I’m past the breastfeeding stage in my parenting, but this comic that I saw on The Full Time Everything Mommy’s fanpage is such a true depiction of what breastfeeding was like for me on the East Coast that I had to share it:
I had my first baby 11 years ago in my hometown in Marin County, California, and my second baby in Washington, D.C. My experiences of breastfeeding on these two coasts were so different that it’s shocking. In California, breastfeeding was a total non-issue. I was so supported by the culture that it didn’t even occur to me that nursing a baby in public could even present an issue anywhere else. I never felt self-conscious about it. Not once did I feel or see a single raised eyebrow when I nursed in public. It was a wonderful, supportive culture in which to nurse a baby. At restaurants, I often felt waiters and waitresses were extra nice to me because I was a nursing mother. Every mom I knew breast-fed, and like I said – at restaurants, parks, malls, libraries, public areas – it was a non-issue.
Then when I was eight months pregnant with #2, we moved to the East Coast. I had heard rumors about East Coast parenting that scared me (like that they have feeder schools for Harvard…in preschool!, and that new moms in Bethesda, Maryland commonly hired “night nurses” to care for their newborns in the middle of the night so they wouldn’t have to wake up – an idea that was anathema to me). I had an inane and yes, stereotypical idea, that East Coasters eat us marshmallowey, naval-gazing Californians for breakfast, followed by the New York Times and their triple-espressos – which of course, was an exaggeration. But when it came to breastfeeding in public – turns out, I was right. The culture did chew me up and spit me out, metaphorically speaking.
When Ella was a few days old my husband and I took her to P.F. Chang’s restaurant in Rockville for a quiet lunch. We sat in a darkened booth and when she got hungry, I began to nurse her at the table. Keep in mind that I am a rather Puritanical mom who tends to cover-up (not that this should matter one bit). It was winter and I was dressed “appropriately” in a big turtle neck and
maternity jeans. So she was underneath my big turtle neck, and I also had her blanket which I draped discreetly over us, since I was new on the East Coast and didn’t know what the breast-feeding culture was (yet).
The minute she latched on, the manager came rushing over to me and quietly said: “As the manager here at PF Chang’s I would like to thank you in advance for being discreet, and to let you know that if you would like some privacy the women’s restroom is right over there.”
I was shocked. So was my husband. Had we just been told to go hide in the germ-filled bathroom at P.F. Chang’s because my Puritanically covered-up nursing boob risked offending other patrons? I saw a woman at a nearby table who was dressed in a revealing way that showed a lot of skin and well, boobs and cleavage and everything. Why didn’t he ask her if she wanted to go hide her boobs in the bathroom? Now, although I’m a little more conservative in how I dress than she was, I don’t really give two figs about how other women choose to dress, and I would not have noticed or minded that this woman beside us was choosing to show a lot of cleavage in her spaghetti-strap get-up even though it was winter. She had no bra and her nipples showed, okay? I’m just trying to make a point here: why is everybody so very afraid of nursing mothers, so obsessed with “covering them up” while at the same time, in the same room, other women are overtly displaying their breasts? So usually I would never notice how that woman was dressed. But that day I did notice it. Here I was, a vulnerable new mom in unsexy maternity-wear with a newborn, in a sweltering turtleneck, in a darkened booth, under a frigging tarp (okay, a blanket), not showing anyone anything, being discreet to the brink of paranoia - and I was pressured into hiding my mom-self in the flipping bathroom. Just – wow.
I hate this kind of stuff. It’s oppression. Fear of the nursing mother = fear of women, of their powerfulness. As long as this stuff exists, women in our society are not as liberated, free, and democratic as we’d like to imagine they are.
This wasn’t the only time this happened on the East Coast. Later that week, in a sweet attempt to cheer me up, my husband brought me to another restaurant (I forget which one, probably because I was suffering from PPD at the time). At this restaurant, the waiter once again came rushing over and – a woman, this time, which I found unbelievable – and gave me the same spiel about moving it into the restroom. I may not remember the name of the restaurant, but I remember the hot flash of shame I felt.
Another more insidious expression of this same kind of oppression occurred in what I saw the other moms around me doing – buying and using Hooter Hiders, for example – something I never even knew existed back in Marin:
The fact that the other moms around me were participating in this culture of shame by purchasing and using Hooter Hiders, or by not breastfeeding in public (I rarely, if ever, see any mom breastfeeding anywhere around here when I go out), or by “hiding” in the Nordstrom’s nursing lounge at the mall, or giving up and choosing to bottle feed while out in public…these things drove me underground even more than the manager at P.F. Chang’s did. If I saw all kinds of nursing moms out and about all around me, I wouldn’t have gone and hidden. But I didn’t see them, so I hid.
After that I didn’t have the strength to go out and protest or make a statement or organize an Occupy PF Chang’s Breast-feeding Sit In or anything like braver moms like Jessica at The Leaky B@@b might do (she was told to cover up while nursing…in Vegas!) because I was a tired new mom with PPD. So I went underground: I nursed in the minivan, before or after I had to go out in public, or I just stayed home and nursed. And it was very lonely, and I missed California, my haven of support, all the friends I had there. The only place I felt safe nursing on the East Coast was at my weekly La Leche League meetings, in my minivan, or alone at home – and that was it. It takes a village to raise a child but if that village is allowing nursing mothers to be driven underground and shamed – well, what is up with the village? The East Coast might be ahead of California in time zones and Harvard feeder preschools but in my experience, it is laughably behind in its discriminatory cultural attitude towards nursing mothers.
So I sat in my house and nursed and as I did, I pined for my halcyon days back in my progressive and supportive hometown in California, when I didn’t even know there were people in the world who feel they need to be shielded from nursing mothers, but who think nothing of eating at Hooters, vacationing in Las Vegas, or shopping for undies at Victoria’s Secret. Unbelievable.
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