Breastfeeding Mom at College Graduation

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think about the woman who was photographed breastfeeding her baby at her graduation ceremony?




Dear Carly:

Here’s a brief background. On May 22, 2014, Karlesha Thurman received a degree in accounting from California State University, Long Beach, and after crossing the stage and returning to her seat, her friends said that they wanted to meet her daughter, Aaliyah. After getting her daughter from her mother, Thurman said that three-month-old Aaliyah “became fussy.” Thurman then began breastfeeding her daughter, without covering up and without apologizing.

“I did it to show it’s natural, it’s normal, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Thurman said. “I didn’t even know there was a big controversy about breastfeeding in public until all this happened,” she continued. A photo of Thurman breastfeeding at her graduation ceremony went viral, and some supported her while others condemned what to many people is a natural bonding experience between mother and child.

Let me first say that I have no children, and perhaps my choice to remain childless colors my views about this situation. However, simply because something is “normal” or “natural” does not automatically make it something that should be done in public. Would Thurman have changed her daughter’s smelly diaper in front of everyone if that had been the reason for her baby’s fussiness? After all, peeing and pooping are natural and normal, too, yet we expect parents to retreat to a private area when changing their child’s diapers.

May I ask why it would have been so difficult for Thurman to at least cover up while she breastfed? Why hadn’t she pumped earlier and used a bottle so not to have to whip out her breast and breastfeed around other students who just came to celebrate their graduation from Cal-State, Long Beach and not sit next to a baby and her breastfeeding mom? I imagine that somewhere in the building there was a bottle since Thurman’s baby had been in the care of her grandmother prior to her having retrieved her.

For some, Thurman’s “act” was a welcomed event, as pediatricians work to encourage more black women to breastfeed. Said Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a pediatrician at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey: “It’s a wonderful image because it brings together the fact that’s she’s educated, and is going to be an educated professional, and black and choosing to breastfeed…. It’s just nice to have more and more role models of black women breastfeeding.”

Listen, it’s nice that Thurman wants this photo to dispel the stereotype that black women don’t breastfeed, but she doesn’t curry any favor to those who point out that being another black woman who has given birth out of wedlock fulfills another stereotype, too. I understand why more and more women of all colors are choosing to breastfeed in public, perhaps they are doing it as a protest or simply out of sheer necessity. I’m a proud feminist who does not want to “shame” mothers who choose to breastfeed in public, but what is so shameful about covering up when public breastfeeding really is the only option? 


 While normalization of public breastfeeding is on the rise, there are still women who feel uncomfortable nursing in public for fear of judgment of others, and with the recent backlash against Ms. Thurman, it’s no wonder why. This woman was doing nothing but feeding her child, and it has erupted into a social media frenzy with both supporters and naysayers. Not only is the law on Ms. Thurman’s side, but she was only doing what is natural: feeding her hungry child.

Breastfeeding can become complicated. Sometimes baby can’t use a bottle (my 8-month-old breastfeeding baby still hasn’t figured out the concept of a bottle), and sometimes mothers don’t respond to breast pumps, sometimes babies just prefer the comfort that only a mother can give. Regardless of the reason why, it is nobody’s business but Ms. Thurman’s if she chooses to nurse her child, no matter where she chooses to do so.  Remember when people couldn’t even show their ankles in public?

Let’s consider this: unless you are 25-year-old Karlesha Thurman, this doesn’t affect you at all. Why is everyone getting so fired up about a woman feeding her baby? It’s sad that no one would even have batted an eye at her giving her infant a bottle, yet she has quickly become an internet sensation under fire for her healthy and natural choice. That picture was beautiful, in my opinion, and that’s about as far as I’ll go to worry about it. I’m so proud of her for finishing her degree with a kid. It’s hard to do. I graduated last spring with two toddlers and pregnant with number three. I start my graduate degree in the fall, and I’m nervous about juggling schoolwork and three crazy kids. I digress.

Let’s all get back to worrying about Rhianna walking the red carpet naked—I mean, wearing Swarovski crystals that show off her nipples, butt crack, and pubic area—and leave Thurman alone. Because for some people it’s totally okay for Rhianna to prance around naked in public for millions to see, yet some of these same people condemn Thurman for having simply nursed her baby in public. 

Priorities, people. Priorities.


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