Monday, May 22, 2006

Letter to Barb

Here's letter I wrote to an acquaintance recently, who questioned my decision to nurse Luc at Fred Meyers.

Dear Barb,

I have to say I'm somewhat taken aback that you would not be supportive of a mother's right to nurse in public. You have always seemed to be such an open minded, tolerant, "live and let live" sort of person, so it surprises me that you wouldn't be okay with mothers doing what they need to do to take care of their babies, wherever and whenever they need to, or that you would secondguess my actions about how I take care of my children. I hope you don't mind me addressing your comments below point-by-point. I believe that you have good intentions and I hope you believe that I do too. If I seem a bit strident or sensitive, well, this is a very important issue to me and I was publicly humiliated in a store where I shop frequently and even though in the end I "won," I'm still a bit tender from the experience.

You say, "It is not the vision of a baby feeding that anyone objects to." Here are some comments from visitors to my blog:
"People come to the store to shop, not to see a woman breastfeeding her baby."
"I'm female, but I'm getting a little sick of the ragin' booby ladies wanting to flap them tatters everywhere." Much more of the same can be found all over the Internet. Here's what Barbara Walters had to say about seeing a mother nurse her baby on a plane during takeoff (which, by the way, is vitally important for babies as their eardrums can be damaged if they do not suck during takeoffs and landings). With regard to "covering" babies while breastfeeding, many babies refuse to be covered while they eat and some people have expressed that they are even bothered by the sight of a covered baby breastfeeding. It is impossible to make everyone happy and comfortable, and really, a mother's first priority is the happiness and comfort of her baby, not grown ups who are perfectly capable of looking away or moving away.

You say you would "vote" for breastfeeding to happen in a more private surrounding. Fortunately for nursing mothers and their babies, Oregon law codifies and the Supreme Court supports nursing in public, so your vote doesn't really count. Here are the relevant citations:

1999 Ore. ALS 306; 1999 Ore. Laws 306; 1999 Ore. SB 744:
A woman may breastfeed her child in a public place.

As stated by the U.S. Supreme Court, “Nourishment is necessary to maintain the child’s life, and the parent may choose to believe that breastfeeding will enhance the child’s psychological as well as physical health. In light of the spectrum of interests that the Supreme Court has held specially protected we conclude that the Constitution protects from excessive state interference a woman’s decision respecting breastfeeding her child.” 650 F.2d at 787.

You suggest that I couldn have taken a "quick walk to the car" when my baby needed to nurse. I would like to tell you about something that happened just two days ago that reveals how danergous such a suggestion is. I was walking through the WinCo parking lot with Luc in one arm and holding Annabel's hand with the other, when I heard a car start. I couldn't see which car it was, and cautiously proceeded with my children. Turns out it was a car hidden from me by an SUV parked beside it and the driver had no idea that we were about to walk behind her car when she pulled out. Had I been making that "quick walk" you suggest, with Luc crying in one arm and Annabel yanking on the other (as she does at times, especially if we go somewhere and then suddenly leave), I may not have heard that engine start and an actual tragedy might have occurred rather than a bit of embarrassment, offense, or disgust on the part of the people who took the time to complain to a manager about me feeding my baby, rather than just avert their eyes from the scene.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by the "controversial manner in which the event took place," so I can't really address that point. I can assure you that I didn't nurse my son in Fred Meyers in an effort to create a controversy, I nursed him there because that's where we were when he began to cry frantically and I determined that he was hungry. (For what it's worth, I did nurse Luc less than 30 minutes before we arrived at the store.)

Could there been no other more private place? Again, it's my right to nurse in public, my baby's right to eat when he needs to, so why should I have scurried around the store, finding some private place, with my bawling baby and flighty toddler when there was a bench, provided for the comfort of all Fred Meyers customers, right where we were?

Did the confrontation with the manager benefit Annabelle in any manner?? I did not confront the manager, he confronted me. I was just minding my own business and reminded the manager of Oregon law when he confronted me. And yes, I do believe that standing up for Luc's right to eat when he needs to, without burdensome restrictions for the comfort of adults who can avert their eyes or move away, does benefit Annabel. I hope that by the time she's a grown women, thanks to mothers like me taking a stand, breastfeeding in public will be as controversial as being pregnant in public (there was a time when it was considered immodest for a women to be obviously pregnant in public).

This does not even begin to imply that private places should be sought out in all cases...but Fred Meyer's?? What of Fred Meyers? What makes it so special? It's where we were. It's where a LOT of mothers have to go, sometimes with their babies who may need to eat while there. When the public affairs flack at Fred Meyers called to apologize on behalf of the company, she assured me that they would be correcting their employees about the law and the company's policy because, and I quote, "Mothers are our core customers and we want them to feel welcome to take care of their babies in our stores."

Breastmilk is the very best food for babies and respectable medical organizations, including the American Pediatric Association, the World Health Organization, the American Diabetes Association, encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies for the first year of life and ideally until the age of two. Sadly, public perception is one of the greatest obstacles to breastfeeding in the United States. One of the reasons I took a stand was not just because I was wrongfully humilitated. I knew I would eventually bounce back. I'm strongly committed to breastfeeding and I also have a fantastic support network of current and former nursing mothers, who shared their sympathy and outrage when they heard what happened to me. Unfortunately, most mothers do not have such support and may have never nursed in public again or worse, given up breastfeeding altogether, had they been publicly shamed as I was.

Anyway, thank you for sharing your opinion with me and if you've read this far, thank you for bothering. You are actually the only person I know who has not given me her wholehearted support for my efforts and I appreciate your honesty and the opportunity, perhaps, to explain to you why supporting mothers who breastfeed in public is important. Fred Meyers, thankfully, has admitted its managers were wrong and has publicly promised to re-educate all of its employees about the law. I am proud that I made that happen by standing up for myself, my son, and nursing mothers and babies everywhere. I wish, as someone I consider a friend, that you could be proud of me too.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jimmy Kimmel on Baba Wawa

I don't watch much television and never saw the comments Barbara Walters made on The View last year about being "uncomfortable" seeing a mother breastfeed her baby on an airplane. Couple days ago, I stumbled across this amazing clip. Jimmy Kimmel is officially my new hero.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Why I Love People With Gray Hair

Caitlin just posted this story as a comment and it's such a lovely one that I wanted to put it up here so others would be sure to read it.
When my daughter was three weeks old and I waited for my husband to pick me up from the dentist, she decided she needed to nurse. This was a small conservative Louisiana town (before Louisiana passed its pro-nursing law), and there was a little old lady (LOL) staring at me from a few chairs away. I threw a blanket over my whimpering daughter and tried to get her latched on. As a new mom, I found a good latch hard to manage even when I could see, and manipulating a full breast and a starving newborn under a blanket was not a skill I could manage. Baby began to scream. LOL stared. I frantically tried to manipulate my nipple into baby's mouth. Baby shrieked and flailed under the heat and restrictiveness of the blanket. I was about to burst into tears myself when LOL leaned over and said, "I breastfed all 14 of my children." I discarded the blanket, baby nursed contentedly, and LOL and I had a lovely chat. May all you nursing moms be blessed with LOLs, and may everyone let you (or your kids' dad when he shops with the little ones) cut in the checkoutline whenever need be.

Some people have commented here that older people are the ones who complain about mothers nursing in public, but in my experience, older people are more understanding, helpful, and patient than others when I'm out with my kids and are the most likely to say something positive about me breastfeeding. My daughter has always been the kind of kid who makes an effort to get people around her smile, and even as a baby, she seemed to know that anyone with gray hair was an easy mark. She would get the attention of some grandma or grandpa while we waited in check out lines and without fail, they would respond and strike up a conversation with her and me. Recently, while nursing my son at Tryon Creek Park's nature center during the Trillium Festival, an older gentleman who was sitting next to us struck up a conversation with me about how the Hebrew name for God has been incorrectly translated into English. "It should be literally translated as 'god with the nurturing breasts'." He went on to tell me that he sees lots of mothers nursing at his church these days and that he thinks it's a wonderful thing. I think that older people supporting nursing mothers is a wonderful thing. (Oh, and if anyone can point me to more info about this "god with the nururing breasts" thing, I'd be much obliged.)

Plan Your Nurse Out Now!

World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7) is still a few months away, but it's not too soon to start planning a nurse out in your community. Will there be one in Portland, you ask? You betcha! Stay tuned for details.

Nippers Unite! Planning Meeting This Saturday

Our new group is having a lively email discussion and readying for our first planning meeting at Chrissy's house this Saturday. I'm thrilled to have something so positive come out of what started out as a humiliating, defeating experience. While showering this morning, I was thinking about that afternoon, remembering how I felt like it was me and my baby against the world while I sat there listening to that manager tell me people were offended by my efforts to feed my son. I stood in the shower and bawled, the first time I've cried over any of this since it happened. It felt so awful to be shamed by members of my community for lacking sufficient breastfeeding finesse. I wish no other mom would have to experience that, though I'm sure more will. My friend Sierra wrote to me today that "parents of young children should be given a break by everyone else." She's right. Damn we're doing the hardest job of our lives...every single mom I've talked with says that being a mother is the most challenging thing she's ever done. It's such important work, too, though so completely undervalued in our society.

I don't know any mothers who want special accommodations, but gosh it would be nice to get bit of understanding when our kids aren't being the "seen but not heard" creatures you expect them to be, instead of dirty looks and tsk-tsks. I have fantasized about some nice old lady walking up to me that day at Fred Meyer and saying, "Sweetie, it looks like you could use an extra pair of hands. Can I help? I'll entertain your little girl for a few minutes while you take care of your baby." Would that have been so hard? Would it have taken more effort than tracking down the store manager to complain about how offended you were at the sight of the breast of a mother trying desperately to calm and feed her crying baby?

It never occurred to me when I was breastfeeding my daughter that I should be discreet for anyone else's comfort but hers and mine. I would find a quiet spot so she wouldn't be distracted and keep myself covered because I felt uncomfortable, vulnerable, when my breasts were exposed in front of strangers. I truly had no idea that people actually found the sight of a mother breastfeeding her baby disgusting. I'm still having trouble getting my head around the idea. To me, it's one of the most beautiful sights in the world. I hope that by the time my daughter has children, that we will be blessed to see it much more often.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Thanks, Mean and Ignorant People!

If it weren't for you and your unbelievably uninformed, self-absorbed comments about nursing mothers here on this blog and others, talk radio, and the evening news, we probably wouldn't have gotten so damn fired up about the need to support mothers who choose to nurse in public. As of this morning, 40 people have asked to join Nippers Unite. We'll have our first planning meeting in private, but after that, expect to see us out there "making a point" and helping one another NIP with confidence on a regular basis. Did you actually believe you'd shame us into the closet?

The Primary NIP Myth: "The Right Not To Be Offended"

The following piece is by Sher Maloney, creator of Nurse Here Now. I have found it so inspiring I wanted to share it.
People suppose they have the right not to be made uncomfortable by seeing a baby nursing, but that is their desire, not the actual case. That kind of sense of entitlement is founded on a false premise.

There is no such thing as "The Right Not To Be Offended".

For example, if I am eating out and the man at the table next to me does something I find offensive, say, chews loudly with his mouth wide open, (which actually does make me sick and can ruin a meal for me) I can go over to his table and request for him to sit somewhere else, or I can ask the wait staff to have him finish his meal in the car, or possibly cover up with a tablecloth, right? We all know I'd be laughed out of the place if I responded that way, even though in my opinion, it is obvious he was being impolite. It isn't reasonable to believe that my opinion of his actions should obligate him to change his behavior, even though I wish he would. It isn't reasonable to believe that holding the opinion that breastfeeding is impolite means a mom should be obligated to avoid doing it in front of you or to do it in a way you find acceptable.

It is apparent that many people think they are entitled to have others meet their personal comfort needs, they seem to feel that rather than taking responsibility for their own discomfort if they see something they don't like, that the "offender" should then assume responsibilty for making them more comfortable. Adults are capable of meeting their own comfort needs. All it takes on their part to avoid being uncomfortable is to look away. But rather than doing so, they choose not to meet their own needs and then blame someone else for their discomfort.

If you have eyes, and ears, the reality is that you will sometimes see and hear things that you would rather not. A desire to be comfortable with the way the babies around you are eating is a preference that no one else is obligated to accomodate. It's not a matter of politeness or courtesy - feeding a baby is neither impolite nor "inconsiderate" nor discourteous in itself. It is unrealistic and self-absorbed to expect someone else to meet your own petty comfort needs. The general public is not responsible for understanding and accomodating everyone else's personal preferences.

Whether I like seeing a baby breastfeeding or not, it's my responsibility to take care of my own comfort. It's not up to perfect strangers going about their business to see that I remain in my own personal comfort zone.

Copyright © Sher Maloney

About the author:

Sher Maloney is a mom of two boys, WAHM and wife. When she is not firing off lactivist articles, she is spending time with family & friends and making unique handmade soap. Visit her site to see her work, or contact her at

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

We Are Williamette Week Winners!

Ta-da! Our victory made it into Willamette Week's Winners and Losers column. Thanks Sarah and Karla for letting me know about it!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Supporting Mothers Who NIP

I could not have stood up for myself as I have without the support of my amazing mama network. Thank you Alenna, Anne, Brittney, Cherrie, Chrissy, Christie, Emily, Jenna and Jenna, Jennifer, Katie and Katie, Lesley, Lillie, Melissa, Nicholette, Peggy, Sally, Sarah, Shannon, Shauna, Sierra, Teri, Ticia and so many others whom I have never met who sent me emails, cyber hugs, wrote fantastic, thoughtful comments here, and persuaded Fred Meyer to pronounce its support for mothers who nurse in its stores: without your empathy and outrage, your ideas and encouragement, I wouldn't have started this blog, nursed on the news, or withstood the backlash of the self-absorbed folks who think that their comfort is more important than that of mothers meeting the basic needs of their babies.

Throughout this experience, I have thought a lot about the moms who don't have such support for their decision to nurse in public or to breastfeed at all. Really, this fight has been for them and their babies. Thanks to my commitment to breastfeeding and the support of my friends, I would have bounced back from the Fred Meyer incident eventually, but what about those mothers who don't have such support and are discouraged from breastfeeding at all because of the cultural attitudes that led to those customers to complain, that store manager to tell me about their complaints, and that regional manager to tell me the situation had been handled appropriately? More importantly, what about their babies, who do not enjoy the food they were born to eat?

While some say that it's prefectly okay to breastfeed, as long as you are discreet when you do it in public, to that I say, define discreet and tell me why it is that the breastfeeding mother, who is making herself vulnerable to looks and comments from strangers while trying to do some of the most essential work on the planet, isn't the person who should get to define that for herself, her baby, and the particular situation in which they find themselves when hunger strikes. If you tell women they may only nurse at home or nurse in public with their breasts completely under cover at all times, you might as well tell them not to breastfeed or only to breastfeed for a few months. You're also suggesting that there's something about breastfeeding that's patently offensive or lewd, which of course just feeds into some women's existing discomfort with breastfeeding, no doubt leading to fewer babies enjoying their most fundamental human right.

My friend Chrissy and I have been talking about starting a group that provides a supportive atmosphere for mothers who want to nurse in public. Yesterday, she created a new Yahoo! group and blog for those of us who want to make sure every mother who wants to nurse her baby in public can gain the confidence she needs to do so. I don't want to fight with those who think breastfeeding is disgusting or should only be done according to their notions of discretion. It's every mother's right to nurse in public and the rude, self-absorbed people who think they can change that by shaming mothers will eventually find, to their dismay, that nursing in public has become as accepted as being pregnant in public and that a bare breast gets as much attention as a bare ankle. In the meantime, those of you who wish to support breastfeeding mothers and their babies, please join our campaign to make nursing in public normal. You can join whether you're currently a nursing mother or not. We plan to meet regularly, in public, to talk about breastfeeding issues and all the other things mothers talk about and to provide a safe, supportive atmosphere for moms who want to NIP for the first time or to regain their confidence after being shamed as I was. Join here now. Nippers Unite!

Nurse At Will, Fred Meyer Shoppers!

The following arrived in my Inbox yesterday.
Ms. Musser:

Per our conversation on April 19 and again on April 21, I am forwarding you the information we have provided to all of our regional managers, store directors, and department managers (for example, Apparel managers in each store, grocery managers in each store, Home department managers in each store, etc.). They will share this information with their employees, and our regional teams will ensure that all personnel are aware of Fred Meyer's policy.

As I shared with you when we talked on the 21st, Fred Meyer's policy has always been - and remains - to uphold the law. I would like to reiterate our sincere regret that you were made to feel uncomfortable and humilated in our store. Fred Meyer welcomes all customers to our stores---especially mothers. We support the right of women to breastfeed their children. In addition to being the right thing to do, it is the law in most places. And where it is not explicitly the law, we still want the same respect extended to women.

The following information went to the above personnel via several of our internal communications vehicles on April 21. These are the same communications vehicles we use for training and informing our managers and employees about all of our policies:

"A recent incident at one of our stores has brought to our attention the need to educate our stores on the laws regarding breastfeeding (Oregon, Washington and Alaska noted below).

Most of the state breastfeeding laws permit mothers to breastfeed in any public or private location and/or provide that breastfeeding does not constitute indecent exposure or other criminal behavior.

Simply put, a mother may breastfeed her child in our stores.

If you are approached by other Customers having a complaint on this issue, please politely explain that the law guarantees women the right to breastfeed in any place where they have a right to be.

Oregon law ORS 109.001 1999 Ore. ALS 306; 199 Ore. Laws 306; 1999 Ore. SB
744: A woman may breastfeed her child in a public place.

Washington law RCW 9A.88.010 2001 Wa. ALS 88; 2001 Wa. Ch. 88; 2001 Wa. HB 1590 (1): A person is guilty of indecent exposure if he or she intentionally makes any open and obscene exposure of his or her person or the person of another knowing that such conduct is likely to cause reasonable affront or alarm. The act of breastfeeding or expressing breast milk is not indecent exposure.

Alaska Sta. 29.25.080 (Michie 2000) provides that: In the laws of the State, "lewd conduct," "lewd touching," "immoral conduct," "indecent conduct," and similar terms do not include the act of a woman breastfeeding a child in a public or private location where the woman and child are otherwise authorized to be.
Breastfeeding does not constitute indecent exposure or other similar offences.

Idaho does not specifically address breastfeeding by State law. Fred Meyer’s position is that Idaho stores will follow the same rules as Oregon and Washington stores. If approached by a Customer with a complaint, politely explain Fred Meyer supports a mother’s right to nurse her child in public."

Ms. Musser, please call me if I can provide additional information or answer any questions.

Melinda Merrill
Director, Fred Meyer Public Affairs

Could the company had done better? Certainly. I was just chatting with my friend Alenna last night about what a great PR opportunity Fred Meyer has here. Instead of just abiding by the letter of the law, they could have embraced the spirit of it and made even more of a point of publicly welcoming nursing mothers to their stores, perhaps with signage at its store entrances.

Oh well. Freddies, I give you an "S" for Satisfactory. I won't boycott your stores anymore, but I also won't add you to the list of breastfeeding-friendly businesses I'm currently compiling. (More on that soon...send your favorite NIPping spots to me!)