On Saturday, for the first time in nearly 8 months of proudly nursing in public, someone tried to tell me not to feed my baby.
We were having lunch in the dining room at my grandparents’ retirement home. Grandmother, Mom, Dad, my aunt and uncle, Simon and me. I was nursing Little Dude as we waited for our food to arrive. He was looking around at all the blue-hairs at surrounding tables, his eyes fairly rolling backwards to see all the interesting stuff around him with his mouth full of delicious boob. A veritable sea of oldsters gazed from afar and – in some cases – came to our table just to tell Grandmother how precious her little great-grandson is. And there was mushroom and leek soup. It was all quite nice.
So imagine my surprise when a staff member came up to us and told me that I couldn’t nurse Simon there or at least needed to cover up; that “there are males present! You are being offensive.”. When I calmly informed her that I would not, that Missouri statute expressly provides me the right to breastfeed in public, she turned to my grandmother and said “I just can’t allow this here, Jewell. I can’t allow it.”
I wanted to dig a hole in the ground and crawl in.
I’ve imagined something like that happening before. The first few times I plugged his scream-hole while out shopping, or snuggled him in for a nurse-y nap in a restaurant, I thought about how I’d respond if someone tried to infringe upon our rights. Turns out that – like many other events in life – reality was a little bit different than imagination.
I was sitting there at the table in the corner (unsuccessfully) holding back tears while this woman tried to tell me not to feed my baby, barely standing up for what I knew was right. After her futile (and wholly inappropriate) supplication to Grandmother, the server stalked off. I was seeing fire, shaky with adrenaline, and – for the first time – ashamed about feeding my baby. Of course, my family was none too pleased, either. My mom (who breastfed two babies in the ’80′s when “that just isn’t what nice people do”) immediately stood up to take me out so I wasn’t stuck crying in the corner, and Dad was hot on her heels. My aunt (who breastfed two babies in the ’70′s when “that really just isn’t what nice people do”) hastened our speedy retreat, and waited to help settle the check.
I was so happy that they were all livid on my behalf, and so supportive of me.
Mom immediately went to the reception desk to get the name of the woman’s supervisor. The woman followed us there and started her argument again, with an extra dose of patronization: ”Listen, sweetie…”. (Mom says I told her “Don’t ‘sweetie’ me!” but I don’t even remember saying that; I was so mad.). She didn’t want to give us her supervisor’s info, so Mom began informing her exactly how illegal her actions were while I got the supervisor’s name and number from the receptionist.
A few minutes later, back in Grandmother’s apartment, Simon was playing on the floor happily and we were sitting around feeling helpless and infuriated. A knock on the door, and a nurse supervisor from the assisted living wing (where Granddad lives) came in for a chat.
She was exceedingly kind, compassionate, helpful, apologetic, and empathetic. A nursing mother herself, she apologized repeatedly for the woman’s actions and stressed just how inappropriate they were – as well as how they actively contradicted state law and facility policy. She made sure that I had the woman’s supervisor’s info, and offered again her sincere apologies for the whole dustup. If it weren’t for her, I would’ve been on a personal vendetta against the retirement home. But because of her kindness and understanding, I was just pissed as hell at that woman as an individual.
When Granddad came in and Grandmother filled him in, he was upset about the whole thing too. Who wants to hear that their granddaughter and great-grandson were treated so poorly as guests in their home? But after texting furiously with my legal representation (heh) and rehashing the incident with my family, and that great reassurance from the nurse supervisor, I was significantly less fired up than I’d been just half an hour ago
Since I went to all the trouble to get her supervisor’s info, this morning I followed through and called him to issue a formal complaint about that woman. It was an incredibly productive conversation. And, it turns out the supervisor’s wife is nursing their baby and is a lactation activist herself, so he found it personally – as well as professionally – horrifying.
This is where it gets good, and why I’m so happy with the ultimate outcome: in addition to disciplinary action against that woman, her supervisor also assured me that all facility staff will receive formal training about breastfeeding law and the organization’s own (existing but apparently unpublicized) support policy. Though the issue clearly doesn’t come up much in a place with an average age of 110 (give or take a year :-P), he was very eager to emphasize the importance of supporting nursing mothers and babies: not just because of Missouri statute, but as an issue of company policy and guest service. The supervisor apologized profusely and repeatedly for the whole situation, and seemed genuinely as upset as we were that it occurred at all.
For my part, I explained that I wasn’t out to sue anybody for infringing on my rights: I just wanted the staff to be educated so this wouldn’t happen in the future – to me or to anybody else’s granddaughter (or whoever). Personally, I can recover from the embarrassment of the moment and will gladly forgive and forget, if it means that no visitor ever has to be treated like that again. As in all things, I really feel like education is key. I hope that by having a positive conversation with him rather than going in guns a’blazing, my arguments were more effective.
And speaking of education? The supervisor promised me that that woman will never be able to call a guest “sweetie” or try to make anybody eat with a blanket over their head ever again
“Ain’t nobody gonna try and take MY boob!”
The moral of the story? Sometimes it’s surprisingly hard to stand up for your rights. But by being firm and forthright, and with the support of your family (and the law!), it’s really possible to get things done. Because baby’s gotta eat!
I’ve specifically left out the facility’s name in the above, because I really don’t want to spread negative attention on what was overall a positive situation. They have provided our family with exceptional service these past few years, and I’m fully confident that the next time we visit, Simon will be able to eat his lunch whenever and wherever he chooses.
PS> Ironically, that happened just days after this most excellent post started circulating. Please go read it, and share with your friends!