Less than three months after giving birth to my daughter, cocooned in our sweet little world of breastfeeding at home in (relative) peace and comfort, it was time to take the show on the road.
With our parents and grandparents spanning several states from the midwest to the deep south, my husband and I had serious ground to cover in sharing our bundle of joy. There was nursing in the car on the side of the road and in the rocking chairs of every Cracker Barrel restaurant along the Mason-Dixon line. There was nursing in “supermom” mode, hanging over the carseat when traffic jams arose.
So when we finally landed at our destination, the little coastal town of Beaufort, South Carolina, we were exhausted/delighted to sit outside at a lovely restaurant with a great view of the water.
But there was something making me feel a little on edge about nursing in public here. Something about this quaint, sleepy Southern town, with that charm of a bygone era. There was something about that restaurant, which was just a bit more upscale we’d planned. Something about that man dining alone, sitting two tables over, with a nice bottle of red wine open. What a strange, concentrated look I was getting from him as I began to nurse my daughter out on that perhaps-too-nice patio where the sunset spilled over the brick edges into the marshlands.
He opened his mouth to speak. I said a silent prayer to the gods of breastfeeding, as I was surely about to be reprimanded by this stalwart, well-dressed, middle-aged southern man. The kind of man who they name a road or a bridge after in this part of the world. I was surely about to be told I was ruining this man’s dinner. But then he spoke, in a deep southern drawl:
“I always thought it must feel pretty good. Doesn’t it? Havin’ that little one so close and sucklin’ on ya? And just needin’ you for her very survival?”
Well. That was really not what I expected.
The breath I had been holding once I first noticed his attention immediately released itself. I’d been chewing on that same air for minutes in uneasy anticipation. I was expecting to be chastised, to be informed that my actions were inappropriate for the setting. I had already played out the entire situation in my mind- it read like all the negative headlines about women being made uncomfortable to breastfeed- and it wasn't pretty.
The man, seeing that I was somewhat disarmed, promptly introduced himself, apologized for asking "such a strange question." I told him there was no more interesting question in the world.
Yes, I explained. It does. It does feel good to have this little life clinging to you for nourishment. A nourishment that nobody else can provide in the same way you can, because of how a mother’s biology is intertwined with her child’s. I said it's exhausting. And incredible. That the relationship was stronger than I ever could have expected. That I was stronger than I ever could have expected.
Mr. G proceeded to congratulate me on a successful nursing relationship, and shared his own memories of when his children were breastfeeding, and how precious and sacred that time was for him and for his wife. Our conversation expanded from parenting to history, literature, life lessons. He gave us his business card to stay in touch. We noted his last name was a familiar one somehow. As we left, we turned onto a parkway named for him.
So this stalwart, well-to-do, Southern man was, in fact, that kind of man they named roads and bridges after. And though he seemed to be of another era that matched his surroundings, he freely and kindly shared his questions and memories about breastfeeding.
When you live in a world where women get chased out of chain restaurants for feeding their children just using the resources built into their biology, you often fear altercations at every turn. But meeting Mr. G created a very big, very necessary shift in my mind, from a state of expecting opposition to a state of expecting encouragement.
Never again, when breastfeeding my daughter anywhere, did I allow myself to feel uncomfortable. I chose to assume that any wayward look I was given by a stranger was a look of encouragement, filled with the person’s own parenting or childhood memories, challenges and joys.
I am grateful to him for that.