Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Scrapbooking and the Normalization of Breastfeeding

Back in college, I got into scrapbooking. I can't draw or sculpt or paint, but I've done layout in some of my jobs and I feel like I'm halfway decent at arranging things on a page to look nice, so it's the closest to the visual arts I'm likely to get. I haven't done any in years, but having a baby seems like the perfect time to start back up.

On a recent visit to a scrapbooking store to find fun stickers and embellishments for E's first pages, I quickly realized that my life doesn't resemble that of the average scrapbooker. Now, I'm not too surprised to find stroller stickers but nothing for babywearing. Or "first foods" sets that have nothing but jars of baby food. I'm not even surprised at the number of bottles everywhere - it's a typical symbol of babyhood, and even most breastfed babies like E get bottles of expressed milk while mommy's working or away.

What really took me by surprise was the presence of explicit references to formula, but absolutely zero references to breastfeeding. The word "nursing" was nowhere to be found in all of the cute or touching phrases relating to babies, but you can get a sticker of a can of "Formulac."

I was further dismayed by the response when I brought this up on a scrapbooking message board. Women likened a scrapbook page about breastfeeding to one about poop or even wet dreams. These women later assured me they were "just joking," but how many times have you seen entirely serious arguments against nursing in public that use the same comparisons? And even so, you know what they did have at that store? Tons of stickers showing diapers and even phrases like "Poo Happens" - apparently scrapbooking about poop IS more acceptable than scrapbooking about feeding your baby naturally.

Some responders asked sarcastically if I expected stickers of bare boobs, even though I had specifically said all I was expecting was a phrase or two here and there, "Nursling" or "Mama's Milk." They said clearly there's not enough of a market for breastfeeding embellishments, or they'd be sold. Honestly, I wasn't even envisioning a breastfeeding-themed pack - and that's the thing. Formula and bottles don't get their own special packs; they don't need their own "market" beyond "people who have babies." They're just naturally worked in to general baby themes, because they are considered a normal part of having and being a baby. Breastfeeding clearly is not. It has no place in the decorations used to memorialize babyhood. It would be embarrassing to remind your grown child that once you fed him from your own body - and if it's embarrassing, the implication is that it is at best abnormal and at worst wrong.

This kind of omission is both a symptom of the problem and an aggravator. It's a clear sign that breastfeeding is not considered normal, of course. But it also sends its own message, one that perpetuates the problem: Hide the fact that you breastfeed. Make layouts about dirty diapers and baby's first tooth, but don't you dare make anyone think about how you fed him for the first six months of his life - an activity that probably took up the majority of your waking hours for several weeks! Only photos of those other few hours are acceptable. Breastfeeding is your dirty little secret.

1 comment:

  1. You are so right on the target here. I'm looking around at other mom's scrapbook pages about nursing their babies and there is a lot of "Eww. That'll embarrass BIL/FIL/ son when he's a teen." I'm thinking "so be it. Good to get them used to it now".