It finally happened. Following a day of love and light for mothers. After reading post after post of public proclamations about the importance of mothers and what they mean to our lives and our communities. Today all of that was struck down.
Not even 24 hours after Mother’s Day, I was shamed for breastfeeding my child in a public space.
It happened so quickly and came so unexpectedly that the only words I could muster beneath the cover of my mask were, “What?” I’m sure the perplexity of my stare gave her pause.
After all she just looked at me and then looked at the sleeping babe within my arms and said, “Well, it was you right? You were the one feeding the baby here in front of everyone!”
I mean, I’ve heard the horror stories of mommas breastfeeding in public. Having gone through an entire two and a half years of breastfeeding a toddler with only a few minor stares, I definitely wasn’t expecting it to happen with my two month old.
The most shocking part of it all was that I was literally surrounded by mothers. We were all having the shared experience of watching our three year olds jump and play together. Their smiles and ours were still evident under the coverings of our masks because who can dampen the joys of little children socializing again.
Well, I’ll tell you who . . . the owner of the business. A woman business owner, a mother herself. I think that’s why it felt like such a complete slap in the face. When I first started breastfeeding in public, I expected some stares from men. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect an encounter like that with anyone. Let alone a fellow mother.
To make matters worse, she hadn’t even witnessed it. But still came at me with a harsh tone while stating, “And you, you’re freaking people out by doing that! The older girls can’t stop talking about it. You’ll need to go to the corner or upstairs if you’re going to do that in here. Or you’ll need to use a cover so nobody can see you.”
After staring at her in silence for what felt like hours, I simply said, “It’s too hot in here to cover her. I can’t do that.” The owner then looked at me and said, “Well then, you can just go outside.”
Those last words hit me with such force that I could feel the heat rising in my chest and the tears welling up beneath my eyelids.
My silence shamed me.
My body shamed me.
My breasts shamed me.
And then as quick as the encounter started, the other moms who heard it came beside me and offered their words and comfort. “That’s ridiculous. But don’t worry. We’ll form a mom circle around you next time!”
And it was at that moment that my pride came back. I had nothing to be ashamed about, especially not my body and the breasts that were giving my child nourishment.
Although I have found my voice again and my strength in breastfeeding has returned, I never want to be found voiceless in that situation again.
But just in case I’m confronted about breastfeeding my child in public again, I’d like to have some general responses ready.
“Yes, I am breastfeeding. My baby is hungry.”
“No, thank you. I’m fine right here. I don’t need to move anywhere.“
“Thanks for letting me know people are uncomfortable. So is my baby. That’s actually why I’m feeding her right now.”
“It’s unfortunate that you’re allowing something so natural and minuscule to turn into a big deal. “
“I’m unable to help with your current discomfort surrounding breastfeeding. But I’d be happy to have a conversation with you about why I’m breastfeeding my child and why she’s unable to nurse with a cover. “
And yes, I’m sure I could’ve come up with a thousand snarky remarks. But at the end of the day, I live in a small town with minimal business options. I’d hate to take away an otherwise lovely experience for my older child on a weekly basis.
The intention of these prepared responses is simply to help bridge the breastfeeding gap. I hope we can make progress towards a more conducive breastfeeding experience for all of the amazing moms out there feeding their babies and for anyone else interested enough to comment on it.
As a side note, the law is on breastfeeding mothers’ side. MSA 1978, Section 28-20-1 (1999) makes it legal for a mother to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be present.
Originally published May 2021.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.