Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Roanna Rosewood, Ashland, OR, USA
Image: Literary Tandem by Ketzia Schoneberg
Restaurant exhibit celebrates breastfeeding through colorful paintings of tandem nursing.
When Ketzia Schoneberg asked if I would be willing to display her beautiful tandem nursing paintings at my restaurant, I immediately declined. “I support breastfeeding,” I tried to explain, “but I don’t want my customers to feel uncomfortable.” Delighting my customers isn’t just an abstract goal. It’s my livelihood. It’s what I focus all of my attention on, every single workday. Adorning the walls with anything controversial simply wasn’t an option to the restaurateur in me.
The problem is I’m not just a restaurateur. I’m also a passionate advocate of breastfeeding. Before my children weaned, advocacy was an easy part of everyday life. When I sensed someone else’s discomfort over my quietly nursing baby, I would walk up to them and engage in light conversation. I didn’t do it to make them uncomfortable. I did it to normalize breastfeeding.
In my book, Cut, Stapled, & Mended: When One Woman Reclaimed Her Body and Gave Birth on Her Own Terms After Cesarean, I devote an entire chapter to the pleasures of nursing. And as the vice-director of Human Rights in Childbirth, I work to establish women’s fundamental right to make decisions about their bodies and babies, a right that I’ve always been quick to say must reach beyond courtrooms and hospitals into our daily conversations and experiences. So how could I, a woman so passionate about breastfeeding that my family regularly refers to me as “Nummie Woman,” have let the words “I support breastfeeding but I don’t want to make my customers uncomfortable,” fall out of my mouth? Isn’t this exactly what other business people say when they kick breastfeeding mamas out of their establishments? It’s not enough that my restaurant or any other business “allows” breastfeeding. We must nurture it.
Mortified by my own hypocrisy, I apologized to Ketzia and asked her to display her beautiful work in my restaurant. It’s made quite an impact. In the 132 art shows we have displayed over the last 15 years, never before has an exhibit caused people entering the restaurant to stop in their tracks, their mouths agape, to circle slowly. We’ve only received a couple off-base remarks. One customer said, “Somebody has a boob fetish!” Another looked intently for a while before exclaiming, “I get it. It’s about feeding the hungry children.” Were tandem nursing and breastfeeding older children so unbelievable to him that the only way he could interpret them was to turn it into a representation of ending starvation?
The restaurateur in me is relieved that about a third of the customers I’ve asked, “What do you think about the art show?” are quick to say that they “aren’t offended.” But the activist in me notes that no one has ever felt the need to clarify his lack of offense at our art before. A good number of customers, when asked, “What do you think of the art show?” say something about the colors or textures of the paintings. They mention one subject’s green hair or red cheeks, anything but nursing or breasts. I imagine that if thought bubbles could appear above their heads, they would read, “Just pretend you don’t see breasts.” But I’m delighted to report that there has also been a lot of excitement about the show. Women are pulling friends and family into our restaurant, not just for lunch, but to see the art and verbalize their support:
- “It helps bring awareness to the importance of breastfeeding.”
- “It’s great to see breasts displayed that are not being sexualized.”
- “Breasts are just body parts.”
- “Breastfeeding links all humans together.”
- “It brings back sweet nursing memories.”
- “The art reminds me of the Virgin Mary.”
- “They are absolutely beautiful and full of positive energy.”
- “How beautiful to see a woman breastfeeding her child!”
My favorite reaction was from a young man. “I’m shocked.” He gasped. “But that’s a good thing!” He wasn’t shocked to see breasts on display. One doesn’t have to look far to see those. He was shocked that the breasts surrounding him were being celebrated for something other than stimulating others. Breasts are no more offensive than elbows, necks or knees. What is offensive is what we’ve allowed society to do to them.
Ketzia’s work reclaims our breasts. It’s an honor to host her beautiful work in my restaurant where, all month, you’ll find me “eating crow.”
Roanna Rosewood is an international award-winning speaker and best-selling author, the vice-director of Human Rights in Childbirth, and co-founder of BirthPlan Radio. You can find her restaurant here.
Ketzia Schoneberg lives and works in Ashland, OR. Her paintings are held in private collections nationally, and her work can be viewed online.