The blog post I wanted to write yesterday in response to the latest ‘breastfeeding debate’ wasn’t about whether people should breastfeed discreetly in public, it wasn’t about whether we need more public awareness of the challenges faced by breastfeeding mothers, it wasn’t about the value of nurse-ins as public protest and it certainly wasn’t about whether ‘breast is best’. Other writers have covered those topics admirably well over the previous few days. (I particularly liked this post from Cristy Clark.) If there is any value at all in this recurring ‘debate’ (why am I even typing the word debate how is this even a topic up for debate I don’t even) it is certainly in the opportunity not only for education on the issues but for discussion of shared experiences and analysis of what it means to undertake the work of mothering whilst encountering casual sexism.
The blog post that was clamouring to be written was rather a response to this piece by Clementine Ford which, in part, took a similar bent to much of the discussion I saw on Twitter. (The latter, if not the former, can be summarised as it’s cool to be pissed off ladies but you know breastfeeding is just not that important an issue, right?)
The post I would have written would not have been for Kochie, but for feminists and feminist allies without children.
It would have said that when you measure the work that mothers do and the limited space in which we do it and find our work, not the space, wanting, you stifle us. When you perceive our passionate response to attack and our grass-roots protests as misguided and distracting, you patronise us. When you need to be reminded that the freedom to use our bodies for birthing and breastfeeding as we wish is as central a human right as the choice not to do these things, you devalue us.
It would have said those things, and more, except that I did not write a blog post yesterday because I was parenting for fourteen hours straight.
My daughter needs me now almost as intensively as she did as an infant. This feels like a challenge and a blessing both; what it does not feel like is a non-issue. Negotiating public spaces with a spirited child feels political. Navigating the world as a queer parent with a family structure that is more unconventional than most is not well-supported and it certainly is not an experience that is discussed with enough nuance in the media. I am not a breastfeeding mother anymore but I still feel an affinity with the experience of women asked to cover up their bodies and their babies; with women and children who are asked to take up less space.
What my partner and I do each day in mothering Bean is explicitly feminist and it is explicitly devalued by much public discourse.
Motherhood is not a niche topic. Our issues, as well as our breasts, have a place in the public sphere. I for one don’t plan to be discreet about that.