In 2013, Hollie McNish went viral. The UK based slam poet posted a video reading her work, ‘Embarrassed’, a poem about breastfeeding. Earlier this week, a new short film of the poem was released. Posted on Facebook on Monday, the video has since hit 2.4 million views, and prompted Australian writer Sarah Megginson to reflect on her own breastfeeding journey.
Another day, another breastfeeding story…
This topic has been done to death, yeah? We all get it by now: babies need milk, mum provides milk, nothing to see here so let’s all move along. Right?
Yes, but, well… this issue is so much bigger than boobs. Watching Hollie McNish totally nail it in this brilliant video Embarrassed reminded me of this today.
It brought everything flooding back… The guilt, the tears, the nerves, the embarrassment… those early days with your first baby are a total emotional rollercoaster.
You’re adjusting to this new world order that is centred around your tiny charge and some days you’re just barely holding it all together.
On top of that, you’re also supposed to worry that someone might get offended if that accidentally catch a glimpse of nip?
Give me a break!
I’m now three babies deep and my newest, Jesse, is 7 months. Jesse gets fed anywhere, everywhere. But with my first baby, Lila, it was a completely different story.
I was so nervous about feeding anywhere even slightly public. When I arrived somewhere I was like the President’s security detail, always scoping out possible exits as a first priority, just in case we had to make a run for it to feed in the privacy of our car.
And like Hollie says in this video, I locked us away in filthy toilet cubicles and smelly baby change rooms, mindlessly browsing the internet for 30 minutes while she fed and my husband loitered outside.
Later as I got more confident, I became comfortable doing it in public – but only if I had a muslin wrap to cover us all up. In the midst of the Queensland summer, I’d still hang that wrap over her poor, sweaty little head. The sheer panic I felt if I realised I’d left the house without it.
Now, these concessions may not seem like a big deal. So I had to feed her in the toilet sometimes. So I had to use a wrap. So what?
I get it – they’re not problems you lose sleep over.
Except that some mums do. As a new parent, you have enough to worry about.
Anxiety over the little things can take on a life of its own and before you know it, you’re turning down invitations to lunch or coffee because it’s just easier and less stressful to stay home.
It has the potential to be so incredibly isolating.
I forgot about that, until I watched this video, and remembered how hard it all was. I forgot.
I’ve been lucky enough to breastfeed all three of my babies and I’ve never had anyone say anything rude. I've copped the odd strange look and I can tell you exactly where I was, what I was doing and how it made me feel – you don’t forget those feelings.
But if someone did approach me to admonish me for feeding in public, here’s what I would say: I understand that this makes you uncomfortable, but my baby’s needs matter more to me than your discomfort.
And also: try to understand that this is not about you. It’s not even about the baby, though I think that ideally, all babies should be able to fill their tummies without breathing in rank wee fumes.
This is about mums.
New mums are exhausted. Their relationships are all changing. They’re worried every single freaking moment that they’ll do something wrong and permanently damage their child. Their heart has been cracked open and they feel everything more. They need compassion, not critique.
If you’re really that bothered by breastfeeding, you can look away; it’s two minutes of your life.
But if you feel the need to say something, your comments could be just the thing to tip someone over from ‘I’m managing today’ to ‘I just can’t do this anymore’.
You could contribute to someone’s feelings of self-doubt. You could damage someone’s self-esteem and confidence, which could leave a lasting impression on their mental health for months. Is it really worth it?
When I watched Embarrassed it gave me goosebumps. Not gonna lie – it even made me a little teary.
Because mums deserve better than this. Babies deserve better, too. Jesse has never eaten in the loo, and he never will.