Guest post by Savvy Wolfson

Sunday morning with my first nursling: I sat in the church service thinking about how frequently my new baby needed to eat. I dreaded the moment she would get hungry because all I could think about was how I could draw the least attention to myself. I worried about people seeing down the sides of my nursing cover.  I worried about any tiny sucking noise that my baby might make.

The inevitable stage of hunger came, of course, so I fished around in my diaper bag for my nursing cover. I felt unsure, self-conscious, like a new mother. I felt like the cover looked like flag that signaled to everyone around me, “I’m nursing, in case you didn’t know!”

I didn’t feel free to forego a nursing cover, though, because of comments I’d heard from other churchgoers. Comments like, “Breastfeeding exposes a woman’s body in ways that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, especially guys. So why do it?” and, my personal favorite, “Breastfeeding might be natural, but urinating is natural, too.”

Savvy breastfeeding August at the zoo.

Savvy breastfeeding August at the zoo.

As the cover went on, my curious baby suddenly had different plans for us. She began to yank on the fabric, and I started to feel like I was fighting to feed her. With the shame of people’s comments still bouncing around in my head, I gave up on participating in the church service and went to the nursery.

“Is there a place in here where I can feed my baby?” I asked. I expected to be pointed to an open rocking chair, but the nursery worker showed me a tiny room for nursing mothers, equipped with a love seat and Boppy. She pointed at a second door and said,

“Here, lock this, because one time someone walked in on me.” I sat down and examined my surroundings. The room appeared to be a former closet, and it had cinderblock walls painted grey. I wondered how much thought had gone into this room, where I could no longer hear the service. Did the all-male church leadership know what it was like to sit in here? As my daughter’s belly filled, my brow furrowed at the picture on the wall, just a few feet from my face. A painting of Jesus welcoming children.

After my second child, I faced another Sunday morning with a nursling. I was visiting a church after a one year sabbatical from any church buildings. My motivation was sheer curiosity. On the outside, this church seemed to honor and affirm women in a way that could be very healing for me.

My second baby was an excellent nurser, and I was much more skilled at breastfeeding discretely even without a nursing cover (don’t believe me? check out the pictures). I felt no nervousness as my son, August, ate. I didn’t feel nervous even as I spoke with the pastor afterward. Then, out of the blue, an older woman walked up to me and exclaimed,

Excuse me for interrupting, but I had to come over here and tell you that you are doing a wonderful job nursing your baby. This is the perfect place for you!” I listened, surprised, as she went on to tell my husband that he was also doing a great job supporting me through such a challenge. To further free me up, the pastor (also a mother) added that if I ever felt the need to go somewhere, the enclosed balcony was a good place because I could still see and hear the service.

Savvy breastfeeding Dayenu at her first Seder meal

Savvy breastfeeding Dayenu at her first Seder meal

Today, as I reflect on my experiences with breastfeeding in church, I can see that the differences between my comfort levels in the congregations stemmed from how each church body viewed women and their bodies. In the first church, a place that fostered negative views of women’s bodies, I felt fear and embarrassment when feeding my child. I worried during the whole service about what I would do if she got hungry, and I would delay feeding her for as long as I could, which made her fidgeting much worse and exacerbated the problem. If I had to go back now, I would probably feel defiant if I nursed. But I would want that church body to know that when it comes to pleasing them or letting my baby go hungry, I’m going to make the choice that any good mom would make. I feel glad that the church has an “optional” room for moms who truly want privacy, but it didn’t feel optional when so many accusations were flying around about modesty and hygiene.

I believe that the second and now my new church body values women and was, therefore, naturally affirming to mothering in all its forms. When I breastfeed in my new church, I feel comfortable and I give the event very little thought. I look around and see variety among the females: a single mom, a woman who is mothering the world instead of bearing children, and a working mom who are respected just as much as I am. We are safe here. We are valued. We are loved. And when those burdens are lifted off of our shoulders…we mother.

Savvy Wolfson is an empathizing, tree-hugging, lucky in love, play-at-home mom to two under two. She’s also a faithful supporter of Soulation and a friend.