At 20 months old, Claire is a breastfed toddler. My goal is to continue breastfeeding until she's two. Once we reach that mark, I may reconsider and continue. Claire happens to be a child who loves to breastfeed. I don't have a problem obliging her something that seems relatively uncomplicated for me to do.
But I'm not trying to make a political statement. Nor am I trying to tell others what to do either. I know many people find my choice offensive. After all, I wasn't living under a rock when the controversy surrounding the Time article on extended breastfeeding happened. Really, I'm not the type of person who openly courts conflict. It doesn't make me happy that people feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or offended by my decision.
Lately, I've noticed more dirty looks from people when I breastfeed in public. What surprises me is that 100% of the looks come from women. And that they express their disapproval by staring long enough to make me want to shout, "Take a picture, why dontcha!" Honestly, I do my best to be discreet (you see more boob on the red carpet, actually). I want to respect other people, but I don't deserve to feel ashamed either.
When it all starts to get to me, I remember a time when I felt a calling from above. A higher power touched me on the shoulder. The Virgin Mary seemed on my side.
This summer, I was walking in a Northern Renaissance gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I looked around and counted. Ten out of 30 paintings showed the baby Jesus breastfeeding. And we're not talking "away in the manger" baby Jesus. Many of the images were of a big, tall, cherubic baby Jesus, who had clearly mastered the skill of walking. In some of the paintings, the Madonna was shown bare-breasted, as the Son of God reached for sustenance.
In truth, it's probably more accurate to say that breastfeeding a toddler was well and good to the Northern Renaissance painters of those images than to the Virgin Mary herself (after all, who can say how long Jesus was breastfed).
But that's fine too. It reminds me that beliefs about breastfeeding are culturally constructed and shifting. I realize that people's offense today is not an absolute. If I were living in the Renaissance, rich patrons of the arts would be sharing their living spaces with paintings in which breastfeeding is exalted.
Of course, it's not the Renaissance. And I don't need these kinds of images in homes to justify my choices. The Met can keep their paintings right where they are.
But I do have a wish for the world in 2013: I wish that people would let others do what they think is best for their children. I wish that women supported one another more. I wish that we could all be tolerant of one another's personal beliefs.