August 21, 2009 (exactly one week after Oliver was born)
First of all, thank you for the overwhelming response to yesterday’s post about breastfeeding in public and whether or not to cover up. I love all the powerful, amazing mamas I know (either in real life or through the internet world). It is a good reminder that the world is changing if ever so slowly in regard to this issue. And I certainly experience more positive feedback about breastfeeding in public than negative, but I wanted to share a story with you about a not-so-positive thing that happened when I was breastfeeding Oliver, only one week old, in a public place in Washington, DC.
A week after Oliver was born, I was itching to get out of the house. Those of you who know me well are aware that I have a really hard time staying at home for too long (or at least just staying inside). And with beautiful August weather and a healthy baby and mama, we saw no reason to stay cooped up. We decided to venture to The National Building Museum in downtown DC, where we lived at the time. Not yet two years old, Milo was a big fan of the children’s room, and I was a big fan of the fact that this room was enclosed so that our very active little boy couldn’t
escape venture off too far.
We signed in at the little desk to enter the children’s area, and I sat on the floor with my back against the wall holding Oliver while Andrew engaged Milo in some fun activities with the building supplies and dress-up clothing they provided.
Then, of course, the little one got hungry. So I slipped a lightweight blanket over my shoulder, tucked Oliver inside, and began to nurse him. I sat unnoticed for about 10 minutes while families played around me and all was right with the world. Then the worker who had signed us in at the front desk, a middle-aged woman with a friendly smile and kind eyes walked over to me and asked, “Are you nursing?” She had to ask because there was no way of knowing. Not only was I completely covered up, but so was my newborn baby.
“Yes, I am,” I replied, half expecting her to ask to see the new baby.
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave the children’s area if you are nursing.”
Me: blank stare.
“There is no eating or drinking in the children’s room,” she said while pointing to a hand-written sentence on the wall which stated Food and Drink are Not Allowed in this Area. (So what, my BREASTS are not allowed in this area??!)
I think I smiled in disbelief and looked around like maybe the joke was on me. I mean, I was surrounded by young families, most of whom had no idea I even had smuggled this baby in here, and the ones who had noticed had given such kind smiles I couldn’t fathom I could be offending anyone.
I think I said in a joking way, “Well I promise I won’t spill anything if that’s the concern!” But she was no longer smiling.
“I’m sorry, it’s just our policy. I’m just following the rules. You can finish nursing your baby in the lobby by the front door.”
I was so shocked and stunned, I didn’t know what to say. All I could think was thank God Andrew is here because I would have to try to contain my two-year-old in a HUGE open space while I nurse my newborn and I cannot run after him and this just doesn’t feel right and oh man I am about to cry I am so humiliated.
Instead of putting up a fight, I tucked my tail between my legs, unlatched my baby (who immediately started to scream), gathered up my things and my family, and walked like a zombie out of the little room as families looked on in hushed tones. The families around me looked uneasy, and as I made eye contact with another mom, she shook her head like she couldn’t believe what was happening, but then she just looked away. No one defended me, but more importantly, I didn’t defend myself.
Out in the big open lobby, Andrew raced around after Milo while I sat, tears stinging in my eyes, and finished nursing Oliver, trying with all my might not to full-out cry out of humiliation and anger. The injustice of it all made me want to march back in to confront the woman who had thrown me out of a family space for feeding my baby, but for some reason I did not.
I put the incident out of my head until about a year later, after reading a story about a woman who staged a nurse-in (a whole bunch of mamas who show up in one place and just breastfeed their infants) after she was bullied into leaving after trying to breastfeed her baby in a public space. Anger welled up inside of me as I remembered.
What I wish I had done is simple. I wish I had firmly but kindly said, “No thank you. I am just fine right here.” That’s all. Not create a scene, not yell and get angry and challenge this woman. But to just remain, sitting quietly, covered up, feeding my newborn baby which was my right to do. I wish I had done this for myself, for my family, and for the families who watched. I should have been brave. And you can bet like Hell I will be if it ever happens again.