Thursday, 27 June 2019

Should Christian Mothers Breastfeeding in public?



I recently had the misfortune to stumble upon several posts on Instagram telling women how they should (or shouldn't) breastfeed in public, and I had to write a response because the posts upset me. I was doubly disappointed to see that the misinformed individuals were Christian and women, and were using Biblical references to oppress and shame breastfeeding mothers.

I need to respond to this, not in the hope that the the original posters will see it and have their opinions set straight but because the message they put out was so damaging.  The message that they put out could put mothers off breastfeeding which could be damaging for her and her children.  It is also a harmful message for society because it lays the blame for other people's sin firmly at the feet of a nursing mother and this in turn excuses people from personal responsibility and causes mothers to be shamed and condemned.

So here is my big problem; these people seem to think that it is a woman's responsibility to prevent a man from committing the sin of lust by looking at her breasts during breastfeeding.

This is absurd for three reasons.

First  BREASTFEEDING IS NOT SEXUAL!

If a man sees a woman breastfeeding and is sexually aroused then what he has is a fetish (or worse).  Women are not responsible for preventing men from becoming aroused by peculiar fetishes.  If they were women would never wear sandals, walk a dog, or indeed have their own nose on view (yes these are actual fetishes)!  Some people argue that breastfeeding should be a private act like going to the toilet or sexual intercourse, but this implies that breastfeeding is some how dirty or rude, this is a massive misunderstanding of what breastfeeding is, probably taken on board because of the way women's breasts and excretions have been talked about and portrayed in the media for the last few decades or so.  Breast milk is sterile and hygienic, it is food, drink and comfort for a baby, it does not function for the arousal of men or the elimination of waste.

Second, breasts being sexually arousing is all about context.  A breast or any other body part can be arousing to a man or not depending on the context. A breast that is feeding an infant is not sexual, it is fulfilling it's function of nourishing an infant; a breast in skimpy undies topped with pouting lips and a provocative pose are more likely to be.

Thirdly, the Bible does not say that it is a woman's responsibility to prevent a man from the sin of lust by covering themselves during breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding, lust and modesty are never mentioned in the same verse. Breasts are mentioned several times in a sexual context but never combined with breastfeeding.
Some people quote Romans 14:13:

"Let us not therefore judge another any more: but judge this rather, than no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way"

to argue that breastfeeding in front of a man might be deliberately placing a "stumbling block" to cause him commit the sin of lust, and therefore be a sin for the woman, but as I have said earlier, breastfeeding is not sexual, so breastfeeding in front of a man is not tempting or provoking him to sin.  It is simply feeding her child. That's right guys, breastfeeding isn't actually about you! Even if breastfeeding were sexual, it would no more be a woman's fault for arousing a man to lust than someone who has prepared a spread of delicious food is sinning because it might entice someone to commit the sin of greed, or a shop assistant selling jewellery might be committing a sin by luring a person to commit the sin of stealing! Because deliberately attempting to get the man to sin is not her intention when breastfeeding her baby. We have to be sensible about where tempting others to sin ends and our own personal responsibility begins, otherwise we might find an excuse to place the blame for our own sin on everyone else.
The purpose of breastfeeding is to feed and nourish and comfort an infant, no women breastfeeds with the express intent of luring a man to commit the sin of lust, so a woman openly breastfeeding is not committing a sin.

So if you are a man reading this and you're thinking "well hang on, I do find myself aroused by the sight of a woman breastfeeding her child," then may I suggest that what you need is some therapy, and not for the women to stay home or hide under a giant floral printed apron.

My final point in defence of women is that, when women first breastfeed they usually feel a sense of inhibition, simply because their breasts have previously always been sexual (thanks media for that powerful message,) and are used during intimacy, so this new function may cause her to feel shy about exposing her breasts in public to feed her baby. This is totally fine and normal and understandable, it's OK to not want another man looking at her breasts, and I am not saying that mothers should be making it obvious to everyone that they're breastfeeding.   If a woman feels self conscious during public breastfeeding, there are ways for that mother to make herself feel more comfortable about breastfeeding in public, such as using a scarf or the top-over-top method, but she should be doing this for her own comfort, not to prevent her brother from sinning, which as I have made clear above is a ridiculous suggestion, and no Christian woman breastfeeding her child does this.








We must not shame women for exposing minuscule parts of their breasts during breastfeeding, or suggest that they only bottle feed when in public, or go to a different room, or wait till they get home to feed their babies. we must encourage women when they are working hard to breastfeed their baby, which is a God approved function, regardless of where they do it.   We must not put restrictions, and rules upon a mother for how and when she should breastfeed, this could damage and end a mothers breastfeeding journey, and shame to anyone who does this.  Oh, also, the Pope says it's all good, I'm not Catholic, but I'll take this endorsement!

To close, here are some of my favourite paintings of the most holy woman, Mary, the mother of Jesus, breastfeeding the infant Christ:
Image result for Virgin Mary Breastfeeding Jesus by Magdalena Walulik


Virgin Mary Breastfeeding Jesus by Magdalena Walulik





File:Giampietrino - madona02.jpg

The Virgin Nursing the Child with St. John the Baptist in Adoration, by Giampietrino


Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

The Virgin Nursing the Child, by Pompeo Batoni


Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Sagrada Família, by Josefa de Óbidos



“Virgin Mary and Jesus” by Guido Reni


Sunday, 26 May 2019

What I learned when I quit social media

The first day I was constantly picking up my phone then putting it down again, the
habit of looking at my phone was so strong it was like an impulse.


I had decided to give up social media for lent.  Facebook and Instagram were my main vices, they had become a distraction from my children, from my husband, from housework, from life.



I soon overcame my impulse to constantly check my phone, but it wasn't really until lent was over that I began to realise the benefits of avoiding it, and the real negatives of engaging with it.

During my fast the many benefits of not being on social media became abundantly clear.  I was more available for my family, less distracted and the awful image of the mother with her face glued to her phone was gone.  I am not perfect so I did replace the phone with books, but how much more inspiring is it for my children to see their mother distracted, or otherwise engaged with a book than it is a phone!? I was less stressed as I wasn't getting caught up in petty arguments and I was cut off from my main news source, (I even watched the actual news a couple of times during my fast as I had no idea what was going on in the world!) so my anxiety about world issues was massively reduced, and because my mind wasn't overwhelmed by the plight of people and environment in far flung places I felt more available to help with the everyday plights of my children, husband, friends and home, my circle of influence.  I had more emotional energy for them as I wasn't wasting any on things that I couldn't have any impact on.

Not being on social media freed up my time as I wasn't wasting it staring at the screen at mindless junk.  I was tidying the house, I was batch cooking meals, I was changing bed sheets, I was gardening and I had more time for reading books. Time scrolling facebook during evening breastfeeds with my two year old were spent pinning exciting things on Pinterest (though be warned, Pinterest can be a rabbit hole, so I know now I have to stay on topic.  One minute I am looking at ideas for sensory play for two year old's, and the next I am reading about how the world is flat and the queen is a lizard (I kid you not!).)  My FOMO (fear of missing out) was unfounded, I didn't miss out on anything at all, my friends relayed events to me that they thought would be interesting and I got plenty of information from my friends on messenger and through emails.

So I bet you think I have stuck with not going on Facebook of Instagram since Easter?  Well you'd be sadly mistaken. Over the last few weeks I have re-immersed myself fully in social media.  I have very quickly fallen back into my old habits of constantly looking and checking my phone.  My husband has noticed I am distracted and I am sure my children have too. My children now see me on my phone as an everyday occurrence, the phone as an extension of my hand. I desperately don't want them to think that having a phone in your hand to stare at is a normal thing, and something they will do.

From the first moment I began scrolling through Facebook I was seeing posts that caused me anxiety, at least 5 posts unnerved, angered or otherwise bothered me in the first five minutes of scrolling
And this has continued ever since. It is terrible, I have slipped back into old habits so quickly, once I pick up my phone and start scrolling I find it extremely difficult to stop, I get into arguments with people I don't even know and get frustrated with trying to reason with idiots! Why do I do this to myself?

So I want to say right now that I am giving up Facebook and Instagram for good.  But I can't.  Let me tell you why.

Facebook and Instagram give me a voice, or at the very least make my feel like I have a voice which reaches further out into the world than to the friends and family I see on a weekly basis.  I feel like I can have an impact on the lives of others through what I share online. I enjoy feeling like I can bring joy, comfort and encouragement to others, that I can make people think, stretch people out of their comfort zones and have my own thoughts challenged and discussed. I missed feeling like I was part of a wider world when I was fasting from social media.  I also use Facebook for practical purposes, I document our home education journey with my family in a private group.

So now I need to work on getting a balance.  I need to work on self-control and stopping myself from mindless scrolling. I need to work on sharing stuff that I am passionate about and that adds something good to the world and my life and not clicking on and reading drivel. So from here on in I am expecting to spend less time mindlessly scrolling my home page, engaging with click bait articles and arguing with strangers about stuff I can't control or change.  I will be focusing on my circle of influence, so expect posts on the environment, veganism, home education, mothering, positive parenting and breastfeeding and more, and also just general feel good, or thought-provoking posts to those who know me or have some sort of real connection to me outside of the screen.

I hope I can maintain the will power and self-control to stick to this plan, I think it is worth it as I now know how much better it is to be living in the real world and not stuck to my screen.  Why  not join me and see how reducing your social media engagement can change your life.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

7 years a mama

This month my eldest son turned 7, not only does it make 7 years since his own birth, but it also marks 7 years since I was born a mother.

People usually forget to consider the mother's birth-day when the children's birthdays pass but I think it's an important thing to honor, especially with the first born.

For me it is a significant moment every year as I reflect on how far I have come and who I am now as a person on this journey of motherhood and life.

Motherhood has changed me so much.  It has expanded my capacity to love far beyond anything I could ever have imagined pre-children. It has also stretched my capacity for patience and self-control and has taught me how to sacrifice myself for the sake of others.

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7 years ago I was the centre of my own world, my husband and I did as we pleased, answering to no one really.  We went on lovely relaxing holidays, we did nice things together like going on bike rides and strolling leisurely round National Trust houses and taking afternoon tea in quaint cafes. I went out with my friends and had a job where I was able to measure my success and know when I had done a good job. I had a clear separation between my work time and my own time.  I was a teacher, so the dependable school bell transported me through the day in chucks of time where I was either with children teaching or doing my own thing.  I arrived, the bell rang, the children came, it rang again and they left, I had a break, the bell range again, more children, then lunch, followed by more children and finally home time, which marked no more children till another day, and an evening where I could do my own thing (as an art teacher my marking was significantly quicker to complete than say that of an English teacher).  In my free time you'd find me working on my own art and craft projects, trying to sell through my Etsy shop, writing blog posts, doing craft fairs and entering exhibitions and competitions

Life was very predictable, I knew what to expect, what was expected of me and I knew where the rewards and treats would come in.

Very quickly after my first was born, life couldn't have been more different I went through a huge adjustment and learning curve.

The first challenge was the lack of the hourly bell.  As mad as it sounds, it threw me massively to be under the control of this tiny unpredictable human who had no time scale, deadlines or countdowns.  I longed for the predictability of the school routine, but shunned the child training guides that would have satisfied this craving, in preference of a child led approach.  This was the first step of self-sacrifice.  I was choosing what I felt was best for my child rather than what would have suited me more at the time.

Fast forward 7 years and two more children and I am in a place where my life is almost completely at the mercy of my children.  I choose activities I think they will like, my schedule revolves around them and their needs, naps, snacks, meal times, bath times, play dates, home ed groups.  Even weekends are dictated by the moods of the children and what they can or can't cope with on any given day. A trip to a playground or walk in a woods is a likely most weekend, like dogs my children need regular walks.  I have totally lost my life and given it to my children. Gone are the bike rides in favor of walks to the park, gone are the leisurely National Trust strolls, replaced by raucous romps round National Trust gardens and whistle stop tours of the house with regular cries of "don't touch that!" and "that chair's not for sitting!". Elegant afternoon teas are a thing of the past, in favor of picnics on blankets, with any restaurant experiences leaving us sweaty with the stress.

I realise I am not painting a very pretty picture of motherhood here and that it won't be like this forever, (I hope one day to eve be able to enjoy an afternoon tea with my sons!) it is hard work most of the time, and yet, I feel so much richer as a person for the experience.  I never knew how it could feel to have your heart leave your body and split into three new hearts.  My ability to experience compassion and empathy for them  is sometimes painful.  It's makes you wonder why we do it!
My ability to hold my patience is so much more than when I was a teacher, (which leads me to believe I would be a far better teacher because of this experience of motherhood.)  And my ability to sacrifice my own desires for my children sometimes astonishes me. I could not have imagined how I could have tolerated one, two, sometimes three extra bodies in my bed at night, hot and sweaty, wriggling and twitching, moaning and crying all night long, and yet I have learned to contort myself into the most unique positions in bed (sometimes even evacuating myself altogether) in order to accommodate them.  Who knew I could sacrifice my last piece of chocolate or cake for two big eyes so sweetly asking for a bite.  Or given up on nights out with the girls, restaurant meals with my husband, time to ourselves, in exchange for being there to breastfeed my babies and toddlers.  I really never knew I had it in me!

I have very little time for my own work or creativity now.  Evenings snatched here and there to write a journal article, the odd afternoon to plan a retreat or make a painting.  The great irony is that pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood have awakened in me a vast and unquenchable desire to make, create and write and teach.  I have an abundance of creative ideas, but a painful austerity of time!  I think often on how I could have been so much more productive all those years ago had the ideas and motivation come to me then, when I had so much free time (though hilariously, at the time, felt I had hardly any!  Little did I know!). It's some sort of bitter twist of life that the creative urge and abundance of ideas has come so strong now when I have so little time to fulfil it.  I wonder why that is?  Will it stick around once the children get older and I have more free time again, or will it disappear along with the sweetness of toddler-hood and early childhood?

7 years a mother, wow!  I have come so far.  There are many more grey hairs now much more baggy skin, an aching tiredness like I could never have known, and a love so strong it sometimes brings me to my knees and forces tears from my eyes.

Someone once asked me if, knowing what I know now about motherhood if I would choose to do it all over again.  And I thought about this question.  Would I choose the pain and discomfort, the tiredness, the absolute invasion of privacy, the sacrificing of my body and time, the stress and the upset, the crazy-making noise and constant demands on me...

Yes I would!

I would choose it again, not just for the three amazing humans that I have helped to rise and who I get the privilege to know, but also because of the person that has birthed inside of me, the person who has grown and expanded.  I am part of a bigger thing now, it all starts to make sense, this life here on earth, my purpose has become much clearer.  I would never want to go back to that selfish, narrow minded person that I didn't even know I was before, I feel like an upgraded version of the person I was before, like I had a new update installed which is not a good way of describing this strange expanded knowing and understanding I feel now, but it is the best I can do (I really am very tired you know)

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So yes, in spite of how hard this gig is some days (most days) I would do it all again in the blink of an eye, without hesitation, for I would never have known the feeling of creativity that comes from creating life.  And although I won't get to see the results at the end of the year as I did in teaching, there will be no assessment sheet on how well I am doing as a mother, I really won't know for a good 10-15 years if I did ok at it or not, I know that perhaps the results are immaterial after all, because perhaps the results aren't the children at all, the results are me.  Did I learn from it?  Did I change and grow?  Did I become a better human because of it?  Yes, yes, YES!  I surely did, and will continue doing so and I look forward to seeing the human that I become in 10-15 years time as much as the humans that they become.  Because those 7 years ago when a boy was born, so was a mother, so I am only 7 years old after all.