Whipped to a frenzy

My in-laws, lets call them Peaches & Cream, are furious with us. She wrote us an email, since she “was so hurt by this” and couldn’t speak without emotion.

Cream has informed us that they will no longer visit our house.

She is worried that our children will have no friends.

She also hinted we could lose our children if social services find out.

She wrote that we’ll find out the truth when we die. I sense in her writing a tinge of glee in the thought of being proven right as we go to hell to suffer for eternity. I want this to be my imagination, but …

The reason for this onslaught of doom: a painting hung above the computer.

I did a self portrait of my nursing my baby. I love it. I wanted to remember what it was like to look down on my babies as they gazed up at me. To remember that connection of so many levels. The baby and the baby’s eyes are the focal point of the picture and exactly what I saw as I breastfed.

I have seen many drawings and photos of women breastfeeding, but never from the mother’s perspective. I didn’t want to forget either the joy of new eyes locking on my own or the pain of engorgement and let down (think electrified toothache). I wanted to remember and to share that intimate mother-bond experience.

Apparently what I see as mother-love, Cream sees as pornography. I do remember the face-book blocking and angry emails sent when I had a photo of my bare shoulder and a naked laughing baby as my picture. Because of that, I talked about taking down the sketch during the in-laws visit with my father first.

He is a photographer and framed the sketch for me. He also was the editor of La Leche newsletter when I was a baby. But he is also very sensitive to other people and a peacemaker. He still saw no problem but none of us were aware of Cream’s anger towards seeing breastfeeding babies.

Cream states that we did this to spite her, shock her, dis-respect and dis-honor her (her spelling).

She also writes:

“nudity is ‘almost always’ sexual” (The baby is nude, I find her statement more than troublesome.)

“it [would] my duty to report this to social services … in today’s age of sexual abuse… my child would not return to your house to visit”

“until I know that anything has changed I do not feel welcome or comfortable in your home as long as you are making this statement… I will remain elsewhere.”

My lover wrote a calm and thoughtful response explaining why we feel it is healthy for children to see breastfeeding and how harmful that hiding bodies and being ashamed of them had been to himself personally. He explained that we had thought to take it down remembering the explosive reaction Cream had to my Facebook picture but that no other people from my parents to professors to coworkers had given us negative feedback but instead assured us there was no problem. In the end, we didn’t take it down because we were busy and had forgotten all about it.

Cream replied:

“That is dishonest and disrespectful to me. To ask others, and not me, only indicates that perhaps you also feel that your choice of hanging the picture might have been considered inappropriate”
Was she mistaken on the reasons I did not discuss this picture with her!

“I am sorry you do not understand at this time… my concern is only for the girls”

She said we called her “out to lunch”, which we had not in any sense. We said that we appreciated her many strengths but that did not stop us from learning things on our own.

“Have you really been fair about making that judgment (about being ‘out to lunch’ and old-fashioned – again, her words, not ours) about me ? especially if you had really read what I have written?”

The hypocrisy gets me at this line. I have to laugh. Sad laughter.

She was right that I do want to make a statement with my sketch, I wish to say : breastfeeding is beautiful, bodies are beautiful, mother-love is beautiful.

Of course I would take down the painting if they ever come to visit, but I will not retract that statement.

She informed me that she lost respect for me and that I would have to earn it back.  I feel like I have lost more than respect for her – I have lost the ability to be myself around her or share my values and passions with her and I no longer feel safe leaving my children with her for long periods of time.  I grieve the loss of a potential friendship based on mutual respect.  She remains a beloved grandmother, but one who will not have the opportunity of unsupervised time with my girls.



17 thoughts on “Whipped to a frenzy

  1. Holy mackerel! I thought that this was going to be outrage over some bold statement of unbelief… but over a painting? (Nice writing style by the way, holding out for that punchline!)

    Prairie Nymph, as I read your description of your painting, I thought “that is an awesome and beautiful perspective!” I mean, wow! I don’t even have children, but I can (at least somewhat) understand that special, natural, and beautiful bonding time between a mother and her child. To capture that essence, and from your own perspective, is simply wonderful.

    I think Cream may have some very serious issues, quite possibly with her own body or a disturbing memory in the past regarding her own flesh. Or worse, on which I will not elaborate.

    It’s a shame that she is like that. I hope that she heals her mind, but until then, I think you are on the right track not to allow unsupervised time for your girls with her.

  2. Whenever someone sees all nudity as sexual, I feel sad.

    My first experience skinny-dipping was so wonderful. I was at a festival, and we had a lake to ourselves. There were about a hundred people, mostly middle-aged women. I was twenty, and I’d never seen a big group of naked people before. And I remember thinking, we are all so beautiful! Look at all these human beings! Look at all the varieties of color and size and shape! It was totally a non-sexual thing. And I realized, huh, getting older won’t be so scary. The older women were still confident and beautiful.

    When people say terrible things about breastfeeding, I get infuriated. I love boobs sexually and aesthetically and I have worn my share of clothing to show them off. But that doesn’t make breastfeeding a sexual thing. When I see women breastfeed in public, if we make eye contact I smile.

    In theory his moms supports breastfeeding, doesn’t she? For the health of babies? And doesn’t she assume your daughters will one day grow up and have children of their own and breastfeed them? How is it so awful to see a painting of that?

  3. Mórrígan says:

    This just makes me so sad. To think of a person unable to understand and relate to that kind of beauty and love breaks my heart. Breastfeeding is beautiful, and if someone can’t help but see it as sexual, well, they’re the one with the problem. I hope you set her right about her ridiculous thinly veiled threat about social services. Has she seen Anne Geddes’s work? Nekkid babies and mothers galore! I don’t see anyone calling social services on her or the women she depicts.

  4. Ahab says:

    Wow. Just … wow.

  5. Tanya would also be shocked. In this country, women think nothing of showing off the maximum body the law will allow but breast feeding is still something one does in the privacy of the bedroom. I hated leaving our kids at my folks when they were young because I never knew what they were likely to feed them in the name of “health”. Of course I needn’t have worried, I know now. But poisoning minds is another matter.

  6. How sad that she is so ashamed of the female body and of such a beautiful and natural bonding experience between mother and baby. How very sad.

    Her insistence that you feel the same sick shame is just, well, a shame. I agree – you are wise to not allow her any unsupervised time with your children. Her dirty mind is poison. Moreover, she has demonstrated a profound lack of respect for you that she is sure to try to pass on to your children. My former MIL used every chance she had my children alone to do the same, notwithstanding my (misplaced) trust that she would put their emotional health before her own selfish and sick interests.

    I love the way you describe your self-portrait, and am more than a little envious of your artistic talents. You have memorialized a beautiful moment. If it were me, I’d keep it on the wall. It’s your home and she can start showing you the proper respect you deserve or she can stay home. If they don’t like it, f*** ’em.

    • prairienymph says:

      Cream runs a day home. She has amazing management skills and obvious experience with children so I feel a little funny that I worry about her being alone with my kids. Of course, the other sister-in-law limits that time too which helps me feel a little less paranoid. Sis-in-law has nudy mom and baby photos at her house but Cream won’t visit her so they haven’t been seen.

      I am worried that I will do/say/not-do something that will do harm to the relationship of grandkids and grandparents. Blog Fodder, your parents filled our heads with rhymes and jokes and their no-sugar stance meant we ate too much honey, but it is hard to know what the best thing to do is. We cancelled a trip to Mexico for my grad reunion because we no longer trust these people not to traumatize Lil’T. I don’t begrudge the trip, but I still second-guess myself. At least my husband is confident that we can’t trust them.

      Morrigan, that was beautiful! I’m sure I’ve seen Anne Geddes at their house. And triangle-top bikinis on Cream. I think bikinis more sexual than breastfeeding, but hey, I breastfed in public and after losing a bikini top in front of my male high school friends I’ve never worn one again.

      April, you are right! I felt much better about aging when I saw nude older women. They were so beautiful!

      WiseFool, sometimes I am extremely tempted to let the family know I am a bisexual atheist! Right now non-evangelical is enough.
      I think Creams main issue is her social group. She once studied biology, painted, and wore homemade bikinis. Now she believes in the 6 day creationism that her church condones and is frequently scandalized by her young son’s friend who is ‘tempted by homosexuality’.

  7. Kirstin says:

    My friend, your post provoked a long discussion between Brent and I on the topic. And we are both firmly in favour of your confidently displaying your sketch. What if it had been a Manet or Matisse painting–would it have been acceptable by nature of being painted by a famous artist?

    As a woman and mother and as a card-carrying member of the La Leche League, I completely agree with your statement “breastfeeding is beautiful, bodies are beautiful, mother-love is beautiful.” Truly.

    I’m totally in favour of public breastfeeding as a way to educate–that breastfeeding is healthy and natural, that breasts are not inherently only sexual, and that a breasts can exist BOTH as a way of nourishing babies and as a beautiful part of a woman’s body. But we have talked about that before.

    It seems so odd that your MIL would respond in such a way, but perhaps she is reacting to more than simply to a sketch on the wall…and rather to your whole transformation in the past couple of years? At the same time, I’m fairly certain that my inlaws would react similarly if the situation came up around here…

  8. limey says:

    I think I share the sadness of other posters when I read this. So much that could be spoilt by so little.

    There is a photo that my wife and I have had in our bedroom since our daughter was a baby. It is a photo that my wife loves and its one I took of her breastfeeding. Technically its not the best photo in the world, but its a good photo. More importantly its what it shows and symbolises.

    On the subject of nakedness and sexuality. Its a strange thing. I now no longer take photos of my daughter in the bath and a before that stopped getting in the bath with her, even when she asked me to. When does the line between naked innocence and inappropriateness get crossed? I wish I knew because when my wife and I discussed it we could not reach a conclusion and so decided the above activities should be stopped well in advance. I suggest that Cream has it drawn way too early.

    • Mórrígan says:

      I think you raise a very important question. There is definitely a cultural neurosis about nudity and sex, especially with adults and children, which of course is why so many people think breastfeeding is sexual. Why is it that, if a woman can be trusted not to sexually abuse an infant who is sucking at her nipple, a part of the body definitely stimulated during sex, neither men nor women can apparently be trusted to be naked anywhere near their own child and not abuse them (bathing together is a perfect example)?

  9. prairienymph says:

    @Kirsten, I think you are right that the issue is not just semi-public breastfeeding. All they know is that
    1) we no longer attend an evangelical church and my husband is a liberal Christian
    2) we think evolution is more plausible than young earth myth
    3) we may not think homosexuality is sin
    Those three things really bother them and I think the first one more than the rest. I think you relate?

    @Limey, I think the line does depend on the person and their relationship to their culture. There is no absolute. I know adult children who are completely comfortable being nude with their parents. Social context is important and individual need for privacy. Most kids need more privacy during puberty, but they let you know.

  10. Quince says:

    prairienymph, I am saddened to hear about your family issues. You should be more like my family – where NOTHING is discussed, haha!

    I would have recommended the HBO series “Game of Thrones” to you, but there is a 10 year old boy that is still breastfeeding from his queen mother, and that may cause more scandal than it’s worth 🙂

  11. ... Zoe ~ says:

    Yikes. I had no idea your last post (with your breast feeding picture) was about this. I commented there before I read this post.

    You know what bothers me most about her response to you? Her threat to call child services. I wonder if that was just a panicked response that she thought would get your attention so that you would yield to her demands or if she has seriously thought through such a threat. First of all, child services is swamped with real issues and I have to think they might roll over laughing at her for suggesting they’d take your kids from your home because of breast feeding art.

    Secondly, lets for a moment look at a worse case scenerio and for some reason they take your kids out of the home. Is she as a grandmother prepared to lose her grandchildren permanently? Does she think that putting them in another foster home means she’ll have control over them or ever get to see them? She needs to think long and hard about her threat and what it ultimately could mean to her and to her grandchildren.

    If we need to remove children due to a piece of art showing boobs, then we need to remove the other children from the home while mommy is breastfeeding. Why didn’t she call child protective services to take your first born out while you breast fed second born. Surely there must have been some boob around then, right?

    Okay, here are my other thoughts. She’s probably terrified of what her “Christian” friends will think of her and who knows, maybe they are helping to feed her panic over your lifestyle.

  12. prairienymph says:

    Zoe, I think you are right about the panic feeding of “Christian” friends. There has been no similar outrage over similar pictures of the sis-in-law and her baby hanging in their living room. That family now attends church regularly.

    Quince, I think we’ve passed a line now. I doubt we can go back to that.

  13. Quince says:

    Just to reply to Zoe’s comment about calling social services – I agree with her, I would not have reacted well to this threat. This is a very serious legal tool, and not to be used in casual argument against anyone, especially a mother. If anything, I think this comment from her needs to be dealt with in no uncertain terms, even if you agree to disagree about everything else.

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