I have nursed everywhere. I’ve nursed in restaurants, stores, churches, even standing in line to renew my driver’s license at the DPS office. (I’m certainly not dumb enough to get out of line every time my little one wanted to eat, or I’d still be there! It did take a certain amount of juggling to achieve, but we managed. Hmm, this sounds like a new sport, extreme nursing.)
Anyway. Ever since I could navigate the stairs down from my apartment, I’ve nursed whenever and wherever GeekBaby required. I figured the only way to learn to nurse discreetly was to get out there and accidentally flash someone practice. And I learned a lot with this approach, although it’s worth noting it only worked because he was such a good nurser in the first place.
I learned that this particular baby would not eat with a blanket over his head, even at a week old. Forget teaching them to nurse under a blanket when they’re tiny so they’ll accept it when they’re older, he would not tolerate it, period.
I learned that my favorite nursing shirts were these elbow sleeved v-necks from Old Navy. I could adjust things through the collar, then pull the shirt up to nurse without feeling really exposed. The style was flattering for me, they were lightweight enough for summer, and they were cheap enough to just buy one for each day of the week.
I just find as quiet and comfortable place as I can and feed the baby. If I’m in a group, I may ask if it’s alright if I nurse – not because I feel I need permission, but because it’s polite to give people a little warning. If anyone actually said “No”, they might very well get a “tough nuggets” response and I’d nurse anyway. The Husband’s department head actually went off on a rant once when I asked this. She ‘can’t believe women still feel like they need to ask this’. But I don’t feel I need to, I just feel it’s courteous.
But in all my experiences, I’ve never felt ashamed about breastfeeding in public. And I’ve never felt like anyone else was attempting to shame me for it either. Until last Saturday.
We took GeekBaby to the valley to meet his great grandma, and I spent Saturday out shopping with La Suegra. We were in HEB when he decided he had to eat, and he had to eat now, Or Else. And I couldn’t go out to the car because she was almost done with the shopping but didn’t know where I parked. So I went up to the front of the store to find a place to sit and nurse while I kept an eye out for my mother in law.
Well, there was no place to sit, so I found an out of the way place where I could keep an eye out for her, and started nursing my now loudly protesting baby. And I hadn’t been nursing him 30 seconds when an employee approached me and asked if I wanted a room in which to sit down.
I thanked her, but said I was waiting for my mother in law and needed to stay where she could find me.
And the response I got was “well, it’s just you’re… a little exposed. We’ve received a complaint.”
I came out of that confrontation unsettled. We stayed where we were, GeekBaby ate and burped, my mother in law arrived, checked out, and we left. I told my mother in law about it, she laughed a little uncomfortably and said that people down there just weren’t used to it, so don’t worry about it.
The danger was never that I could be bullied, but that I would lose my temper, that I would be rude and combative. I kept my composure and my temper, and I’m proud of that. But I still feel unsettled. And more than a little angry.
Exposed? I’m exposed?! All you can see is half of my tummy, slightly flabby and stretch marked, certainly, but hardly the worst physique to be exposed by women’s fashion! Crop tops, hot pants, mini skirts, thongs showing above the waistband of jeans, and I’m exposed? My boobs at least are doing something useful!
Really, expressions of contempt fail me here.
I still don’t feel ashamed, precisely, of nursing in public. But I do feel defensive. And I don’t like feeling that, but I don’t know how to get rid of it either… so I’m unsettled.
[Edit] While unsettling and annoying, I don’t believe this resulted from any sort of corporate anti-breastfeeding attitude for a minute. I’ve nursed many times in other HEBs without incident. This was a cultural incident – the Rio Grande valley is an area of the US with both a low rate of breastfeeding and weird social mores – I probably would have been approached in a similar manner no matter what store I was in.
I forgot about the cultural difference, and frankly I think it’s stupid and it doesn’t mean much to me. I’d rather get the stinkeye for nursing rather than for having a screaming infant. I was firm, I told the lady that it was too bad she’d gotten a complaint, but Texas state law protected me. She was very uncomfortable with the situation, poor thing. Getting bitchy wouldn’t have helped the situation at all, and over time, my unease was been soothed by knowing I didn’t.