“Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her … for you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance” (Isaiah 66:10-11).
I came across an Orthodox Christian message board the other day, which for the sake of the innocent I will leave nameless. Among some very interesting discussions I saw one regarding breastfeeding that baffled me. The topic didn’t bother me – both my kids were breastfed into their early toddler years and my wife was hardly squeamish about it either. Breastfeeding mothers are not something that I pay attention to nor do they warrant a second glance from me – but it was the stance of some people on this board that bewildered me (as well as what seemed to be a multitude that agreed with them).
This particular post was from a gentleman who attended an Orthodox church somewhere in North America and said that he had just witnessed a 40-day blessing of a baby. So far so good, right? Well, according to the writer, it was at that point that things started to go horribly wrong. After the blessing, everyone went into the church hall (not in the sanctuary mind you – the hall – the separate room in the church building where one can have fellowship) and described his repulsion as the mother of this newly blessed infant had the audacity to (mind you, he used the word ‘discreetly’ in his post) take out her breast and feed her child. He found this to be so grossly inappropriate that he asked the message board if others felt the same way. How dare this woman bare her breast (again, he did say it was a discreet ‘baring’) and feed her child in a building that contains the sanctuary?
My expectation was that his person would have been told to calm down, breastfeeding is no big deal and it certainly isn’t the sexual perversion that this man was implying with his reaction – and not like she was doing this in the sanctuary or even the narthex. How wrong I was. The thread broke down into two camps; one side supporting this mother’s right to feed her baby and the other side saying this woman (at best) had little sense and at worse people were calling her a stripper and a whore.
A stripper and a whore.
For breastfeeding her infant.
On an Orthodox Christian message board.
I just stared at this board for some time, really in utter disbelief at the reactions of some of these alleged Christians and the subject they chose to vent their outrage on.
As blogger Matt Walsh said on this topic, “…as a society, we have sexualized nearly everything in sight; porn is a billion dollar industry, we allow our daughters to idolize singers and actors that dress and act like hookers and sing about fornication…” and our sons to idolize those that teach about material pursuits and to treat women like garbage. “We accept a sexually permissive, hyper sexual and overly hedonistic culture yet, despite all of this, our biggest problem seems to be BREASTFEEDING?” Breastfeeding. Really? Breastfeeding is somehow problematic to us as Orthodox Christians?
Breastfeeding is about as natural an act that humans perform – and it is not something that is disgusting or lewd or dirty or that should be hidden away. I refer you to the icon shown here called the Galakotrophousa (the Provider of Milk, loosely translated) — a depiction of the Panagia, the Holy Mother, providing nourishment to the infant Christ. She isn’t hiding in a bathroom or some closet nor is she trying to even conceal her act. Know why? Because it’s a natural, normal act – a way that God gave women to feed their children.
It’s not just this message board that concerns me, it’s the pseudo-Puritanism that seems to be gripping society – and yes, I acknowledge that this misplaced disgust is not limited to those that are Orthodox, though I was hoping better from my fellow brethren. There are stories upon stories – even recent ones where women were chased out of churches for daring to feed their infants. I read one story where an assistant pastor was asked to resign from his post because his wife put a picture of herself while nursing their baby up on Facebook and the church council found it unbecoming to show such things. A pastor, mind you, that is aware of the Holy Mother nursing Christ, who is familiar with the scripture quote I opened this piece with. My favorite was my wife being accosted once in a department store for nursing our youngest. The clerk, by the way, was wearing a shirt that was barely covering her own breasts and ‘shorts’ barely covering her rear-end. She was showing far, far more than my wife was – which she pointed out before she asked her to move along. But it’s breastfeeding. That’s the problem. Yeah.
These attitudes are absurd. And yes, I understand arguments for modesty, but in my years on this Earth and all the breastfeeding mothers I have seen, (to echo Walsh’s sentiments) not one has ripped off her top and run around the place she was in, proclaiming her ability to nurse. Not one has held a gun to my head forcing me to watch. Not one has done anything to draw undue attention to herself or the fact that they are feeding their child. All these women have done is feed their infants using the tools that God has given them, that the Holy Mother used herself. You want to focus your ire on things that matter, focus on the dirt that our children are exposed to day in and day out. Focus on the singing and acting idols that serve sex up on a platter with each of their artistic projects. Focus on our leaders that have cheapened their own marriages and then have the gall to turn around and pretend to act as role models. You want to clean up society? That’s where you need to start – not on a breastfeeding mother — a mother that is performing a life-sustaining act of love using a method provided to her by God Himself.
I think we all need to get a collective grip, remember our scripture and focus on the real problems that surround us, and leave these poor mothers alone to feed their babies.