Mothers who have been shamed for breastfeeding in public have a new anthem.
British poet Holly McNish’s incredible spoken word poem, “Embarrassed,” attacks everything from aggressive formula marketing to the double standard of anti-breastfeeding discrimination in a world of “billboards covered in tits.” Unsurprisingly,it has gone viral.
“I wrote this poem in a public toilet after my 6 month old baby fell asleep,” McNishsays in the video’s description on YouTube, explaining that she was told to stay home the first time she ever tried to breastfeed in public. Since she was “embarrassed,” McNish writes, she continued to feed her daughter in bathrooms for six months. “I hate that I did that but I was nervous, tired and felt awkward.”
Now, she’s shared the frustrated thoughts she held in for so long. Her conclusion, after more than three minutes of impassioned rhetoric:
So no more will I sit on these cold toilet lids
No matter how embarrassed I feel as she sips
Cos in this country of billboards covered in tits
I think we should try to get used to this.
The poem comes on the heels of National Breastfeeding Week in the U.K. — as well as the troubling news that the number of breastfeeding mothers in England has fallen this year for the first time since such statistics were first collected in 2004.
Women who breastfeed in public in the U.K. are protected from discrimination by the Equality Act, passed in 2010.
McNish’s message echoes sentiments expressed earlier this year by Katharine McKinney in a HuffPost blog. “If you don’t support breastfeeding in public, you don’t support breastfeeding,” McKinney argued, asking: “Why have we made the act of feeding a child something obscene instead of something necessary? Before pumps, before bottles, when a woman nursed her child, even when she was covered neck to wrists to ankles, it was not considered private. Just necessary. It’s still necessary.”
And in a post about her own experience being asked to stop breastfeeding in public, HuffPost blogger Amber Hinds explained why it’s so important for our society to support women who breastfeed, wherever they decide to do so: “Breastfeeding is best, but if we don’t all support it — which means reacting to it no differently than we would react to the sight of a mother hugging her child — then there will continue to be women who are unable to meet their breastfeeding goals.”
Over the past few years, McNish has produced other work inspired by her experience of motherhood, including a 2010 album called “PUSH KICK: a journey through the beauty, brilliance and bollocks of having a baby” (which includes a more positive take on the experience of breastfeeding) and “WOW!,” a poem written for the 2011 Women of the World Festival and “inspired by [her] baby daughter and her absolute love for her body.” Listen here:
UPDATE: 9:20 p.m. — In an email to HuffPost Parents, McNish explained why she waited a few years to share the poem — and discussed the tremendous reaction it’s received so far.
The poet, whose daughter is now 3, said she’s “in the process of putting together all the poems I didn’t share with people, that I wrote when [my baby] was under 1” — “a kind of 45 minute diary reading” full of “awkward things I thought no-one else was thinking or feeling” that will be out soon.
“My partner has been telling me I should share the poem for a long time and, well, I’ve been too embarrassed,” she explained. But now she wishes she’d shared it earlier, because “all of the comments and support would have helped me so so much then.” Still, she’s optimistic that it will be meaningful for moms who are nursing now: “I just hope it helps other people realise they’re not on their own for feeling embarrassed about something they know they shouldn’t.”
Furthermore, she’s quick to clarify that she is not “against formula feeding full stop,” writing: “I hate the divide created between mums because of this issue.” Rather, she opposes the heavy marketing of formula to moms who have no trouble breastfeeding. “So many friends of mine swapped to formula because of embarrassment and no other reason. That makes me really hate our culture.”