Let me put this claim into some context for you. When I was in college, an on-campus doctor discovered that what I thought was an ear infection was actually a tumor that had disintegrated my three hearing bones and eaten away at two places in my skull, exposing my brain to potential infection and leaving me basically deaf in my right ear. I endured multiple surgeries to remove the tumor and reconstruct my inner ear, including a surgery six months before my wedding in which part of my hair had to be shaved off. I am now the proud owner of a titanium implant and partially restored hearing. Breastfeeding my baby girl for over a year was ten times harder than any of that.
After the birth of my first baby, my only son, I became a Type 1 diabetic. This condition was triggered by my pregnancy, something that only happens in one-percent of gestational diabetics. I spent a week in the hospital on the brink of a diabetic coma and to this day I wear an insulin pump 24/7. Without question, my breastfeeding experience made that situation look like a walk in the park.
I tell you these personal things to explain why I was so enraged after watching a video currently trending on social media regarding this topic. I’m sure by now you’ve seen the video I’m referring to—the one in which talk show host Wendy Williams rips on celebrity Alyssa Milano for breastfeeding her child in public and posting pictures of herself and her nursing daughter on social media. The ignorance displayed by Williams, also a mother, during this interview (or should I say public shaming?) with Milano was appalling. Williams accused her guest of “causing controversy” by making her breastfeeding journey public and commented, “I don’t need to see that, I don’t want to see that.” Why was I so upset by this interview? Because Wendy Williams fell victim to an epidemic sweeping this country, one in which we bash on other mothers for the way they are raising their children instead of encouraging one another to do the best we can.
Now I’m not an all-or-nothing breastfeeding proponent, nor am I a critic of formula feeding. In fact, my experience with feeding my three children during their infancy was really a mixed bag. I attempted to nurse my son, but soon discovered that he was born with a cleft palate that made it impossible for him to latch and nurse. As a result, I pumped every three hours around the clock for the first six months to ensure that he was getting the best nutrition that I could provide, delivered to him from a bottle. My second born inherited all of her Mama’s stubbornness and was too impatient for nursing, so we quickly switched to formula and bottles and, in turn, I got more sleep—it was a win/win for both of us. With my third baby on the way, I made a commitment that I was going to succeed at breastfeeding come hell or high water. I took an entire year of maternity leave, and I was determined that the third time was going to be the charm. And let me tell you I fought tooth and nail for our success. The first three weeks were the hardest three weeks of my life. The physical pain of nursing was unbearable and I cried every time she wanted to eat, knowing that the shooting pains I felt in my chest would accompany all 30 minutes of her feedings. It was a combination of issues: improper latch, clogged milk ducts, mastitis, and a possible case of thrush. It was pure hell…and I relived it every 2-3 hours. I talked with countless girlfriends who’d nursed successfully, met with four lactation consultants, attended a nursing support group, spoke with La Leche representatives, and joined every breastfeeding forum on Facebook I could find. I was determined to make this work, and hoped that with a little luck and persistence, nursing would become as effortless as I thought it was supposed to be. I was dumbfounded as to why it was such a difficult task to master. After all, isn’t this one act supposed to be the most natural thing in the world? If that was the case, then why was it so damn hard?
And then one day, it hurt less. And the next day, it became bearable. And the day after that, 11 weeks after her birth, we finally got the hang of it. Eleven agonizing weeks of pain and discomfort and too many tears to count had resulted in the biggest accomplishment of my life. This is not a hyperbolic statement. I’ve earned a Master’s Degree, written an award-winning grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, passed the grueling state realtor exam, taught world history to teenagers, and given birth to three small humans and yet I’m more proud of nursing my daughter for the first year of her life than any of those other achievements combined.
So this is why Wendy Williams’ comments got me all riled up. Not because she articulated an opinion that I disagree with, implying that mothers who nurse their babies in public are doing a disservice to those who would “rather not see it.” But because she places the burden for maintaining civility on the already over-burdened, over-stressed, and over-tired new mother instead of where it should be placed—on those who would be grossed out by a baby receiving nourishment but not by a scantily clad Miley Cyrus wearing nothing but a pair of suspenders. Because she actually believes that nursing your baby, a practice that is strongly encouraged and recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics exclusively for at least the first six months of life, is something that should be hidden and shameful. And because, if she had it her way, mothers would escape to the "comfort" of their cars or public bathrooms to feed their babies instead of on a mall bench across from Victoria's Secret. Because it's only okay to display breasts when they are in a lacy push up bra worn by a woman with giant wings slung across her shoulders. I’m disappointed in Wendy Williams because she characterizes the most selfless act a mother can make for her child as a selfish display of public indecency.
And as a mother herself, she should know better. She should know that a woman’s selfishness ends the moment her baby enters the world. She should know that breastfeeding is a badge of honor, not a Scarlet letter. And, above all else, she should know that mothers need to be encouraged to do what is best for themselves and their families without fear of being judged by others who have no business donning the robe and banging the gavel.