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Breastfeeding on the Frontline

October 13, 2010

About a month ago, a stranger cursed me out for breastfeeding in public. I kinda felt like it was gonna happen one day, but I expected it to be on one of the days when I was brazen and uncovered. On that particular day though, the shirt I wore was a natural cover…and I was grateful because there was a group of men who looked like they were waiting for a breastfeeding mom to give em a peep show.

This morning, even my unwitting discretion in breastfeeding still wasn’t enough. As we waited in the lobby of our pediatrician’s office, the receptionist moved to hand me back my insurance cards and noticed my apparently sexual act and was glad to correct me:

Her: Wait, are you feeding?
Me: Yes.
Her: Ok, you’re gonna have to into Exam Room 4.
Me: No, thank you. We’re fine here. (I really was that polite!)
Her: No, you can’t stay out here. Go into Exam Room 4.
Me: (still nursing) I don’t mind staying right here.
Her: I understand that, but you have to go into Exam Room 4.
Me: No need. He’s done now.


Exam Room #4

Meanwhile, the roughly 10 parents and 15 or so children ping-ponged their heads between us. I was in the middle of a breastfeeding standoff – in the freaking pediatrician’s office.

A few minutes later, I went to her station and calmly (go me!) explained that asking me to leave was illegal. I really thought that she didn’t know, so I was ready to share this part of the New York state law that protects breastfeeding mothers:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast feed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breast feeding.”

But, she knew! Or, at least said she did:

Me: Ma’am (I’ve got southern roots, y’all), you should know that what you did was illegal.
Her: I don’t have a problem with breastfeeding, it’s just that we had children here.

Let me also take this moment to point out that this is the time of day in the pediatrician’s office reserved for babies and children under 2.

Me: Ok, but that was still illegal.
Her: If it were just adults here, I wouldn’t say anything. But, when there’s children, I ask women who do that to go into a room. Some parents aren’t ready to explain that to their children.

I thought for a quick, quick second about which way to take the convo. Should I talk about the fact that they’re children and probably wouldn’t read anything sexual in breastfeeding? I thought that I could say something about how they were probably breastfed, too at least some point in the past couple years. Then, I remembered that in my 7 or so visits, I’d never seen a single other mother breastfeeding. I thought about pointing out how many parents I’ve cringed at screaming and cursing in the waiting room without anyone batting an eyelash. Surely, my breastfeeding couldn’t be as “detrimental” as that. I even thought that this would be the moment that I sang the many praises and beauty of breastfeeding. I settled on:

“That doesn’t make it any less illegal,” to which she replied, “I know.”

When I imagine myself in these moments, I see me handling the situation with much more grace and eloquence. I’m not sure that adrenaline has much room for such perfection, though.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2010 4:01 pm

    Ayayah, great job. I know adrenalin gets in the way sometimes. It’s fight or flight, but sure thing ignorance is NOT bliss. You now get to engage the parents in the waiting room in a discussion. Educate, educate, educate.

    Way to go.

    Kinyofu

  2. October 13, 2010 9:37 pm

    Holy freaking cow! I do not have words. But I so get what you are saying about the adrenaline completely frazzling your composure. I have it do that to me on many occasions.
    Anyway, I am SO proud of you. And so ashamed for that nurse. Wish I could go in there right now and tandem nurse my twins on her counter just for fun!

    • October 13, 2010 9:47 pm

      Tandem nursing on her counter! Andrea, that is SO hilarious. Thanks for the support. It’s funny because I’m almost never around other breastfeeding mothers unless I’m at someone’s house or online. Otherwise, it’s formula, formula, formula. I know that it’s a personal choice that every woman has to make, but I really believe the deck is so stacked against that “choice” that a woman almost has to be super educated about breastfeeding to withstand the pressures against it. I hope that my lil standoffs are some kind if contribution to the greater re-education needed to make successful, confident breastfeeding a viable option.

  3. October 14, 2010 1:06 am

    I don’t think I would have handled the situation with as much grace as you did.

    I have a three year old and a nursing seven month old. So many of my oldest daughter’s playmates ask questions about my nursing. I just tell them that mommies make milk for their babies and some babies drink milk from their mommies and some drink from bottles.

    Some of them want to see the baby nurse, and I don’t have a problem with it at all. The parents on the other hand, get SO uncomfortable. It’s interesting.

    I think nursing is a part of life. I am sad for the kids that don’t learn early on that breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed a baby. I love it when I see my three year old “nursing” her babies. It makes some of my friends uncomfortable when she does it though. Oh well!

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • October 16, 2010 1:34 am

      I’m with you on using that as a teaching moment. I used to read about women who felt it necessary to nurse uncovered to make breastfeeding less invisible. I felt like that was about much and that I didn’t want to be activisty while feeding my child. Now, I completely understand that position – people think we’re weirdos!

  4. October 14, 2010 4:09 pm

    Ugh! That is so annoying. I don’t understand how people think it’s their job to interpret the law. Also, if someone has a problem with a nursing mother…LOOK AWAY! Don’t continue to stare and give dirty looks. It’s a natural thing. Get over it.

    Good for you for standing your ground, even if you got a little flustered. You didn’t back down and you pointed out that she wasn’t following the law. Perhaps next time she’ll think twice before making a comment.

    • October 17, 2010 1:07 pm

      Thanks Nikkolish. Somehow, I doubt that she will. It seems to be underlying culture around there. It was the first time anyone had said anything to me, but the pediatrician kinda tried to back her up on it. Left a really bad taste in my mouth to know that he’s not a breastfeeding advocate. Imagine the kind of difference it would make to hear your pediatrician encourage it!

  5. October 15, 2010 12:45 am

    I love how calm you were. I might not have been so composed. But I would have also been toting my 3 yr old along with my 4 m old. The 3 yr old thinks its normal to have a boob inthe baby’s face.

    Keep up the good work!

    • October 17, 2010 1:07 pm

      Wow, Kristen. How do you balance nursing both of them with the age difference?

  6. Sweet Strength permalink
    October 26, 2010 5:13 pm

    Dear Sister,

    We call to us exactly what we need…you made a difference. You will continue to do so. Love ya.

    • October 29, 2010 8:05 pm

      Its so sad that the breast is seen as so sexual, I read another blog the other day that was exploring the sexualisation of the breast and how this makes feeding so very difficult and awkward.

      Surely evolution has come up with the best tools for the goods to feed our babies?

      I agree with education and more and more exposure to breastfeeding. Normalisation not exclusivity is needed.

      I have three children all breastfed (still feeding no 3 at three months) and I love to see other women breastfeeding, the poster you photographed was a lovely image. It is hard in the UK as our government does not invest as much money as the formula companies do, so many myths abound around breastfeeding and our rates are awful.

      I hope women as a whole have a future of informed choice without the bias of formula companies.

      I enjoyed reading your post.

      • November 1, 2010 2:34 am

        Thanks so much for commenting. Now, I have a new mommy blog to explore. Especially because breastfeeding rates in the US are so low for African-American mothers, these ads make me so happy. Studies say that stigma and misperceptions about breastfeeding are the biggest barriers (rather than physical limitations). More exposure!

  7. October 29, 2010 8:06 pm

    sorry may I correct the above post, my third is 11 months old!

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