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The BoldHeartMama desires to enjoy living out the choices that she’s made for herself and for her family. She is a relentless learner: curious, inquisitive, and open to the possibilities of her life and of the human condition. She understands that there isn't one right way—she asks questions that dig deeper to make sense of it all and to find her own path.

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The BoldHeartMama is willing to take calculated risks to make her biggest dreams come true. She is living out her BoldHeart in the moment, making small moves and taking little steps that add up, and she's cultivating a good life for herself and her family in the process. Read More!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

on nursing in public

"Can you stop doing that?"

"I keep looking over here--I can't help it--and every time I do I have to see your nipple!  I shouldn't have to look at that."

"You have that towel right there, why don't you cover yourself?"

"You wouldn't walk around without a shirt on would you?  That'd be indecent!"

"You shouldn't be doing that here!"



I've been nursing one or the other of my boys for 34 continuous months. I know the sweet privilege of cradling a glossy haired newborn to offer the breast, I know the fatigue of cluster feeds and growth spurts, I know the intense love that springs from a milky smile, and the comedy that is a nursing toddler.

A couple weeks ago a big bad dad at a well-loved neighborhood park was so uncomfortable with my nursing son (and so confident in his position) that he demanded me to stop.

But I didn't stop. I said, "No, I'm not leaving. I'm feeding my baby."

His discomfort quickly escalated to entitlement and bold arrogance. As for how he really felt, he didn't leave much to my imagination.

This angry man was yelling about my nipples. I was shocked.

To his barrage of insults I calmly held my ground and repeated, "No, I'm not leaving. I'm feeding my baby." It's all I could come up with.

To be honest, I hadn't given any thought to what I might say in defense to an attack like that. In the early days after Roscoe was born I may have brainstormed some clever retorts, but that feels like eons ago, and besides no one has ever said anything to me and so my guard was let down a long time ago.

As deeply woven into my daily life as nursing has become, as confident as I am that this is the right thing for us, as wholeheartedly as I believe in the importance of breastfeeding for nutrition and as an integral aspect of our relationship, having that man unload his inner thoughts out loud made me feel bad and it stuck with me for days after.

But why? Why do I care what some anonymous man thinks about the way I feed my kid?

I've invested and sacrificed to build these nursing relationships. I persevered through the early months with both of them, learning to feed the first under a nursing cover so that I could move about in the world with my baby in tow and, as my confidence grew, learning to nurse without a cover until there came a point that it only felt normal and right to meet the needs of my children for thirst or hunger or comfort whenever they needed me.

Wherever we were.

Building confidence, transcending social barriers, and overcoming personal anxieties, to find that sweet spot where I could effortlessly read his cues and know when he was hungry and feed him before he fussed with little more than a flip of my shirt, after all of that, finally, joy and knowing.

To then have someone bully and belittle me and call this thing that I've grown to love and believe in--that is as much a part of my identity as a mother as anything I've experienced so far--for him to single me out to express his disgust and his belief that what we do is in fact counter to mothering and offensive, that I am offensive and that I violate his view of women and the sexual nature of breasts, it all made me realize that perhaps I am more vulnerable than I thought.

That I am susceptible, that I am not as safe as I had believed and that maybe I shouldn't have thought so in the first place.

Shame.

Perhaps that is what he intended. To shame me into covering up, leaving the park, quitting nursing altogether.  I have no idea. He was motivated by something that likely had little to do with me or with what I was doing in that moment.

I didn't like how I felt afterward. I was confused by it actually. But, by giving it a name I gained clarity and then I wasn't shameful but empowered again.

It all made sense. It's not me. It's him.

I am good.  My kids are good. We are good.

Have you ever been reprimanded for nursing in public?  How did it make you feel? How did you respond?

11 comments :

  1. I'm speechless. Wow. This story honestly disgusts me. I feel awful that you were berated like that. And for doing something so honest and natural. I don't even know what I would have done in that situation. Probably the same thing as you, and I KNOW it would have stuck with me afterward. That man was small minded and should be ashamed for speaking to you like that. You can try to cover up all you want, but at a certain age, the baby won't allow it any longer. And regardless, it is your right, as a mother, to feed your child. That's what breasts are for. He is a moron.
    I have never been reprimanded for nursing in public. I remember when Lilah was young, my brother was a little uncomfortable when I nursed her around him, but I told him he to get over it, and he did. He has since had a child of his own and sees his early discomfort as ridiculous.

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  2. I hate that this happened to you, I'm so sorry. I've been on the receiving end of some dirty looks (mre now as Hen gets bigger, older) but no overt verbal attacks yet. Last Friday at work though I was reprimanded for pumping in a vacant conference room because some guy ignored the sign and the locked door, used his key and barged in (I was yelling "occupied"). They told me I need to pump in the bathroom. I'm still smarting from it- yes, the shame. I was going to let it go, but reading this I feel the shame, yours and mine, and I think I'll follow up with my boss, maybe HR on Monday. Screw em.

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  3. Yes, & in addition to being natural -- it is the BEST thing & literally the perfect thing you could do for your baby. Benefits to society at large also result. And it's not easy on mom. For all the unparalleled benefits, it's a labor of love.

    I'm surprised at how antiquated this man's behavior was. There was recently a show on television that had a hidden camera in a restaurant where a man (he was acting, it was staged) berated a woman for nursing at her table. The other people in the restaurant (who didn't know it was staged) were later interviewed & completely angry with & appalled at the man. That's the modern age.

    So, I was in Starbucks yesterday when a girl walked in with a chicken on her head. For real. She then walked out and , a few minutes later, I nursed my baby for about 5 minutes under a blanket. He's 8-months-old, so he pulled the blanket down right as he came off latch. I quickly covered up.
    But I later heard a man complaining to the Starbucks manager about something -- I couldn't tell what. And I started wondering if it was about the girl with a chicken on her head OR about my nursing ! I didn't feel shame, but I did feel anxious & nervous.

    Last thing : what this man did to you was harrassing & assaultive. For the protection of yourself & Merritt ... it would have been completely justified for you to call the police.
    Maiden Metallurgist: I'm not exactly sure, but it seems there are some workplace protections (equal protection, maybe something under the family leave act?) to keep you from being reprimanded under those circumstances. HR should know.

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  4. Wow that is horrible, I'm so sorry!

    I've never had any negativity about nursing in public and am totally shocked when I hear stories like this. Actually I wasn't even really aware that public breastfeeding was controversial until I got pregnant and started reading all these mommy blogs, I always thought it was just a normal part of having a baby.

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  5. I am so sorry to hear that happened to you. I have to say on a whole my nursing experience in England has been very good and I have recieved many kind words. I have had few nasty looks and a few comments said loud enough for me to hear but not directed at me. I just ignored them as I felt if they didn't have the guts to say it to my face I wasn't going to respond.

    I found it the hardest after J turned 6 months as NO one nurses past 6 months here it feels like. Everyone in my birth class switched to formula and none of the mamas from play group admitted to nursing beyond six months. I have to say that from 9ish months I would nurse in public if I HAD to but I did feel nervous as I had a number of people make comments about the fact I was still nursing.

    I chose to wean J at 18 months even though she probably would have nursed morning and night for much longer as it was something I needed but I have to say the lack of support for nursing beyond six months was tough and I completly understand why mothers wean at six months it takes a strong willed woman to stand up and say "um thanks but nursing is the best for my baby even past six month"

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  6. Mama Tully: Thanks, it got worse, but I figured I'd stick to the non-expletives :\ (on his part, not mine!). There was a point where a friend of mine said, "hey, she's just being a mother" or something like that and he roared back at us, "NO SHE ISN'T! THAT's NOT BEING A MOTHER!" He didn't strike me as someone who had any real experience with breastfeeding, but anyway! Tolerance for nursing is on a continuum and I know that my views on it have changed over time. I never identified with toddler nursing, but hey, you start when they're small and the next thing you know....

    Maiden: I agree. I wonder how he might have reacted differently, or not at all, if Merritt had been a newborn. As for your situation at work, I think that's terrible and you have rights NOT to be forced to pump in bathroom stall. I hope your meeting went well today. Let us know!!

    DP: I feel like most people are supportive, or at least not bothered to the point of feeling comfortable enough to say so. LIke I mentioned, I've never had anyone come right out and say anything, although I do think I've had some looks and stares or hushed remarks, but nothing that really registered for me. Your starbucks/chicken story is funny and yet it does say something about the culture of nursing in public. To your last point, I recently read an article about legislation that exists in some states to punish people who harass nursing women. A fine of $1,000, etc. The idea is that you can have legal rights to do something without any real protection because there is not enforcement of the law. I read up a little on state law after the incident and found that Virginia actually only excludes nursing in public as criminal (not quite what I was expecting to find!), vs. other states that protect nursing in public with punitive enforcement. http://www.mothering.com/sites/resources/laws.pdf

    Yankee: It's the same here, more or less. If you look at the statistics, although in my circle of friends we're almost all extended nursers. It is really challenging to stand up to social pressures for nursing, and for all kinds of parenting decisions. 18 months is awesome, I started to feel ready to wean Roscoe around that time too--not sure if it was the pregnancy or something else. PS. I miss your blog posts!! Happy to see that you're still reading here :)

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  7. What a mindless prick. Some people deserve a high five in the face with a chair. Seriously.

    Im sorry this happened to you and you are right, it isnt you and it most certainly is him!

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  8. Jacqueline, You should totally have a Nurse In @ that park and start by inviting your local la leche legue. I'm serious!!!!! Why do we as women continue to allow breasts to be shameful/embarassing things to cover up and only tools for male sexual pleasure. That man is a product of our culture...one that teaches men exposed breasts are taboo and that they should feel sexually aroused if they see one so they should avoid an encounter at all costs unless behind closed doors. Even popular movie...the hangover ...makes the breastfeeding scene super sexual. The guys are practically drooling as the chic breastfeeds. What are we teaching our boys and reaffirming in the consciousness of our men? And poor young girls for feeling embarasement over their bodies. A slide in my neighbor hood park has graffiti that says "flat hoe" obviously penciled in by some cruel kid. Little breasts get bullied too :-( Makes me think hard about how I want Lil to think about her body and hopefully treat others.

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  9. Anonymous: Thank you for saying that. It is easier to acquiesce in these situations than it is to fight. I tend to stick to my feelings when I write about situations like this in order to avoid controversy (or to avoid the impression of an angry feminist). But you nailed it. And we should feel comfortable calling things like they are. The man involved in this situation called my friend a d*ck for standing up to him.

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  10. Heidi: Soo nice to hang out today! Nurse-in @ Mary Munford....coming right up!

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  11. What an unbelievable jerk that man was - such ignorant behavior! Having nursed as far back as 29 years ago :)- I never ran into anything like that before. I wonder what rock this man crawled out from under. I hope this will be the last time you have to endure such treatment.

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