A breast-feeding Mother will not be tolerated

Feminist writer Phyllis Chesler in 1977.
(Photo: Denver Post via Getty Images)

When she discovered that she was pregnant, Phyllis Chesler began to keep a diary in which she could document this life-changing process and wrestle with impending motherhood on the page. The result was With Child: A Diary of Motherhood, an insightful and poetic book that opens on 1st May 1977, a day on which Chesler, newly-pregnant and nauseous, is filled with self-doubt and unanswerable questions; the final entry is dated 6th January 1979. Here, we meet Chesler ten days after the birth of her son, Ariel.

The Diary Entry

January 16, 1978

You’re always hungry. It’s always time to feed you. You suck for an hour every two and a half hours. A woman doing this can do nothing else—unless she’s allowed to do whatever else it is while she breast-feeds.

My friend Clara is chief of a psychiatric ward. Last year she tried to breast-feed on the job. The other psychiatrists, the patients, couldn’t handle it. She was accused of sexual exhibitionism! A doctor as a breast-feeding mother is too threatening.

My friend Sharon tells me she used to cover herself with a blanket when she breast-fed in the living rooms of friends! A breast-feeding Mother will not be tolerated.

Topless, bottomless women, dancing in cages; “jiggling” TV actresses, pornographic magazines. Everywhere the female breast is exposed. But not in a casual and naturally sacred way. Breast-feeding is still a dirty, private choice. Not a proud public fact.

“Don’t do it, Phyllis. It will ruin your breasts,” two friends insist.

Ariel: What will happen to us when we start going out?

Further Reading

With Child: A Diary of Motherhood was first published by Thomas Y. Crowell Co. in 1979, the year after Ariel’s birth. In 1998, Seal Press unveiled a new edition which featured an introduction by Ariel himself, then aged 18. In 2018, the most recent edition arrived, published by Lawrence Hill Books and with an updated preface from Ariel.

Phyllis Chesler is a feminist writer, psychotherapist, and professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at the College of Staten Island.

Diary entry excerpted from With Child: A Diary of Motherhood, with the kind permission of Phyllis Chesler.

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