This is going to be long. Read it when you have time.
I was going to answer Crunchy's question for Inquisition Monday, but today felt like a better fit. Her question was, "As a follow-up question, how do people handle that [breastfeeding in church]? Has anyone ever reacted negatively, or asked you to stop?"
Yes, people have reacted negatively. No, I've never been asked to stop. I haven't blogged about particular incidents because some of those people read my blog, and it's partly their story, too. Sharing someone else's story publicly isn't a very nice thing to do. But I'll be both as truthful about this and as vague identity-wise as I possibly can. Also, I don't want other moms to be afraid of a possible confrontation. I think I've only been "confronted" because I'm very vocal about this on my blog. If I didn't have a blog, I doubt most of the following would have happened.
Twice I've been confronted by ward leaders. The first one simply asked that I consider using the mother's lounge or a cover- but also admitted that they knew I was fully in my rights. I responded that I'd discuss it with McKay and get back to them. After discussing it with McKay, I called them back. In the previous conversation, I kind of got the feeling that a ward member had mentioned it to them and had hoped that they would use their leadership position as a way to bully me. During that phone call, I even told them as much. I followed that up with, "I'm sorry if someone put you in a middleman position like this. If in the future someone comes up to you about this, could you please say something on lines of 'McKay and Heather feel that they are being discreet and if you have any concerns, please bring it up to them.'" The leader said that they would do that in the future. I came away from that phone call feeling like I handled that situation well and kept on keepin' on. I also felt that if the leader directed people straight to us instead of being a middle-person, it would at least weed out complaints from cowards.
Some time after that another leader talked with us. This time the request (again, with the admittance that I was fully in my rights) that we pray about it. So we did. And we felt that breastfeeding wasn't inappropriate and I was "discreet" (whatever that means). So again we kept on keepin' on.
Some time after that I was actually confronted by a ward member in the street. It was completely random and caught me off guard. There were accusations that I hadn't given this subject enough thought and prayer. And I am apparently contributing to pornography problems. And the confrontation was finished with an accusation of me not keeping my covenants. Not knowing what to say, I just said, "Ok..." and went my way. Admittedly, it might be hard for an outsider to see the hours of study of modesty and the prayers I had said. I, myself, had to finally define and confront what modesty meant for me, and that was no easy task. So that implication is understandable, I guess; they don't know the whole story. But the accusation about my personal worthiness was completely out of line.
That was a hard day for me, and it's hard for me to write about. There were tears, there was anger. I said crazy things to McKay like, "I'll learn Spanish and go to the Spanish ward!" The hardest part of the whole thing is that recently we had a few lessons about being a Zion people and I was feeling very gungho about bonding with my ward and building each other up- and then it kind of came crashing down. How could I build Zion in my ward if my ward members don't want me in their Zion? So obviously the solution was to find a new ward. McKay was the sensible one and said things like "Well, they probably have never actually seen you breastfeed in church and are just misunderstanding what you've said on your blog," and "They probably don't know that Margaret doesn't nurse for very long and the mother's lounge isn't a good solution." And I tried to use humor to lift my spirits and responded, "Yeah. They probably don't know the difference between a tassel and a baby."
That night I asked McKay for a blessing of comfort. And it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Immediately all that anger and upset was gone. I couldn't be angry even if I tried. And there were nice references to my patriarchal blessing and three words that I still remember: "Don't. Give. Up."
I spent a good portion of the week coming up with what I wanted to say to that person the next week. I wrote it down and memorized it. I practiced it. I remembered to use non-accusatory "I" statements and stick to the point and not get distracted by a rant. It was perfect. And then they didn't show up to church for another month. At that point, I just let it go and kept on keepin' on.
There is something really awkward about someone talking to you about covering up. It means, "I have sexualized and objectified your breasts and your daughter." It makes for awkward relationships. Even in the situations where it was a leader and not the actual complainer, the fact that the leader is speaking to me about it is an admission of, "On some level I agree and have also sexualized and objectified your breasts." If the leader hadn't felt like that on some level they would have told the person to leave me alone instead of bringing it up with me. So to be honest, those relationships are at minimum: strained. I avoided those leaders in the halls for some time, and the first time that one member was back at church, I wanted to go hide and cry in the bathroom. I have a secret: I'm not as strong as I sound on this blog. But I remembered, "Don't give up."
It was after all this that Margaret decided that the layers were to much for her and I've simply pulled down. I've had no issues from that point on. I wonder if fiddling with layers made me look nervous and vulnerable, but once I just went with it I looked more confident and so the "issues" stopped. Or maybe I just wore my ward down.
I have had positive experiences in my ward too. There is a 17 month old in our ward who is still breastfeeding because I nursed uncovered in church. I'm glad that mom gained confidence from seeing me nurse.
I've also had a positive experience with a man in my ward. Not long after that last confrontation, a man in my ward told me, "You know that one time I mentioned that I thought breastfeeding would help men with pornography problems? I meant it helped me." He went on to say that remembering me breastfeeding helped him leave pornographic Internet sites. It helped him know recognize the difference between "this is what breasts are for" and "this is exploitation." Now, I know breastfeeding isn't going to solve his addiction, but it helped a little. And that's something.
That's why I take that advice in that blessing to not give up. I won't give up. I'll keep on keepin' on. I keep on so that Margaret won't have to be "asked to pray" about something that should need no praying over. I keep on so that she won't be confronted in the street by people she thought she trusted.
We only get a few short years of our lives to breastfeed. We don't know what the reaction at the park, the library, at church, will be. It might be a double take. It might be offense and aggression. And it might be that someone will re-dedicate themselves to breastfeeding. And it might be that a web browser is closed.
I won't lie and say I'm not excited to move to a more liberal and "crunchy" part of the United States this week. Maybe there will be less cultural resistance to me feeding my children. And yet, a part of me wonders if I've done enough in Provo. This is my last Sunday in my Provo ward, and if a closed browser and a nursing 17 month old are my only legacy, I'm ok with that.
And this summer, in my new ward, with a new baby and a toddler, we'll see what happens. I'll probably just keep on keepin' on.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
This is going to be long. Read it when you have time.