You’ll be able to tell from the indoor gathering in this story, but this one is from the archives, given a fresh edit, and packaged up for a (re)read.
This last weekend I went to church with my family. My churchgoing these days is always in honor of someone else: I go to services with my partner on high holy days; I go to mass when visiting my grandpa.
They are not my traditions, but I like these occasional encounters with religious practice. I crave more opportunities to slow down, unplug, and reflect, and I appreciate the energetic groundswell of a community of people brought together in reverence for something greater than themselves. I’m sure I make plenty of mistakes, but I do my best to be respectful when I show up.
This time, I spent the service in the crying room (a glass walled room at the back of the church, with the service piped in over intercom. You can see and hear everything; the congregation can’t hear you).
I wasn’t sure if nursing was appropriate in my soundproof fishbowl, so I jammed a chair next to the changing table in the closet and stared at a wall while I fed my baby and listened to a homily on the value of family.
I listened to scriptural explanations for how I have no identity separate from my husband. I learned that I must always concede and obey, and must always value family above all else. I learned that I am of one flesh with my husband, except when my flesh is provocative, except when it dares to perform in ways he will never be able to match or manage.
As the sermon wore on, I read, on endless loop, a lecture taped to the wall:
“This is NOT a nursery or a playroom. Adults and children MUST BE ATTENTIVE TO MASS.”
I felt invisible and targeted at once. Out of respect, I hid in a closet to carry out perhaps the most foundational act of mothering while a man on a stage who has never had a family lectured me on my shamefulness and my subservience, and a piece of paper taped to a wall scolded my anticipated acts of disrespect.
If I’d tried to come up with an image to represent the invisible work of women and the hypocrisy of ‘family-friendly’ policies, this scene would have been far too overwritten and obvious to use.
And yet here we are.
Then I realized how complicit I was in my own invisibility. I dragged my own damn chair into that closet. Not knowing the etiquette, I overcorrected out of imagined respect to those who would happily force my hand in becoming a mother but shame me for fulfilling that contract.
I breastfeed in public all the time—I am purposefully not shy about it—and here I was, submitting, out of a ‘respect’ that was anything but reciprocal.
The second time my son wanted to nurse, I stayed put in my glass box, in full view. No one said anything. Maybe no one noticed. I was probably just as invisible, still contained by the architecture of a jealous patriarchy.
But at least I could no longer see the sign scolding me to stay in my lane.
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credit: Jade Hoffman