Sunday, April 25, 2010

Keepin' on

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.


  1. Just because you have moments does not mean you are not as strong as you appear. I think you are a very strong woman, and a great example.

  2. Wow. I just wanted to say that I think you are amazing!

  3. Keep it up! I think you really are inspiring. I fully plan on staying in sacrament meeting to nurse my next baby. I do wonder what the reaction will be. There are lots of older/elderly members in our ward and you never know how they will react to such things.

  4. You are a great example!

    We're probably going to San Fran this summer in June..maybe we can meet up!

  5. This is such a beautiful, amazingly well-written post. Thank you so much for sharing. I really do admire you :)

  6. I think that a suckling child is one of the most beautiful sights in the world; why would anyone ask you to cover it up? Well, because Satan has perverted that sight so much that priesthood leader are confused and even women don't know what to do with their own body! That is tragic! We MUST breastfeed in public so people can see what God meant us see; a beautiful suckling child.We MUST breastfeed in public so people aren't confused, so women aren't sexualized, so other women are empowered and little girls can learn. Thank you , Heather, for writing this and got not giving up.

  7. One of your sentences toward the end - you do this so your daughter won't be forced to "pray about something" later - I do the same thing (for non-religious reasons). I fight to normalize breastfeeding so that my son will never have a difficult internal debate about whether to ask his wife to cover up. So my son will know the *real* reason we have breasts. So he will walk by a nursing pair without thinking anything other than "that's nice!"

    Great story!

  8. I would love for you to be in my Zion!

  9. I have tears streaming down my face.

    You are an inspiration to me. I wish you were in my ward! I really hope that it gets better. At this point I am just glad if I see a mom in the mother's room that isn't covering up her baby.

  10. I thought of you this weekend while I sat in the middle of the Women's expo nursing my 11 month old uncovered. Before reading your blog I may have hidden up in some unoccupied section of the stands, and Ava would have probably screamed the whole way over to where ever we hid because she had wait so long to eat. Especially since she only took 5 minutes to finish nursing both sides. I too am grateful for your example!

  11. Thank you for your example! Finally now that I have my 5th child, and thanks to your blog, I have breastfed in Sacrament mtg, the foyer, and in RS. I feel that it promotes breastfeeding, and REALLY helps younger moms and future moms to see that example.

  12. thank-you for sharing that. You helped me to feel okay about continuing to breastfeed my 2 year old. If it wasn't for you I would have listened to the negativity and stopped at age 2 even though she clearly wasn't ready. It's interesting that at 32 months she was done and it wasn't a negative thing to ween. She did it herself when she didn't need it anymore. I need to remember to not let others timelines control what I do. Thanks for all you share

  13. Wonderful post! Thank you for encouraging Moms to do what is most right and natural---even if it means going against the odds. I think most women live in fear of nursing in public, and need to see what a "strong" woman is like.

  14. I found this blog through my friend Sally. What an amazing person you are! I've just read over your last several posts. I love your attitude - not confrontational towards anyone, or really out to prove a point or ruffle feathers.... you're just doing what you feel is right for you and your child. At least that's how I interpret it.
    Way to go.

  15. I've always admired the way you ahndled these situations when they come up. And I miss you and your family so much!

  16. I have never met with you or spoken with you but I found this story by chance. A mother had been told to cover up in church and had been having problems with her congregation and this was posted. You wrote "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." And it stuck me like a miner stricking gold. I could never quite put my finger on why it bothered me when women were asked to cover up but THAT right there is the answer. Because they have already sexualized you when you are doing NOTHING sexual.


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