talk to me when she realized I was feeding.  My BIL followed suit.  They made themselves comfortable at the kitchen table as my loving husband fixed my plate and brought it to me.  Confused, he looked to me to tell him where to eat dinner.  I told him to join his mom and brother at the table.  I ate my dinner alone (well, with my sweet baby hidden on my lap), in silence, abandoned and ashamed.

I can ignore my mom.  She's my mom...I've spent 26 years dealing with her.  Screw her if she thinks I should hide in a bedroom like she did.  I owe my son more than that.  I owe this and the next generation more than that.  Through my husband's insistence and speeches, my brothers- and sisters-in-law have gotten over themselves and used to me feeding around them...still covered.  My MIL...she's still painfully awkward and avoids contact with me at all costs when I'm feeding.  It's gotten to the point where I want to cry because she acts so uncomfortable and put out when I start to feed.  I know it's bad, but often I find myself letting Squirmy get enough to calm him for a little while until she leaves.  Doesn't help that she constantly asks why he always wants to eat or sleep when she's over and why he always fusses when she holds him.  Um, he's not even 4 months old...if you hold him for more than 10 minutes he'll fuss...we're not talking crying, just your general talking/fussing/making noise.  Oh and he's A, sleep, shit...that's ALL they do.  She had 6 of her own and this is her 10th grandchild.

So last night we were out to dinner with our housemate when Squirmy did his "I'm a baby and I wanna eat" thing.  In the middle of eating, in the middle of Macaroni Grill, I discreetly freed my boob from my nursing tank and pulled my shirt up just enough for him to sneak his head in and latch.  No one would ever have known what I was doing.  I thought about how I can be completely comfortable taking care of business in such a setting, yet cannot manage to feel comfortable in my own home WITH a cover :(

I'm not sure what I hoped to accomplish with this post.  I wanted to admit my "failings" with nursing comfort, vent my frustrations, perhaps get some understanding/support, and hopefully get some ideas on how to deal with this.  So...what do you think?!


Mama Mandolin said...

I went through the same thing at the hospital-and it continued when I went home...when you're feeding two babies, both boobs are always out. There would be times I'd forget to cover back up LOL. Chikezie would be like..uhhh...your boobs are hanging out! I think because I was pumping too, I was just used to them being out the majority of my day.

When BIL and his gf came to visit, I just discretely sat on the bed with my knees up and a pillow on my lap so I'd be somewhat shielded. We were in a studio apt so I really couldn't go anywhere. I pumped in the bathroom though and it totally sucked.

If I was still breastfeeding I'd totally say screw it. I'd whip 'em out and who cares who sees. I'm feeding my kids and if you don't like it-peace out!

Dionna said...

Oh mama - that's not a "failing" on your part, I think it's normal to be more self-conscious around people we know than we are around strangers. Their opinions matter more - which is why it's just as important to ME to nurse openly around my family.
My family (dad, one sister, brother, and in-laws) are exactly the same as yours - uncomfortable, some have made comments, etc. But after 2.5 yrs of openly nursing, I've made a LOT of progress, esp. w/one sister and my dad. My dad now rolls his eyes, which is better than the discomfort he felt initially. My sister now has a baby of her own and nurses wherever :)
My in-laws are more comfortable for sure, but we're not around them as much to make as big of a dent.

I say - just do it. Give yourself a confidence pep talk, and then nurse around your family every chance you get :) If YOU act completely normal, hopefully they'll catch on!!

Jessica Anne said...

I agree it's totally normal to be more self-conscious/care around people you know. I still cover up in front of my family. My dad doesn't leave the room anymore. I think the most important thing is you're doing it. However you have to, where ever you have to. And you'll be supportive and not weird when your daughter in law breastfeeds in front of you. Change takes time.

hannah said...

This is definitely not a failing! Although I do think the behavior of your mother and mother-in-law is strange, it's not unusual to be more uncomfortable around people you know. After all, when you're in public, you're usually around strangers. Who cares what they think?

I also retreat to the bedroom to nurse when my in-laws come to visit, but they live 1500+ miles away and have only been to visit twice since Finley was born. I know that it would make my father-in-law uncomfortable, and I'm not about to use a nursing cover in my own home! Plus it gives me a nice break from their company!

I agree that the mutual discomfort might be making the problem worse. They're uncomfortable, so you're uncomfortable, so they're uncomfortable. I would try just acting like it's the most normal thing in the world, and then maybe they will realize that it is the most normal thing in the world!

Hang in there, sister!

Karen said...

I wonder if over time your relatives may get used to it? And by over time, it may be several children. Or maybe when another daughter/DIL breastfeeds in front of them, too. I don't understand why they are so uncomfortable and rude about it. That just blows my mind that people are that way. I mean, if they feel uncomfortable if you whip out your breast with no cover and just leave half yourself hanging out, I'd at least understand how they'd feel awkward. But that you're covered and they are rude? I can't believe it. I mean, I believe you, it just shocks me that people would do that.

I say stand your ground. Continue nursing in front of them (with a cover at this point. I use a cover in front my my BIL, FIL, and brothers, but don't bother in front of the women or my husband.) Maybe over time they'll get used to it? And since you're more recovered now, perhaps you can go ahead and nurse at the table, or while sitting around chatting so they can see that your nursing doesn't mean that you have to be out of everything. You know? Let Squirmy nurse while you continue with what is going on in the room.

Tina said...

Thank you for all the wonderful comments and support. It really does mean a lot to me and makes me feel a bit more normal about my situation.

I do try to be as calm and comfortable around my MIL as I can be. I don't always succeed, but I try.

My FIL jokes about Squirmy eating, "Oh so he gets to eat but we have to wait" (it's funny in context, I promise).

Maybe with time it'll get better...maybe with #2 it'll get better...maybe someday :)

Bethany said...

This is in no way your "failings"!!! I am in disgust at how your MIL treats your about BFing. Its natural, its beautiful, its nothing for you to EVER be ashamed of. I don't BF anymore sadly and I regret it everyday.. but when we came home, I did and I didn't care who was around me I BFed.. I remember the first time I did at home.. I was in her nursery with my mom, aunt, and grandmas and said that i had to nurse her they were like ummm ok.. they continued fixing stuff up and I sat in the rocking chair and nursed.. and I continued to do so even with my dad around.. they never once said something but if they would have then I would have said if you aren't comfortable leave or get over it! I don't stand for that crap! lol

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

I don't know how I missed this, but I agree with the other commenters. I'm much more self-conscious around family than anyone else. I know they feel comfortable telling me what they think, which is one reason I worry. ;)

I'm so, so sorry you've had these problems with your family. Talk about lack of support! I'm glad your husband is there for you. I hope maybe he can talk to them in private and tell them how hurtful their actions are toward you. Maybe that will have some effect?