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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 01.18.11
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

Lactating intolerance

All right, people, let's keep the giggling to a minimum. I know it might not be easy to have a mature discussion about nursing in public but let's all try to do our breast -- er, best!
Darn. Sorry.
And I really wanted to get through this column on breastfeeding without making a boob of myself.
Shoot. There I go again.
Just bear with me, please. I'm pretty sure that if you stick with me, you'll be gland you did.
Okay. I'm done.
There's just something about breastfeeding that makes some people a bit squirrelly. Perhaps that's the reason a Montreal sales clerk this past weekend asked a nursing mom to leave the store.
If you're like most liberal-minded people, your gut reaction on hearing this story was probably to shake your head in disbelief, perhaps become engorged with rage. That was certainly the immediate reaction of breastfeeding activists, or as they like to call themselves, "lactivists."
Now, normally a good hybrid word like "lactivist" would be one I would happily latch onto. But as a rule, activists tend to be overreactivists, making me wish that would all just relaxivist.
So instead of getting in a lather over public lactation, I'd like to raise the level of debate by taking a good look at breasts.
For starters, the whole mystique surrounding breasts in our culture is quite bizarre, considering that fifty percent of the population have them and the other fifty percent are quite fond of them. Breasts are timeless. They've been featured in everything from the greatest works of art to the snowman my daughter built on the front lawn two weekends ago.
In the 21st century breasts are ubiquitous. Cleavage is king (or possibly queen). Shirts are tight and necklines are low. In fashion, on television, in music videos, on the street -- let's face it, breasts are huge.
Yet as soon as breasts are put to work doing what they were designed to do, namely providing nourishment, we want those breasts out of sight, under blankets, preferably inside some sorry "nursing station" beside the supply closet.
And I'll admit it; even though my wife happily and successfully nursed four children, and even though I recognize that it's normal and beautiful, I feel a vague uneasiness when a mother starts nursing in front of me. I don't do anything overtly awkward. Let's just say I make a lot of eye contact.
It's as though the two sides of the brain can't reconcile the dual nature of the breast. There's the left side of the brain that recognizes utility and functionality, and there's the right side, which thinks about sex.
Or is it men's fault? Has society shunned breastfeeding because it's something a dude can't do? No one seems to have a problem with men peeing in public -- or at least the guy urinating at the edge of the grocery store parking lot in broad daylight last week didn't.
Whatever the reason, the fact is that not everyone is comfortable with breastfeeding.
Next, let's address the notion that breastfeeding is natural. This is true, but that's not to say it isn't hard work. For many new mothers, there's a lot of trial and error. Whole teams of nurses get in on the act, with so much clutching and squeezing that it ought to permanently de-sexualize the breast for any casual observer.
And with trial and error, things can go haywire in a hurry. If you've ever been in the vicinity when a nursing baby suddenly pulls off mid-stream, well, let's just say you should run for cover.
Retailers, then, that frown on breastfeeding in their stores might not actually be anti-nursing; they might just be trying to protect the merchandise.
Or maybe they have a "no food" policy.
My point is that our society is still quite immature about breasts and breastfeeding (case in point). Until we get a handle on it, I think it's important that we all try to be a bit more sensitive.
I could go on but I think I've milked this topic enough.

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through www.townships.ca. He can be reached at ross_murray@sympatico.ca.

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