Thursday, April 27, 2006

Don't Look, She's Breastfeeding

Our blog has recently experienced a surge in its readership. In February we had about 600 "unique viewers" and this month we've already had 1200. So I've been looking very carefully at the reports our server host produces and I noticed we've gotten several hits from Google searches on lactation. Here are the exact search phrases: "lactating breasts pictures," "free lactating stories," "pictures of male breasts lactating," and "dad daughter lactating stories." I'm not saying that Miah's recent posts about breastfeeding are the sole reason for the growth in readership. It does seem, however, that a not insignificant portion of visitors to Green Parenting really want to see and read about lactating breasts. Are you breastfeeding women (and apparently men) looking for information and validation? Are you people seeking lactation as pornography? Are you just curious?

About a month ago, my wife, my baby, and I had the chance to eat a Sunday jazz brunch at Brennan's, a high-class restaurant in Houston. Just to give you an idea, there's no street parking and the valet service costs $5 without tip. Feminist Economics, the journal where I work, was hosting and the bill was covered by a generous donor. We'd never have gone otherwise. What I love about Houston is that it doesn't really have old money at its center with all the brown, black, and working class white folks at the periphery. Houston doesn't have a center (except maybe profit and speculation). When we walked into Brennan's though, I saw the closest thing Houston has to old, white Southern genteel society. This was the culture I knew intimately as child in Mobile, Alabama. Sons and daughters of the Confederacy.

But there we were enjoying ourselves with feminist scholars from China, Canada, France, and all over the US. They were a quirky bunch. Miah and I were at ease. A jazz quartet played us some standards. Our baby dug it. The trumpet player made funny faces at her during his solo. During the meal, she started to whine and fuss so Miah discreetly breastfed her at the table. After eating, she fussed again and I could tell she needed to urinate. So I stood up, picked up my baby, and put her over my shoulder. Right at the next table, I caught an elderly woman galking at us. She had magnificently big, permed hair. She was wearing fine Sunday attire. I imagine she had just taken her grand kids to a stuffy Episcopalian service.

Why was she staring at my wife, my baby, and me? I wondered. Was it that Miah and I are an ethnically-mixed couple? That our baby is a mongrel? Was it that Miah breastfed at the table in a fine restaurant? Was it that we even dared to bring a three-month-old baby at all? Did the woman stare because it was I, the man, who picked up our baby, assumed the role of caregiver, and headed to the bathroom? Or could it be that our baby is so tremendously beautiful, she could not help but stare out of love or jealousy or astonishment? I took our baby into the Men's room, took off her diaper, held her over the toilet, and made a psssss sound. I wish the grandmother could have seen my baby then. Does breastfeeding in public surprise you? Behold elimination communication!

Miah and I have never set out to use our baby as a political stunt. We're not really lactivists in the militant sense. We haven't staged milk-ins at Starbucks. Breastfeeding and elimination communication are part of our daily lives. And yet, that morning at Brennan's, and later in the reports from the server host, I was reminded how feeding a baby triggers strong reactions and has huge consequences. Politically, socially, economically, ecologically, spiritually, aesthetically, emotionally, erotically. Like the whole world is at play in that simple act of the body, two bodies. Whether you are an radical lactivist or not, whether you were raised by a pack of wolves or with the manners of Queen Elizabeth, you can't resist looking.

1 comment:

Fiddler said...

The best example of a nursing mom multi-tasking was at a recent contradancing festival where, as we were progressing up the dance line, we met up with a mom with nursing babe in a sling... Neither mom, babe, nor dad missed a step... Not what we expected, but totally cool... Made me happy to be part of such a great, diverse, happy crowd of people!