Monday, July 24, 2006

Let's Hear it for the Boobs!

I was reading an article the other day in Mothering magazine about why we need a breastfeeding culture, and that got me to thinking, about a lot of things.

Last weekend, my son turned two. Two! Where does the time go? Well, I know I've spent a good deal of it breastfeeding! At his party, there were a couple of new moms (one from Canada, the other from the UK) who had 1-month old babies and -- YEA! -- they were breastfeeding them. What was odd to me, though, was that they both chose to breastfeed away from everyone else, in another little "rancho" down the way from the party. I thought this was strange, as I bf my son in front of God and everyone (as my grandma used to say), and don't think twice about it. But then I did realize that when I first began breastfeeding in public, I was a bit self-conscious about it and tried to find a bit of privacy wherever I could get it.

It took me about a month of sitting in a car, on a public toilet, etc. to get over that.

I have noticed that I've never seen a single Costa Rican breastfeeding mom hesitate to whip out a boob in a public place when her baby is hungry -- why are we (for lack of a better description) English speakers so apprehensive and insecure about our own bodies? That is a subject I could go on and on about, having recovered from an eating disorder many years past. Let's save that subject for a later date, shall we? The point is, not once have I received even a sideways glance at my public breastfeeding in Costa Rica; more often, it is a warm look and a smile, even from men (and no, they're not trying to cop a glance -- they do that quite openly here, so it's obvious when it's happening). No one is disgusted, no one is embarrassed or shocked that a woman would breastfeed in public. If anything, I've seen several negative reactions to someone pulling out a bottle -- and honestly, who can tell if it's filled with formula or breastmilk?

At said party, a woman from France relayed to me how natural it is in her country for women to breastfeed in public, much like it is in Costa Rica. She was surprised that the two women with newborns chose to breastfeed separately, especially since they were among friends. Another woman, from Arizona, said she was once asked to leave a public pool when she tried to breastfeed her daughter because, she was told, "it is indecent." I suppose at least in the case of the US, we do need a breastfeeding culture after all.

At two years old, my son is still breastfeeding and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. I have tried gentle weaning, but it only gets him terribly upset, and I figure there is no real reason for me to do so (other than the fact that I'm getting worn out by it), so I've stopped that. If it brings him comfort, so be it. My mother knows this fact, yet she still insists on asking me every once in a while, "Are you still breastfeeding?" Perhaps she doesn't realize how much that small question irritates me. Mostly she has -- and I'll give her credit for this -- kept her opinions to herself. Considering esposo and I are a couple of left-wing, tree-hugging, vegetarian/vegan neo hippies, we do, I suppose hold some radical ideas compared to mainstream society. I won't go into them here, because frankly, the choices that esposo and I have made for ourselves and our son are ours, and no one else's business. We are doing what we think is best for our family. So yes, Mom, I'm still breastfeeding.

Incidentally, many women in Costa Rica choose to breastfeed their children to the ages of four or five; one midwife I know breasfed her daughter until she was six. I don't plan to go that far, but I have stopped putting artificial time limits on how long we will breastfeed, either.

Another thing that I do find at odds with Costa Rica's openness about breastfeeding is that it is a very hospital-birth oriented culture. When we first began looking at hospitals, the big one gave us the requisite tour, and were proud of the fact that they had about an 80% cesarian rate (!!), with over 95% of women choosing epidurals. In fact, they seriously questioned why I would want to have a natural childbirth, and I seriously questioned whether the women were getting 100% disclosure on the risk factors associated with cesarians and epidurals (doubtful, in any case). At said big hospital, you can even plan your cesarian in advance, complete with dinner and a glass of wine (you're going to need it!) the next day. Almost all of the women I know who did not previously plan a homebirth ended up "having to" have a cesarian (usually in one of the public hospitals). When asked why, they usually say that their doctor said it was necessary (again, why?), that their labor was not progressing "fast enough" (what is fast enough?), etc. The only two women I know of that had legitimate reasons for having cesarians both had planned homebirths with midwives, but did run into complications. There is even a woman I know personally (yoga teacher, well read, informed about natural birth, etc.), who ended up with a cesarian because her doctor said she "had to have one."

So you may be thinking, as I was, in light of the medical establishment's obvious hold on pregnant women's bodies (midwives are not legal here, though the practice thrives), why is the public so amenable to public breastfeeding? I can't answer that question. I have thought of possible theories, but each one is riddled with holes. If you have any ideas, let me know. In the meantime, I am grateful that the need for a breastfeeding culture in Costa Rica is not as urgent as it is in the US. I certainly would have told that guy at the swimming pool in Arizona where he could stick it! Of course, since breastfeeding was only exempt from indecency laws in Arizona in May of 2006, I probably would have been thrown out anyway.

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