Inspired and thrilled by Rixa's post about this article, I wanted to touch upon this cool photographic find, myself.
I loved these old pictures, and was not TOTALLY surprised. I have mentioned before that I was once the proud owner of a baby care book from the 1930's and it presented homebirth and breastfeeding in about a 50/50 equal light as it did hospital birth and formula feeding. (If that book would have been written just a few years later, it would have been a verrry different story, to be sure!) It was an interesting time in American motherhood, no doubt.
My guess as to why, even in an era of less rights for women, and more repression, and less equality in general, mothers would or could nurse in public with such casual comfort as displayed in these two fantastic pictures is pretty simple:
Precisely because this was pre 2nd-wave feminism*, precisely because this was back when women did women things and men did men things, and the battle for equality wasn't so literal yet, and precisely because the muddy, murky, futile waters of the Mommy Wars hadn't yet been dumped over everyone's heads like so much sewage, these women heard their baby cry for some milk, and just like that, they gave them some milk. Like I'm doing right now as I type. And like I would not feel as casual doing at the ballpark or on a bench on Main Street. I have, and I would, but not with the completely indifferent air that the woman in the first picture seems to possess. That scene is the one that I do in front of my children, my husband, my nursing mom friends. At those times, and those times only, my whole boob is out, (gasp!) and I could not care less. Baby is doing his business, I'm doing mine. Go ahead, call me chicken, call me a flop. I'm just being completely honest with you. I don't go and hide in the toilet, but I don't usually just sit there and nurse. A shame, a disservice to other moms, etc. Today I call myself a person living in these times and in a moderate political location, being truthful on my own blog.
I liked what these pictures re-reminded me of, something I have wanted to blog about forever, but have nt yet: the fact that not every "nursing session" is a lovey-dovey affair. Not by a long shot. I guess you could compare it to taking a shower: It could be the most amazing, sensual, meaningful, relaxing, fulfilling highlight of your day--or it could be rinsey rinse rinse, scrub a dub dub.
But back to breastfeeding not being a wine n roses affair--sometimes it lasts for 30 seconds. Most times you don't even rememebr if or when or for how long your baby took a moment to have some milk. That's what was so remarkable, for me, about the very unremarkable events that were captured in these pictures. There was no blanket, there was no nursing flap, and that was neato--but the real wisdom we can connect with in these photos is just the very lack of preciously gazing into each other's eyes, special rocking chairs, foot stools, or really anything else that implies breastfeeding is anything other than the most common and simple of daily affairs. Which is truer than anything else I have heard about this topic in a long, long time.
Oh, and another thing, which is honestly most likely to be the biggest reason that we all still can't say that we see this beautiful lack of self consciousness in mothering in 2007:
Boobs were still for feeding babies back then, not for selling beer.
Tell me what you think, or tell Rixa what you think. But it's really worth looking at, historically.
* My rudimentary view of the waves of feminism:
1st wave: the Suffragettes
2nd wave: Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, N.O.W.
3rd wave: Riot Grrl-present