north america's newest endangered species...

Ezri and Mommy, nursing at 3 months...

America's newest endangered species? The breastfeeding human mother.

It's been on my heart a lot since I've become a mother. It's something I'm nervous to have my typical "rant" over - though it's most worthy of many rants - because I really want people to listen. Recently, a sweet friend of mine blogged about her experience with public breastfeeding at a zoo, she said she felt like she was on display along with the animals as groups of elementary school students looked at her with the same curiosity they have for the monkey exhibit. Along with that, I have read or skimmed soooo many blogs and online mag articles that are purposely built to stir up opinion, put people on the defense (or offense), and just generate mean spirited judgemental gossip. I hate this.

I have a beautiful six month old daughter. She is breastfed. I love, love, love being able to give her sustenance like this, physically and emotionally. This relationship is precious and fills me with awe at how my body can sustain another... our connection didn't stop at birth, it blossomed and grew into the next phase just as nature intended. It is a start to a lifelong relationship that will not end when she is weaned. I am blessed to be able to bond with my baby this way, and all that I could ever desire for any new mom is a chance to do the same with her babe because I know how wonderful it is.

Some people I have encountered seem to think/express/imply in their statements and reaction to those of us who are vocal about "lactivism" or just about the plain old mom to mom help with the mechanics of nursing that it is something that should be completely private and definitely should take place behind closed doors. I have so many problems with this. And I could go on and on about rights and parenting choices and the need for support and so on... but let me just say this from my particular perch:

I am a nursing mom, and I choose to live a life that takes me outside the boundaries of my home on a daily basis... I want my baby to live in the world and experience it just as I do. She gains her nourishment from me, in a completely natural way that has existed since man and womankind were created. Our culture has lost that knowledge, and we are wealthy enough that even the poorest families can afford to buy (sometimes with "subsidies") bottles and formula... I am not telling anyone else that this is "wrong". I am asking you to support me by allowing me to breastfeed my baby anywhere with the same freedom that a mom or dad has to feed their baby with a bottle. The only way we can reclaim this wholesome, completely modest and beautiful act in our society is to allow it to happen without shame or fear of negative reactions.

It has genuinely surprised me to see some of the awkward and downright snobby reactions of my peers at times when it comes to this "issue" that should not be an issue at all. Perhaps part of this is my complete culture shock as an African kid. Yes, I may have pale skin, but I grew up in a setting where it was so normal to breastfeed in public that growing up I didn't think twice about seeing an exposed breast... how else were those babies supposed to eat? Again, I could get in to all sorts of stuff about how ridiculous it is that we as a nation have such a low success rate with nursing past the first two months, and that we need to educate and live it and so on... but, as a person of faith I've been thinking a lot about this.

How do I "witness" to others in an open, non-angry, approachable way about my beliefs as a breastfeeding, natural parenting mom? My sister-in-law sent a link to this shirt the other day, and it made me laugh:
Maybe that's how I'll do it. Honestly, I'm not sure... all I know is that it has truly and deeply worried this mama's soul to see how "up in arms" people get about this. As a believer, I feel like it's important to "live at peace with everyone"(Romans 12:18).

Of course, here's the whole verse: 

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

Now, you scholarly types can go to town on my interpretation and application here, but I guess I read this:

"Now Stefanie, if it's POSSIBLE, you need to make every effort to live at peace with others, BUT this depends on you and if they make it IMPOSSIBLE well, peacefully, lovingly, stand up for what you know is right."

Like I said, I'm no scholar, just the daughter of one. But here's my own bottom line: if you want to have a conversation with me about breastfeeding, it will be one that is passionate, well-informed, exciting and as diplomatic and loving as possible. Believe, this is HARD, because the plain truth is I have felt incredibly isolated in my choice to nurse my child exclusively, to do it until she is ready to wean and not before, and to actively and vocally participate in a local mother to mother support group because I believe it's necessary. I have felt defensive and judged and misunderstood all at the same time. But like I said, it's my determination that no matter what the other tiger-mothers and breastfeeding nazis do out there, I will live at peace with you and continue my membership in the endangered species club.