I read your article in The Independent today, and to say it made me angry is an understatement. I’ve watched the responses unfold on Twitter, both in support of and against your view that breastfeeding mothers should stay at home with their babies, and have found myself quivering with rage.
I imagine you thought, with public breastfeeding a hot topic in recent weeks, that it might be a handy way to garner publicity for your forthcoming novel.
And I’m sure you’d tell me to lighten up, to not take your words so seriously. You tweeted after all that your intention was to be ‘tongue in cheek’, to be funny.
The problem I have though is not only that your words contain only the barest hint of humour, but that also the issue of breastfeeding – public or otherwise – really is no laughing matter in this country.
I wonder if you stopped to think for a moment about the realities we are facing. That despite the NHS recommending exclusive breastfeeding for six months, only 1% of British babies are exclusively breastfed for that long (with only 34% still breastfed at all at that stage). Not forgetting the WHO recommendation that babies are breastfed for at least two years. I can count on one hand the amount of mothers I know who fall into this category, and I have no doubt many eyebrows would have been raised if I had been breastfeeding my (very well behaved) 23-month-old over afternoon tea at Claridges.
But I would have done, because I know my rights and I know what’s best for me and my son. I have, to date, breastfed him in a number of establishments you would I’m sure have denied us access to – backstage at gigs, fancy restaurants and yes, swanky hotels. I have yet to be challenged, and I hope if I was I would have the courage to stand my ground.
The thing is though that there are many, many mothers who would not feel the same way. Numerous women who would read your article and nod sadly, convinced that their desire to breastfeed their child is not compatible with any kind of social life, concerned that they would be subjected to the judgemental gaze and comments of people like you. I have come across many cases where it is precisely this that leads women to choose bottle over breast, leading them in turn to miss out on the myriad of physical and emotional benefits breastfeeding offers them and their baby.
You say that you are qualified to pass your judgement – indeed are an ‘expert’ – by dint of having once breastfed yourself, but that doesn’t wash I’m afraid. Much as homophobia is still unacceptable when it comes from the mouth of someone whose ‘best friends are gay’, you don’t get to tell breastfeeding mothers to stay at home just because that is where you felt most comfortable.
You refer derisively to the fact that the breastfeeding mother whose mistreatment you were responding to burst into tears when told to cover up by staff at Claridges. This surprised me, as surely being a mother of two yourself you remember the cauldron of hormones of the early months? Or maybe you don’t. Having read this and some of your other articles it’s clear that you practise detachment parenting almost religiously.
It’s sad, really. Almost a reason to feel sorry for you. Apart from the fact you’ve chosen to express your views so publicly in a supposedly respectable newspaper.
The Independent of course has a case to answer here too. In a society where bare breasts are fine as long as they’re being used to sell something and yet establishments from local cafes to world-class hotels openly discriminate against breastfeeding mothers despite this being against the law, it is a travesty that a newspaper that prides itself on its liberal views can give yours air.
But it is you whose words made me so very angry. On the blog you contribute to you proudly refer to yourself as a Selfish Mother. And sure, there are times when us mums need to put ourselves first. But to be so selfish as to advocate denying mothers the right to leave the house and to contribute to the incredibly damaging dialogue that denies women the freedom to choose the best start for their babies? That, I’m afraid, is a step too far.
Linking up with Sara at Mum Turned Mom for her prompt: ‘I read the news today…’