Proudly mammalian

2017-07-04 06:01

WE were having some drinks, relaxing and catching up with friends, when one of them bombarded us with his story. “You see, when I was born, there were some complications that I did not tell you about.”

He put on a serious face and stared into the distance. We were hooked immediately. After clearing his throat he continued: “My mother had some problems with her milk, breast milk, so after some consultation, the women in my village who also had babies decided to breast-feed me as well.”

There were some suspicious looks being thrown around the group but my friend remained serious.

“I am told that I used to be taken to different houses to be breast-fed every week.”

There was a genuine look of pity on our faces as we tried to imagine this unusual and unnatural arrangement.

“The only problem is that up to this day I have not stopped doing those rounds!” That had us all in stitches.

I remembered this joke when I saw the image of Australian senator Larissa Waters breast-feeding her daughter in Parliament.

The debate surrounding breast-feeding in public is no laughing matter though. However, my friend’s joke reveals why breast-feeding in public remains a social enigma. I grew up in a society where breast-feeding was not really an issue. Mothers breast-fed their little ones in buses, trains, parks and whenever the little ones bawled for attention. The only place that I remember not seeing mothers breast-feeding was in churches. Surely God doesn’t mind — spiritual nourishment for the congregants, milk for the baby.

One of the arguments that people raise when it comes to breast-feeding in public is that of indecent exposure. There are many incidences of women being asked to move to more private areas for breast-feeding, like toilets.

How can nourishing one’s baby be likened to indecent exposure? One cannot deny that the breast has many purposes, including aesthetic and sexual ones. Over the years though, the sexual side seems to have taken precedence. With the beauty industry focusing on the shape and size of breasts, it now seems more normal to adore and expose breasts for fun than to feed our little beings who just need the milk.

We cannot deny that breasts are important in creating the beauty of a woman, yet it would be sad if we sacrificed the maternal aspects of breasts for the sexual. The cultures that deplore public breast-feeding can have topless events when they so desire but cry foul when a mother nourishes her child. Just because you see it in public does not mean it needs to be stared at or groped. If you cannot handle the nursing sight, walk away or close your eyes. Let the baby have his or her milk.

The sight of a mother nursing her baby can invoke different reactions in different people. It can also remind us that despite our advancements in technology and science, we are still mammals. It is also a beautiful sight to behold a child bonding with his or her mother. There can be nothing more human than that. Perhaps that is why it can be shocking to many of us.

Nevertheless, we need more women like Waters to remind us that we are mammals and that there is no shame in breast-feeding. Most of us benefited immensely from it.

• Myke Mwale is a Dominican and an alumnus from UKZN and Saint Joseph’s Theological College, Cedara.

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