Saturday, July 5, 2014
So, it finally happened...
Two and a half years in, someone finally got in my face about breastfeeding in public.
Well . . . sort of in public. Since apparently anywhere not within the confines of my house is technically "public".
Was it the two year old? Because, really shouldn't he. . . Stop. First, he'll wean when he's darned good and ready. Second, no, it wasn't the two year old, it was his sister, a thirteen day old infant who is still a bit shy of her birth weight. Third, had it been the two year old, dramatically less of my breast would have been visible, because he's happy with just the nip and can largely handle positioning himself.
Were you just out on the street somewhere? Because, public breastfeeding. . . Stop. We were at the pediatrician's office. Not that it would have mattered. An hour before I was in a public park mere yards from the well-populated jogging path doing the exact same thing and nobody so much as looked at us sideways.
Ah, well, if you were breastfeeding out in the waiting room. . . Stop. We were in a private exam room. Not that it would have made a difference. See above.
Huh. Well, if another patient was walking past the door and objected. . . Stop. The door was closed, and the person who objected was a female nurse. That's right, a trained medical "professional" took it upon herself to communicate that my exposed tit with a baby hanging off the end was a shameful thing that needed to be hidden from sight as quickly as possible.
Hold on, there, Miss Hyperbole, surely she didn't SAY that?? Not in so many words, no.
She was done with all the pre-doctor vitals & such business with Ana, and was puttering about the room "tidying". I've never seen a nurse take so much time in an exam room after the pre-doc workup is complete. I didn't think anything of it at the time, because Ana was fussing from being stripped down & poked & prodded, and she was rapidly heading toward Screechville, so my focus was on getting her latched & calmed down. Which was easily accomplished, thanks to a nice wide bench seat in that room. Padded arms, even. Lovely.
At this point, the nurse said "Do you want...", dove into the bottom of the cart that held the baby scale, and retrieved a towel. I thought she was going to roll it up and offer it as a prop to put my arm on (which I would have accepted gladly, near to 8 pounds gets heavy fast!), but no. She shook it out, and without saying another word, proceeded to spread it across my chest and nursing infant, blocking my view of Ana's face and what she was doing with her mouth and what I was doing with my hands to hold and help her.
When I came on messenger that evening foaming at the mouth over the incident, a very dear friend said to me, "I pity the fool! What did you say?!?"
What did I say? I was stunned. Floored. Astounded. For a very very brief moment, I was actually speechless.
You, speechless? I don't believe it. Yeah, yeah. Shush, you.
I said, "No, thank you." She ignored me and kept spreading and patting and even tucking, seemingly determined to eliminate every last crease and wrinkle that might possibly reveal flesh. There were hands in places that frankly only my husband's hands should ever go without getting my express permission first.
I said, "I don't want her covered, please." The nurse's response was to flip the bottom two inches off Ana's face, leaving her mouth and my hands and chest still covered. Then she started to argue with me.
"Oh, well, you know someone might see while we've got the door open, dear."
"I don't care. Anybody who works in a pediatrician's office that has a problem with boobs is the wrong line of work." The other nurse in the room, who had been awkwardly silent until now, chuckled at this, started to say something that from her tone sounded supportive, but was talked over when the first nurse kept nattering on.
"Oh, well, you know it might be one of the other patients..."
"I don't CARE. That'll be their problem, not ours!" I took a hand away from proceedings at this point to pull the towel off and throw it aside, and of course Ana lost her latch without the support of that hand, because my breast is still bigger than her whole head. So I had to get a now fussing baby latched again, while I'm pissed and listening to the nurse going on still.
"She doesn't care. Well, alright, I'm sorry if I offended you."
If, she says. IF. Then there's that tone. You know the one. Tends to be employed by fussy-britches who begin their statements with phrases such as "Well, I never!" and communicates the sense of "You clearly don't know what's good for you and you're not going to listen, so fine, have fun making a show of yourself, you tawdry thing."
Oh, and did I mention it was nearly 6pm and we were the last appointment of the day?
SO. Let's break down exactly what is screwed up about this scenario.
1.) There was no "public". This was a private exam room, with a door, populated by myself, my husband, my infant daughter, and two female nurses, all of whom have presumably seen the female body in its full glorious nudity at some point or other.
2.) The person who objected was (yes, you read this right) a female medical professional working in a pediatric office whose stated mission includes supporting breastfeeding mothers. A woman herself, with ample breasts of her own, a NURSE, was so bothered by the sight of my breast that she felt justified in violating my personal space and interfering in my daughter's ability to feed. The excuse of protecting a hypothetical "someone" who might possibly pass by the very briefly open door from a tenth-of-a-second glimpse of bare breast is exactly that, an excuse. This hypothetical individual has the ability to look away, and social norms teach us that it is impolite to stare into someone else's exam room anyway. Given that it was, as I mentioned, nearly 6pm and we were the only patients still in the office, the chances of this occurring were exactly zero, and thus I can only conclude that the person who was actually bothered was the so-called "professional" who was tucking an unwanted towel around my breasts.
3.) "Do you want" and proceeding to cover me without actually finishing the question or giving me time to respond does NOT constitute getting permission to touch me, OR my daughter. If I had wanted to use a cover, I would have brought one, or asked for one. Because I'm an adult. I can use my words. Thanks.
4.) Feeding a brand-squeaking-new infant requires an unencumbered breast, both hands, and visual contact, especially when Mommy wears Ogre-Fiona-size brassieres. Deal.
5.) Federal law and Illinois state law protect a mother's right to breastfeed her child, covered or not, anywhere that mother has legal right to be. The comfort of random strangers does not enter into those sections of the law. Period.
6.) This is the biggest one. . . it is severely messed up that in two and a half YEARS of breastfeeding my son, not one single person, stranger or otherwise, has been unpleasant to me, and the very first time it happens, it's a medical professional shoving her definition of modesty into my baby's meal space. I'm actually rather glad it happened to me, vs some first time uncertain mommy who might take a hard blow from an incident like that. We need to think about this as a culture, what are we saying to women, breastfeeding mothers, when we tell them that the biological purpose behind those soft fleshy curves is something that needs to be hidden? What are we saying, when MEDICAL STAFF use their perceived authority to force a nursing mom to cover up when she doesn't want to? What are we really objecting to here, folks? Think about it.
Two weeks post-partum is the point where supply starts to regulate, and you start to get a break from the constant cluster-feeding because baby's tummy is a bit bigger. It's also the point where a LOT of moms give up because they're exhausted, sleep deprived, their breasts hurt, their hormones are still wondrously screwy, and someone, somewhere, says just exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. Mentions how formula would be so much easier, or asks why she doesn't just pump and use a bottle, or pulls a face when mom sneaks out just barely enough boob to feed the baby, or mentions that mom will have to go back to work in a month, so what's she going to do then, or suggests that since she's going to be a SAHM anyway, why doesn't she just stay home when the baby needs to eat? SO many women give up on a huge benefit to their babies right around this time, often because friends, family, or total strangers can't keep their mouths shut and mind their own business.
What are we saying to mothers, by allowing this continued cultural hissy fit about "modesty in breastfeeding"? We are saying that the immediate gratification and convenience of bottles, and alleviating other people's potential offense/discomfort are more important than the health and emotional benefits (for baby AND mom!) of breastfeeding. Convenience and not offending random strangers on the street is more important than the health and well-being of a mother and child.
That. Is. Messed. Up.
Ana is two weeks old, and still learning how to nurse effectively. Breastmilk is her only food, and will continue to be so likely for the entire first year of her life, and a significant part of her diet for as long after that as she chooses to nurse. In the end, it's not about my rights at all, it's about hers. Her right to eat when she needs to eat, without interference, obstacles, or ignorant strangers making it harder than it needs to be. Her right to experience sunlight and breezes and new situations, to breathe fresh air, to make eye contact with her mother. Ana's small size and inability to communicate do not negate those rights. Her right to sustenance, easily and comfortably obtained comes before the potential social discomfort of older people who can choose to look away, and as her mother, I will defend her rights because that is my job. If you are offended, well... tough, my baby comes first.
It really is that simple.
(Because someone will ask, the doctor came in right as this nurse was leaving, saw the look on my face, and asked me what happened. She was just as bothered as I was, apologized profusely, and promised to educate her staff so this would not happen again. As I very much like this doctor, I'm good with that.)