Motherhood is something special. It is a role to honor, not disparage.
Chick-fil-A was thrust on the national scene last week when an employee at the local franchise in Knoxville, Tennessee requested a nursing mother to stop feeding her 5-month-old daughter. At issue, the employee explained, were other parents afraid to let their children play while the mother nursed her daughter without a cover. The result was a “nurse-in” the following week by twenty lactating moms. Who could argue with co-organizer Anna Hurley when she said, “what is more family than a mother and her baby?”
Nursing is certainly not something of which to be ashamed. It rightly has been encouraged in recent decades. Circumstances often require a nursing mother to nurse in public and Tennessee state law supports this right of women to breastfeed in public or in private.
The health benefits, both physical and emotional, from nursing are well established in medical and psychiatric circles. The benefit of relegating this special intimate act to the level of any common function shared by primates is not as universally accepted.
When Merriam-Webster talks about “propriety in dress, speech, or conduct”, when Dictionary.com discusses the “regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress” and “simplicity; moderation” they are defining the word modesty. The New Testament says the parts of the body that are “unpresentable” should be treated with special modesty. Anything else degrades and devalues the whole of which they are a part. Being modest bestows special honor on that “unpresentable” part and the role in life it plays.
To nurse in a secluded place is not to demonstrate shame, but rather honor. Similarly, children will inevitably lift their head while nursing which exposes their mother if she is not using a cover. Such an act of immodesty ignores the emotional and relational dimension of nursing and reduces this special time between a mother and her child to nothing more than observing the livestock in a field. It is a natural function not to be ashamed of. Nevertheless, nursing is more than a biological function which, when treated with modesty, elevates the role of the mother and the maternal tenderness and affection she gifts her child with.
Nursing can be both highly rewarding and intensely trying. Nursing mothers should both receive and display much grace. They deserve nothing less than great honor. In turn they elevate those who will follow in their steps through their modesty.