Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Would you like to have a meal in a public bathroom?

I started this post last Friday, but we had to travel to D.C./Maryland (we went to my uncle's house and then helped out and participate of my nephew's first birthday party).

I know I'm a little "late" reacting to this, but I just can't let it go!! Kateri (at Wet Feet) linked to an article in a recent post which made me SO upset, so angry that I just had to write about it. To save you time, so you don't need to register in the "Philadelphia Daily News" to read, I'll do what Julie (at Woman in the Mirror) did for a recent NY Times article (the link is to her DotMoms post that has the NYT article about Ivy league female students who plan to quit their jobs when they become moms)
[That's another issue worth thinking and writing about, but lots of people have done so already, for example, Playground revolution and Mothershock, and Swisslovebaby's latest post is related to the issue as well]

I'm pasting the article below and adding my comments in italics.

First, a comment: I respect any mother's choice in terms of breasfeeding or using formula for their babies, I just think that breasfeeding does not receive enough support in many places of the world, particularly here in the U.S. and this lack of support from people such as this writer/lawyer and Barbara Walters makes it even harder for moms to breasfeed. Later in the post I'll share my own experience (if there's room).
Posted in the Philadelphia Daily News on Monday Sep. 19, 2005.

Written by Christine M. Flowers


THE OTHER DAY, I was counseling a client on her legal options when, without pausing to ask if I minded, she lifted her blouse and began to breast-feed her infant daughter.

Taken aback and not wanting to interrupt the child's meal, I guided the consultation to a swift conclusion.

There would have been no problem had the client asked if she could excuse herself and take the child to our bathroom or to a vacant office. What irritated me was the assumption that her right to nurse the infant trumped any obligation on her part to be courteous and ask, "Do you mind?"
Why is it implied that's necessary to ask permission to breastfeed? Does anyone need permission to bottle feed, or even to eat? Why only a bathroom or an empty room?
When I read this I immediately recalled that last year I breastfed my 1 m. old at our lawyer's office on the day that we closed on the sale of our house. For a split-second I thought about asking, but then just went ahead and did it.

I would never presume to tell someone what they could do in their bed, in their bathtub or at their dinner table. But what I expect and demand is that people not force their own militant preferences on me in public places.
OK, does it mean one can only breastfeed at home? Why is it that breastfeeding is a "militant preference" and not a "natural way to feed a child"? WOW, "forcing" is very strong language! And as far as I know, it is LAW that women can breastfeed wherever they're allowed in public with babies (which is almost everywhere).

I actually started this piece at least three times, searching for an inoffensive way to say it.
It's very clear that you haven't found an inoffensive way, far from it.

There was the sensible, statistic-driven approach that emphasized the overwhelming health benefits of breast milk. Too safe, I decided.

There was the acknowledgment that nursing was a unique form of love, representing the eternal bond between mother and child. Too cliched, I thought.

There was even an attempt at humor, as in "I really need to get this off my chest." (Who was it that told me puns were the indication of a deficient mind?)

But the only way to say it is boldly and without apology, girding myself for the onslaught of criticism from the La Leche activists:

Women shouldn't breast-feed wherever they choose.
What??? Well, at least you said it, you didn't come out with that "I felt uncomfortable" talk of a Barbara Walters. And I think you were corageous. But why, then? Let's read on and see if your arguments hold.

If I'd said, "Men shouldn't urinate in public," it's unlikely that anyone would vociferously object. But I feel the backs stiffen and the claws unsheath at the mere suggestion that nursing is a private affair.

Infants are magnificent creatures. While certain specimens may eventually turn out to be unpleasant (e.g., the ones who develop into adults like Paris Hilton and Michael Moore), the consensus is that they bring joy and hope for the future.

Without them, in fact, there would be no future. So it is important for us to do whatever we can to ensure their survival.

At a minimum, they need to be fed. Newborns have a lot of time on their hands since they don't hold down jobs, drive or fret about the state of the world, so eating becomes disproportionately important to them. They crave nutrition on an hourly basis, regardless of where they might be.

For nursing infants, "appetizer-entree-dessert" is wherever mommy happens to be when the urge strikes. So unless nursing mothers agree to be trapped in their homes for the first year of junior's life, they sometimes have to breast-feed in public.
OK, that's not a very pleasant option. What would you suggest then, if women should NOT breastfeed in public?

That's not the problem. Women should be permitted to nurse unobtrusively in restrooms and other public places specifically designated for the purpose.
Oh... all right. Woud YOU want to eat in the bathroom, sitting in the toilet? Looking at that dirty floor, enjoying that clean, spacious, inviting space? Public places specifically designated for the purpose? Sometimes it's hard enough to find changing tables in certain public places, let alone a private place where one can sit comfortably.

The craving for nutrition and the ability to satisfy it are natural and beautiful, as are a woman's breasts. The problem arises when an essentially private activity becomes part of the public domain.
Why is breasfeeding "an essentially private activity"? It has to be because of the way our society views breasts, or maybe it goes deeper than that - many people feel bothered by the presence of young children, or babies who are not quiet, and cry or scream in public places - it seems our society is not comfortable with the presence of mothers/fathers and young children, and breasfeeding is only an obvious target because it is not such a prevalent practice or choice (unfortunately) .

There are, of course, ways to accommodate both modesty and utility, allowing breast-feeding in certain areas and prohibiting it in others, just as we do with any activity that encroaches on the public domain, like smoking and playing loud music.
Wow, does breasfeeding unsettle people so much that it lends itself to a comparison with an activity that actually harms other people's health such as smoking, or constitutes a kind of "auditorial polution" (loud music)? And it should be thus prohibited from certain places? It's just like prohibiting a mother with young baby to go to those places! (she does try to respond to this in the next sentence)

To those who resent the implication that breast-feeding might be as annoying as cigarettes and blaring hip-hop, I say that bared breasts can make some people very uncomfortable, even when a child is attached to one of them.
Usually, unless the child is very restless, there are no "bared breasts", only a little bit of a nipple when the latch on is taking place. More often one sees part of the mother's belly. Actually, it seems to be rather that people are "more uncomfortable" when there's a child is "attached to them", not "even when" one is.

There is also the option of using a breast pump to express the milk at home, and then using a bottle in public. This way, the child gains all of the benefits of mother's milk while society is spared the sight of a human Playtex nurser.
Whoa! that last sentence was pretty forceful. Society needs to be SPARED THE SIGHT of a nursing mother? A "human bottle"? About pumping, does she have any idea what she's saying? Pumping is wonderful, very useful for those who work or those (such as myself) whose infants aren't able to nurse for some reason (prematurity, inability to latch on, and so on), but pumping is a bit of a hassle. I pumped for 8 months and 5 months for each of my sons because I wanted them to eat cereal with my milk, but it was quite a hassle to find a suitable time, when I had enough milk supply to pump, and I was not busy caring for my children (in my particular case, I never needed to give my sons bottles, I was always around them).

When I mentioned this to a friend, she looked at me in horror and said, "But then people would think I was feeding my child formula!" It was as if I'd accused her of being Jim Jones on a Kool-Aid jag.
That seems to be the problem with many nursing mothers - it's more about the image than about the child.
No, I don't think it's all about the image. Her friend is right - unfortunately there's a lot of terrible criticism from mother to mother, but in no way I think mothers choose to breasfeed because of the "image". Some may start out that way, but if that's their real motivation, they probably don't continue for very long. I think that's a very weak argument about/against breasfeeding.

And at the risk of sounding deficient, it feels good to get that off my chest.
Well, yes, in the end, it's good you wrote this. I can only imagine how many people, probably thousands and thousands, if not millions of them think the same way but are "polite enough" to refrain from expressing their views. That's why I feel that many women feel too intimidated to even nurse their babies. They interiorize this and think it's kind of "unnatural" -- because if something is not legitimized by being allowed in public, people tend to shrink from it.
I don't know... I have no idea whether I'm making any sense in my counter-arguments either. I have decided to write another post to share my story. I don't think it fits in here anymore both because this post is too long already, and because I want it to be a positive post.


Sandra said...

I will never understand where in a public bathroom they think a woman can nurse. Where is she supposed to sit? On a toilet? Fully clothed?? I'm boggled at the idea of sitting on a toilet to nurse.

I think the mere suggestion shows a staggering disrespect for mothers. And someone who feels strongly enough about it to write an essay like that should at least redirect her ire and demand public accommodations for nursing mothers.

Even if public accommodations were the norm, public nursing has to be allowed since mothers can't always stop what they're doing and leave to breastfeed. But if there were plentiful breastfeeding lounges (which will NEVER happen, let's face it) many women would use them if they were comfortable and pleasant.

If it really bothered her that much, she should have just mentioned it to her client. Since they were in a private office in a one-on-one meeting, I do think the lawyer could have expressed her discomfort and asked for a brief recess (at no extra billing for the client, of course).

In most public situations, someone who is uncomfortable watching a baby breastfeed can just avoid looking.

Kateri said...

I like the way you broke it down and responded section by section. I wish I had done that.

She has defended herself by saiying that the woman in question was a very indiscreet nurser, leaving one breast out while the other was "in use". If that was truly the probelm, why dind't she mention that in the article? Because she wanted the opportunity to malign every breastfeeding mother who dares to come out of the bathroom.

I can't wait until I have a little baby again so I can nurse innapropriately wherever I go. I get such joy out of it ;)

Sandra said...

We could start a solidarity movement and whenever a mother is breastfeeding in public, all the other women in the vicinity could pull out their breasts and wave them around (yes, after breastfeeding a few kids, they do "wave").

This will take everyone's mind off the breastfeeding and it will give the complainers something really worth complaining about.

expatmama said...

Hmm, I think you did a wonderful job commenting on the article. I'm sure the newspaper is getting plenty of letters objecting to it, but yours expresses it really well.

Alice in Austria said...

Hm. This is very interesting. How very ODD and sad that this seems to be such an issue in the U.S. in the first place. Here in Austria public breastfeeding is so ubiquitous & taken for granted by everyone, that it's not even up for discussion. Also: breastfeeding in the bathrooms is not necessary. Most big malls offer a nursing room with a nice cosy chair for breastfeeding mommies...

jo(e) said...

You do a great job responding to this.

I love Sandra's idea. Count me in.

Dr. Mon said...

Great post--I learned a lot. The author of the article should be more concerned about the large number of adolescent/teenage breasts I see poppin out at the mall. But maybe she doesn't shop where I do--She obviously doesn't use public restrooms.

DUSIE said...

What a great post/response to this 'article' Lilian! I find it hard, so very hard to actually believe that women like this exist! As you stated hardly any skin actually shows when nursing, most times, even now with a 20 month old people don't even realize she's nursing... I guess I just think that women especially who have such a difficult time accepting nursing have their own sexuality issues... oh and the advice to pump at home...has she ever tried this...when your nursing full-time, and then try to build a 'stash' there is no way that milk will be wasted, when Mama is right there and able! I wonder if this woman even has children?

oh and why is it so okay for hollywood to be all about boobs / and FAKE boobs! and when they're used for their proper function all hell breaks loose?

I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

GREAT post. Found you via jo(e)'s blog.

I wrote about Baba Walters fiasco when it happened and posted some very funny links to Jimmy Kimmel catching her in her lies.