Thursday, April 27, 2006

Happy Birthday, Baby!

I'm spending the next couple days focused on celebrating the birth of the girl who made me a mom. Happy Birthday, My Fairy Princess! (Those of you who know her in person may be surprised to know that my bruiser of a tomboy is a closet princess who loves dressing up in pink!)

I have a guest blogger writing in my stead today. Chrissy is a friend and fellow knitter. In fact, the response from her and my other NE Knitting Mom friends after I told them my story convinced me to start this blog. I'll let her tell you how it happened and why she and so many other moms are still fired up about what happened to me, despite Fred Meyer's apology.

Chris was just going to forget about the incident and Fred Meyer's initial response, and was seriously thinking of never nursing her son in public ever again, when she told the story to a group of friends (including me) and we got really mad about the whole situation.

Despite the fact that Fred Meyer has publicly apologized and promised to do some "sensitivity training" of its employees, there are still many people out there who think that breastfeeding mothers should nurse in a bathroom, at home, in the car, or anywhere out of the sight of others. This is due to their own discomfort at seeing a mother feeding her baby in the way that nature intended. However, trying to find a private place to nurse a screaming, hungry baby isn't always possible (as I well know as a nursing mom myself of a one-year-old son) and covering up with a blanket isn't always an option since many babies will just pull it off or get even more upset. Breastfeeding will continue to be viewed as something obscene as long as we keep nursing mothers "in the closet" and don't educate the general public as to why breastfeeding is an important issue for everyone (not just the "feminazis").

When I had my daughter, I was terrified to nurse in public and it was months before I did so. I suffered from severe post-partum depression, exacerbated by the fact that I felt like I needed to stay close to home in case she decided she needed to eat. I was dedicated to breastfeeding, so I stuck with it. However, I strongly believe that the breastfeeding rate in this country is so low because new moms refuse to be stuck in the house and also because breastfeeding is seen as somehow sexual or obscene when it is neither. The perception that women should be "as discreet as possible" just feeds the fire and allows people to continue to feel like a breastfeeding mom is doing something lewd if she doesn't do it in private.

I am now nursing my second child, and I do nurse in public but I'm still uncomfortable doing it unless I'm in a place that I know is accepting. I've always tried to be extremely discreet, and have a closet full of nursing tops to prove it. However, I've still gotten funny looks from people who realize what I'm doing even though there is absolutely NO skin showing. The issue isn't people accidentally seeing breasts (which they have the opportunity to do on a daily basis anyway in magazines, on tv and on billboards). It's seeing a woman breastfeeding. I want this perception to change so that by the time my daughter is a mom, she can breastfeed her kids and feel like it is the most natural thing in the world - not something she needs to be doing furtively, like some kind of criminal or sexual deviant.

While this issue is of great importance to breastfeeding moms, it is also a public health issue. Breastfeeding is endorsed by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization as THE WAY to feed babies. You can go to either of these sites to see the enormous benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding. Besides the health benefits, breastfeeding is free (other than the extra 500 calories a day the mother requires), sterile (no bottles to deal with or water cleanliness issues) and always available (no need to worry about getting trapped with your baby somewhere - a snowstorm, an elevator, a traffic jam - and not having enough formula or water with you). While formula is a fine substitute for breast milk in cases where the mother can't nurse her baby, breast milk is still much superior (just like fresh fruits and vegetables are better than canned).

The final point to make about the controversy over breastfeeding in public is that the ones who really suffer are the babies. Whether it's a baby who misses out on the health benefits of breastfeeding because the mother decides it's too difficult to breastfeed, or a baby who has to wait to eat because his mom has to find a private place to nurse, it's ultimately the baby who is punished for society's hang-ups about breastfeeding. This fight isn't only about the rights of breastfeeding moms - it's about the rights of all babies to eat the food that nature intended for them, in peace. It's just not always convenient to stay home all day with a nursing baby, or to expect a baby to only eat when it's at home (as Chris found out with her son at Fred Meyer - she'd nursed him 30 minutes before entering the store, but he decided that he wanted to eat again and wasn't going to take no for an answer). Nursing moms are not exhbitionists trying to force you to look at their exposed breasts - they are just concerned mothers trying to do what's best for their babies while going about their daily lives.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bow and Scrape, Fred. Bow and Scrape

Okay, so the interview with Dori Monson was about what I expected it to be. The guy's clueless about the challenges nursing mothers face and used my story as an opportunity to joke about "flapping breasts" and basically make an ass of himself, BUT to hear Fred Meyer Public Affairs Flack Melinda Merrill publicly reiterate that nursing mothers are welcome in Fred Meyer stores, whether they breatfeed "discreetly" or not, was worth the trouble.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dori Monson Interviews Me Today at Noon

I'll be on the Dori Monson Show today at noon on KIRO radio...710 AM in Seattle or listen online.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dear Mean and Ignorant People

Mean People: If you can't be bothered to read my story in its entirety and accept it at face value, and then make incredibly mean-spirited comments accusing me of purposefully exposing myself or trying to build a case for a lawsuit, expect your comments to be deleted.

Ignorant People: Keep up the good work! You're hilarious!

Human Rights!

All Hail, Hathor the Cowgoddess! My favorite comic takes on the NIP issue (again). I love you, Heather!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Story Airs on KATU News

Just watched myself nurse in a very public way on KATU News. Reporter Shellie Bailey-Shah did a great job helping me tell my story and to make the point that breastfeeding moms should be able to nurse in public without being shamed. Unfortunately, many of my more intelligent comments were left on editing room floor. I suppose I shouldn't have used big words like "assuage" or "legitimize". Oh well.

Still waiting for Fred Meyer to send me a statement about their official policy regarding nursing mothers in their stores, but at least today they made a public pronouncement on the evening news that we are welcome.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Couple Other Bloggers Comment

I love the headline Mary Tsao's used in her Blogher blog and the one Marrit Ingram used in her Baldo blog.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

KATU News to Interview Me Sunday

Reporter Shellie Bailey-Shah from Portland's ABC affiliate KATU called me this afternoon to talk about the Fred Meyer incident. I agreed to be interviewed on Sunday. She's a former breastfeeding mom and seems sympathetic, so I think the interview will go well as long as I don't turn into a blubbering idiot in front of the camera. I'm a better writer than speaker. The story is supposed to air Sunday evening, not the most watched TV news timeslot, but it will get some attention anyway.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

For the Uninitiated

Unless you've nursed a baby yourself, it's hard to understand the challenges nursing mothers face. Even when you have nursed a baby, all babies are different and present different challenges. My daughter was a natural-born nurser and never had any trouble breastfeeding, though she steadfastly refused to drink from a bottle. As an experienced breatfeeding mom, I didn't expect to have any problems nursing my second, but my son has had difficulties nursing since he was born. I think we have finally determined the cause of his problems (tongue-tie) and hope we'll soon get that resolved for him.

I'm going to address a comment I received here point-by-point. It's clear to me that many folks just do not understand the nursing process, how to mind their own damn bidness, or that breastfeeding is a baby's basic human right, that should not be restricted because the thought of a baby getting food from his mama's breast makes some people squeamish.

"I think FM was right."
Well, from the phone call I received Wednesday, it appears not even the folks at Fred Meyer thought they were right. So there.

"You should have been more discreet if this caused so many complaints."
No, people should mind their own business. It's my breast that was incidentally (NOT intentionally) exposed, mostly due to the fact that my son was crying. It's clear that those of you who have never breastfed (or even seen a live baby breastfeed) don't really understand the process. Mama unlatches her bra, lifts her shirt, and brings Baby to her breast. Typically, depending on the finesse of Mama and age of Baby, the breast will be exposed for a brief second or two between shirt lifting and Baby latching on. Once Baby is latched on, his head covers Mama's breast. A crying Baby, however, pulls away from the breast, exposing (gasp!) Mama's nipple at the very moment his cries are calling attention to the scene. This is what happened to me at Fred Meyer. So the self-absorbed people who complained to management about my "indiscretion" were complaining about a mother who was trying desperately to feed her crying baby.

"The world does not revolve around you."
No, it does not. I haven't asked the world to revolve around me. All I wanted to do was feed my baby in peace. It seems to me the people who believe the world revolves around them are the ones who complain to store management when they see a mother nursing her baby. Complaining about a baby eating??? How much more self-absorbed can you get?

"It's THEIR property, not public property. They have a right to do what they did."
Actually, as the aide to my state legislator put it, Fred Meyer created a public place by inviting the public to congregate there. And as I have already noted, Fred Meyer has admitted, to me and everyone else who wrote in support, that those managers were indeed wrong.

"Perhaps you should not go to Freddy's anymore until your chlidren are a bit more grown."
So, if Fred Meyer happened to be my only choice for groceries I should not grocery shop until my son stops nursing? I nursed my first 'til she was 14 months old and plan to nurse my son at least as long. That's a long time to go without groceries. Thankfully, Fred Meyer is not my only choice. I'll put in a plug here for New Seasons, where I have been shopping and nursing in peace for the last couple weeks. I always prefer shopping there, it's just located a few miles further away from my home than the Gateway FM, so slightly less convenient.

"Couldn't you have gone to your car?"
Couldn't the people who found the sight of a baby breastfeeding so offensive just have averted their eyes? Wouldn't that have been easier than a mother negotiating a busy parking lot with her flighty toddler and bawling baby? What if it had been pouring rain, freezing cold, or scorching hot outside?

"Carried a baby bottle of breast milk?"
Again, clearly the poster has no idea what's involved. Pumping breastmilk is extremely inefficient. It takes me 30 minutes to pump three ounces of milk, not nearly enough to satisfy my son at his age, whereas 15 minutes of nursing typically does. Pumping is also uncomfortable and can lead to mastitis. Besides the time involved in actually pumping, there's also the need to wash and sterilize the pump, bottles, and containers for storage. From an ecological stand point, there's also the materials and energy used to make pumps and the energy required to keep expressed milk cool or frozen during storage and to heat it up for use. Why go through all that when I'm walking around with the perfect food for my baby, at the perfect temperature, in the perfect delivery system? Just so people who don't seem to get that none of us would be here if it weren't for mother's milk coming from mother's breasts won't make themselves uncomfortable?

Call From FM Customer Service Today

I got a call today from Melinda Merrill of Fred Meyer Customer Service today. She told me she regretted that I had been made to feel humiliated by a Fred Meyer employee and that she was personally embarrassed that this had happened to me. She assured me that it is Fred Meyer policy to comply with Oregon law, that the company would be reminding its employees that the law protects mothers right to breastfeed, and that they must follow the law. Managers, not just frontline clerks, would be receiving this training. I'm going to call her back tomorrow and ask if the company will be issuing a written breastfeeding policy that all employees have to read and sign acknowledging that they've read (as Crystal Zook described in a comment).

I asked when I could return to the Gateway Freddies and expect to be welcomed to nurse there; she said she would call Troy Harding, the Gateway Store Director, as soon as she got off the phone with me. I thought about dressing my son up in his little "got breastmilk" tee and heading over there to nurse on that bench again, but I really didn't have any shopping to do and today was too beautiful a day to just drive over there to make a point. I spent my "free time" weeding my asparagus bed.

I told her about the blog and that I would be writing today about our phone call, but that until I can see the Fred Meyer policy regarding breastfeeding in writing, I will not consider the matter settled. She said it might take a few days, but that she would email it to me when she could. I will share it with you all when I get it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I've Been Blogged & Altered

Thanks, Sarah Gilbert, of Cafe Mama and urbanMamas fame, for sharing my story with Blogging Baby. (Now with corrected headline.)

This just in: another mention of the blog on AlterNet (one of my favorite sources of actual news).

Folks, by my count, well over 50 letters were sent to Freddies in less than 48 hours. I'm overwhelmed, truly.

Creative Nurse-in at University of Texas

I just received an email about this dinner for moms and their nursing babies on the University of Texas campus. What a wonderful idea! Be sure to watch the video.

I don't have an exact count, but so far, at least 20 people have already written to Fred Meyer with their comments about my story. I've been getting phone calls and emails from moms all over town and the story is already spreading beyond my personal network (gotta love the Internet).

Y'all are AWESOME!!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Letter From My State Representative

Here's a response I received to a letter to my state representative, Jeff Merkley.

Dear Ms. Musser,

You are absolutely correct that Oregon law states, "A woman may breast-feed her child in a public place" (ORS 109.001). What is not as clear is what constitutes a public place. A Fred Meyers is private property but it could be argued that they have created a public place by inviting the public to "congregate" there.

The courts would, in all likelihood, deem that a woman has the right to nurse at a Fred Meyers, although this has never been tested in court. Our legislative attorneys believe that the courts would also judge that Fred Meyers has the right to insist on discretion.

Since this ORS is not a criminal statute, only a private action could get this question into court. You would have to sue for the right to nurse without "covering up."

I hope this answers your question.

Claire Griffin
Legislative Aide to
Rep. Jeff Merkley
House Democratic Leader

Sunday, April 16, 2006

How You Can Help Now

As the mother of a 3-year-old and nearly 3-month-old, the last thing I have time for at the moment is organizing a nurse-in to persuade Fred Meyer's management to stop harrassing nursing mamas, but it may come down to that. I have contacted Krogers, current owner of Freddies, explaining that I would like them to change their policy company-wide so that mothers can nurse at their stores without being told to cover up. If I don't hear back from them in a week or so, I'll start organizing a nurse-in and share my story with the local news.

In the meantime, if you too would like to write to Freddies, I think it would help if they heard from other customers. Here is what I am specifically asking from them:

1) To make a clear company-wide policy that mothers have a right to breastfeed in their stores without being asked to move, hide, cover up, or leave.

2) To train all employees that breastfeeding is different from other behaviors that customers might complain about (such as loud music, offensive language, etc.), and that employees are never to ask a breastfeeding mother to move, hide, cover up, or leave. Instead employees can advise the complaining customer to avert their eyes or move to a different part of the store.

3) To make the public aware of this policy.

An interesting bit of trivia I learned this week...Oregon has the highest breastfeeding rates in the country. Over 75% of new mothers start nursing their babies. That's a LOT of Fred Meyer customers!

You can contact Fred Meyer by snail mail:
Darrell Webb, President
GO West 1/Customer Relationship Center
3800 SE 22nd
Portland, OR 97202

Or via the Web:
Fred Meyer Customer Comments

Please let me know if you write a letter. I'd like to keep a count of how many letters they're getting and also to thank you!!


On April 4th I sat down on a bench at the Gateway Fred Meyer to nurse my two-month-old son. It was about five o'clock on a busy Tuesday afternoon. The last place I wanted to be nursing was in that spot as it was noisy and distracting, but at the time, I couldn't think of better place to attend to my baby's needs. I also had my rather flighty three-year-old daughter with me, so wandering around the store to find a quieter spot would've left me instead chasing a toddler while carrying a bawling baby. Anyway, I've always made a point of nursing in public as part of my personal breastfeeding promotion campaign. So, I sat there, struggling to get my crying son to nurse while keeping an eye on my toddler in a busy store. Like many women living in a culture that has so thoroughly sexualized them, baring my breasts in public is not something I relish. At the same time, attending to my baby's needs is more important to me that maintaining my modesty. So, I do my best to keep myself covered and assume that people will be polite enough not to stare. It's not easy, though, to be discreet when nursing an upset two-month-old.

After nursing for five minutes or so, my son seemed comfortable enough for us to start shopping. As I reached into my bag to get my sling, Troy Hardig, Gateway Store Director, approached me. He had a weird look on his face and as I was trying to figure out why he was apporaching me when he opens with, "Oh, good. You're getting a blanket." He told me there had been complaints about my nursing, not that he minded, but that some people were offended. I was so stunned I couldn't think of what to say, except to remind him that Oregon law protects a mother's right to nurse in public. I felt absolutely humiliated. His comments left me feeling like I'd been doing something lewd. Unbelievably, when I spoke with Todd Heinle, Fred Meyers East Portland/SW Wash Operations Supervisor, a couple days later about the incident, he supported the store manager's claim that I should have been more "discreet" and that three people had complained. I'm outraged that Fred Meyer's corporate policy supports legitimizing the complaints of those offended by mothers who nurse in public, rather than the legally protected right of mothers who are trying to take care of their children. How can the offended sensibilities of even a dozen customers trump the legitimate needs of a baby?