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Friday, October 17, 2008

Breastfeeding in Public? Not here, baby.

I guess I just need to start this post with a bit of background. I've got four children. All were breastfed, but not for the same length of time. My first was nursed for a couple weeks, my second for three (!) years, my third for five months, and my fourth is still nursing at six weeks, with no weaning plans in place. That gives me a combined total of three-and-a-half years of nursing, over a seven year period.

Never, in all of this time, has anyone asked me to go in a private place to nurse. Never. I doubt that anyone ever knew I was nursing a child, so I'm not surprised that no one ever asked me to hide. I'm a very modest person by nature, so its not like I've ever had my boob out there for the whole world to see. (Except for one very embarrassing situation that I'd rather not discuss, and even then, no one said a word.)

But then I went to my county's Health Department for a WIC appointment. If you aren't familiar with the WIC program, you can click here for more info (opens in a new window.) I would not say our family is low-income - we don't receive any other government benefits or anything like that. WIC is supposedly very pro-breastfeeding; their waiting room is full of poster loudly proclaiming "Breast is BEST!" and "Breastfeeding will save you [x amount of dollars] per year!" They have a lactation consultant on staff and give people breastpumps when needed. (They also give people formula as needed.)

So. Okay. to get to the story. I went to the WIC office on September 26th. My son was 22 days old, and had to be added to the case. To do this, you have to fill out several pages of paperwork for you and your baby, and then Mom and baby both get weighed and blood pressure taken and iron checked. Older kids get lead testing.

So I had my baby in his carseat, and my gigantic diaper bag, and a clipboard with like thirty six pages on it. (Okay, maybe four pages. But still.) I wasn't done with the paperwork when the nurse called me in to do the measurements.

She measured the baby first. He was upset at being undressed, so after she weighed me, I held him and whispered to him. Something about "Mama feed you in a minute," or something like that. I was planning on nursing him the waiting room, instead of starting in the nurse's office, because it would be really difficult to carry the carseat, the enormous diaper bag, and the clipboard, all while nursing the baby.

The nurse looked up at me. "Are you going to nurse him in the waiting room?" she asked.
"Well, yeah, I planned on it," I said. She started picking up my diaper bag and said, "Oh no no no no no, we can't have that," and walked out of the room with my bag.

Well now I felt like I had to follow this lady, since she had my monstrosity of a diaper bag with all my stuff in it. She walked out of the office, through the waiting room, and into a small storage room where she sat my bag on a table and instructed me to sit in the chair. It was a hard, plastic chair - the kind you find in crummy waiting rooms, and even crummier than the chairs in the waiting room just outside the door, which at least had arms. She turned around and walked out, telling me to "come on out when he's done eating," and shut the door.

I was a little bit shocked. I always thought I would stand up for myself if anything like that ever happened, and I guess I never thought it would happen in the WIC office. The room was very small and uncomfortable, with boxes of files or something along the walls. There weren't any windows and the light was that harsh, fluorescent kind. It was very stuffy, and I just didn't know what to do.

I was embarrassed to go back out into the waiting room. I felt like breastfeeding my child was something I should be ashamed of, and that everyone in the crowded waiting room knew what I was doing. Kind of like when you are in a public restroom and make some embarrassing noises, and you totally don't want to come out. (Not that I have ever done that...) Now, the waiting room was chock full of people, but there were still chairs with arms, and big windows with natural light. Before I was relegated to the storage room, I had noticed quite a few moms bottle feeding their babies, but that didn't bother me, and I don't see why my feeding my baby differently should bother anyone else.

I posted the scenario to the moms at MDC, and they had great advice, encouraging me to write a letter to the Health Department, and to the federal side of the WIC program. I still haven't written anything. I don't know how, and I still feel really ashamed about the whole thing.

2 comments:

Lisa said...

I can not believe a nurse did that to you at the office for WOMEN, INFANTS, and CHILDREN! That is some serious bulls---. What a backwards hag. I have never had an experience like that, thankfully. I have nursed my daughters at their doctor's office, church, the mall, where ever, and no one has ever said anything negative to me (except a friend's 7 year old, who said it was gross, but whatever, she was 7). You totally should complain. I guess it's probably been too long now, but seriously, that nurse was waaaay out of line, and I'm sorry that happened to you!

Hollie Shannon said...

Do you mind if I use your story in a paper I am writing about public breastfeeding and the need for protection and support of women's right to breastfeed in public? I could even send you a copy of the final paper if you'd be interested. Email me if so: hollieshannon@gmail.com

thanks--
Hollie Moyer
Biola University