One of my favorite photos from my time in Uganda is the one I can almost never show because apparently, it’s not wise for us author types to bare our breasts in public … or on the internet … or wherever. That seems to be a privilege reserved for Miss America contestants or Janet Jackson and the rest of us best keep our girls holstered.
But anyway, this picture is of me breastfeeding my infant daughter sitting right next to a Ugandan friend breastfeeding her infant daughter. It’s like a study in black and white – literally – of motherhood around the world. I mean I couldn’t have been more different from my Ugandan neighbors: their lives were consumed with the unending tasks required to simply keep themselves and their families alive. Mine was consumed by my quest to find something to do with myself. (Well, that and whining about feeling useless!)
During our first year in Uganda, our neighbors really didn’t know what to make of me. (I could practically hear them muttering: She has breasts, she has a uterus … good Lord why does she not use them?)
So then I decided to use them and – Aha! – I could see the light of recognition in their eyes. The mzungu woman finally made sense to them! And never did I make as much sense as when I was nursing my daughter. Lucky thing then, that I was nursing her nearly constantly. Or nursing full time, as another friend described the situation.
Now of course, the overwhelming sentiment among Americans is that raising my daughter in Uganda was some sort of hardship. I certainly don’t want to give away any of the brownie points I may have earned over the years from friends who believed this to be the case. But the truth is, it was a lot easier than you might think. One reason is the fact that nearly EVERY woman in Uganda is a mother. So being pregnant, having a baby tied to your back or attached to your boob is pretty much expected. Every day is Bring Your Baby To Work Day and every place is a nursing-friendly zone.
There were boobs and babies everywhere and no one – men included – would expect anything less. I remember breastfeeding when I was in the states right after our daughter was born. Keep in mind I’d been living in Uganda for a year already and so thought absolutely nothing of whipping out my boob in the park, in McDonalds, in my in-laws living room. And of course, well-meaning relatives would rush up to me and try to throw a blanket over my offending breast (and my offending baby).
But back in Uganda, I’d sit down to nurse, whip out the boob and friends – male and female – would think nothing of sitting down next to me and we’d carry on our conversation – breast and baby right out in the open – as if it were the most natural thing in the world. And come to think of it . . . it was!