As one of the least talked about issues of our time, yet one that affects women everywhere, breastfeeding in public continues to carry with it feelings of embarrassment, shame and sexualization. Horror stories abound of public shaming, and to be quite honest, when the time comes for me to breastfeed, I know I will have to overcome my own fears to find the courage to breastfeed in public spaces despite the looks or comments or even threats to make me leave. Society is shaped in such a way that women are so overly sexualized that something as basic as feeding a child has to be hidden, lest people feel uncomfortable.
I never fully understood what exactly IS this feeling of ‘discomfort’ that occurs in people who see a woman breastfeeding. Is it arousal? The inability to control suppressed inappropriate thoughts/needs/desires? Or when a woman who feels shame about her own body sees another woman who feels free, does it make her want to rid herself of seeing that person, so that she doesn’t have to face her own insecurities about herself, her beliefs, or her own self hatred?
Hollie McNish, a mother and a poet (and so much more), decided to speak up after months of breastfeeding in public toilets due to the embarrassment she felt when a stranger commented that she should breastfeed at home. Her spoken word piece went viral, and the words resonate with anyone who is frustrated and perplexed by the existence of this issue in the first place.
I applaud women of all walks of life, religious, secular, conservative, progressive, who are not afraid to face down social stigmas or personal fears, and show the rest of us that we can free ourselves and breastfeed our children wherever we damn well please.
Here are the words to Hollie McNish’s brilliant piece. You can also check her out on youtube.
I thought it was ok
I could understand their reasons
They said ‘There might be young children or a nervous man seeing’
this small piece of flesh that they weren’t quite expecting
so I whispered and tiptoed with nervous discretion.
But after six months of her life sat sitting on lids
Sipping on her milk nostrils sniffing up piss
Trying not to bang her head on toilet roll dispensers
I wonder whether these public loo feeds offend her?
Cos I’m getting tired of discretion and being ‘polite’ as my baby’s first sips are drowned drenched in shite,
I spent the first feeding months of her beautiful life
Feeling nervous and awkward and wanting everything right.
Surrounded by family until I stepped out the house
It took me eight weeks to get the confidence to go into town
Now the comments around me cut like a knife
As I rush into toilet cubicles feeling nothing like nice.
Because I’m giving her milk that’s not in a bottle
Wishing the cocaine generation white powder would topple
I see pyramid sales pitches across our green globe
and female breasts banned. Unless they’re out just for show.
And the more I go out, the more I can’t stand it,
I walk into town feel I’m surrounded by bandits
Cos in this country of billboards covered in ‘tits’
and family newsagents’ magazines full of it
Whsmith top shelves out for men – Why don’t you complain about them then?
In this country of billboards covered in ‘tits’
and family newsagents magazines full of it
Whsmith top shelves out for men, I’m getting embarrassed
In case a small flash of flesh might offend.
And I’m mot trying to ‘parade’ this, I don’t want to make a show
But when I’m told I’d be better just staying at home
And when another friend I know is thrown off a bus
And another woman told to get out the pub
Even my grandma said maybe I was ‘sexing it up’.
And I’m sure the milk makers love all this fuss
All the cussing and worry and looks of disgust
As another mother turns from nipples to powder
Ashamed or embarrassed by comments around her and
As I hold her head up and pull my cardy across and she sips on the liquor made by everyones God, I think
For God sake, Jesus drank it
So did Sidhartha, Muhammed and Moses and both of their fathers
Ganesh and Shiva and Brighid and Buddha and I’m sure they weren’t doing it sniffing up piss as their mothers sat embarassed on cold toilet lids
In a country of billboards covered in ‘tits’
In a country of low cut tops cleavage and skin
In a country of cloth bags and recycling bins and as I desperately try to take all of it in,
I hold her head up
I can’t get my head round
The anger towards us and not to the sounds
of lorries offloading formula milk
into countries where water runs dripping in filth
In towns where breasts are oasis of life
now dried up in two for one offers, enticed by labels and logos and gold standard rights
claiming ‘breastmilk is healthier powdered and white’
packaged and branded and sold at a price so that nothing is free in this money fuelled life.
Which is fine
If you need it or prefer and can afford to use bottles, where water is clean and bacteria boiled,
but in towns where they drown in pollution and sewage
bottled kids die and they knew that they’d do it
In families where pennies are savoured like sweets
We’re now paying for one thing that’s always been free
In villages empty of hospital beds
babies die, diarrhoea fuelled that breastmilk would end
So no more will I sit on these cold toilet lids
No matter how embarrassed I feel as she sips
Cos in this country of billboards covered in ‘tits’
I think I should try to get used to this.