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Breastfeeding in Church, and Other Petty Crimes

Mar 2 2012
The act of breastfeeding is a picture of the care God gives us.

A Georgia woman named Nirvana Jenette claims she was kicked out of church for breastfeeding, the pastor ordering her to nurse the baby in the bathroom and calling her behavior 'lewd,' comparing her to a stripper.

As a culture we're no strangers to boobage—and not just in music videos and Victoria's Secret commercials. It's not unusual to see professional women's necklines plunging so low so as nearly to permit nursing with little further exposure. Nor is it rare to see suburban teens posing provocatively in photos on social media.

Yet strangely, we are still squeamish about breastfeeding. It's breastfeeding dolls—not Bratz or Barbies—-that are considered inappropriate for children and disgusting. Similarly, breastfeeding moms are, like Jennette, asked to leave courtrooms and churches, while photos of breastfeeding babes are blocked from Facebook.

Even in cultures that are, by North American standards, very traditional and modest, breastfeeding is accepted without hesitation as the natural, God-designed act that it is. My dad—a pastor who travels regularly to Guatemala to study language and to work with various mission partners there—tells me that he commonly sees women nursing comfortably and openly in the front row as he preaches in even the most conservative of evangelical churches.

I'm grateful to have been able to breastfeed my children. For me, it wasn't only about providing my children what's best for them. It was also about caring for them in the way God says he cares about his children.

I breastfed my youngest son until he was nearly out of diapers, partly because he loved it and never wanted to quit. I was also motivated to continue because, unlike his older brother, my youngest seemed to catch every virus, bacteria, and malaise that came his way: a serious respiratory infection at six months, a fever complicated by heatstroke when he was one, a multidrug resistant staph infection at 18 months, with others in between and after. Each time, his illnesses not only lingered but were complicated by vomiting, dehydration, and terrifying weight loss. More than a few times before his 3rd birthday, breast milk was the only thing he could manage to get down. His doctors agreed that continued breastfeeding was a good idea for my then-fragile (now, thank God, sturdy) son.

When he was one year old and decidedly cherubic—with chubby pink cheeks and golden curls—my family visited Rome, and, of course, Vatican City. I was prepared with skirts and modest tops for visiting St. Peter's, but I hadn't considered for a moment that breastfeeding might break the rules of modesty. So when my little cherub was hungry, I settled cross-legged in a corner, in sight of Michelangelo's Pieta—that haunting sculpture where Mary cradles the broken body of her Son—and began to nurse, identifying, maybe for the first time, with Jesus' mom as I cradled by own boy.

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Breastfeeding in Church, and Other Petty Crimes