pregnancy, birth & lactation services… at home
What follows will likely be a confusing stream-of-consciousness argument with myself. Enjoy
Today, I was wandering around the library in my new town. There, next to the children’s section was a sign that read “Nursing Room and Changing Table”. I entered the space to see two comfy chairs set up across from a changing table- right next to a bathroom (it was a single, mostly meant for family use and especially for the children of the library).
I immediately had mixed feelings about this set up- First of all, kudos to the library for welcoming breastfeeding women into their space and intentionally allocating resources to making mothers comfortable. But, why does a nursing mother need a special space? Wouldn’t posted signs reading ‘Nursing mothers and babies welcomed here’ do the same thing? But what about the mothers who don’t WANT to nurse in front of others? This gives them a space to feel comfortable and so supports their nursing relationship- see, they can get out of the house without having to strategize where they’ll nurse their baby! But does this send a message that breastfeeding is something that should be hidden- it should be done ‘modestly’ (a word that is important and nebulous meaning different things to different well-intentioned people) and not in a place that it will be seen by others? And next to the bathroom?? Just- WHY? Does the staff of the library sit in those comfy chairs to eat their lunch outside of that bathroom? Do they even HAVE other space that could be offered or was this the best they could do?
My mind flew back to right after I had my daughter. Well, eight months after. Ok- I am publicly admitting something that might get my ‘lactivist’ card revoked. Please remember, I am the woman who thanks women for feeding their babies in public; I am the woman who ran a Big Latch On Event last year; I write indignant letters to clothing establishments that harass breastfeeding moms; I’m a Certified Lactation Counselor! And yet I have a ‘shameful’ secret- here goes: I almost NEVER breastfed in public. I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. I spent over a year feeding my daughter in empty Sunday school rooms, changing rooms in malls and YMCAs and often in the car. Chalk it up to body image issues, or worrying about confrontations, or concern over pervs, or just a weird feeling that my BOOB is OUT- the maelstrom of reasons/feelings that went into my choice not to breastfeed in public all came to a head one day when God proved He has a sense of humor.
My daughter, as I said, was 8 months old and a friend and I took our older kiddos to a children’s museum (possibly the coolest place on earth and IF the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m totally moving there to mount my defense). I figured- ‘It’s a CHILDREN’S museum- they’ll have a place I can nurse’. Nope. When the time came, my breasts full and ready, I asked a staff person if I could go into an unused lunch room to breastfeed. He said no. Ummmm. What? So I started looking around for the quietest, most unused spot available- THERE it was! A bench in this large hallway. The museum was playing a black and white movie in there about the Centennial Fair in Philadelphia (Booo-ring!!) so there were NO kids in this Hallway. Just some grandpa (gulp) sitting a few benches down.
So I positioned our stroller to block the view as much as possible, I reached up under my shirt and exposed exactly one square inch of my breast so my daughter could latch- I could see her thinking “Seriously, Mom, what the heck?” But she did her thing and ate. I repositioned the stroller and fed her on the other side- it took ten minutes tops. Breasts relieved, baby happy, mom- MORTIFIED. As I carried my daughter back to the play areas, I turned to look where I’d just come from and it was then that I could swear I heard God laugh- I’d been sitting in the Great Exhibition Hall. Yep.
I emailed the museum to complain that they didn’t have a place for moms to nurse- and they responded with a very progressive answer- ‘Moms can nurse anywhere in our museum, but if you want a quiet space, you are very welcome to nurse right outside our offices’. They were WAY more advanced than I was at that point…
Which brings me back to today and the library with the comfy chairs outside the family bathroom. I am uncomfortable with the messages being sent by the placement of these chairs. But I get it- SOME moms may really WANT to have a place away from eyes to nurse their babies. Some staff person trying to be thoughtful may think it makes sense to have a changing station and a sink right next to one another (meaning right next to the bathroom) and moms with babies may appreciate being able to do everything in one convenient space.
In a perfect world, no one would think twice about nursing in public. We’d just do it- no mom would ever be uncomfortable, no other person would even blink to see a woman feeding her baby. And I’m glad that women bolder than me are doing much to make breastfeeding in public more common place- way to go mamas! I am also glad that there are ways to be sensitive to people where they are NOW, glad that women can choose to use a cover or seek a separate space for nursing. As long as the MOM is the one choosing her path and not others deciding if breastfeeding is acceptable or not, I’m satisfied.
And look- I did get braver! 🙂