Recently I became a calendar girl. That’s right – I’m Miss November in the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s photo contest celebrating World Breastfeeding Week. Standing with the other finalists at San Francisco City Hall was the official victory. Submitting the photo in the first place was a personal victory.
When I became a mom, I was grateful that breastfeeding worked out. Nothing matches the awe of providing your child the exact nutrition he needs, locking eyes with that toothless grin. Not to mention, research shows the lasting benefits. I was sad when I thought we had to stop. Only when my son turned one did I learn the little known fact that the World Health Organization champions breastfeeding to age two, so we kept going.
But it’s not always easy. What if your maternity leave is too short to establish breastfeeding? Pumping at work requires perseverance. And a hungry cry means ‘now’. I’ve nursed everywhere – buses, museums, groceries, restaurants, parks, church. Some might say I was shameless. The cover I brandished constantly around my neck seemed to help.
However, public breastfeeding, with the real possibility of exposing myself to strangers, triggered painful memories of the time in my early 20s, when my powerful boss requested to photograph me naked, quote “just from the neck down,” so no one would know it was me. I declined, and lost my job. Luckily, my passion for nutrition trumped shame. I studied the history of infant feeding and learned that it was in the pin-up calendar era that culture turned to shaming breastfeeding out of sight, even though it’s the most natural thing our breasts were meant to do. Adults don’t eat shamed under cover, and neither should our babies.
My grandfather remembers a childhood when it was natural for women to breastfeed openly in public. Why not today? In my photographic attempt to normalize this beautiful gift of nature, I’m seated on a toddler bed nursing in striped PJs, raw with morning glasses and no make-up. Yet I wear a huge smile, babe on breast – a calendar girl in the proudest sense.
With a Perspective, I’m Laura Elbogen.
Laura Elbogen is an artist and illustrator living in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley.