Monday, May 25, 2009

You've Gotta Fight For Your Right

I spent my holiday researching jogging strollers. Given our recent time spent ogling flora and fauna, it seemed like a worthwhile investment. Not to mention considering how underwear shopping at Victoria's Secret nearly brought me to tears, this could be the ticket to a more esteemed body image.

So, I packed up the boy and headed to a popular baby superstore with the intention of taking a few for a test drive.

Nate fell asleep on the trip there and remained asleep as I transferred him to the stroller. I walked around and viewed their disappointing selection - only 4 floor models were available in-store - before recoiling to the baby gate aisle. Audible whimpers of a nearby infant woke Nate, who then decided to showcase his imperial vocal endowments. Arching his back in protest and chomping his forefinger in frustration, I could plainly see it was feeding time at the zoo.

One of the fringe benefits to the shopping experience at this particular outlet is an appointed nursing room, complete with changing table, hand sanitizer and homely, floral textiles. The decor may remind me of a funeral parlor and the odor of diapers and spit up pollute the air but I applauded them for accommodating breastfeeding mothers and allowing us a quiet place, free of distraction, for those like my nosey wiggleworm.

As I came upon the door to said room, I obeyed the sign that read "knock before entering" and rapped on the door gently. I overheard some whispers coming from inside but tread lightly, slowly turning the knob and peeking in. I caught a glimpse of a woman wearing a nursing shawl and a man sitting beside her. The man quickly bumrushed me, shouting "someone is in here!" and slammed the door in my face.

I was dumbfounded.

Was/Is this not a public room? There are no locks on the door. There are two substantial couches lining the walls. Surely, there is enough room for more than one nursing mother. I, myself, have welcomed many a nursing mother whilst occupying the room on previous excursions.

Instead, I was banished. Rejected. I stood in the hall, trying to soothe my hungry baby as I formulated Plan B.

I must have swallowed a bitter pill at that moment because the anger and frustration began to build inside of me. My son needs to eat as much as their child. It is my right to breastfeed. Who the hell did this guy think he was? Who anointed him as door guard? I had half a mind to excuse myself and enter stubbornly. But ever the submissive, respectful gal, I decided not to raise a ruckus. I chose not to involve management, fearful that I would again be shunned or told to wait in line. That would rile me up even moreso. And I didn't want to be branded as that mom. The one that gets up in arms about any political cause.

My inner lactivist stirred, urging me to relax in one of the display model gliders and whip out a boob in plain sight to breastfeed. State law doesn't prohibit me to do so. Go ahead, do it. Make a statement. You will not stand for this.

I was just so sick of hiding from the world, perpetuating the social delusion that breastfeeding is a dirty, disgusting habit that must be hidden. I've been so tired of fighting a loosing battle with Nate to keep him under wraps as he eats his lunch. I always try to be as discreet as possible but it is damn near impossible to shield all human anatomy while balancing a 10-month old acrobat. Not that I can blame him. I wouldn't want to dine with a blanket over my head either.

I was this.close to letting it all hang out - for standing up for what I believe in - but in the end, I couldn't. Instead, I departed to the car to feed my baby. With the door open to afford more leg room. After beads of sweat pouring off us in the 80 degree, hot, humid weather, I buckled Nate in, turned on the A/C and drove off, defeated.

I understand that the couple in the room may have been breastfeeding novices and perhaps they were a bit shy. I've been there. Once upon a time, I would have fainted at the thought of baring a nipple within arm's reach of a stranger. But you know - I had to adapt. I came to realize that every two hours - or less - comes quickly. Privacy is not always an option as nature calls. In my 10-month stint, I've breastfed on park benches, mall fountains, bathroom toilets, restaurant booths. You name it, I've probably done it. More than once. Sure, it's not glamorous. But if my son needs to eat, he needs to eat. His nutrition and well-being is decidedly more important than worrying about societal expectations. Now, I hardly think twice before stopping to nurse in public. With or without a cover. It comes naturally.

It is a beautiful, enchanting moment when I can look down at my son, seeing and feeling our bodies connect through nourishment. People often forget that the foremost purpose of breasts are feeding mechanisms. Objects of sexual desire lastly. If only everyone could see it for what it is rather than an eyesore.

I remember the first time I saw a nursing mother as a young girl. It was in a bookstore. The mother was breastfeeding her infant daughter, watching her so intently and stroking her face. I admired her from afar. I was too young to completely understand the process but I could sense there was something special about what they shared. That admiration has grown tenfold since I've been able to experience it firsthand. I nod knowingly and smile as I gaze at others cradling their babies and fidgeting with their tops. I personally enjoy the company. Knowing there's more of us out there. We're a community.

Would reporting the incident to management, begging them to clarify their nursing room policy, really make things better? Doubtful. The public mindset is still there. Whipping out my boob may have garnered some local buzz but it would hardly suffice to erase all ignorance from society.

I'm not looking to change the world. I'm not trying to be a martyr. I just want a fair shake. I don't want to have to retire to the car or some remote place to nurse just because people are ashamed. Because I'm not. I'm unabashedly proud to produce milk for my son. I've worked hard to make it this far and if I have my druthers, I will not be conceding anytime soon.

I regret my lack of assertiveness. For not holding true to what I believe. I regret slinking into the shadows, cowardly. I feel like in some ways, I've failed us. I had the opportunity to educate and foster patronage but I let it pass me by. I was too frightened of the consequences.

I guess it is true what they say: well-behaved women rarely make history.


Rachel said...

I really enjoyed reading this post, and I hope next time you find a better spot to stop for a snack.

Melissa said...

Excellent post, very well-written. I cannot believe that you were banned from the nursing lounge by another breastfeeding couple. I would've been livid. ((Hugs))

Emily said...

I have to think that babydaddy was nervous about NIP. Who else reacts that way? Ya know?

I really don't think you failed by retreating to the car.. you fed your baby and that was the task at hand. There are plenty of other times that I'm sure people have watched you NIP and felt reassured by breastfeeding and inspired as you did when you were a kid. (I, also, love the community of BFing families. I totally GET that.)

Great post, Kris. I love your writing.

Amanda W. said...

I would like to say I would have opened that door right back up and told the couple that my child needed to nurse too and the nursing room is a public room just like the restroom, but honestly I probably would have done the same as you did and retreat to the car to nurse. Nate needed to be fed and it wouldn't have done him any good if you got into a battle of wills with the couple in the nursing room. You did exactly what you needed to do. You found a way to nurse your hungry child in a tough situation. So I say you did a great job.

eenigmatic said...

We've all been there. Next time, I hope you find the courage to do it. I'm just now getting comfortable enough to nurse ANYWHERE, though I do use a nursing cover when I'm out. It's not that I'm embarrassed, or even modest, really...I just know other people are, so I hide away. And I shouldn't. YOU have inspired ME! No more feeding in the car! ;)

Peeveme said...

OH wow. I would have been just as pissed! Would I have done somethimg? Hmm I guess it would depenede upon my mood. I guess the most civilized and productive thing to do would have been to explain, very calmly to the father that this room was not private. The room can accommodate more than one breastfeeding MOM. Father's are not necessary here. Breastfeeding room etiquette dictates that multiple breastfeeding MOMs can be in the room. If anyone should leave it should be him because you were going to breastfeed there and then and you'd like some privacy from him. If he'd just leave then everyone's' needs could be accommodated (both babies need to eat and your need for privacy).

But I might have just gone home defeated as well. Just depends upon my mood and courage at the moment.

I like you idea of asking the store to post some etiquette/rules. assvice for joggers....the BOB Revolution is the what I have and I love it.'s expensive. If you want to spend less you certainly can and do just as well. I like the BOB Revolution because it has a rotating front wheel (that can lock in place as well).
You can also find them used (I always look for them on C.r.a.i.g's list).

docgrumbles said...

I got really angry reading about the guy slamming the door in your face! I wonder how the mother felt about it. How could any BFing mother let another mother with a hungry baby wait???


Fertilized said...

Well written! Applause

deanna said...

WTF? How could the other mother let her husband behave like that?! Poor Nate! Poor You!

Despite my outrage, though, I wouldn't have tried to force my way in either. The guy could have gotten more aggressive---you just never know. I think you did the right thing by backing down, just to be on the safe side.

I've gotten braver about public nursing, but only because Snippet has forced me into it. He started refusing to let me use a cover around 4 months. For awhile, I just tried to strategize location so I could always hide out somewhere, but then I got tired of hiding. I've gotten pretty brave about nursing in public now, though I always plan ahead with a nursing-friendly wardrobe. I always feel better if I'm somewhere that I can sense the BF-friendly vibes. If I'm somewhere that I'm sensing hostility, I have a hard time even getting let-down. I wish I didn't care about public opinion, but I'm not quite at that point yet. Here's hoping one day!