Any breastfeeding mother, especially those working full time, will tell you that it’s a challenge. Two weeks ago, this challenge took on a whole new dimension for me. I diligently express milk at work and have been lucky enough to have secure, lockable office to do it in and colleagues who understand and support my decision to feed my baby this way. But sometimes duty calls me to venture outside this safe space and make do with what’s available. Tuesday 13 June 2017 was such an occasion.
The short and long of an awful experience is that I was secretly live streamed whilst expressing milk in what I thought to be a safe, locked space which I organised beforehand. This happened on my employer’s premises, but not at my regular place of work. The person we believe to be responsible for this horrible act has, on the day at least, admitted to being the culprit. The moment I spotted the technology filming me, I put in motion quite a few processes – none of them pleasant. My employer has investigated the incident and is in the process of dealing with the matter according to its policies. I’ve also pressed criminal charges. The person was arrested and has hopefully appeared in court today.
Over the past two weeks I have struggled with many emotions and questions. Mostly, I’m furious. I’m so incredibly angry that the act of me providing food for my baby was sexualised in such a cowardly way. That it was sexualised at all. I’m disgusted that we live in a world where mothers, no matter how they choose to feed their children, are victimised for being vulnerable. I’m frustrated that during unguarded moments, my own ridiculous internalised isms make me feel guilty about all of this.
The sadness of it all also sometimes overwhelms me. This is not how anyone should be treated and no-one should feel compelled to take the actions that this person did. I feel incredibly violated and harassed – not only because some stranger felt to have the right to secretly look at my breasts – but because this person’s acts have now caused me to attach negative thoughts to something I have held dear and have been proud of for doing. By filming me, this person assaulted my motherhood, and if only for that reason, I need to speak up.
I have no idea where this all will end or how this will play out in court. What I do know, is that it’s my responsibility to take any action that can prevent this from happening to anyone else. Many victims of sex-related crimes do not have the incredible support system and resources I’m privileged to. My husband, family, friends, colleagues and employer have all rallied behind me and for that I’m so deeply thankful. I feel safe and harboured knowing that I’m surrounded by furious support.
I am determined to have something good come from this mess. So besides the criminal and internal proceedings, I would like to make some noise. A lot of noise, if possible, for Normalise Breastfeeding SA. There are many issues feeding into what happened to me. But for me the main issue at hand is that breastfeeding, a very natural thing, is treated as something strange that needs to be hidden. In short, many people across the world doesn’t view it as part of normal daily life and attach so much stigma to feeding babies with breasts. If breastfeeding was considered as everyday as eating or sleeping, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe me requesting a space to express in, wouldn’t have raised this person’s interest in the slightest.
Normalise Breastfeeding SA has been campaigning for a few years now to secure new legislation that protects mothers who nurse in public from harassment and against discrimination. They are also supporting me through what looks like to be a long, difficult road ahead. Please support them by joining their call and putting pressure on decision makers to keep our nation’s mothers safe. I’m adding my quiet voice to their rumble with the hopes that we can soon graduate to incessant roaring.
I hope that this post infuriates you to the extent that you share it with everyone on all your social media accounts. I hope it makes you sad enough that you feel compelled to discuss it with your loved ones and especially with your children. I hope it inspires you to speak up when you see a mother being treated less than the rock that she undoubtedly is.
If you’re a man, use today as an opportunity to tell the mothers in your life that you are there for them, that they are safe, loved and appreciated. If you are a woman of any age, take hands with your sisters, mothers, aunts, daughters and say no to this. To all of this. It’s not okay and it’s not going to be stopped by silence.
If you are a mother, please know that you are strong beyond measure. That your body can carry you through some terrible times and that your mind will push you over the finish line. Your motherhood does not minimise your person. Your motherhood does not make you weak. Your motherhood does not diminish your worth. So do not for one second, let society or the acts of one misguided person make you feel otherwise.
Please help me spread the word and initiate change – one post and boob at a time.