It’s me again, Jessi! I thought I’d share some of my experience as an extended breastfeeding mama in China. It’s a great study in how different reality can be from the expectations you have inside your head.
In retrospect, it’s amusing to me how nervous I was about nursing in public in China prior to arriving here last year. As a westerner, we all here about the sexual repression and how women are often treated as second class citizens and I was very afraid that that meant I would have to go to great lengths to cover up and conceal the fact that I was nursing my almost 11 month old.
The flights themselves weren’t an issue since there was a mix of both foreigners and Chinese on both the main flight from New York to Beijing and our little puddle hopper connection from Beijing to Taiyuan. The stewardesses and even the passengers were super accommodating and even gave us an entire row to ourselves on our flight to Taiyuan so I had room to maneuver the cranky kiddo around until he nursed himself to sleep.
Upon arrival in Taiyuan, Donnie was very quick to remind me that I needed to be really discreet because he didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot by offending his employers. And while the “empowered mother” part of me raised an eyebrow at this, the logical part of me knew that in this strange new culture, I’d best tip toe at first rather than make the wrong kind of splash. It went against everything I stood for to hold that pillow in front of me while Quinlon nursed in the car ride from the airport to our new home. I just sighed and reminded myself how it was for the best.
Once we were settled and had our first outing to go buy essentials we needed for our new apartment, it became immediately clear that other than the lack of variety in hair color, socially, this China was not so different from America.
To my shock, I even saw mothers casually breastfeeding their children on park benches. No blankets, no covers, NO BIG DEAL! Matter of fact, no one blinked an eye outside of the already interested stares that come with being a foreigner in a NON tourist city when I sat down on the bench inside Wal-mart and did my nursing in public thing. And imagine MY surprise when an white haired old lady sits down next to me, says something in Chinese that I had no way of understanding and fondly reaches down and rubs Quinlon’s cheek. I later learned what she said was that he was beautiful and that it was good he was drinking “mama milk” to be strong.
I continued to nurse Quinlon until he was 22 months old when due to my current pregnancy, my milk supply disappeared. He lost interest and our weaning experience was actually quite peaceful because he just didn’t care for boobie without the good stuff coming out of it. In the 11 months I spent nursing in China, never was I asked to leave a restaurant, or cover up or go somewhere “private”. I was either ignored or given smiles of approval from women of all ages when they saw what I was doing. And now, I read about restaurants calling the cops on mothers simply trying to feed their hungry children in the US and it makes me sad. How is the self proclaimed “greatest country in the world” so damned backwards when it comes to caring for our young?
Knowing how little resistance I face here with breastfeeding is a nice feeling when I contemplate breastfeeding my twins. As if there are not enough challenges mothers face on this front without society berating and ridiculing something that is natural and beautiful because they are too ingrained with unnatural ideas of sexuality and privacy. China might have a LOT of things they aren’t great at, but in this respect, the put my home country to shame.