How Breastfeeding and Nursing Discrimination Made Me Believe In Goddesses
– by Chloé Jo Davis
I used to think people who had issues with women breastfeeding lived in the bible belt, had missing teeth, and didn’t believe in evolution. Until I lived this tit-tascular tale.
Yesterday morning I finished an average toddler gym class with my 18 month old son. As I was leaving, I popped over to the teachers station to thank them so much for an extra awesome puppet show, calling it their “best one yet.”
The always sweet teacher said, “Oh, I meant to talk to you about something. We’ve gotten a number of complaints from other Mothers about your breastfeeding in the circle, so we have to ask you to nurse in the lobby.”
My mouth dropped open and my first thought was “Wow, someone finally said something” as if I’d somehow expected and waited for a moment of nursing discrimination, since I’d yet to have one… ever. She went on…
“It’s just that we don’t allow snacks on the gym floor.”
I barely responded. Said something about sort of understanding. I looked at the other Mothers – who were totally listening – one of which I knew from another class and NEITHER OF WHICH SAID A DAMN WORD TO STICK UP FOR ME. I grabbed my son and left. Let’s just clarify here that I’m usually one of the only Moms at any of these classes, this one had about three Moms in the room, the rest were Nannys. I would almost bet my bottom dollar that no kid in that class was currently breastfed. I can almost say with certainty, most were probably never breastfed. Welcome to New Yorks Upper East Side! Where Moms go to Prada to shop, and babies are strolled in Central Park by cell phone chatting Nanny’s. Maybe we should have to go get our plastic bottles filled with creepy powdered formula if our kid needs a sip. Maybe if things were as they should be, a sippy is as close as your nippy.
What happened next was 24 hours of sheer shock, upset, and realizations about my lactivism (lactation activism) and my powerful, juicy feminism. My like-minded friends rallied by me on the phone and online all day.
I had so many different emotional reactions.
I had so many different emotional reactions – shame for being called out like I had done something wrong in front of other Mothers, anger for their stupidity, and helplessness for my child who doesn’t know exactly what was going on but certainly picked up on my energy.
So I did what any good yenta does, I got on the phone with my BFF’s.
My friend Alex was outraged and said they needed to rectify or I should take it further. Her suggestions included making sure they added the la leche league “breastfeeding friendly” decal to their door and giving a hand out of their supportive breastfeeding policy to all their Mothers. She mentioned that whether other Mothers felt comfortable with my breastfeeding or not was a non point since it’s ILLEGAL TO ASK SOMEONE TO MOVE THEIR BREASTFEEDING OUTSIDE.
Here’s NY State Law:
My friend Krysta suggested a “nurse-in.” My twitter followers demanded to know where the space was and some called for a boycott. My husband Jeremy said “Disgusting that we live in a society that actually finds the most NATURAL thing for a child and mother to do as something that makes others uncomfortable. Horrified.” Moni said, “Fight back! I recently went to Chelsea Piers for a bowling party and surprisingly I was the only one in a pretty progressive group of people who stuck up for the lady who was breastfeeding at the next lane. Breast milk power!” Sandra said, “Fight back! Who do these people think they are? This sort of thing is so disturbing! Talk about backwards right-wing thinking? What year are we living in again??” Aimee said, “Scare the shit out of the school with a lawsuit. You are fully protected under NY State law to breastfeed your child wherever you see fit.” Gayle said, “Seek legal council if you do not receive a personal apology. Also, they need to make a public apology if they said it in front of anyone else! Those Nanny’s are their to represent the mother, not to be the Mother. If they don’t like it, look away. Next step threaten to go to the community newspaper so that local mother’s can find out. Nobody will want to take their child there!” James said, “Someone’s about to get schooled in the art of “I shouldn’t have said that.” Matt called it “boobgate.” Barb said, “Boobs make her mad? She needs to take a long hard look at that situation.” Julie said, “Umm I wouldn’t be returning to that class again, so wrong on so many levels.” And these were just a few of the many, many responses I got. And let me just say, THANK YOU for all that sweetness. I was a tired, upset Mommy and you all saved me from total meltdown with your loving, supportive voices.
We will feed our babies ourselves, from our bodies. We will not shut up and shut down.
As the daughter of a lawyer, and my husband being the son of a lawyer, we know from lawsuits. I wanted to give them a chance to rectify the situation, particularly because this was a woman owned small space, so I have (and continue) to keep this business anonymous… for now. I realize people can make mistakes, lordisa knows I’ve said some absurd things in my day that I had to make right. I hoped my bad experience would inspire (or force them into) policy change and understanding. There are a lot of issues I care about that I see people being afraid of – veganism, lgbt issues, green living, animal rights, et al – but now, I have to add breastfeeding to that list.
I left a message on the gym’s machine, saying how horrified I was by what had gone down and requesting a call from the owner of the establishment.
I spoke with the owner, let’s call her Betty, a few times. We went back n’ forth. She was breastfeeding supportive from the start but worried that me breastfeeding on the gym floor could cause an accident. I told her I had always breastfed to the side on a radiator, and that the one time I had breastfeeding the circle was when songs were being sung and Panther had just gone for it (all you nursing Mama’s know how easy it is to stop your baby from wanting the boob when they want it – yeah right.) She told me the teacher who had taken me aside is a Mother of 3 and currently pregnant. That she too breastfeeds. I kept responding with no matter how you rationalize, this request is illegal. I can go breastfeed Panther wherever I like.
My Breastfeeding Journey
Let’s go back in time for a minute. My breastfeeding journey was a hard one – it was incredibly painful, I worried about production, lack of sleep (we also attachment parent), and scabs. I cried almost every time I nursed for the first 3 months. And then, like a phoenix rising from flames, one day the pain subsided and breastfeeding became what it was meant to be – a nutritional, emotional, and beautiful bonding experience between myself and my little boy. Many women come up to me when they see me nursing places to say it didn’t work for them or that they couldn’t get enough milk. Yep, it didn’t “work” for me either right away. I was tenacious and I was driven to give my baby the best. Formula wasn’t an option. I was going to go down nursing if I had to. I think so many women don’t even give themselves enough time to get in the groove. And then many get in the groove, and then stop before their time.
My final conversation with Betty ended last evening. I asked her how she could control younger babies nursing non stop in the younger classes. She said she couldn’t and didn’t. I realized this was not only nursing bias, but TODDLER nursing bias.
According La Leche League:
Toddlers breastfeed for many of the same reasons infants breastfeed: for nutrition, comfort, security, for a way to calm down and for reassurance. Mothers breastfeed their toddlers for many of the same reasons they breastfeed their infants: they recognize their children’s needs, they enjoy the closeness, they want to offer comfort, and they understand the health benefits. (See the FAQ, “What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding My Baby?” for more information.) The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that “Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child..” * The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that babies be breastfed for at least two years.
Breastfeeding a toddler helps with the child’s ability to mature. Although some experts say a toddler who is not weaned will have difficulty becoming independent, it’s usually the fearful, clingy children that have been pushed into situations requiring too much independence too soon. A breastfeeding toddler is having his dependency needs met. The closeness and availability of the mother through breastfeeding is one of the best ways to help toddlers grow emotionally.
Breastfeeding can help a toddler understand discipline as well. Discipline is teaching a child about what is right and good, not punishment for normal toddler behavior. To help a toddler with discipline, he needs to feel good about himself and his world. Breastfeeding helps a toddler feel good about himself, because his needs are being met.
Health Benefits of Breastfeeding
Just as babies do, toddlers receive health benefits from breastfeeding. Your milk continues to provide immunities and vitamins, and can help protect your toddler from illness and allergies. If your toddler does get sick, nursing will help comfort him. In fact, a toddler with an upset stomach may be able to tolerate nothing but human milk.
Toddlers have a huge world to explore, and breastfeeding provides them (and their mothers!) with some quiet time in their busy, waking hours.
Betty said I was doing what was best for my child, and that she breastfed her own children. She claimed the teacher had no complaints but just fumbled because she was nervous to talk to me about breastfeeding (hm, perhaps because she knew what she was saying was innately wrong.) She stayed on the whole “We just need to be cohesive and have all snacks in the lobby” trip. I refused. She agreed to my terms. Let’s see how that plays out. If it doesn’t, I may be asking some of you to make some supportive requests and emails to the space. Til them I’ll allow them this time to rectify their err in judgement and give them the sisterly nod I wish I had been given.
Breastfeeding Mama Warriors
I went to the bathroom after getting off the phone with Betty, and behold, there it was. My first period since getting pregnant. It has been a big topic of conversation in my household.. when will the period return so we can work on baby #2. And here it was. On the most ovarian-positive, female-swelling, girl-powered day I’d had in years. You can’t make this shit up. I ran for my Lunapads, and then called my cousin Jennie who said “That’s some real crystal shit.” Crystals, Stevie Nicks songs, and patchouli too. This is the power of our lunar rosé, our amplified vag-voiced chorus. We will not be stopped. We will have each others backs – as Mother warriors, sisters in the army of femme. We will feed our babies ourselves, from our bodies. We will not shut up and shut down.
Repeat after me, hell NO, my boobs won’t go.
*** Do you have any stories to share about breastfeeding in public? Did you experience discrimination? What did you do? We’d love to hear! Please leave a comment below and share. ***
About Chloé Jo Davis
Chloé Jo Davis, is the founder of GirlieGirlArmy.com your Glamazon Guide to Green Living; a call to arms for badass baby divas and head turning cougars, who want to save the planet from hacky sack and doom at the same time. Newbies, vegan vixens, the Mom next door, sexy emo boys, and anyone who wants to do their part without sacrificing their facials hearts this online destination that give you tips on fashion, food, and fun – in the greenest, most compassionate way possible! With twelve years of badass archives, people have called us their online “Sex in the City,” with brains and a pitbull. And of course 100,000++ Monthly readers who die for their tips n’ tricks! Featured everywhere from Italian Elle to The New York Times to Jimmy Kimmel, this is the site that keeps your high heels as clean and green as your yoga toned bod.
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