Let me make two things very clear right off the bat here. First, though I hope to be one in the not too distant future, I am not a mother nor am I a soldier. Second I do not, nor does anyone else possess the right to comment on, judge or otherwise have an opinion on if/when/for how long a mother breastfeeds her child.
Alright, now let’s get to the matter at hand. Breastfeeding while in a military uniform in public – okay or not?
Breastfeeding on-base, or on-post for my American friends, while in civvies, sure! Breastfeeding in public (heck, even whipping out the whole breast in all its glory for the world to see), sure! Breastfeeding in your uniform behind closed doors, sure! But breastfeeding in a public place in your military uniform??
When I first came across this issue I was conflicted. I have my moments, much like I’m sure most of you do, where I say to my husband (who happens to be a soldier), “but why can’t you do *insert normal every day activity here* in your uniform? It’s just like any other job!” But I am also the first to admit that these are moments of weakness, of emotions running high with my speech filter turned off. Being in the military is certainly not just like any other job. I do understand why men and women in the military can’t do normal, everyday activities in their uniforms… even if I’m not always happy about it.
My husband can’t for example hold my hand while in uniform. Just like he can’t walk our dog, pick up our one year old niece, chew gum, talk on a cell phone or use foul language while in uniform. I will admit it – some of these rules suck! I hate having to wait for him to get to a private location to call me with important information just because he can’t be seen on his phone in his combats. Even more so I hate not seeing him for weeks on end and then not being able to so much as brush the back of his hand with mine until we can steal off into a private place, once again because he is in uniform.
I remember one night, early on in my military life, when this issue came to a head for us. I asked him, “Why can’t you hold my hand in combats? What does that even have to do with your job?” My darling husband, who is unquestionably the most patient man I know, explained to me very clearly and concisely exactly why not.
“It’s for the same reason that I can’t get into a fistfight, yell out racial slurs or push an old lady out of the way at the grocery store,” he said – though I should mention here that he would never under any circumstances do any of those things. “It’s because when I’m in this uniform every single action I take directly reflects back on not just me but on the Canadian military as a whole and everything they stand for.”
When a man or a woman dons the uniform of their military, be it Canadian, American, or otherwise, they can’t behave like everyone else. They simply can’t go around looking like anything less than a soldier. This is not only to maintain a show of strength for their national forces but also as a sign of respect towards the uniform, the organization and everything it stands for.
There is a delicate balance between being a mother and a soldier that I can’t even being to comprehend, but I do know that being a soldier demands professionalism at all times. Women serving in the military absolutely have the right to feed their child in any manner that they deem best but conversely they have a responsibility to uphold the professionalism demanded by their job. In the same way that my husband has a responsibility to walk our dog yet he has a responsibility not to do so in uniform, a mother has the right to breastfeed her child but perhaps shouldn’t be granted that right to do so in uniform in a public setting.
So maybe the issue at hand here has nothing to do with a mother’s right to breastfeed but instead is simply about what is appropriate behavior of a soldier in uniform. Perhaps these two issues need to be separated or a better balance needs to be struck between them in the hopes that, as much as being a soldier shouldn’t take away from being a mother, the inverse also becomes true. In fact maybe the “mommy hat” and the “military hat” simply can’t be worn at the same time in certain situations.
What mothers in the military really need is a third option here. Perhaps this doesn’t have to be a matter of yes it’s okay or no it’s not, but a matter of finding an appropriate time and place for this activity to occur.
Just something to think about…
* A disclaimer from the author: I intend no personal attacks in the writing of this article and certainly do not purport to have the right to sit judgment on others. I sincerely apologize if anything in the above article has been taken in a manner that causes negative feelings as that was certainly not my intention. *