I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard someone say this about my newborn daughter, Kendall. It is, after all, what you say when you meet a new baby.
It’s also what my faith says about newborns. According to the Psalmist, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Of course, babies are beautiful. They are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.
Yet, it doesn’t take long before we stop believing this about ourselves. Most – if not all females I know – have body image issues.
I know I do.
Interestingly, pregnancy is one of the things that has helped redeem my body image. No matter how plump I got or how awful I felt during pregnancy, I loved my body because it was doing what God intended it to do.
In many ways, nursing has had a similar effect on me.
My first daughter and I fought hard to be able to nurse. After weeks of struggling, a kind-hearted lactation consultant helped us to flourish for the next 13 months, during which I exclusively breastfed Hope.
During those 13 months, I nursed everywhere: In every room of my house, at stores, on park benches, on vacations, at work, on retreats, at conferences I spoke at, and even once as a group of my mostly male peers laid hands on me and prayed for me.
The experience of nursing was redemptive and in so many ways, holy - enabling me to encounter the feminine side of God.
When we found out we were pregnant with Kendall, I wanted to be able to nurse her as I had Hope. I was thrilled to learn that our new hospital was “family-friendly”, dedicated to promoting early breastfeeding. Sure enough, within an hour after delivering Kendall via a scheduled C-section, she was at my breast suckling. For her, nursing has come relatively easy and once again, I’ve found myself relishing its sacredness.
Like before, I’ve also found myself nursing in a variety of places.
Sadly, however, I’ve also been amazed at the places it’s become clear to me that breastfeeding is UNWELCOME.
Most often, these places are Christian – either organizations or churches. It’s like the evangelical obsession with sexual sin has ensured that people think any sexual organ – including our breasts – are inherently sinful.
Recently, I’d planned to go to a couple of events and breastfeed... Until, that is, I learned that the expectation was that if I needed to nurse, I’d have to leave the room – something that immediately triggered shame in me. And what most Christian women – myself included – don’t need is MORE shame attached to our body image or sexual identity.
Why is it that breasts – even when they are doing the very thing that God intended them to do like nourish a baby - are the objects of shame for so many Christians? Do we not believe that breasts were created by a God who declared them – along with every other part of the female anatomy - good?
If that’s the case then there should be no shame in publicly nursing… regardless of where nursing is occurring. If I can confidently nurse at a park, library, or shopping mall, then surely I should also be able to do so in a Christian setting amongst people who claim to value and honor families.
Maybe if such places not only allowed but welcomed nursing women, breasts (and the rest of our sex organs) would start to be redeemed. Maybe then we’d start to believe that ALL people – not just cute little seven-week old newborns – really are fearfully and wonderfully made… From our brains to our toes, including every seemingly unmentionable object in between, like our breasts.