The breast is the best

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So, it’s okay for mothers to spend billions of dollars a year at Toys “R” Us, but they’re not allowed to breastfeed on the premises — it’s offensive, too sexual and not appropriate for children.

No wonder hundreds of breastfeeding women and their supporters gathered outside of the Times Square Toys “R” Us for a rally last Thursday in support of Chelsi Meyerson, a breast-feeding mother who was allegedly harassed by store employees for breastfeeding her 7-month old son.

Smartmom wanted to go out and join them: she longed to rip off her shirt, pull down her bra, and nurse right in the middle of Times Square. “Latch On. Latch On,” she’d scream, her fist held high.

Trouble is: she hasn’t lactated since 1999, when the Oh So Feisty One decided she’d had enough at the age of 2.

But Smartmom was there in spirit, recalling the relief and pleasure of giving her children the most nutritious food imaginable.

Smartmom still misses being a nursing mother, one of the most meaningful experiences a mother can have. Which isn’t to say that it was easy, painless, or always enjoyable.

In the days after Teen Spirit’s birth, Smartmom could not figure out for the life of her how to do it. Hepcat eventually took matters into his own hands.

“I was raised on a dairy farm,” he said. “I know all about lactation.”

Sure, she felt like one of the cows on Hepcat’s family’s farm, but it was a miraculous sensation and a wonderful way to bond with her baby and keep the crying to a minimum. It even helped him sleep; which meant more sleep for mama.

Of course, it also made Smartmom feel like she’d been transformed into a gigantic breast with an unending supply of milk and a child who wanted to do nothing but suck, suck, suck.

Early on, she tried to discreetly cover breast and baby with a receiving blanket or a shawl, but after a while, all modesty went out the window and her breasts were exposed for all to see. Sometimes, she’d even walk down Seventh Avenue breastfeeding, convinced that Teen Spirit’s head was covering her bulging boob.

By all reports, Chelsi Meyerson was far more discreet during her nutritional gambit. She says that employees of the Toys “R” Us flagship store demanded she stop breastfeeding or move to the basement because they considered it inappropriate around children.

Toys “R” Us, like many retail stores, provide “nursing rooms” and mothers are sometimes asked to move to those locations for fear of offending other customers.

Offending other customers? Offending children? Since when is it offensive for a woman to nurse a baby?

According to the World Health Organization, “Breastfeed­ing is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers.”

It’s not like it’s some kind of pornographic sideshow (and there are still a few such things in the vicinity of Toys “R” Us). For Buddha’s sake, you’re feeding a baby! What could be more natural than breasts?

Breasts are the original multi-taskers. Their primary function is to nurture the young. But they are also a source of eroticism for women and men in some, but not all, cultures.

Sure, there were times when Smartmom was breastfeeding in public when men (and women) looked at her like they were being turned on. If you’re turned on by breasts, so be it. It’s only human. You can’t expect people to deaden their sexual desires. But they can act appropriately in public and differentiate between a sexual act and a maternal one (even if Freud thinks they’re one and the same).

Sigmund the Great suggested that a child’s first erotic object is his mother’s breast. So it’s no wonder that the breast persists as an area of arousal. (He also said the breast is a substitute for a penis, but that’s a topic for another column.)

Still, this does not mean that nursing mothers and children should require parental guidance like an R-rated movie. Women should be able to nurse in full view of the public because there is no better way to normalize breastfeeding and teach children and others about its health and emotional benefits.

You can even quote the World Health Organization.

The reverberations of the Toys “R” Us incident echoed through Brooklyn, of course, so naturally there were legions of posts on Park Slope Parents (PSP). As usual, a lot of opinions were bandied about.

One even came from a New York Magazine editor who is known to troll the Web site for story ideas (so don’t be surprised if there’s soon yet another article about those “crazy,” “neurotic” Park Slope moms. Admittedly, PSP is a treasure trove for cynical magazine editors interested in the neurotic mommy zeitgeist.)

But Smartmom thinks the editor, Faye Penn, crossed the line when she started weighing in on the debate.

“Breasts are always sexy and sexual — and, yes, like our other sexual organs, multi-functional,” she wrote. “Why do you have to negate their erotic nature in order to justify nursing? If someone thinks it’s hot to see you breastfeed in public, what can you really do about that? Mace him? Lecture him? Throw a pamphlet at him?”

Given what she knows about her Park Slope neighbors, Smartmom’s guess is that some moms will do all three. But she digresses. Penn continued:

“What healthy straight guy isn’t turned on by the sight of a new pair of breasts — even if there is a baby attached to one of them?”

Don’t be fooled (and don’t write Dumb Editor hate mail — it’s not his fault). Most likely, editor Penn was probably just fanning the flames. After all, her comment set off a groundswell of more comments — and more quotes for that possible New York Magazine story that will probably portray those puritanical milkmaids in Park Slope who refuse to think of their breasts as sexual.

Well, sometimes a boob is just a boob, Faye. And sometimes it’s the erotic epicenter of the world.

Just because some people on PSP are offended by the idea that someone would be turned on by a milky breast is no reason to generalize about Park Slope mothers.

And it doesn’t mean magazines need to blow this up like a life-sized erotic doll. No more Amy Sohn–style mommy rants turning Park Slope mothers into unpleasant stereotypes, please.

Let them nurse in peace. And let Park Slope mothers be the individuals they really are without judgment from New York Magazine’s cliche-making editors.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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