Thursday, October 13, 2005

Baptists and the Militant Breastfeeding Cult?

A bit of background on this story: the MBC (Militant Breastfeeding Cult) was started by a friend of mine years ago, partly tongue in cheek, partly as her own response to the very real negativity she received about her choice to breastfeed, mostly within the church. The idea grew, and is now maintained by others as a wonderful online site for mothers at http://www.militantbreastfeedingcult.com/index_a.html.

Now ... on with the film, errr, tale.

(From my rantings on Monday, September 27. Yes, I'm just now getting up the nerve to actually post this.)

Let me say for starters that I’m not out slam any particular denomination, or point fingers, but I’ve wondered for some time now just why mainstream Christianity seems to have such a phobia about natural mothering.

Maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s a general discomfort with our own biology. Because God is the one who made us as we are—who put certain body parts in certain places for certain functions—and He called it all “good,” didn’t He?

For the last year I’ve been helping with our church’s Awana program—just as a listener, during “book time,” in Junior Varsity (6th-8th grades). My youngest daughter was also born a year ago, and as I did all 8 of her siblings, I breastfed her. Furthermore, as I did with most of her siblings, I take her with me nearly everywhere I go. It’s my firm belief that mamas and babies belong together. Just because the cord is cut, doesn’t mean that God didn’t intend the bond of closeness to continue. Why else did He design it so that mothers and babies could gaze lovingly into each others’ eyes from the approximate distance at which a newborn can best see, or that the feeding station is so conveniently located at the crook of a mother’s arm, and near to her heart?

So, I brought my little one along, and when she needed to nurse, as little ones always do, I threw a good-sized cotton blanket over my shoulder, tucked her in, and went on with what I was doing. (For what it’s worth, I do the same every Sunday morning in church, second row back, right in front of the pastor—and nursed her next older sibling everywhere in the same manner—nary a comment or complaint then.) We went on like this for several weeks, during which time I had a charming conversation with one of the boys about babies in general . . . and then one Sunday evening, the older lady who led the group with her husband told me that I was being asked to take her out of the room to nurse.

And why, after all this time? Because one of the boys had gone home to his mom and told her I nursed the baby in there . . . and the mom had in turn complained to the Awana commander.
I was sure there was some mistake—that the mom assumed I was “showing,” when I didn’t—but the only alternative at the time was for me to bow to the request and go on. (My husband was out of town, so we couldn’t go talk to the pastor and settle it.)

Somehow we never got around to bringing the issue to the pastor.

Later in the year I started doing praise and worship for the youth group’s Sunday School. Again, I brought my little one with me—not so little now, but definitely showing signs of stress when separated from me. Again I’d leave if she needed to nurse. But recently I started doing the blanket thing again, sitting behind most of the class. In my mind, we were being more disruptive by leaving and coming back.

In addition, Awana started up again, and my husband and I found ourselves with primary leadership of the JV group, since the other couple needed to step down. When asked about our now-toddler, I told the commander that she’d be staying with me, unless she began tolerating the nursery for the first part, and that if someone had a problem with me nursing her, they needed to come to me. He wasn’t happy about it, but promised to talk to the pastor.

One of my kids relayed to me that two of the boys were sniggering about the baby nursing when we were in the general orientation meeting the first night. (I was, as usual, doing so under a blanket, and not even sitting in the same row.) Big deal. Boys snigger at breasts—their mothers’, their developing sisters’, you name it. They could get over it. But no—wait. Now the pastor was getting complaints. And now we had our chance to explain our side.

I’m not angry with the pastor, or even the church members. I’m more perplexed—and irritated—by a culture that defines everything by how it relates to sex, and a mainstream church that tries to overcompensate with a standard of false modesty. This while many church members wear clothing that is too tight, or too revealing, or watch network TV filled with ads that show far more skin than I do even without using a blanket. That isn’t even to mention going to the mall or the beach . . .

Furthermore, we are, despite our preoccupation with sex, the only culture in history that frowns on women breastfeeding in public. We may also be the only modern culture that does this, although I’m still researching that point. But even Muslim countries, where women are required to cover their heads, and from neck to wrists, are allowed to nurse in public . . . and the Victorians weren’t prudish in this area, either.

So what is it with the Church?

Respectfully as I could, I told the pastor that I believe asking me to go elsewhere to nurse is sending the wrong message to kids . . . that our essential biology is evil (not what we do with it), that God’s natural order is something to hide or be ashamed of, or that pursuing natural mothering means you’re excluded from society. And while I know I’m compelled to behave as a mature believer and again give in, at least for now, it angers me that God’s intent for mothering has been so distorted.

I wonder who is being offended here? The junior-high aged boys? It seems to me they could use some proper education from a godly source. Maybe the parents, as well.

I also wish I could go and do likewise—to start asking mothers who bottlefeed to “take that elsewhere” because it offends me and causes my children to ask uncomfortable questions about how other people parent.

Mostly I ache for these people who believe that mothering is an interruption to life, not realizing that it’s meant to be so much more. God made our bodies to give—and nourish—life, as a reflection of His own creative nature.

I wonder how many of these people realize that El Shaddai means “The Breasted One”?

4 comments:

  1. Preach it sistah! Seriously, you are so right and so eloquent too! Very insightful article, especially the paragraph about what the average church people accept in immodest clothes etc. It's so sad. God willing, little by little things will change. Keep up the loving assertions!

    -a midwife

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  2. Anonymous5:43 PM

    Well said! I've never undestood it either - how is it that women have sustained their children for thousands of years via breastfeeding, and yet now it's taboo? Very well written!
    - Sorcha

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  3. I just stumbled upon your blog, but you're so right. I've finally gotten over my insecurities of nursing in public and I'm enjoying breastfeeding my baby that much more.

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  4. I'm sorry you had so much trouble at your church! Please understand that this is a problem at your (and probably other) "lower-case c" church. Not the Church in general. As a Christ-follower, I get so upset with the way so many people in traditional churches can be so, ug.. so I don't even know... intolerant and... well I shouldn't say anymore, just that I'm upset. I feel so glad to have found a place that you can breastfeed your kid anytime you want, you can live your life honestly and have real community. I hope that this has been resolved and you are free to breastfeed in this church or whatever one you go to now. Thanks for having the courage to speak about it, and talk to the pastor about it.
    Sidenote: I totally agree with you about the bottlefeeding thing...

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