Thursday, June 9, 2011

Adventures in Breastfeeding: In Public

As a mother of two, many aspects of motherhood seem much easier the second time around.  I am much more confident in my abilities and feel very comfortable in my role.  Most of the issues I stressed about with my first baby now seem so simple:  bedtime routines, feeding schedules, sniffly noses.  I find myself enjoying her more and being anxious less, simply because I am trusting in myself and my capabilities.
When it comes to breast feeding in public, however, I find myself still feeling very apprehensive, a bit nervous and anxious in certain settings.  I've read so many different articles on the subject, listened to countless women tell stories about being berated and embarrassed simply for feeding their child.  And recently, I experienced my own horrific public breast feeding experience, causing me to reflect on a topic that is so controversial, yet shouldn't be considered a controversy at all.
My girlfriend and I went to lunch recently and were seated in a high back booth.  There was a couple next to us in their own booth, a wall partition separating us at a height that allowed us to see each other's faces but nothing else beyond that.  During our meal, Brees's lunch time approached and so I put my nursing cover on, slipped her comfortably underneath it, and nursed her quietly in the privacy of our booth.  As my girlfriend and I continued our conversation about lord knows what, I heard a gasp followed quickly by hushed, intense whispering.  I turned to look at what all the commotion was only to find the couple next to us STARING me down, the wife giving me the look of death.  When our eyes met, they quickly turned back to each other and their meals, averting their eyes from, what?  What was wrong?  
And then I heard her whisper, “Is she breast feeding?  RIGHT THERE?!"
Husband: "Yes, I think so."
Wife:  "Did you see anything?  Were you looking?  Oh my, if I catch you looking!"
Husband:  "I didn't see anything!  I wasn't looking and she's covered anyway!"
Wife:  "I can't believe she would do THAT, right HERE!  Don't you dare look, I'm warning you!"
Husband:  "I'm not!  And why do you care anyway?"
 They continued on like this for a while, the whispering slowly escalating until it became obvious they were arguing.  I was horrified.  I felt my entire face turn beet red, broke out into a sweat, felt my stomach turn.  I could NOT believe that a couple was arguing over me feeding my child.   Not a single part of my body was exposed, I was in no way drawing attention to myself.  I was modestly covered, minding my own business.  Why was this a problem?
 Soon after, the couple paid their bill and left, the wife shooting me one more nasty look before leaving.  I held back tears as I held my baby close, still amazed at the strong reaction I had just received by total strangers.  We live in a society where most magazine covers feature half dressed women, exposing their bodies in sexually provocative poses.  Women and sex are exploited on television and movie screens without a second thought by mainstream America.  And yet a mother nursing her baby is considered inappropriate.  
Part of me knows not to give people like this the time of day, there was obviously more going on with that couple than I will ever know.  But another part of me was so saddened by their reaction, so frustrated that in this day and age we are still fighting to open people's minds to accepting the most natural function of a mother.  I am a very modest person and am always mindful of my body when nursing in public.  But should I have to feel so self-conscious about breast feeding in front of others?  Should I have to feel as though I must hide, cowering in corners so as to avoid anyone seeing me?  Is it fair that I must be stared at , talked about, and embarrassed simply because I am feeding my baby in public?  That couple made me feel violated.  As I watched them walk away, judgment in their eyes, they made me feel ashamed of myself.  How dare someone evoke those emotions in me.  
The whole concept is so ridiculous that, for the first time, I felt very empowered and inspired to change my own thinking.  I am a proud Mama and breast feeding is a blessing and a special bond between my baby and I.  It's not fair to waste those precious moments worrying about what others think.  I'm just doing exactly what God intended for me to do.  And it's really not my problem that people can't appreciate that.   I vowed that day to not waste anymore time worrying about feeding my baby in public.  Instead, I will thank God for blessing me with this little soul and for giving me the ability to nourish her through His wonderful creation.  We may never be able to sway the minds of people such as the ones I came across at lunch that day and I must accept that.  I'm doing myself, my baby, and women in general a disservice by feeling ashamed and self-conscious.  I can not help the way others thing, can not control their behavior or reactions.  I can only control my own, setting my own standards and standing by them with conviction.  I hope that this type of incident doesn't happen again.  But, if it does, I pray that I am strong enough to smile through the moment with dignity, giving my baby all the love she so greatly deserves. 


Wendy said...

Wow! Just reading this story makes me so upset. You weren't even exposing yourself! I never breastfed in public because I had difficulties with breastfeeding and had to exclusively pump. It's a blessing to be able to breastfeed, but also something truly admirable because it isn't easy! Society should be honoring nursing mothers, not demeaning them.

Hilary@BabyMooHoo said...

thanks for sharing this story, although it did make me start getting all palm-sweating-heart-racing mad! i definitely got a few sidelong glances while i breastfed, but i feel so lucky that i never experienced a horror story like this... i would have broken down in tears, surely! good job keeping your composure, mama.

Joyful Sparrow said...

I'm glad you shared this. The fact that we have people with such closed minds - still - is kind of repulsive to me.

Keep doing what you do, lady. You're someone to look up to. I hope that when I have my own children, I'll be as strong as you have been.

Anna said...

Wow, that's terrible! I never had any negative experiences like that breastfeeding in public. I wasn't ever totally afraid but I wasn't completely comfortable, either. I just wasn't one of those mamas who could do it super discreetly so no one would know - although I was always modest.

I think it's good for a nursing mom to be sensitive to those around her, to be modest, and especially to be courteous in a more private setting, like someone else's home where it's more obvious what you're doing. But (as I keep having to tell myself and will when I give birth to my second in a few months), there's nothing to be ashamed of. The more mamas who breastfeed in public, the more acceptable it will become!

Anna said...

P.S. I came here via your comment on Dear Baby. :)

Lauren said...

I HAD to comment on this, having BFed both my girls for 12months. I nodded in agreement through your post, from being laid back with the second to "why is this even controversial?"
I'm not confrontational about much, but man, getting harassed for BFing in public burns my biscuit. I decided long ago that the only one who has to be comfortable with me nursing in public is me; I won't nurse in Walmart but I might in a restaurant. Conversely, a screaming baby will earn you more dirty looks in the restaurant; you'll just fit right in at Walmart. Babies need to eat and I will not be forced into a public bathroom or a hot car simply because I'm doing what's best for my baby.
This is truly one of those "until you walk a mile" situations. Ive had single male friends make comments but my super conservative husband doesn't even flinch about it anymore; it's easier to ignore a nursing baby than a screaming one:).

Little Gray Pixel said...

It's truly sad that this happened to you. I only nursed in public a few times. Mostly I stopped because it was too awkward for me (the only way baby girl was comfortable nursing required several pillows and those aren't exactly portable), but I often worried that people would give me the stink eye.

*Off topic: Thanks for the encouraging words you've left on my blog regarding going back to work. They mean more than you know!

Heather said...

I have no experience whatsoever in this as I am not a mommy, BUT just reading it angered me because it's like you said, there are HALF naked, if not fully naked women posted EVERYWHERE and you weren't even exposed. Ugh. But it's also like you said, you will never know what was really going on with that couple. I'm sure it was a lot deeper than just seeing you. Anyways, keep doing what you're doing!

PS - Thanks for your comment on my post about fundraising on my blog it REALLY is so much easier when you are having fun!

Chrissy said...

This is unbelievable...I am from Europe (Germany to be exact) and people there would never bother about a breastfeeding mother! It's the most normal thing in the world!
And, isn't it a question of manners to not stare at a breastfeeding mom!?

Coming over from Pamplemousse and so glad I did! Hugs xxx

The Poole Family said...

What a great post!! It's SO true!! Breastfeeding is such a sweet and precious time between a mom and baby; it's such a natural and God-given blessing!! The benefits of nursing are extraordinary and even though it can sometimes be inconvenient for mom, the rewards are worth all the dirty looks from those ignorant enough to give them. I just want to commend you and encourage you during your breastfeeding adventures!! You are doing an AMAZING thing and should be SO proud!!! :)

becky said...

I was luckily never harassed about breastfeeding when my son was a baby. It really is such an obnoxious small-minded-american sickness for these people to have such a reaction.

heaven help the poor mouthy saps that bother me with my next baby. I'm not so young & timid anymore. heh heh

Kelley, Brendan and Baby Brix said...

Hi there! Thanks for commenting over on my blog! I came by to check yours out too..

I don't breastfeed, I pump. I'm uncomfortable with breastfeeding, I'm not sure why, but it's always freaked me out.


it's none of my business!

And I think it's great in general because obviously it's the best choice for baby. I think the saddest part here is that the woman couldn't get over it! Maybe it shocked her, but for heaven's sakes, you were completely covered and like you said, we see more on TV!

I feel like I've been on your blog before..your buttons look so familiar..glad I stopped by!

Sarbear said...

While I'm not even a mother yet, that couple makes me sad. For you and for them. That someone could think feeding a child is in some way wrong is just beyond me, but I know it happens all the time. You keep rockin' and being an awesome mama and that's all that matters. At least your daughters will grow up with a mom who is proud of her body and what it's capable of, and that, plus the nourishment you give them now, is invaluable.

AmyLee said...

UGH. i get so mad when i hear about people having a hard time with mamas bf-ing in public. and i often wonder how i'll be with my second baby someday... i hope i will be more relaxed & laid back too :)

Randalin. said...

Every time I hear a story like this it just blows me away. I have such a difficult time understanding why people would have a problem with breastfeeding in public. I am so thankful that I've never had anything like this happen to me. I really don't know how I would react - I'm sure with anger, rather than dignity. It sounds like it was a hard situation for you, but I think you're on the right track when you suggest there was more going on with that couple than a spat over breastfeeding. I hope this never happens again to you (or anyone else!).

KimBerly said...

How dare they be so completely RUDE and insensitive. First off if you were wearing a nursing blanket thingy and you were covered then what the heck was the issue. The only time I think it gets a little questionable is when people just whip out the breast and feed their child without wearing a nursing blanket.
People are so rude!! Never let anyone make you feel bad or ashamed for feeding your child.
I would have said something to them but that just me and my big mouth.