“And if your children are crying because they are hungry, then go ahead and feed them, just as Mary breastfed Jesus.”
Pope Francis, Jan. 9, 2017
It’s true that no woman needs the patriarch of a worldwide faith to tell her it’s OK to breastfeed in church, as Pope Francis told mothers awaiting baptism of their infants in the Sistine Chapel on the feast of the Epiphany – I nursed mine at Mass three decades ago. But isn’t it grand to hear a prominent man extol the virtues of what we mothers have known all along?
It’s just as my father used to say, a little less eloquently than Pope Francis: “A crying baby deserves a bust in the mouth.” (Think about it a second.)
Why is this even a question today? Breastfeeding always has been known as the best way to nurse children to maturity – if it’s possible for the mother to do. It promotes an indelible bond between mother and child, and provides both bolstered immunity and easily digestible nourishment. What’s not to love?
I came to breastfeeding easily, having my first children in a town that delivered almost all babies by Lamaze and that encouraged nursing. (In later years and towns, I was often the only Lamaze birther and, often, one of few breastfeeding moms.) My mother had not nursed – she had had difficulties doing so. (Some people just aren’t good milkers, said her OB/gyn, ironically named Dr. Mooey.) And though incredibly modest – I never had taken gym class so never disrobed in front of others – I adapted to nursing well, always having a small cloth handy to drape over breast and baby.
Still, where I had to nurse was ever an issue. I refused to do it in bathroom stalls, instead looking for dressing rooms and other less germy places – places not too terribly available at times. I remember being super-impressed with Disney World when I had my youngest, now 27. The theme park had nursing stations even in the Dark Ages, back when not all restrooms even had changing stations.
And church? I never thought about it too much, nursing out there in front of God and everybody. Except I did it in the cry room, in deference to the sensibilities of others.
In retrospect, I wish I had been more bold and nursed in the sanctuary. But I didn’t have anyone to tell me I could, and so I took care not to plop out an engorged breast and relieve both myself and my child too publicly.
Now I have two grandchildren, by two of my four daughters. My second daughter took great pains to nurse my grandson, and – despite coaching for both her and the baby – gave up the trial of nursing. My second grandchild was nursed and bottle-fed when she ate more voraciously than Mom – my first daughter – could provide. Both my daughters tried, but I think both were a bit intimidated by it and by trying to live up to my rose-colored rapture on the subject.
In contrast is my friend Amanda, still – and I don’t say “still” pejoratively – nursing her daughter past her first birthday. Amanda doesn’t care what anyone thinks and jokes now that if anyone challenges her, she’ll just direct him or her to the pope.
I am envious of Amanda. She has family and public support. She has more places in which to nurse. Heck, even the Army has dictated that nursing moms have designated places to nurse and to store breast milk. I mean, really!
And so now it’s officially OK to nurse in church, because the pope’s never wrong – right?
So all that’s left is workplaces, shopping malls and everywhere else in public where some misguided soul might be offended by the appearance of a breast being used for its intended purpose.