Breastfeeding Histories

German Mum Nursing

German Mum Nursing Her Child; Bonn, Germany – Photo by Werner Bischof, circa 1946

I breastfed each of my children. For me, there was no question. It was a no-brainer, something I didn’t even have to think about. I’m not entirely sure why, to be perfectly honest, because I was not breastfed. My mother had me in the early 70’s, a time when feeding babies with formula was at the height of popular pressure and influence for new mums. Mothers were pressured (mainly by doctors, but advertising played an unfair part) to turn their backs on “old fashioned” methods like breastfeeding, especially if they wanted to be “modern” women. Not much has changed these days, other than the added nasty aspect of an effort to shame women who do breastfeed, and particularly for those who breastfeed in public. (le gasp!) If you even look at Faceblock Facebook anymore, you’ve probably heard of women having their accounts suspended, or even removed, for sharing photos of breastfeeding, either of themselves, or others throughout history. Adding insult to injury, you don’t have to search very hard to find scantily clad women of a loose persuasion advertising their services/bodies for sale on Faceblock Facebook, but these women are untouched by the “Suspending Hammer-Hand” of Faceboink tyrants. Indeed, they go untouched. Maybe it’s because such women are too much like a village bicycle, and Faceblock Facebook doesn’t want to risk the ride? Or, maybe Faceblock Facebook has already been there – done that, and just doesn’t want to bother? Or, maybe Faceblock whole-heartedly approves of the sexual objectification of women, and breastfeeding is an inappropriate use of a female breast? Either way, Faceblock Facebook wreaks of injustice!

Despite the obstacles my mother faced, my family has a wonderful history of breastfeeding stories, including, but not limited to, my own.

My grandparents immigrated from Germany to Canada in 1953. In 1955, not long after they had settled near Calgary, Alberta, my grandmother gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Ingrid. My grandmother produced so much milk, that she was happy to donate all of her excess to a local Milk Bank. I remember my grandmother telling me how happy the Nurses were each day my grandmother came in with more bottles full of milk. They would tell her of the babies who’ve benefited from the donations, and my grandmother was so very proud and honoured to help. When Ingrid was 6-months old, she fell ill. I don’t recall what it was, but baby Ingrid spent a lot of time in hospital. My grandmother continued to bring the bottles of milk each day, as some of the milk was going to her own baby; however, this time, she would stay for as long as she could to nurse baby Ingrid directly from her breast. Sadly, baby Ingrid did not survive. My grandmother told me that she kept pumping and bringing bottles of milk to the Milk Bank for a little while afterward, because it helped her heal. She knew there were other babies who still needed the milk she had. My grandmother is my Mother Goddess Hero.

The mother in the photograph above is not my grandmother, but there are so many things in the photo that remind me of her: the style, colour and texture of her hair; the waves in her hair; the width of her face; the furrows in her brow; her beautiful nose; her eyebrows; her cheekbones; everything about her. I often find myself wondering if the woman couldn’t actually be my great-grandmother, as she did have a child later in life, in Germany, right around the time WWII ended. I imagine her looking up and smiling at me, confirming that she either is or isn’t my ancestor. I have no way of knowing for sure, but it’s fun to think about.

I had my first child when I was 18. Of course I was impressionable, and I was absolutely aware of the looks I’d get as a young mum. I recall one time while I was at a mall with my mother, and my daughter became fussy, so I sat on a bench, and discreetly began to feed her. It wasn’t long before an older woman approached me, and very matter-of-factly stated: “They have rooms for you to do that here.” I was slightly taken aback by her forward manner, but smiled sweetly, continued nursing, and politely replied: “Yes, but those rooms are also connected to bathrooms. I don’t eat in a toilet, and neither will my baby. Thank you, we are comfortable here.”

I remember discreetly nursing my middle Elfling, while seated in the grass at a birthday party my eldest was attending. I was watching my older child socialize and interact with her peers, when the mother of the birthday girl (incidentally, the mother also happened to be in nursing school) came over to ask me “if there would be somewhere else I would be more comfortable to do that?” Like somehow nursing was something I should not be doing while other children were present, and I knew it was her own discomfort bringing her over. I just smiled sweetly in return, and said: “It’s beautiful out here today. We’re good. Thank you for asking, though.” I still shake my head at that encounter.

Last but not least, my most humorous breastfeeding-in-public memory is while nursing my twins at the Zoo. Yes, I nursed them tandem. I couldn’t nurse one and let the other fuss! Besides, human beings are uniquely designed to successfully nurse two babies at once. It wasn’t so much that I had anyone come up to me and say anything in particular, as both of my babies were discreetly nursing (breastfeeding clothing had come a long way by the time my twinnigans arrived!), but there were some very peculiar looks cast my way. Honestly, when I think about it, I vacillate between laughter at the looks, and pity for the look-throwers.

My own breastfeeding stories are not so heroic as my grandmother’s, and I didn’t have any opportunities arise to share milk with a needy mum, but I’m sure I would have if I could have. Although I’m not exactly sure when it closed, it’s a sad fact that the “local milk bank” no longer exists. There used to be one in every major city, but over the last decade or so each milk bank has been systematically shut down. For many, funding was cited. I’m not entirely sure that was an untrue reason, although I’d wager it wasn’t a lack of funding, but an abundance of funding by formula manufacturers to buy the closures. Formula manufacturers are scum-sucking, capitalist troglodytes, with only profits on their minds, after all, but that’s another post. ;0)