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.

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