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Thursday, August 12, 2010
Ask the Matriarch - Mother and Child
This Sunday many Christians will observe the feast of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mothering is a most holy calling, and a distinctive "term of that call" shapes our question for the matriarchs today.
I am just back from maternity leave and wondering if you have any advice around the issue of breastfeeding my infant while working. I usually have a bottle or two for church time while she's in the nursery, but what about after coffee hour when most everyone has gone home? Is it appropriate to nurse her in my office with the door closed, or in the church nursery the way other mothers do, or at a church event like a picnic? What about during a pastoral visit at someone's home? What if they have come to my home? We have a number of parents of young children with up to 12 babies in our nursery on any given Sunday and although I don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable in any way, I also want to affirm for the other new mothers that it's okay for them to breast feed their babies while at the church or in the presence of the church community. I should also mention that this is my second child and I'm much more adept at nursing this time around. I do have special clothes that facilitate the process (though no clericals that do), and on the whole feel as though I can manage it in a very discreet manner. I'd love to hear what others think about when and where nursing is appropriate.
First from our newest matriarch, Muthuh+
OK, I have to ‘fess up to being of the ‘older generation’ when such things as nursing were not even discussed in mixed company AND I am not a mother.But I want to encourage you to do what you are comfortable with.I am guessing that you are not the senior pastor, however, and being a woman and in a subordinate position could provide some problems.If you are not the senior pastor talk this over with your spouse and your pastor so that you will have the support you need to nurse your child at church.If you are sr. pastor, then talk to your council or pastor support committee. Most likely they will support you if you are comfortable with it. You can get some good feed back there.It is always important not spring things on people.
Be clear in how you are going to address criticism from some of the older crowd who were shamed into not being open about nursing when their children were coming up.Be gentle with them and let them know that you are trying to help other women bring their infants to church rather than staying at home.There will be those who disapprove, but if it is done “in decency and in order,” I believe you will be doing the Church a great favor.
As one of those who was early in my denomination’s ordaining of women, it was precisely things like this that I wanted the Church to address. Often the whole thing about “the birthin’ of babies” was pushed so much behind closed doors for women.This IS a part of what it means to be woman.The nurture of children is what we should be about in the Christian community.And I want to commend you for being willing to try to help other young women to care for their children in the sight of the Church.
This question makes me smile. It certainly is one of those issues unique to womenpastors. I applaud your decision to breast-feed your little one, first of all. I have some precious memories of my babies gazing up at me while nursing—as well as some funny incidents. I think it is completely appropriate for you to nurse your baby in your closed office, and in the nursery too, for that matter, especially if the nursery has a comfy rocking chair. Breast feeding can be done quite discreetly, as you note, and I think that is a key. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, nor should it be.
If someone is at your home you might excuse yourself for a bit (not if the person is then left sitting alone, of course) or if the person is a relaxed type, just ask if it is okay. When visiting others—that’s a bit more tricky. I expect that in some cases it would be wiser to have a bottle handy, so as to give closer attention to the one you are visiting—or not to scandalize some dear 97 year old church member. But in other cases it would be fine. Use your best judgment depending on the circumstances. If you do nurse your baby while at someone’s home, I would suggest you warn them. Something like, “Oh, ________s getting hungry. Do you mind if I nurse her?” I can’t imagine very many people saying no. Congratulations and blessings on the whole family. This can all be a joy to the church family, and I sincerely hope it will be.
I can’t speak from experience of breast-feeding as a minister – but I can speak from experiences of others breast-feeding whilst I’m talking to them. Personally I find I feel perfectly comfortable in a small group if someone is feeding, because the attention in the group is diffused: but uncomfortable in a one-to-one situation, where I want to give the other woman my attention but also want to give her ‘space’. So my instinct would be to say ‘yes’ to feeding in a group, especially where other mothers are present and, as you say, you want to give a string message of this being OK, but ‘no’ to feeding when in a one-to-one pastoral conversation with someone. I think it might also feel to the person you are talking to that your attention is not entirely on them!
I hope this helps & doesn’t just make me seem uptight!
Blessings upon you and your new baby! You’re to be commended for your sensitivity to others around the issue of breastfeeding. Many corporate workplaces have policies around breastfeeding, but few churches do. I’d suggest that you first determine what you’re most comfortable with, and then speak with a few key, understanding and sensitive leaders to get their sense of things related to what happens at the church. (This also has the added benefit of letting others know what you’re considering and that you value their opinions.) Perhaps whoever oversees the nursery can weigh in on breastfeeding in the nursery and the word can be shared in general, rather than completely connected to the pastor’s practice at church.
I believe that what you do in your own home is your own business. When I nursed my babies years ago, I always asked others in my presence if they were comfortable, and left the room if they were not. Almost always, the comfortable were women and other young mothers. Older women and men were less comfortable, and frankly, I knew my folks well enough to anticipate their comfort or discomfort. Having several options of quiet places to nurse off the beaten path always worked best for me and for my kiddos.
I nursed both of my children, although it's been 21 and 18 years since my children were infants, and at the time I was not ordained. I was comfortable nursing anywhere anytime, in a discreet manner. I think it's a great idea that you want to model this natural maternal care and feeding of babies for other young moms. However whether or not it will be acceptable in your setting is hard from me to discern. There is the potential that it could set a great example. There is also the potential that people will wonder about what you are doing, and the appropriateness of it in such a public manner (even if you are discreet).
That said I think it will be fine for you to nurse your baby in your office behind closed doors. I also think it's fine to pump and feed the baby in a more public setting. Additionally it may be fine to nurse the baby in the home of some members of the congregation but not others. And likewise it may be fine to nurse the baby in your own home in front of some members but not others. I guess what I'm saying is this is something that will need to be decided on a case by case basis regardless of where and with whom. Blessings on you and your baby during this sweet time.
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