Guest Post: An Open Letter to the Stake President Concerned about Breastfeeding

Federico Zandomeneghi, “Young Woman Writing a Letter”

By Artemis

Dear Stake President,

I hear that you have a special concern for the delicate sensibilities of the porn addicts and lusty teenage priesthood holders when it comes to their exposure to female skin in the bosom region whilst females are feeding their babies. I have a few ideas on how to prevent lustiness from infecting our hallowed chapel walls:

-Invite those distracted to sit in the rear of the chapel. Sacrament administration duties or speaking assignments that make viewing a nursing mother an inevitable event may need to be postponed until these priesthood holders are ready to obey our Lord’s commandment to not lust after women.

-Institute a curriculum that teaches youth and adults about the needs of breastfeeding infants and mothers. Remove the fetish by normalizing one of the most ubiquitous, non-sexual human events on the planet. Emphasize that this is one way to powerfully support mothers in their sacred role.

-Procure LDS artwork that depicts uncovered breastfeeding for buildings in your stake to combat myths about the church’s stance against public breastfeeding.

-Hold a special combined youth and older meeting during third hour to discuss the wickedness in our culture’s objectification of women, and discuss how we can reverse the cultural conditioning we’ve all been exposed to. Highlight that uncovered breastfeeding is the norm in almost all other LDS congregations around the world.

-Invite ward Relief Society presidents to give talks in their wards about the divinely-designed miracle of breastfeeding, including a summary of all sacred breastfeeding metaphors in scripture (Isaiah 49:15, 1 Nephi 21, etc.).

-Give a talk during stake or ward conferences on how expecting women to alter their behavior to accommodate the vices of men is sexist, wrong, and out of line with our doctrines concerning personal accountability (Article of Faith #2) and our ability to obey all commandments God has given (1 Nephi 3:7).

-Institute a special Sunday school class on godly manhood that includes material on reversing the harmful effects of the world’s philosophy that men cannot conquer their base desires. Emphasize our doctrine that we must transcend our carnal state through the power and mercy of Jesus Christ (Mosiah 3:19).

-Acknowledge that porn addicts and teenagers have little control over the public environment, and that they will encounter female bodies in many forms and contexts, and will therefore be tasked with regulating their internal condition.

-Refer porn addicts to mental health care professionals who can help them with their addictions or fixations.

-Encourage any who are distracted by breastfeeding women to explore resources on meditation and other mindfulness practices that help develop mastery over one’s mind and thoughts.

-Designate a small room for the tempted to retreat to. The room should have a functioning audio system, be furnished with comfortable chairs, and not be connected to a smelly bathroom, but maybe not.

-Commission a stake-wide young men’s activity where the quorums are taught to sew or crochet small, eye-covering masks, to be worn during times of temptation. Some young men might sometimes push boundaries and wear skimpy masks that permit peeking, so you may want to avoid danger by instead making bags to be placed over their heads. This will be hot and make eating and fully participating in life difficult, but personal sacrifice is often required to protect chastity.

-Encourage all able women to nurse their babies without pressure to cover or hide in an effort to further renormalize breastfeeding for the rising generation. This will teach them what normal breasts look like and what their primary purpose is (refer to church-published A Parent’s Guide, Chapter 5). As little boys see their mothers and their primary teachers and their friends’ mothers nursing, they will grow up with a healthy concept of female breasts, and will be less likely to google “What do boobs look like?” because they will already have learned this within the sacred and appropriate context of motherhood. Removing taboos around women’s bodies will combat lust and porn addiction.

Or,

Force all breastfeeding mothers to cover their babies while they nurse, regardless of the needs or preferences of mother or baby. Those who do not obey your will should be stripped of their temple recommends for daring to defy your authority and power. If husbands do not agree to command their wives to comply, strip them of their recommends as well.

There are many options to choose from, President! Some may affect the validity of your priesthood more than others.

Love,

A Sister in the Gospel

Artemis is a wife, mother of four children, and seeker of truth. She enjoys sewing and writing.

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48 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    This is outstanding, Artemis! So many of your ideas could actually happen, given reasonable enough local leadership. And the temptation retreat room, that may or may not be connected to a smelly bathroom, made me laugh!

  2. Tessa says:

    Love this.

  3. Suzanne says:

    Thank you Artemis. You just made my day.

  4. rlcpd says:

    Well stated, Artemis…although I will assume the first part is ‘sarcasm’ at its best. Public breast-feeding is one of those things that is ‘new and different’ in our culture and I am certainly in favor of progressing to an acceptance of this. MY repeated reaction is, however, WHY there is such resistance to a light covering?
    It eliminates the concerns that are the real issue why there is resistance. IF you were fully aware that in your presence will be those who are just plain offended, for many reasons, with the naked breast in public, what ever would stop you from using a light covering? It is called kindness and respect for THEIR point of view. It is a simple action to placate those … boys and men…who just are not accustomed to ‘seeing’ breast-feeding. It is not a ban on breast-feeding itself. I suggest that those who breast-feed refuse to cover are trying to make a statement about feminism rather than the feeding of their child.

    • Star says:

      I fully intend to write to the leaders listed in the articles published earlier. But as far as “Why is there such resistance to a light covering?” Because the baby won’t tolerate it. End of statement. Based on my own personal experience. We are already managing the following layers: breastfeeding G tops, a nursing bra, a nursing tank, a strategically chosen outer layer, even in July or August, to minimize peekage.” That is just what has been chosen for mom’s clothes. Then there is the baby; a curious, social, wiggly, sweaty, slobbery baby who we love but still has all the things I described, who may or may not have just blown out their diaper and need to be changed halfway through a feeding. An unnecessary layer is JUST.TOO.MUCH. For many women. And they may give up breastfeeding.

      As a woman’s health care provider, I am compelled to support breastfeeding. Period. ANYTHING that causes a woman to give up breastfeeding, especially with the strong implication that they are “resistant”, “immodest,” “sinning”, or otherwise shamed, is hands-down WRONG.

      I refused to cover *because the baby would pull it off every time* way before I ever considered myself a feminist. Hence, I refute outright your “trying to make a statement,” comment. If you haven’t walked a mile wearing my bra and breastfeeding my baby, then you can’t judge my intent in choosing to cover or not cover. It really is just.about.the.baby.

    • Artemis says:

      Breastfeeding is not new or different. It is as old as humanity and ubiquitous. Just because women have been shamed into covering for the past fifty years doesn’t mean it is inherently wrong.

      If men are uncomfortable because they are unaccustomed to seeing women breastfeeding, the solution is for them to become accustomed to seeing women breastfeeding. I do not need to respect a point of view that is grounded in falsehoods.

      Covering, even with a light blanket, can be impossible for many moms and babies. Babies pull blankets off, need help latching, get hot, enjoy and eye contact with their mothers.

      • MollyNoMore says:

        Well said.

      • Francisca says:

        I am not a men, I am a woman and mother of 2 children and it does make me uncomfortable. If you are asking for respect can you also offer the same?

      • Rachael says:

        Francisca, Your comment is a total non sequitur. Respect for others does not mean that you must capitulate to their demands. Imagine if a Muslim man said to you, “You’re uncovered hair is making me uncomfortable. In order for you to show respect to me you must have it covered everywhere you go.” Or imagine your mother-in-law said to you, “Breastfeeding grosses me out. In order to show respect for me, you must always bottle-feed your baby.” See, appropriate boundaries between you and others means that they don’t get to demand behavior from you and tell you you’re not respecting them if you don’t obey.

        This is especially true when you consider the harm that can be done to a child who does not get to breathe under the cover, who does not get to make eye contact with his mother, who might be suffering in sweltering heat. Or the new mother, who unable to contain her wiggly baby who keeps pushing the cover off, and feeling the judgement of a very un-Christlike ward, gives up on breastfeeding altogether. Why should your discomfort, which could be alleviated by just making the decision to get over it and look the other direction, outweigh hers, and outweigh hers to such an extent that you think you have the right to make demands of her that she privilege your comfort over her baby’s? You are not asking for respect, you are asking for blind obedience to your will; obedience in violation of what a mother knows is best for her child. How is that right?

    • Risa says:

      rlcpd, honest question – have you ever breastfed a baby before?

    • Joan of Mormon says:

      What about having respect for someone else’s point of view? Clearly she’s ok with not covering. Also, how about we start teaching our boys that sex exists in the world and they can master their own thoughts rather than trying to hide abytanyt that might tempt them away? Fact: breastfeeding is not sexual. Fact: boys will see over sexualized images. Teach them how to cope instead of ignoring the existence of breasts.

      If it were simply a feminist agenda.. we would have the men feed the babies.

      • Francisca says:

        Respect for different point of views goes both ways. I am not a boy or a man and I don’t like to be exposed to anybodys breast. Is that acceptable as well or are only opionios that agree with you welcome?

      • ElleK says:

        Francisca, that’s perfectly acceptable. If you see a woman nursing or preparing to nurse, I suggest that you either leave the area or avert your eyes. I can guarantee that no nursing mother will run after you and insist you look at her breast for the simple reason that what she’s doing isn’t about you. I’m curious why you feel entitled to people capitulating to your preferences when their actions have absolutely nothing to do with you.

    • Linnea says:

      As others have pointed out in many different places where I’ve seen this discussed, there are many babies who do not like being covered while nursing.

      For myself, *I* especially hated trying to use a cover. I hated not being able to see my daughter and make sure everything was going correctly (especially hard as a new mom, breastfeeding for the first time). I didn’t like trying to finagle the dang thing, I didn’t like having another layer on.

      Also, most of the times a breastfeeding mother is not actually showing that much. Some skin. Maybe a little more whenever baby readjusts or switches sides, but only for a minute. It is not at all difficult to just avert your eyes if it makes you uncomfortable.

      I definitely was not trying to make some huge feminist statement, though I consider myself a feminist. It was just me deciding what was best for my baby and I, and then proceeding.

    • Lindsay P says:

      Sometimes. Sometimes it is a political statement. But I’d put money on most moms doing it out of necessity, convenience, or laziness. I fall into the last category. My diaper bag is too full already. I live in a warm climate, so I have packed up baby blankets (one less load of laundry, one step closer to sanity) . Even light weight blankets get hot outside, though that wouldn’t apply at church. I’m lucky enough that my munchkin and boob size let me be discrete so frequently I can cover myself without a cover.

      But there are babies that hate a cover. They really will not tolerate it. There are and babies and moms that struggle with breast feeding. The process of latching and staying latched requires their full attention and two hands making a cover very impractical. There are more reasons why concerts don’t work sometimes.

      I’m trying to be more christ-like, but turns out being a mom is hard. And it didn’t take very many weeks of motherhood for me to stop caring if I am offending people. My thoughts were needed elsewhere. On the other hand, maybe I’m not actually being inconsiderate as I think more about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

    • Shauna says:

      Perhaps you would feel resistant to eating with a light cloth over your head? How about considering things from the point of view of a powerless infant, who would probably like to study her mother’s face she nurses. It’s a sacred and special bond.

    • Sally says:

      rlcpd, I have heard this response so very many times, over the 20 years I have been a breastfeeding counselor. It seems a simple request. Your tone is respectful and sincere. I really appreciate that.

      It is not as simple as that. Babies deserve to be able to see their surroundings as they eat; you and I have that privilege. Babies deserve to be able to make eye contact with their mother, or anyone else in their vicinity while they eat; you and I get to do that. Babies deserve to be able to breathe fresh air and not feel boxed in or stifled while they eat, drink and fall asleep; you and I get to enjoy that. A baby at the breast is not a plug-and-play,mechanical process; it’s a living, breathing, social, nourishing, human, ordinary interaction that doesn’t need to be hidden any more than a mother hugging a baby who has bumped her head and needs comfort, or a mother and child sharing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

      To expect a baby, or curious toddler, to be still and “convenient” and “perform” a frequent, normal part of their life under a “light cover” is not only impractical, but instills shame in mothers and babies for whom that is just plain frustrating or uncomfortable.

      It’s a really challenging perspective shift. I really do understand. It’s not making a feminist statement to breastfeed uncovered; it’s a human right.

      As more women feel welcome to feed their babies in the places they normally spend time, and the more children and youth and adults witness this with normalcy, the more of those children and youth will come into adulthood with a healthy, normal, no-big-deal view of a little breast here and there. All around the world today, and for all of humanity, breasts have been for babies. We can reclaim that sense of normalcy.

      blessings

    • Mandy says:

      In case you were not aware, some babies absolutely refuse to be covered. Some moms need to see what they are doing. And covers limit air circulation. This baby was 18 mo, nursing in the foyer to go away from mom to nursery for the next two hours. No way would my babies let me cover them. I’d be much more likely to expose a nipple with a cover because they’d unlatch and move the cover.

    • Candiss Petersen says:

      Some men are uncomfortable with any part of the female body showing and believe that women should be completely covered by wearing a burka. Perhaps all women should wear burkas so as not to offend those men. Wouldn’t that be kindness and respect for THEIR point of view? It’s a simple action to placate those…boys and men… who just are not accustomed to ‘seeing’ women. It’s not a ban on women themselves. I suggest that those women who refuse to cover themselves with a burka are surely just trying to make a statement about feminism.

    • Francisca Handy says:

      I am in total agreement with you.

  5. MollyNoMore says:

    This is fantastic. Thank you, Artemis. You are genius. Let’s go nail this to every chapel door in the country.

  6. Glenn Thigpen says:

    And, the lady could have covered up and not made this a public spectacle with all of this public hand wringing and Stake President bashing that is being so greatly lauded. Great work indeed.

    • Stephanie says:

      Blaming the woman who didn’t cover is gaslighting, and distracting from the issue at hand. No one is bashing the person, just publicly disagreeing with his actions. The church was founded on the concept of common consent and therefore a president to speak out against unrighteous Dominion. You might be ok with his actions, however I am not. And I can find no scripture where Christ supports the SP’s actions, or condems a mother breastfeeding without covering.

      • All Heart says:

        Yes, Christ probably saw uncovered breastfeeding most of the days of his life. If it was something he needed to address, he most certainly would have. But what did he address? Priestcraft, unrighteous dominion, people not taking care of children, and men lusting after women.

        Sounds like he would be on one side of this issue, and based on the record in the scriptures, it doesn’t sound like it would be the side of the stake president, Glenn.

  7. CS Eric says:

    Did this lady really make this “a public spectacle”? Only the people who personally know her know who she is, and her name, the name of her bishop, and the name of her stake president have not been disclosed. It isn’t about the specific people involved, it is about the idea that a bishop and stake president somehow think that breastfeeding is an unrighteous activity, one that requires the loss of a temple recommend.

  8. Don't Mess with Texas says:

    Dear rlcpd, breastfeeding is far from “new and different” in our culture. It is “new” only to those of us who are baby-boomers and younger, as it was the social norm until the early 1940s. At that time the formula industry began to shamelessly market baby milk substitutes as more “scientific” and therefore preferable to breastmilk. However, the fact is that breastmilk is far superior to formula and always will be, if for no other reason than that breastmilk contains antibodies that have a significant protective function in both newborn and maternal health. Nursing fell out of fashion during World War II as women entered the workforce and formula became widely available–even encouraged–by hospitals who received monetary benefits for advancing its use. Not until the 1970s did things begin to change and it has taken 40 years for women and babies to have laws that protect breastfeeding rights in all 50 states. How do I know this? I am a mother and grandmother, a registered nurse certified in high-risk pregnancy management, and a licensed midwife and have personally lived this history. Here is an article on the subject by a third-party, if you are interested: https://www.the-exponent.com/guest-post-an-open-letter-to-the-stake-president/comment-page-1/#comment-1566727

    Legally, I think that it is a real problem for church leaders to attempt to override laws with regard to breastfeeding, even when the activity occurs on Church property.

    And for the record, heaven help the man or woman who challenges me or my breastfeeding, lactivist daughters on this matter of nursing in public. And as far as this northern Utah stake is concerned, I think a nurse-in would be a wonderful educational option i addition to the many fine ideas listed above from Artemis. A nurse-in is virtually guaranteed to desensitize even the most readily-offended individuals. It is personally and politically satisfying, guarantees widespread press coverage, and is much less expensive for both the plaintiff and defendant than a lawsuit.

  9. Awilley says:

    Thank you for writing this. I didn’t realize what a hassle breastfeeding could be until our first kiddo came along. Somebody gave us a cover/blanket thingy and my wife tried using it once or twice but it simply didn’t work. She didn’t like it and the baby didn’t like it. After that she ditched it and things were good ever since. Never one complaint from any of the ward members. My heart goes out to the struggles this family is enduring at the hands of their church leaders. And good for that husband for standing up for his wife.

  10. HHB says:

    To all the commenters who keep circling back to that Holy Grail, the *simple, light, covering*…

    I am currently in the midst of a mutually-agreed-upon weaning process with a wiggly, ridiculously distractable 15-month-old who has NEVER had the attention span or wherewithal to nurse like a good normal human boy. Keeping him latched with any consistency has required near-constant vigilance for countless hours over the last year+ of my life as he goes on and off the breast like an old man sipping lemonade on a lazy summer afternoon.

    But that’s not all! I also have the good fortune to be generously endowed by my creator with the brazen bosoms of a temptress. Bosoms that require additional maneuvering and continuous manual support to keep the whole absurd process going. Which I have done. For hours. Every day. For the last fifteen months. Through nothing more than Sheer. Relentless. Orneriness.

    Perhaps a wise Priesthood-holding engineer could devise the logistics of some process whereby I am able to use one hand to keep my breast properly supported and positioned for latching, use the other arm to keep my adorable wriggling cinderblock of a son in place, and still have the dexterity to maintain perfect modesty with this splendid light covering I keep hearing so much about. I’m thinking maybe some sort of oral or forehead apparatus?

    Luckily, I am in an awesome ward where no one has said a word to me about nursing in the pews. It makes me chuckle mirthlessly to imagine that anyone seeing me wrestle with this boy AND the breasts I have been made to feel painfully self-conscious of since puberty could interpret the frustrating spectacle as some kind of prurient exhibitionism on my part.

    So you/your wife/your sister/mother/daughter/cousin/neighbor/whomever nursed 14 babies under a handmade quilt on the head of a pin without ever breaking a sweat or flashing a sliver of inappropriate flesh… Bully for her!!! She must have been extra super righteous to have been blessed with such a cooperative body and infant. Maybe a modicum of compassion could be mustered, though, for those of us telestial nursing moms who didn’t qualify for that blessing—probably due to us being fence-sitters in the pre-existence or some such.

    • Olea says:

      (I love you!)

    • Kari says:

      HHB: Moms get to decide how, when, and what and where to feed their baby. Kudos to you for following your concscience in a world where we often forget that mothering is hard and we forget to just support them in their decisions.

      Also. You made me snort with the “old man sipping lemonade commment.”

    • Mandy says:

      Thank you. Perfectly describes. I was shamed by a recent RM because he knows someone with SEVEN kids and 10 years of experience so he knows it’s possible to cover up. Of course I only have 5 years experience. 🙄

    • Jennifer says:

      OMG LMAO! I’m going to screen shot this comment. You are a goddess!

    • Artemis says:

      I love this. I also have a wriggling cinderblock for a son. The struggle is real.

  11. Olea says:

    Artemis, I have just this minute realised I’ve never heard of any “godly manhood” classes ever. I kind of want to see a curriculum for men/young men that’s centred around how Christ treated women.

    He never told any woman “if you would just be a little more compliant, it would be easier for all these men to be righteous”. I mourn that so many people do choose to react that way.

  12. MDearest says:

    When I have breastfeeding pushback fatigue, I have come to read this again. Conquering base desires, Godly Manhood curriculum, little eye covers/head bags to ward off temptation– such a delightful essay. And all of you commenters who read this and still recommend light covers for decorum because kindness for the boys and men who aren’t accustomed to seeing breasts used non-sexually blah blah, You’re showing that you didn’t finish reading this essay. Go back and read the last bullet point (before “Or”) which spells out briefly, succinctly, and convincingly why we should not create any more fragile dudes who can’t handle women’s bodies doing motherhood in whatever way mother sees fit.

  13. Cyrena says:

    This was a fun read! I loved the points it made. I’m so curious about this bishop and stake president. I consider my ward to be in an extremely conservative Utah ward, yet they have never said a word to me as I have nursed uncovered week after week up on the stand while I was the music chorister. In another ward, I nursed for months on the stand as the organist. The only times I have gone to the mother’s lounge is when my child needed to be in a dark room long enough to concentrate and eat and was too distracted by everyone. Right off the bat, I considered covering myself as silly and impractical. I nurse everywhere, and I have never even gotten a disproving look from a stranger. I’m sad this hasn’t been every woman’s experience. I really wish I could talk to this bishop and stake president and talk through why they feel the way they do. It just feels like such an illogical decision to take away her recommend that I’m extremely curious about these individuals.

  14. Dave K says:

    There’s another solution to consider. Let the young women pass the sacrament.

  15. KP says:

    I really don’t get it. This is more about an agenda and bashing the “patriarchy”. It is very easy to breastfeed without a cover up and without exposing your entire breast. And if you want to change it so you can take your top off to breast feed, you are going to have to go a hell of a lot further than just the Mormon church, you are going to have to change the whole of western society. Or move to Latin America, they don’t care in their culture.

    • MollyNoMore says:

      No one has indicated in any way that the woman in this story was “exposing [her] entire breast.” Nor has anyone suggested allowing women to go topless to breastfeed during church services.

      This isn’t about “bashing the patriarchy.” Though, in this case, the local patriarchy needs some correction as there is nothing in the temple recommend interview questions related to breastfeeding in any form. There’s not even a question about obeying one’s leaders. The Stake President should have stuck to the script and not used his position of power to try to bully this money and her husband into being obedient.

      Agency is not a “nice to have.” It’s the basis of the entire plan of salvation was built.

      • Wondering Why says:

        “There’s not even a question about obeying one’s leaders.”

        No, but there is one about sustaining them. Whether it should be applied in this instance is debatable, especially since we only have one side of the story.

      • Kassi says:

        Wondering Why: You can support and sustain your leaders and simultaneously not support unrighteous dominion (which he was ABSOLUTELY exercising). You support them in the role to which they were called when using their authority properly and righteously. I do not support any leader when abusing their position or practicing unrighteous dominion over anyone. That is not supported by God and it is not supported by me. God is no respecter of persons.

  16. john f. says:

    Truly awesome, Artemis! Wow!

  17. Erika says:

    Frankly it would be pretty irresponsible if we didn’t nurse uncovered in front of our youth/prospective missionaries, because if they go to practically any other country on their mission, they will be forced to confront uncovered nursing as a matter of course. They will be expected to speak from the pulpit as women nurse with fully uncovered breasts during sacrament meeting, they will be expected to teach discussions to women while they are feeding their babies uncovered, they will knock on doors answered by women in the middle of breastfeeding uncovered. We are handicapping our youth if we don’t teach them now about the normal, natural, and God-given function of breasts and how to fight Satan’s destructive lies around women’s bodies.

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