The Honey Badger of Breastfeeding

I am long past my breastfeeding days, but a couple of my close friends are pregnant, and it’s been in the news with the (non-case) of the breastfeeding professor, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Admittedly, most of my early-parent time is a haze– friends ask me how I potty trained or got the kids to sleep through the night, and I seem to have blocked a lot of it out, like you do with childbirth– but I do remember breastfeeding vividly.

The story reported is about a professor whose baby had a fever on the first day of class, so she brought the baby with her to breastfeed, and some people freaked the f out. The only thing that bothers me about the story is that she was forced to bring a sick baby to school– the baby probably would have been better off sleeping quietly at home. But I totally understand that she couldn’t miss the first day of class, and the easiest way to get the baby to be quiet and comfort her was to breastfeed her.

I gave birth to my oldest at the hospital in Fort Lewis, Washington. As a lower enlisted wife, I’d heard many horror stories about mean nurses and lack of flexibility and them just yelling at new parents. I was afraid to give birth there. My solution to this was to do a big story for the weekly I worked for about the hospital. This way, I figured, I’d a) be known to the staff and b) get to know the facility intimately. The Fort Lewis Ranger printed a photo of my preggers belly on its cover, and I interviewed a bunch of people who worked at the hospital or had given birth there.

My own OB/GYN was nothing but encouraging, a movie-star handsome second-generation baby deliverer. He promised to let me have as much control as possible.

But after I gave birth, he had to relinquish control of me to the floor nurses, who did indeed live up to every fabled horror story I’d heard.

My milk did not come in right away– it usually does not– and they insisted on feeding my baby a bottle, telling me she was hungry and I was depriving her. Being a new mother, and exhausted (I was induced), and wanting what was best, and already worn down from them yelling at me for requesting stuff (like an extra blanket because I’m so, like, demanding), I said okay.

The results were two: my baby projectile-vomited a lot, her tummy being too full– and it took me a full 10 days for my milk to come in. 10 days of trying. That’s kind of a long time.

I never fed her from the bottle again.

After that hard-won breastfeeding, I took her everywhere with me.  I became uber-earth mother, the honey badger of breastfeeding.  Not that I did consciously– I just wanted to feed my child. Breastfeeding isn’t all rainbows and unicorns– it never made me lose weight like they said it would (in fact, I kept it on while breastfeeding), it was tiring, it was sometimes annoying (hello, teeth!)– but it is cheap, efficient, bonding, and good for the kid. You have to do what works best for you.

I once took her to a brunch where she started fussing while I was eating. I was starving, and I wanted her to be quiet, so I fed her at the table while I was eating. Honey badger don’t care– she feeds her child wherever she wants.

honey badger don't care!
honey badger don’t care! (Photo credit: Tom Simpson

I fed her everywhere.  Sometimes I covered up, but often I did not, because covers make the baby and mom sweaty and you can’t really see if she’s latching properly. And really, my kid’s head was so big (like the 99th precentile) that it just looked like I was holding her. You couldn’t see anything except shirt and baby head.

The funny thing is, 13+ years ago, nobody seemed to give a damn. Nobody ever said a word to me, except after the brunch, when a woman took me aside and congratulated me for being brave (my reaction: huh? I’m just feeding my kid. No biggie.) If anybody stared, I just sent them a patented angry look (I missed my calling as a middle school teacher; I have an excellent angry stare). Honey badger don’t care– You give her a funny look? Honey badger flips you off with her free hand, burps her kid with her other.

So why are people bugging out now, when mostly nobody did more than a decade ago?

Back when my MIL gave birth to her first, in the early ’60s, nobody breastfed. While she was out, the docs tried to give her meds to dry up her milk– her husband had to stop them.

Are we going back to that era, then?

I asked Cadillac for his take on this, to get a male POV. He said, “That’s what breasts are for– to feed babies. If people want to go back in time and change human development so that’s not their purpose, then they should. Otherwise, they should leave mothers alone.”

The bottom line is simple. The only way people will stop making a big deal out about it is if mothers tell all the big-deal makers to bug off.

I’m not going to stop wearing sandals because some perv might have a foot fetish, and finds feet incredibly stimulating. And if somebody came up to you and said, “Your feet are indecent. Please put socks on,” would you not tell that person to go to hell? If you freak out about breastfeeding, it’s not the mother’s fault, it’s yours. We are supposed to be higher beings, not just plain animals.

Once– it must have been with my youngest– I was feeding her at the mall, and a kid ran up and took a picture. My husband yelled at him, but decided it would not end well if he accosted a little kid. The kid was probably reacting as he’d been taught to react– as though breastfeeding is something secret and dirty and sexual, when it’s not.  And nobody can control how somebody else reacts– like with the feet. I’m not going to cover up myself head to toe, because somebody somewhere might be excited by a benign piece of skin.

So my advice to breastfeeding mothers is this: refuse to feed your baby in filthy bathroom stalls and uncomfortable positions. Feed your child wherever it’s comfortable. If somebody says something to you, pay no mind. I’ll stick up for you.

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

3 thoughts on “The Honey Badger of Breastfeeding

  1. Excellent post! As an author who is becoming quite well-known, I really appreciate that you’re taking a stand on a (ridiculously) controversial issue. There are actual indecent behaviors going on in public, on tv, etc… that nobody mentions. Sometimes I wonder if this big deal about breastfeeding is just trying to distract us from some other issues?

    For a laugh: we were playing the guess-the-animal game, my husband said:
    what has four legs and gives us milk?
    My (then) two-or-three-year-old answered: Mummy!

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