Thursday, June 9, 2011

On Breastfeeding In Church and Modesty

I recently visited a church and on the first occasion, I was sitting in the cry room which was a wonderful set up. They had two rocking chairs behind a glass window so the mothers can sit with their babies and still see the service. It was perfect because I have two littles, a 3yr old and a 1yr old (almost). They are at the age that I can't bring them both in the sanctuary with me, but I don't want to leave them in the nursery with strangers at least until they are comfortable with the workers and I have gotten to know them first. On top of that, the baby has never taken a bottle or paci and refuses both. I've been wanting to go to church so badly and find a good Bible believing church to raise my children in but being on my own with two of that age makes it near impossible. Anyways, so on the first occasion of me visiting, I was able to use the cry room while still witnessing the service. I was sitting in one of the rocking chairs nursing my baby and an older lady came in and said "people can see you" and proceeded to close the blind of the window in my face. I was not terribly offended. As a breastfeeding advocate and a mom who will have been nursing for three years straight come August, I am more than aware that it is a controversial issue. I did mention the situation, but was more than happy to let it go and overlook it. The next time I visited the same church another one of my friends who is also breastfeeding came with me. Both  of us were sitting in the cry room nursing and another lady came in to close the blinds on us. This lady was quite rude. To make a long story short, lots of nasty things were said and ignorant things were said. Such as, that breastfeeding is immodest, inappropriate, doesn't belong in church, "haven't you ever heard of a cover?", that "i don't want to see another womans' boob", and even that if I were to continue doing so certain persons would have to leave the church. I am not confrontational so my approach to this type of situation was to write a letter addressed to each of the women involved. From a Christian perspective. Some of the moms in our local breastfeeding coalition wanted to read it, so I thought I would post it here. Breastfeeding in public is too often viewed by "Christians" as immodest or even ungodly. That is completely contradictory to scripture and un-Christ like. I have gone round and round with friends and family for years over this subject, sadly.

Disclaimer: I rarely get to sit here without a child on my lap so having the opportunity to actually type something is near impossible. I generally only have the use of one hand, if that, so I personally find it easier for me to cut and paste from other people's blogs and comments. Most of the following is my own words, but a portion of it is a conglomeration of points others have made that I felt were fitting and could not have said better if I tried. I did this in a hurry so I can't cite each reference, but I can't take credit for 100% of the words here lol.

Here we go:


Hello,


 I have visited your church a few times recently with my children and realize now I seem to have been the source of a small bit of drama. First of all, I’d like to apologize for any hard feelings there may have been and thank you for being as kind as you could be about the situation. For future reference, you are all more than welcome to speak openly to me about any issue you may have. I am not easily offended and as far as this subject goes, I promise I have just about heard it all lol. I do feel this needs addressing though in good Christian love. My intent here is not to try and change anyone’s mind or stir up further discord, but merely to share my perspective in hopes that you would have a better understanding of where I am coming from. I am more than happy to agree to disagree on any subject, I only ask that you lend me your ears for a few moments with an open mind and an open heart. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to read this! 


I think I have a fairly accurate perception here of your view point. Correct me if I am wrong, but the issue you ladies have is one of modesty? Ironically, though you can’t tell now, I felt EXACTLY like you do about a woman nursing in public three years ago. When my first was born I did not leave my house without a cover and avoided most public settings for fear of the necessity to nurse. Even with a cover I was still uncomfortable doing so. Let me give you a quick background on myself if you don’t mind, I was raised in a very extremist religious setting. As far as modesty goes, we had pretty strict dress standards, ie, girls wore dresses only, a-line (no straight skirts), nothing showing the knee, no sleeveless, not even capped sleeves, nothing below the collar bone, at least one slip, one undershirt, and nylons at all times. Boys wore pants, no shorts ever, and collared shirts. I do not follow those same standards now, but my point is that I do understand modesty and I do not have a problem with modesty. 


Before I had children, if I saw a woman nursing without a cover I probably would have fainted. I joined a breastfeeding support group a few weeks after my first child was born which obviously would involve sitting in a room with lots of nursing mothers. I think I blushed and averted my eyes every time someone “whipped it out”. I absolutely have been where you are. Every breastfeeding mother in our culture just about goes through the same emotions without exception. Unless she has been predisposed to breastfeeding as normalcy, the first few weeks to months or more are shy and uncomfortable, the longer a woman nurses the more comfortable she becomes with it. I myself went from being a mom who hid at home or in dressing rooms to nurse to ...well you see how I feel about it now :) ... Regardless of any opinion you may have or how educated or well meaning you may be, the fact remains that the only people who are uncomfortable with seeing a woman nurse uncovered are those who have little to no experience with breastfeeding. I am trying my very best to be as eloquent as possible as not to offend, so please do not take me offensively, but I will be honest and hope that you can appreciate that honesty as I would appreciate yours.


What we consider modest is entirely based on cultural conditioning. The Bible does not say or even hint that breastfeeding is immodest or private, quite the opposite actually, but Americans in particular are the ones who have put nursing in the closet. If you just cross the boarder into Mexico you will glimpse a whole lot more breast than I’ve shown you. In some African countries legs are considered the quintessential "no-no part" for women. Villagers can strut around topless, but they're outraged if some tourist shows up wearing shorts. Muslim women are required to cover themselves head to toe because they are responsible for keeping men's thoughts in line. That is why, if a woman is raped, she is the one put to death. In the Middle East, it is a woman's hair, not her breasts, that is considered the most sexual part of her body. A woman flipping or fiddling with her long, loose hair in church would barely be noticed because it's just not a big deal here. If you were to do the same thing at a branch in Jordan, people would think you were trying to seduce someone, definitely not appropriate in church. 


Modesty and breastfeeding is really only a Western concept. Our culture is trying to turn something God created to be sacred and beautiful between mother and child into something dirty or private. Something happened in the 50s, 60s and 70s that changed the way we look at breastfeeding. (I know what happened, and so do you, but we'll just leave it at 'there was a cultural shift.'). The majority perspective has been shaped by the status quo of what is socially acceptable moreso than morals. We are not required by the Church to cover up at the beach, and a woman in a bathing suit is showing much more than a breastfeeding mother. Obviously, degrees of modesty are situational, even within the guidelines of the Gospel. 


I think a point was made by one or the other of you that it is not the act of breastfeeding that you find immodest, but rather the moment before or after latching on when the breast as a whole is exposed. A woman can be as careful and discreet as she possibly can be, but the fact remains that if there is going to be breastfeeding and if you are looking, odds are you are going to see a glimpse of nip at some point or other. Saying that you have no problem with breastfeeding, but only the seconds between latching is still having a problem with breastfeeding. Either breastfeeding is immodest or it isn’t. Furthermore, I also understand how you may feel about not wanting to see another woman’s breast. Again, if the real issue here is not wanting to see a breast, than the only way to solve that is for you to never leave your house and to promptly dispose of your television and any and all magazines or advertisements in your home. 


I am going to try and address a few points here before I close. I apologize for my wordiness. Hopefully this is something we can quickly resolve. "It is not an exaggeration to say that never in any culture or in any time has God's design for women come to be so thoroughly abused and perverted as it is in modern America. It is not easy to show this to women today. The abuse and perversion has become so completely pervasive as to make it seem "normal''. But let me gently try."


1) Breastfeeding is not immodest and it is not sexual. I know I covered this point already, but I’d like to say again, that whether you agree or not, the emotions a person has towards seeing a woman nursing sans cover is purely defined by the culture said person was reared in. Our particular culture happens to be very unsupportive of breastfeeding. The national Breastfeeding rate is around 10%. The chance of witnessing a woman breastfeeding in public in America is extremely rare for the average person, hence it is something we are as whole uncomfortable with. Even if a person has the best intentions and a good heart and claims to be supportive of breastfeeding, we are still generally uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. If everyone breastfed, no one would think anything of it. The heart of the issue is not what is modest but a mistaken identity of why God made breasts. Breasts are not purely sexual, but their primary function is to feed our young. Our society (cultural conditioning again) has taken the function of breasts away and turned them into something purely sexual. That is a perversion of God’s design. "The scriptures often refer respectfully but plainly to the body and its parts. There is no embarrassment and often there is sacred symbolism. It is the world that makes the divinely created body an object of carnal lust. I personally think that getting aroused when a mother breastfeeding is like getting aroused when changing a baby's diaper. It is not sexual in anyway even though the private parts are being exposed." It is the responsibility of parents and leaders to teach the young people and children so as to prevent a society of adults who get squeamish at the sight of breastfeeding.


2) Breastfeeding with a cover only works during infancy and (by God’s own design) children are biologically geared to wean on average between the ages of 3-5. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of two years, the Surgeon General recommends a minimum of two years, the AAP recommends a minimum of one year with continued nursing as long as both parties involved are happy. The world wide average is between 3-5 yrs. If you don’t already know, America is actually one of the only countries in which weaning at or around 12months is the norm. I could go on, but to get to the point, I have two children, both of which are still in the natural breastfeeding age and both of which are still breastfeeding. Avalon will be turning one July 14th, and Zander will be turning three August 9th. I am practically a single mother with virtually no help. Caring for two children of those ages is unimaginably stressful. It is virtually impossible for me to meet both of their needs all of the time. I am so blessed to have this one parenting tool that allows for the quickest and most effective comfort to stop tantrums or ease an unhappy toddler. That being said, I have used a nursing cover with my first for a few months. Once a baby begins to develop motor skills it is literally impossible to keep them covered while nursing. Not only that, it is hard work for the mum and uncomfortable for both parties. Both of my children are past the age of using a cover. Any person who says “just use a cover, it’s not that hard” has not breastfed past infancy if at all. 


On that note, if a mum is breastfeeding without a blanket, someone's going to want her to have a blanket. If she has a blanket, someone's going to want her in the back of the room in a corner. If she's in the back of a room in a corner, someone's going to want her in a different room.... Where do we draw the line? Who here is defining what is or isn’t acceptable? How do you think that makes the mother feel? In the past I have honestly not left my house because I was uncomfortable to breastfeed in public. As a Christian in the church, is it not our duty to make visitors feel welcome rather than uncomfortable and unwelcome for no other reason than that they have a nursling? And lastly, the cry room is a room designed for mother with babies. When you have mothers with babies, you are going to have breastfeeding. If I can’t even nurse in the nursery than how can I bring my children to church?


3) Breastfeeding in the church is God’s will. Rather than basing our ideals on what is socially acceptable or what we personally have been exposed to, we should be asking what do the scriptures have to say? Does God care that we breastfeed? Did he create infant feeding to be done only in privacy? Should Christians be made to feel guilty to nurse? Has the sexual aspect of the breast caused mothers to feel shame to feed their children in the most nurturing way? Where have we come? From the Lady who came up to Jesus in Luke 11:27 and said, " Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou has sucked." to today with "I can’t believe she is breastfeeding here!"? "It would be foolish to urge mothers to breastfeed while simultaneously holding that it is immodest and inappropriate to do so in public. The idea that women should not breastfeed in Church is a part of a larger misunderstanding of women’s bodies and association of women’s breasts purely with male lust. When such anti-Biblical ideas are allowed to continue without refutation an entire segment of family and Christianity really is lost to perversion. The solution is not to ignore or “clean up” tradition, but to rethink our views and bring our lives into conformity with the way that God has designed and intended for mothers to feed their babies. A mother who breastfeeds her child gives a great good to her child through the physical reality of her act. She also offers those who see her a vivid reminder of the goodness of the human body and of God’s astounding love for us." The action which we need to take is to bring ourselves into line with God's plan. My choice to breastfeed and to do so wherever I am regardless of another person’s ideals is honoring God’s plan for my children and my family. My choice to support other younger nursing mothers is also God’s plan. If I honor God by my desire to work within His revealed plan, He will honor me. Our culture has been infiltrated with an enormous amount of misinformation surrounding the subject of breastfeeding. Mothers wean earlier than they plan to, don’t try at all, or are made to feel ashamed of their body’s divine function for no other reason than a lack of knowledge. Hosea 4:6 " His  people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." 


The Bible teaches that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made'' (Psalm 139:14). Breastfeeding is a sign of God’s great love for us. Isaiah 66:10-14. If you do a Bible study on breastfeeding you will find that a mother’s breast is used to symbolize comfort, nurture, caring, sacrifice, and love. The Bible paints an entirely different picture of breastfeeding than does our society that calls it private and to be covered or hidden. Mothers who breastfeed offer a great gift not only to their children, but also to the Church as a whole through their witness to love. How much more so in a sacred setting? God gave women breasts specifically for the purpose of nursing, so of all places, the church would seem the most appropriate to nurse a child. "It's highly ironic that in a church this would even be a problem, especially since church is very family oriented and breastfeeding is very "family friendly." All 50 U.S. states and its territories allow breastfeeding in public places where a mother is legally allowed. Therefore in a church that sustains and follows the law, no one can tell a mother to stop, they are breaking the law. And breastfeeding is NOT an act of indecency. Many states in their breastfeeding laws state that mothers do not need to conform to the appropriate norms in their places of worship."


"Breastfeeding was created by God's magnificent design for all mammals and he is not silent on the topic of infant feeding.  His children can receive more than food from the breast of their mother. What greater gift can a mother give her child than the gift God has given............breastfeeding. The biblical perspective of breastfeeding makes references to show breastfeeding to be a joyful, rewarding blessing to both mother and child. Isaiah 55, the scriptures declare that His ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts higher than our thoughts.  His way to provide infant feeding is from mother to child."  


I am spending a lot of time on this point because it is the most important. Here are a just a few of the many scriptures that seemed fitting...


Isaiah 66:10-13
"Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn over her; That ye may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breasts; that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance and brightness of her glory. For this is what the Lord says: I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem."
God is depicting Jerusalem as a well loved nursing mother; a mother who provides nourishment and comfort from her breast. He says the people should be delighted with Jerusalem the way a baby enjoys the suckling and sustenance from his mother. God used the word GLORY to symbolize breastmilk!  God clearly has an appreciation for mothers who show their love and compassion for their babies through close physical contact that includes breastfeeding, being carried, and play. In order to be Christ-like, this is the attitude we should have when we see a mother breastfeeding especially in church. Our emotions should be one of joy and admiration and delight, not shame and embarrassment.


Numbers 11:12
"Have I conceived all this people? Have I brought them forth, that You should say to me, Carry them in your bosom, as a nursing father carries the sucking child, to the land which You swore to their fathers[ to give them]? "
God implies the importance of the nursing father. Nurse is used in this verse to mean support, faithful, firm, to build up , to give assurance. Husbands need to demonstrate these characteristics to their wives. This would apply to any person who comes in contact with a breastfeeding mother, especially in the church. Not only should we make breastfeeding mothers feel welcome and supported but we are admonished to encourage, promote and prayerfully make breastfeeding a high priority!


Genesis 49:25
"By the God of your father Who will help you, and by the Almighty Who will bless you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings lying in the deep beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb."
Breasts are a blessing. Breastfeeding is a blessing. Seeing a mother nursing her child is a blessing, not shameful. 


I Samuel 1:21-23
"And Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and his vow. But Hannah did not go, for she said to her husband, I will not go until the child is weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and remain there as long as he lives. Elkanah her husband said to her, Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish His word. So Hannah remained and nursed her son until she weaned him." 
Hannah's priority of nursing her child should be an example to all of us. She did not wean him until he was around  three to five years of age.This length of time nursing was common during this time. We can reap many benefits today by not thinking of nursing in terms of weeks or months, but instead, nursing for several years. The physical, emotional and spiritual benefits are astounding. From my personal stance, I value the breastfeeding relationship I have with my children in the same way that Hannah likely valued hers. My responsibility as a mother is to make it a priority above the thoughts of any other person around me. I cannot in good conscience allow myself or my children to be bullied or shamed by what may no doubt be a well meaning and loving on looker who may unknowingly or innocently have a perverted view of God’s design.


And lastly but most significant, Joel 2:16
"Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast"
Here it is obvious that nursing publicly and in church is in God's will. I whole heartedly support any person’s right to have whatever opinion they so choose, and I am more than happy to agree to disagree, but the church is the house of God and thus the only opinion that should be enforced inside those walls should be the opinion of God, not of ourselves. God’s opinion on breastfeeding is quite clear.


4) What if someone is offended by it? ...my immediate response to that is, which is more important, a new convert visiting a church and unknowingly offending an uncomfortable on-looker by feeding her child in the nursery, or a church member potentially causing a visitor who is looking for a Bible believing church in which to raise her children to feel unwelcome or even shamed and harassed? .... 


Aside from that, the problem with this argument is that a mother breastfeeding her child is not doing anything wrong. Breastfeeding is not immodest or sexual or inappropriate. It is beautiful and wonderful and specifically designed by God to be so. If a person has a problem with seeing a baby nursing, the problem is not the mother or baby but the mind set of the onlooker. Everyone is allowed to eat in public.. including children. Breastfeeding is not a sin. Breastfeeding without a cover is not a sin. 


It is not my responsibility to control another person’s thoughts, nor theirs mine. If I am offended by something another person does, that is my burden to bear, not theirs. Unless what they are doing is blatantly sinful. "I would never expect anyone to avoid mentioning a certain name or object so as to lift my burdens. The problem is mine. If I choose to allow those things to affect me deeply, that is my problem and no one else's. I can just as easily choose to not allow those things to affect me. I might not be able to stop the germination of a thought, but I can refuse to allow it to flourish. What if there's a closet foot-fetishist running around - should we all avoid wearing flip-flops and high heels in case we "trigger" some kind of impure thoughts? What about pedophiles? Does that mean we shouldn't bring our children around adult men, in case one of those men might have salacious thoughts about them? I see the same thing applying to breastfeeding women in their consideration of others' behaviors and challenges. It is not their burden to bear. It has no correlation to how they treat their fellow men." 


And lastly on this point, I am the last person who would intentionally offend another, but when it comes to feeding or comforting my children, they will always come first and rightfully so. I can only hope you understand that.


Lastly, 


5) Why I can’t compromise. Since having children, I research everything. I have become quite the activist on certain issues, this being probably the biggest one. I hope after reading this you can understand where I’m coming from. I’m not trying to be rude at all and the LAST thing I would want to do is offend, however, this is an area in which I feel it is my duty as a Christian and as an American citizen to make a difference where I can. That means breastfeeding in public anywhere and everywhere I may be. Again, the ONLY reason people are uncomfortable with seeing breastfeeding is because they aren’t used to it. In cultures where breastfeeding is the norm, no one even looks twice. I think it’s important for the sake of supporting other breastfeeding mothers by helping them feel comfortable nursing, not like they have to hide or stay at home until their children wean, and I think it’s important for children to see and learn what breasts are for. I went to a Christmas party once and proceeded to quietly nurse Avalon when a young pre-teen girl freaked out and went to tell her mom that I was “doing something gross”. She literally had no idea why I had my boob in my child’s face. That, my friend, is a crying shame. I feel it is our responsibility to normalize breastfeeding. We should explain to our children and young adults that breasts are for nurturing our children, not to promote shame or embarrassment. It is our responsibility to teach our children about the divine purpose of our bodies. How many more mothers, babies, and even whole families would receive the blessing of a breastfeeding relationship if our society saw it as the norm? 


I also think it's important to talk about nursing in public because "even if every mom had a wonderful lactation consultant, some would still stop breastfeeding earlier than they'd like because of societal pressure. I know this for a fact. Nursing children past 2 years or 1 year or even 6 months is shocking to some people and we need to see it and make it normal so a mom doesn't feel pressured to wean at a time that she doesn't want to. I want all women to be able to reach their breastfeeding goals."


"So why is it important to me? Why can I not hide or use a cover? ...Because I'm hoping to change our culture. And I know I have already changed the culture for many people.... Since when is it wrong to live within cultural norms? ...Since they are oppressive to breastfeeding women and babies and are therefore, wrong. I am silently weeping for the appalling destruction of womanhood and motherhood in our culture and in our churches."


If you made it this far, thank you again for reading. I only hope to have shed some light on this subject for you and give you a better understanding from my personal perspective. I don’t breastfeed in public just because I can, but I do it because it is my God ordained duty to my children, to myself, and to those I come in contact with every day. If you are still uncomfortable or offended I hope that we can agree to disagree with no hard feelings. Like I said earlier, I am not easily offended and I do understand where you ladies are coming from, but for the sake of future visitors and future mothers, it is not in the best interest of your testimony or the testimony of your church to make a visiting mother feel unwelcome for nursing her child. Shaming an act that God created and called beautiful is not for the betterment of the body of Christ and reflects badly on the Christian name as a whole. I want to raise my children in church and in truth, but to be completely honest, in light of recent events, I do not feel welcome at your church. I am saying this only for your benefit. I harbor no ill feelings, but if I do visit again, I will continue to nurse my children without a cover and wherever I may be, in the cry room, the fellowship hall, or the sanctuary. If any of you find that offensive, I am truly sorry that you feel that way and I mean that with the utmost sincerity, but your opinions are your own. They are not my burden to bear and they are not my children’s burden to bear. ...One more thing, I also heard (though this may not be accurate) that one or more of you made the statement that if this (breastfeeding without a cover) was allowed to continue than you would not be able to remain in the church. Again, I am truly heart broken that you feel that way, but the only realistic response to that is to ask the question: How strong of a Christian are you if you would allow my breasts to come between your walk with God? Just something to think about.


 I appreciate your taking the time to read this! I hope I haven’t offended, but I did feel this needed addressing. I am enclosing some various bits of literature that you may find informative. I also help moderate the local breastfeeding support group, Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition, which meets once a month. If this is a subject you would like to learn more about or know someone who is or is about to be nursing a child, you are more than welcome to join us for discussion. If you have any further questions or comments please feel free to address me in person or via phone. Thank you again and God bless!!!


Thank You!


Philippians 4:8
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

6 comments:

  1. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE GET A HOLD OF ME ON FACEBOOK!! Doula Harley Jennette. I am going through a serious trial with my church and I would love to talk with you! Need your permission to plagiarize... LOL I COULD KISS YOU FOR WRITING THIS!!!

    I literally started tearing up when I read this!

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  2. I love this post. I, myself, want to take on a blog post regarding breastfeeding, "modesty" and a Christian biblical perspective. I appreciate your approach and scripture points. I hope you would not mind me usiong quotes from your post and citing your page as a reference once completed!

    Lisa @ ptlforgrace.blogspot.com

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    1. not at all. Thank you for reading and I'm glad to be of help!

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  3. What response, if any, did you get from the church after you sent this?

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    1. I made a copy for the pastor and personally addressed a copy to each of the ladies that had a problem with nursing in the church. The pastor's son was home so I dropped the whole lot off with him. He assured me he wouldn't mind delivering them personally. I got a text later from the pastor telling me not to drop things off at his personal residence. I don't think any of them got delivered. He also thanked me for the letter and sharing my thought (gag). I don't think he even read the whole thing. People sometimes are just set in their ways, particularly religious people. Sad.

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