This morning after the preschool drop-off, Miss 2 wanted milk more than usual, and it couldn’t wait til we got back home or to the car. So we sat down on a random person’s brick fence next to the footpath leading to the school. Some parents left the school gate and were having a loud, cheerful and animated chat, but they stopped talking as they approached me, walked past in silence with averted eyes and resumed their conversation when they were away from us. If it were me walking past, I would have given my fellow breastfeeding mama a smile, wave, hi-five or a “Thank You For Breastfeeding” card.
I don’t know why these particular people stopped talking. Hopefully they were mindful of Miss 2 and I having a quiet moment and didn’t want to disturb or distract us with their loud chatter. Maybe they were worried I would think they were talking about me, so they just stopped talking all together. Or maybe they were so gobsmacked at the sight of a breastfeeding toddler that they temporarily lost all ability to speak.
I could stew over these particular people’s thoughts were. I could become consumed with the idea that breastfeeding should be normal, and feel outraged that they changed their behaviour (even if it was for my perceived benefit) just because I was breastfeeding. I could be angry that they didn’t smile and nod at me, like they probably would have done if I was just sitting down and not breastfeeding. But they politely ignored me and continued going about their business.
98% of people treat me with polite ignorance, and that’s OK with me. I love celebrating breastfeeding and think it’s amazing, but I don’t expect everyone else to ride the breastfeeding train with me. Not everyone get excited about breastfeeding, but around 1% of people I encounter do. These are my yet-to-be-met tribe of people who also champion breastfeeding in their own way. They will go out of their way to actively encourage me, and the sight of my toddler and I would have made their day. The last 1% of people are overtly rude, which is very unfortunate for them, because imagine going through life being such an asshole that you can’t even mind your own business when a woman is feeding her child?
If the people who I saw today actually disapprove of breastfeeding, they kept it to themselves. They didn’t demand that I change my behaviour to fit in with their private expectations, they just moved along. I can live with people feeling uncomfortable with public breastfeeding, as long as there is some understanding that it’s their problem to deal with, and it’s not my responsibility to pander to them. Someone can disapprove of breastfeeding but still fall into that 98% of people who politely ignore it.
Stories in the media and across social media make it feel like it’s actually more than 1% of people who harass and intimidate breastfeeders, but that’s just because polite ignorance isn’t usually newsworthy. It might seem very un-lactivist-like of me to be be celebrating polite ignorance, but if it allows us to breastfeed in peace, then that polite ignorance is bliss.