SURREY — On Saturday morning, in a public place in Surrey, in full sight of anyone who dared turn their eyes in that direction, 11 women bared all, or portions of, their breasts.
Nobody recoiled in horror, nobody leered or fainted and nobody called the morality police.
Indeed, the very youngest members of those in attendance thought it was just fantastic.
This, you see, was the Surrey edition of the 2015 World Breastfeeding Challenge. Originating right here in B.C., the challenge aims to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding and break down some of the social stigmas surrounding it. It does so by staging group breastfeeds around the world.
And maybe one day, if all goes according to plan, it won’t be needed at all.
Katherine Bartel, the organizer of the Surrey event in all three years of its existence, explains.
“Breastfeeding is how humans have been fed since the beginning of time,” said Bartel, a Fraser Health public health nurse and internationally certified lactation consultant.
Bartel is enthusiastic about the upside of breastfeeding versus formula feeding – how it delivers all the nutrients and vitamins an infant needs, how it helps guard against infections and prevent diseases such as diabetes and cancer, and how it’s easier on the budget.
But she acknowledges the issues too.
“Here’s one dilemma. We know that despite some women’s best efforts, they are unable to create enough milk. And there’s a lot of guilt,” she said. “But we want women to celebrate how much milk they can give. Every little bit is a triumph.”
And of course there’s the little matter of acceptance. Some folk don’t appreciate the sight of a breastfeeding mom and baby.
To that, Bartel says, “In our North American society, breasts are sexualized. It’s unusual in our society to consider breasts as a source of nutrition. But that’s what they are.
“Women do have a legal right to breastfeed and a legal right to file a complaint if they are discriminated against, just as those who don’t want to see it have a legal right to turn their head 30 degrees to the right and look away.”
Saturday, at the Guildford Youth Centre’s Youth Lounge, 11 women (and 12 babies) turned out. Not exactly a throng but enough to make a point.
That point was not lost on this journalist. I admittedly walked in a little shy and a mite nervous about the whole thing. A bevy of boobs on display for all to see? How weird was that?
As it turned out, not weird at all. Fifteen minutes in, I was chatting with real live breastfeeding moms and most definitely not freaking out. Truth is, I came away feeling completely at ease with the concept. In that sense, mission accomplished.
Cloverdale’s Michelle Sander, who brought along baby Elliot, joked that she had very little say in the matter.
“After I gave birth, she latched on right away. Nursing in front of my partner’s brothers was weird at first, but not now.
“It’s my right to do it, so I just kinda whip it out whenever,” she said laughing.
Sander says breastfeeding gives her an “amazing bond” with Elliot.
“I felt a connection from the start, and I want it to continue. When you provide for your baby in that way, it’s like a super-power. My super-power is giving milk.”
As to her participation in the challenge, she says simply, “The more normal it becomes, the less flak we get from strangers.”
A couple of chairs away was Piper Kluch and her mom Stephanie, who said, “I’m pro-breastfeeding because it provides immunity from diseases, but I had problems doing it. I’d had an infection and had taken antibiotics, and I couldn’t deliver enough milk.
“But the people at Fraser Health guided me though it, and showed me ways to boost milk production. So when I heard about this event through Fraser Health, I figured they’d been so helpful to me that I’d help them.”
Soon, the moms were snacking on cake while their babies either slept contentedly, or checked out the action all around them.
And all was good.