By Allison Martin
To the disapproving gentleman at the corner table,
I’ve been lumbered with ample bosom since my mid-teens and it has been a source of embarrassment, not pride. I’ve covered up in baggy tees and long-envied more athletically built ladies, their ability to wear tank tops or halter necks without unsightly straps spoiling their sartorial elegance.
So, believe me when I say that sitting here, in this restaurant with my breast on show, I’m as, if not more, embarrassed than you could ever be.
I say on show but there’s less flesh flaunted here than you’d see on MTV, in the movies, on the covers of dozens of newspapers and magazines or on any beach across the world on a hot, summer’s day.
My baby son’s head and body cover much of my milk-filled mammary as he, oblivious to your distaste, enjoys his own lunch while you attempt to choke down your steak in the face of such horror.
I could cover the little guy with a scarf to spare us both any blushing, but I suspect if the waitress asked either of us to eat with a tablecloth over our heads we would be aghast, an unpleasant, hot and bothersome way to take a meal. I’m sure you’d agree.
I could remove myself to avoid your embarrassment, feed my hungry child in the bathroom but then, the idea seems somewhat ridiculous and, not just a little, unsanitary.
If the manager suggested you or I munch our margarita pizzas to the backtrack of hand dryers and toilets flushing we would, I suspect, protest.
I understand that the sight of me feeding my child is a painful experience. Getting to the point of being able to feed him was something of a painful experience for me. I knew I wanted to breastfeed but boy was I surprised when it didn’t come naturally. Initially it was agonizing, so much so I almost threw in the towel, then an infection meant I was unable to feed him for two weeks. I can’t tell you how heart-breaking this was, expressing milk only to pour it down the drain in the vain hope my little man wouldn’t reject my boob having developed a taste for the bottled stuff. Again, with much support and encouragement from friends, family and an incredibly patient partner, we persisted.
I know you’re embarrassed to be eating your green beans just yards away from such exposure, I can see it in your eyes. I had that same look as my boobs were manhandled by a wonderful breastfeeding counsellor who came to my home and worked with myself and my son as we tried to get it together as a feeding team. I’m not ashamed to say there were lots of tears, a good dollop of anger and the occasional expletive along the way. But I’m guessing you’ll understand that level of frustration, you look pretty frustrated right now as you mutter to your friends and throw disapproving looks in my direction.
I could, I suppose, pretend I haven’t noticed your annoyance or ignore your feelings but, then, I was raised to respect the feelings of others and I intend to raise my own son that same way. I’m sure you’d agree that compassion is a much-underrated quality and, God knows, society could do with more of it.
I am, I like to think, a caring human being and, as such, I’m sorry that you’re unhappy. I know you came here hoping to enjoy a delicious meal, good company and maybe a beer or glass of Chardonnay. I know this because it’s why I’m here too. I don’t get out that much so I aim to enjoy myself on the rare occasion I do. I can only apologize that the sight of something so offensive, so freakish as a mother mammal feeding her cub is putting you off your potato dauphinoise and putting a real chink in your dining experience.
I wish I was able to oblige you but, unfortunately, my priorities must be with the hungry 12-week-old and, unlike you or I who may complain to the maÃ®tre-d if the service was tardy, my little boy has neither the communication skills nor patience, he will, if denied, just howl the place down. Perhaps that would be preferable, less intrusive to your lunch than the vista of the top third of breast you’re currently being confronted with?
Maybe if we both focused on our own meals, our own friends and their lively conversation it would make life easier. In short sir, if the amount of bosom on show, which would frankly fail to raise eyebrows in a Jane Austen novel, troubles you so deeply, might I suggest, to avoid yours and my own discomfort, you simply STOP LOOKING, and let me feed my baby.
A breastfeeding mum
Allison Martin is a freelance writer and mum-of-one. She used to be a news reporter for The Daily Mirror and now writes features and blogs for The Guardian, Reader’s Digest, Mother & Baby and the Huffington Post amongst others. She lives in London with her partner, three-year-old son and a goldfish called Bookworm. You can follow Allison on Twitter @AlliMartin