Closet nursing and staying in my lane

This last weekend I went to church with my family. My churchgoing these days is always in honor of someone else: I go to services with my husband on high holy days; I go to mass when visiting my grandpa.

They are not my traditions, but I like these occasional encounters with religious practice. I crave more opportunities to slow down, unplug, and reflect, and I appreciate the energetic groundswell of a community of people brought together in reverence for something greater than themselves. I’m sure I make plenty of mistakes, but I do my best to be respectful when I show up, through my dress, my participation, and my comportment.

This time, I spent the service in the crying room (a glass walled room at the back of the church, with the service piped in over intercom. You can see and hear everything; the congregation can’t hear you).

I wasn’t sure if nursing was appropriate in plain view, so I pulled a rocking chair next to the changing table in the windowless closet, and stared at a wall while I fed my baby and listened to a homily on the value of family.

I hid in service to my son while I listened to scriptural explanations for how I have no identity separate from my husband and read, on endless loop, the admonition taped to my wall:

“This is NOT a nursery or a playroom. Adults and children MUST BE ATTENTIVE TO MASS.”

Out of respect, I hid in a closet to carry out perhaps the most foundational act of mothering while a man on a stage who has never had a family spoke about its centrality.

His words made me feel invisible, like a utility to be used but not seen. I learned that I am of one flesh with my husband, except when my flesh is provocative. Except when my flesh is actively prioritizing family in the most fundamental way. Except when it dares to perform in ways my husband will never be able to match or manage.

If I’d tried to come up with an image to represent the invisible work of women and the hypocrisy of ‘family-friendly’ policies, closet nursing during a sermon on the role of the sexes and the primacy of the family would have been far too overwritten and obvious to use.

And yet here we are.

Then I realized how complicit I was in my own invisibility. I dragged my own damn chair into that closet. Not knowing the etiquette, I overcorrected out of imagined respect to those who would happily force my hand in becoming a mother but shame me for publicly fulfilling that contract.

I breastfeed in public all the time—I am purposefully not shy about it—and here I was, submitting, out of a ‘respect’ that was anything but reciprocal.

The second time my son wanted to nurse, I stayed put in my glass box, in full view. No one said anything. Maybe no one noticed. I was probably just as invisible, still contained by the architecture of a protective patriarchy.

But at least I could no longer see the sign scolding me to stay in my lane.

Photo: tgraham via flickr. 

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6 Replies to “Closet nursing and staying in my lane”

  1. What a weird experience. What a weird sermon. When I used to nurse around certain family members I found myself covering or going somewhere else even though I openly breastfeed in public around strangers. Ugh.

    1. I’m the same way, around strangers I have kind of a devil may care attitude—I almost want someone to say something so that I can get on my high horse about it, ha—but around certain family members I feel super awkward about it, and tend to be more secretive.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I also nurse in public but found myself feeling weird about nursing in that strange glass box in that strange place…..I also felt weird nursing in front of some of our family members..not because I’m worried about anyone seeing my nippes but more so out of fear for what their reactions might have been if they had seen them? Ugh, I hate feeling that way and honestly I should be braver and not let my fear of a potential reaction stop me from doing what is completely natural, not to mention necessary to .feed my child.

    Is it just me or does having a kid make you reflect on EVERYTHING? I’m constantly like, why’d I do that? What could I have done differently…?

    1. Thanks for nursing in that closet with me. That part of it was fun. 🙂

      I totally agree, I found myself hiding from certain family members this weekend. There’s a few I just don’t feel comfortable around, even fully clothed, and it felt too vulnerable to breastfeed in plain view.

      And YES, so much reflecting on everything. Overthinking sometimes for me. But I think it’s a good thing, being as intentional as we can about raising these young humans. <3

  3. We all feel this one. I have to say- one of the most affirming things that happened to me as a new mom when I had Ari was that when he was 9 or 10 weeks old a close friend of my mom’s died pretty suddenly, and I was heartbroken- she was one of my other moms- she had been at my baby shower- so I drove down to their house (alone- because it was the middle of the week)- it was the first big thing I had done, first time I had tried to be a human- and I hadn’t planned well for how to nurse in a nice dress- but he got baby noisy- and my boobs were out everywhere- and I was nervous and embarrassed but too overwhelmed to do anything about it. And after the service- a number of people- some that I knew, and some that I didn’t came up to say hi, and make it feel normal- and then one of our rabbi’s came up and thanked me for bringing a sweet reminder of new life on a hard day. And then I criiiiied. It really helped me set a frame of understanding how I could be a mom in the world- it could have gone so far the other direction, and I am still thankful for it.

    1. Oh Debbie you have me in tears with this one. What a beautiful, life affirming experience to brighten up an overwhelming time. Amazing how just a few well-timed, well-placed words can have such a meaningful and lasting impact. Thank you for sharing. <3

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