Tis the season to be running all over the place in a frenzy of percent-off sales, bustling strangers and un-napped, discontented children… Or something like that. It’s easy to forget when you’ve had about 12 hours of sleep… collectively.. over the last 12-and-a-half months. What were we talking about? Nursing in public, I think.
When I have littles, I generally stay pretty close to home. The holiday season is a welcome exception. I love this time of year. I love the sights, I love the sounds, the smells, the buzz of activity and the cheesiness of it all. The antlers and big red nose on my SUV are proof (and I don’t care how silly some people might think it is! #HatersGonnaHate #Grinches). At least, I love it all until I’m four people deep in a six person checkout line, and the kid who can talk is begging and the kid who can’t is crying and none of the surrounding strangers realize just how close they are to death in that moment. A few times I’ve had to pull my secret weapon out of my bag of tricks; and by “bag of tricks” I mean my shirt; and by “secret weapon” I mean my boob.
My Bag > Santa’s Bag
As I mentioned last month on the blog, and the month before in the interview I did for this KFDM Special Report, I’d never had a bad nursing in public (NIP) experience. That is, until not long after both of those things were published and aired, respectively.
It really wasn’t that bad. It had been a day made in commercialized seasonal hell. My not-a-fan-of-crowds husband and I had been running errands of both holiday and non holiday importance all day, and I had had the extra special task of finding a semi-formal wedding-appropriate outfit for my brother’s short notice wedding that a) looked good, b) fit well, c) could be nursed in and d) could be bought with one of the three retailer gift cards I possessed. Clearly, I like to keep things simple. I’d struck out at the first two stores, and while at the last stop of the Desperation Express we realized it was time to pick up our daughter from school. We were faced with two options: abandon the basket of Christmas gifts we’d found and try to come back later or have my husband leave, pick up the kid and return. After some stress- and WHY IS IT SO HOT IN HERE-induced bickering Dustin left and I continued rifling through the pre-Black Friday apocalypse that was Kohl’s that day. As soon as Dustin walked out of sight the baby started to cry, then scream. I realized he was hungry. Loath to try and find a comfortable spot to nurse, I rearranged the ring sling I was wearing and, hidden by the tall racks in the Women’s department, pulled out the nearest boob and started nursing. I feel it noteworthy that this is the absolute least “discreet” way for me to nurse. Though nothing showing that a bathing suit couldn’t hide, there was nothing between the majority of my breast and the heavens but the stifling, humid air of the department store.
It was then that they approached: a twenty-something couple holding lattes. I turned my back to them as I rocked, nursed, and pretended to be completely consumed by the deals on the 60% off rack before me. When they came closer, and realized what I was doing, they circled the long way around, sneering. I mean, they didn’t look at me like I was pulling my right ta-ta out and waving it around, but it was definitely a persnickety little look. As they disappeared behind a tall rack of half-off graphic tees, I could hear them whispering before nonchalantly emerging, looking at me again and walking away.
And that was it.
I realize that that was laughably benign. I mean, I’d been gearing up for a potential standoff for over a year, and this was the unpleasant situation I had dreaded? Ha! In that moment, however, with the stress of the day, and the unaccomplished tasks, and the FREAKING HEATER ON, I almost burst into tears. I told Dustin about the encounter when he returned, and I can’t share his response here, but it was adorably protective and did make me feel better.
Later on, it got me thinking. Why had it affected me so? Why those people? Why in that moment? What was different from all the other times I’ve made eye contact with strangers while nursing? Usually in those situations we lock eyes and I smile and they either smile back or shrink away. And then I remembered what my good pal Amy has always said: It’s all about body language. In quote form:
“I nursed, uncovered, all over Beaumont for 5 years straight. In all those years, I didn’t encounter one sideways look or comment from anyone.
I maintain that it’s because my body language wasn’t apologetic. When people looked at me, I met their gaze and smiled confidently. It’s much
harder to gather up the nerve to approach a confident, smiling, nursing mother and tell her
she’s doing something wrong and you’d like her to change it.”
You think any Starbucks-toting twerp
has ever given her a dirty look?
How spot on is that? How powerful? And I know this to be true, because there it was. That was the difference. I’d let everything going on that day and the atmosphere around me affect my confidence. When those hipsters looked at me I felt awkward and embarrassed. I communicated that feeling to them with my body language and their response reflected that. It’s a fact: you teach people how to treat you. In that moment, I taught a pair of strangers that it was permissible to not only have an opinion about what I was doing but to share that opinion with me, even if it was only with a glance or two.
But also, screw those guys, because I can do what I want, and my right to NIP is expressly protected by Texas state law, and seeing a little boob top is better than listening to a screaming baby so you’re welcome.
In the end, Dustin and Shelby made it to Kohl’s, we got some gifts on sale, I found the perfect nursable blouse and some slacks for the wedding (that I was able to use Kohl’s Cash on), and we all lived happily ever after.
Anna- mom to Shelby, 10 years, and Harrison, 12 months- is Senior Editor of the WMC newsletter, as well as an Admin for WMC’s community pages on Facebook. She is currently working on an historical fiction novel with good friend, doula and fellow wordsmith Heather Thomas, and is especially into coffee right now.