Practice what you preach

I stood up for myself today. It was hard and my heart is still pounding, with fear and anger and embarrassment all rolled together.

Sam and I went to Will’s office for a potluck lunch. Everyone there loves Sam, and he and I were the only non-employees invited (but we were explicitly invited).

Sam was passed around for a while and loved it, but after a while he became overwhelmed and started to cry. I held him and he calmed down a bit, so I sat down and gave him a boob, both for comfort and because I thought he was probably thirsty. We were seated around the corner from most of action, though technically (due to the odd shape of the space) in the middle of the room.

Will’s boss said, “Oh, he was hungry!”

I replied, “I think he’s just overwhelmed. But this fixes anything!”

Then she walked closer and said, sotto voce, “It might not be a good idea to do that inside, for the legalities…”

“Actually,” I said, choosing my words carefully, “California law says that I may breastfeed in any location, public or private, as long as I otherwise have a right to be there.” (Remember: invited.)

Her response: “Well, people may be uncomfortable.”

“Ann,” I said, “no one can even see anything.”

“Would you turn your chair to the wall?”

“No. It’s the law, Ann. But if anyone tells you they’re uncomfortable, we’ll go outside.”

I am still furious. It was scary, standing up to her — mostly because I have no interest in causing problems with Will’s employer. But the fact is that she was WRONG and had no right to ask me to change what I was doing. And NO ONE was uncomfortable except her. In fact, immediately after our conversation a middle-aged man who’d been about ten feet away from us the whole time said, “I can’t believe that in this day and age anyone — especially a woman — would say such a thing.” He went on to tell me that he’d had no idea Sam was nursing until she made a stink, effectively pointing it out.

It is unbelievable to me that employers do not know the law. I wonder how she would deal with an employee who wanted a place to pump. Five dollars says she’d send her to the bathroom. (I know I like my food prepared in the bathroom.) It should be mandatory that management be aware of the laws so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen.

What if I’d been a more timid person, or hadn’t known my own rights? What if I had backed down to avoid confrontation? Why is feeding my son treated as a shameful act?

This is why so few women breastfeed. There is not enough support. And when we aren’t encouraged to take care of our own children, there is really something wrong with the world.

40 thoughts on “Practice what you preach

  1. Jaime

    April 20, 2007 at 2:36pm

    good for you! :)

  2. Crystal

    April 20, 2007 at 2:57pm

    You rock. You are a great mama. Good job on holding your own!! It’s so amazing – it seems that women are the worst when it comes to making a stink about public breastfeeding. Why the hell can’t we support each other?

  3. Uccellina

    April 20, 2007 at 3:00pm

    Good for you for sticking up for yourself, and for all women everywhere. Including Ann, if only she knew it.

  4. layla

    April 20, 2007 at 3:19pm

    i just started reading your blog, but i’m glad this was the first one i read. RIGHT ON!!! i’m so glad you stood up for yourself and for other women, and glad to know that there are men out there who are cool with breastfeeding rights, too.

  5. Violet

    April 20, 2007 at 3:26pm

    I’m serious clenching my fists here, on your behalf. Good on YOU for not backing down and for telling her about the law (so she may think twice about pulling that with someone else in the future). And, also, big huzzah to the guy who added his own comment afterward. You rock.

  6. Jonathan

    April 20, 2007 at 3:51pm

    You did the right thing. I always worry about how people would react to Jan feeding Gilli in public if someone were to be a complete ass about it.

    Echoing Violet, You ROCK!

  7. Crystal

    April 20, 2007 at 4:28pm

    And is it just me, or is it just bizarre to experience that in California, especially LA? I am lucky that I haven’t gotten anything weird. I am not very good with confrontation, although I might have to beef up my skills a bit soon because they are renovating at work and putting an Urgent Care where my pump room was…

  8. Lesley

    April 20, 2007 at 4:33pm

    Good for you for sticking up for your (and Sam’s) rights! It’s unbelievable that some people don’t realise the law on this. I sometimes almost wish someone would challenge me on feeding my son in public, just so I can educate them. And yay for the man who supported you!

  9. Lolly

    April 20, 2007 at 5:29pm

    Good for you, Annika! The only reason Ann said anything was because she was uncomfortable. But you don’t need to move because she’s uncomfortable. You did an excellent job! And kudos to that man, too.

    And also, one of the ads below where I’m typing right now is for “Hooter Hiders”. Hee!

  10. Nell

    April 20, 2007 at 6:18pm

    You are amazing! We (all breastfeeding mothers, everywhere) are lucky to count you as one of us, you make me proud. Good job!

  11. Andrea

    April 20, 2007 at 6:23pm

    Hurrah! You tell her!

  12. SilliGirl

    April 20, 2007 at 6:41pm

    I remember when I first started nursing (almost five years ago!!!) I was ready with smart-alecky comebacks to anyone who might dare to say something to me. Instead, I encountered numerous people who would come up to me and praise me for nursing and tell me their own stories.

    So when I finally encountered someone asking me to move (my daughter was 13 months at the time) I was so totally unprepared that I just said, “Um, I’m fine where I am thanks” three times until she huffed off. I actually didn’t even get it that she was asking me to move right away.

    That’s the only time I’ve ever encountered anything negative.

    Good for you for handling it so calmly (at least on the outside)!!

  13. Dee

    April 20, 2007 at 7:30pm

    Obviously she is passive/aggressive. You should have asked her if it made her uncomfortable, although you did give her the opportunity to do so. But because she is a woman, she chose to “pretend” to stick up for you, while being passive aggressive about how this made her feel, and not how others were feeling.

    Good for you for standing up to her!

  14. brandie

    April 20, 2007 at 7:31pm

    AMEN SISTER!!! I am SO PROUD of you for standing your ground. That took alot of bravery. You did good girl.

  15. Katherine

    April 20, 2007 at 7:42pm

    You’d think you were picking scabs over a buffet with that kind of reaction.

    She was projecting her insecurities all over you, which is not reasonable.

    And the HR issues! I could rant a mile and half, but I won’t.

    You’re awesome.

  16. Amy

    April 20, 2007 at 8:46pm

    Oh man. I remember when you were knocked up, and you were worrying how you would handle someone weirding out over your breastfeeding.

    You did just fucking awesome.

  17. Allison SuperCrafty

    April 20, 2007 at 11:24pm

    I cannot believe she said anything to you. You did absolutely the right thing, just repeating the law and your rights, and not involving feelings or entertaining her personal opinions. Stick to the facts!

  18. Allison SuperCrafty

    April 20, 2007 at 11:29pm

    PS: I am afraid (ashamed might be the better term) to breastfeed in public out of fear of this kind of confrontation and reaction from others. This is one of the main reasons I’ve put Evan on a 4 hour feeding schedule; so we can go out and be in society in between feedings. Kind of sad, isn’t it?

  19. Laurie Ann

    April 21, 2007 at 12:13am

    Law aside, why choose to make an issue of it when no one else noticed? I’ve see you breastfeed. It’s not like you whip you boob out and wave it around or anything (although,that would have been awesome). If she didn’t want to see you feed your son, then SHE should have turned to the wall.
    I applaud you.

  20. liz

    April 21, 2007 at 2:10am

    Ditto everybody. Rock on.

  21. Delle

    April 21, 2007 at 3:41am

    I’m not sure how I’d have reacted (I think your way is excellent, BTW). Here, unfortunately, I don’t have the law behind me, as such. In typical British fashion no one wants to commit to making it explicit, so periodically mothers end up in the news having been arrested for breastfeeding in public.

    For this reason, I generally use a provided room if there is one, but otherwise I feed where I am, because there isn’t really anything else I could do. Rohan won’t take a bottle and he won’t take solids so it’s breast or starvation.

    I have found I’m more relaxed these days though. I’m quite happy sitting in a room of mothers with my breast just hanging out when Rohan has decided there are more interesting things for him to look at. I never thought I’d be happy doing that, but it’s the confidence of the other mothers that has given me that confidence too.

  22. sharon

    April 21, 2007 at 5:43am

    Annika, I just can’t believe that woman said that to you! I’m amazed that there are people around that are uncomfortable about a woman feeding her child – what is wrong with these people? Well done for sticking up for yourself and in such a calm manner.

    Delle, in Scotland it’s been the law to allow women to breastfeed in public since March 2005. I had no idea this wasn’t the case in England until I looked it up just now because I was so surprised by your comment! I hope it becomes law for the whole of the UK soon. It’s insane that anyone still gets arrested for it in England since it’s certainly not ILLEGAL – what a horrible thing to have happen, although I can’t imagine it ever getting very far and I had never even heard of this happening until now so I would hope that means it’s quite rare.

  23. Anne

    April 21, 2007 at 6:33am

    I just started reading your blog too (I found it through the WD), but I had to write about this issue. Good for you for standing up for your rights (yours AND your son’s). Thankfully, I never encountered any negative people when I was nursing my kids (eons ago, it seems now), but I hope I would have had the courage you did. I absolutely HATE confrontation, but somehow, when it comes to my kids, the mama bear in me always comes out. Anyway, you rock! :)

  24. Stepherz

    April 21, 2007 at 7:00am

    Ohh, that makes me sick. I don’t even know what else to say. Our local Recreation Center had a similar issue. Women were told they had to go into the locker room to nurse their babies and weren’t aloud to do it in the public pool. I don’t know the laws here in CO, worth checking in to. I always nursed Noah in the pool, and I dare someone to confront me about it. I’d probably ask them to go ahead and call the police. Now that would be great PR for any establishment. I cover myself when I nurse, so if anyone is offended I consider that a problem that they own, not me or my baby.

  25. Annika

    April 21, 2007 at 7:06am

    Stepherz, the Rec Center is breaking the law:

    CRS 25-6-301, 25-6-302 (2004) recognizes the benefits of breastfeeding and encourages mothers to breastfeed. The law also allows a mother to breastfeed in any place she has a right to be. (SB 88)

    There is a list of breastfeeding laws by state here. I check it every time I travel.

  26. Jan

    April 21, 2007 at 9:07am

    How very sad. I think we need another one of those high profile sue-the-pants-off-of-a-big-company situations come up again (like Borders several years ago and just recently Delta – not that anyone would get much out of Delta given their financial condition)to remind businesses and people about a mother’s right to breastfeed.

    Unfortunately, you’ll still have those who basically have their heads up their asses. On a related note, one of the mommies in my group, WHO WORKS AT A LITIGATION LAW FIRM, has been given a hard time because she’s got to take time out to pump, which they first told her to do in the bathroom. She was griping about it and one of the female partners overheard her, so the partner went to HR and lambasted them. Well, the Mommy then got an earful because “she didn’t follow protocol in filing a grievance.” So, how f’d up is that when even pumping becomes an issue?

    I’m glad you stood up for yourself. =)

  27. Jenn

    April 21, 2007 at 9:08am

    Oh, I’m sorry you had to go through that because I know that even when right, standing up to situations like this can cause tummy turmoil or the boiling of blood or just, um, the urge to punch someone.

    She will certainly think twice before trying to say that to someone again. That is your contribution to the next woman who might not know her rights.

  28. Amy

    April 21, 2007 at 10:32pm

    Bravo Annika! That’s AWESOME! And good for the nice man who commented to you afterwards. How old is this boss lady? Maybe she doesn’t have kids? Whatever, she’s a WOMAN! For God’s sake. That just chaps my hide.

  29. Lauren

    April 22, 2007 at 11:18am

    And what if she had actually said *she* was uncomfortable? Would you have left then, or would you have given the same response? I understand it’s passive-aggressive of her to have said “it might make people uncomfortable” but just because she was passive-aggressive doesn’t deny her the right to be uncomfortable with it.

    It seems to me that if someone were uncomfortable, you still wouldn’t accomodate them. It may be legal to breast-feed in public but that doesn’t mean you can disregard the feelings of others when they’re polite and take issue with it.

    Personally, I would be uncomfortable. Not an attack on you or anything, and I know people will probably flame me for not being a feminist or downplaying the role of mothers or whatever, but honestly? I don’t want to see it. And there might not be a law protecting my right to not want to see it, but I’d hope that you – and anyone else – would be courteous enough to respect that.

  30. CosmicAvatar

    April 22, 2007 at 12:15pm

    Well, you know how I feel about breastfeeding in public (the overt kind, mind you), and I know what it’s like to post a minority opinion and be ridiculed as a result, although I’m grateful you didn’t do that and at least tried to understand where I was coming from, even if you, naturally, didn’t agree. I agree with Lauren that, if I’d seen it, I might well have been uncomfortable too, although it sounds in this case as though no-one would have noticed if the boss hadn’t drawn so much attention to it. I feel for her if she was uncomfortable and being too passive-aggressive to just come out and say it, but she didn’t help herself much with her approach, poor bugger. Let’s just say I’m very glad you stuck up for your rights, as that can be bloody scary sometimes, but I wish she hadn’t felt so uncomfy that she had to kick up a fuss about it in the first place.

  31. Annika

    April 22, 2007 at 12:33pm

    Lauren:

    What you have to understand is that no one could see ANYTHING. Sam’s body blocked my skin entirely. His head is larger than my breast. Unless you were standing behind me looking over my shoulder you wouldn’t see a thing, and then you’d see significantly less than would be visible if I were wearing a moderately low-cut top. So your (or anyone’s) discomfort would not be based on anything you could see.

    (In the photo I published last week, most of my breast was visible. That’s because I was not wearing a nursing bra and had to pull my shirt and bra down entirely for Sam to nurse. On Friday I was wearing a turtleneck sweater and a nursing bra. I pulled the sweater up, so my stomach was partly exposed, but with Sam on my lap it didn’t show.)

    If Ann had admitted that she was uncomfortable, I would not have moved for her. NOT because I am rude, but because as the head of the office it is her responsibility to accommodate the law and advocate for the rights of her employees and guests. If someone else had expressed discomfort AFTER my conversation with Ann, I would have gone outside — or, more likely, just stopped, since Sam only wanted a nibble. I think I get what you’re saying, though, and I admit that I did say it because I knew no one would complain. However, I’d have followed through on my word if it came up. If anyone else had asked me to move BEFORE Ann approached me, I don’t know what I would have done. It would have depended entirely on the way they addressed me, and I can’t speculate how that might have been.

    I would like to point out that the fact that it’s legal means that I DON’T have to take others’ discomfort into consideration. That doesn’t mean that I won’t, but I absolutely do not have to.

    I’m sorry that breastfeeding makes you uncomfortable. I think it’s unfortunate, because babies have to eat. How would you feel if you were at a potluck and someone said they didn’t like what you were eating (let’s say you’re allergic to dairy and had brought your own dessert) and wanted you to eat it outside (in the rain), or in the bathroom? You’d probably be furious. And I need you to understand that this is the exact same thing. Only perhaps more serious, because Sam can’t stand up for himself or feed himself.

    I try very hard to be kind and considerate toward other people. But this is one place where I won’t budge. As far as I’m concerned, Sam’s rights trump everyone else’s feelings.

    I keep re-reading this comment and trying to make it less argumentative but it isn’t working. I just want to make it clear that my rights are RIGHTS. That I do care about people’s feelings but not as much as I care about advocating for my son (and myself). That I’m not trying to make any statements and I don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable.

    Sigh.

  32. Vicki

    April 22, 2007 at 1:25pm

    I think that what some people in our society — like Ann, in your story — forget is that you do not have the right to not be offended.

    I also think that is hilarious that the ad I’m getting on this page right now is for something called “Hooter Hiders”.

  33. uccellina

    April 22, 2007 at 4:54pm

    Lauren,

    I’m not going to flame you “for not being a feminist or downplaying the role of mothers or whatever,” but I would ask you to consider that if you don’t want to see something – anything – you have the right to leave the room. Nobody will force you to watch a woman breastfeed, but it’s not a nursing mother’s job to make sure you’re comfortable – she’s busy taking care of her child.

  34. Annika

    April 22, 2007 at 5:01pm

    Oh yes — I meant to say, in my freakin’ novella of a response, that I won’t tolerate anybody flaming anybody else, no matter what their opinion.

  35. Annika

    April 22, 2007 at 5:38pm

    Actual trolls will, of course, be set on fire. A more literal flaming, if you will.

  36. Christina

    April 22, 2007 at 10:29pm

    Great job! And I want to echo the applause for the gentleman who defended you. I’m more comfortable than most watching someone breastfeed, although I don’t have kids yet. As an interpreter in a hospital I work with breastfeeding moms all the time…usually in L&D where no one worries about covering up. I see too many mothers who don’t breastfeed for selfish reasons. (There are some good reasons – I’m talking about the ones who say, “I don’t feel like it.”) Congrats to you for sticking with it! The last time I read a post about this was a couple of months ago when I had just arrived from interpreting in Guatemala. Hearing people say they are uncomfortable makes me laugh. The moms I saw in Guatemala will breastfeed ANYWHERE, and believe me, they are NOT worried about covering up. It is seen as the most natural thing in the world, and they would think it ludicrous to even hear a discussion like this. I talked to one mom there about it, and told her that the Americans stare because here there is controversy about it. She looked at me as if I were from the moon, and said, “they prefer to hear my baby scream and watch me make him starve?” I’ve always seen mothers here cover up as much as possible. It’s funny that our society doesn’t bat an eyelash at near nudity in ads, TV, and movies, yet feeding your baby can be labeled “offensive”.
    Sorry for the long comment from a new reader, but this was a great post!

  37. MenleyNin

    April 23, 2007 at 9:49am

    Horrifying, isn’t it? Arkansas finally passed a law protecting breastfeeding and exempting breastfeeding mothers from the indecent exposure law last month. The law doesn’t even go into effect until July 2007. I was flabbergasted when I found out about this, because I had no idea it was still considered taboo to breastfeed in public, much less that women were still arrested for it.

  38. Jess

    April 23, 2007 at 10:00am

    Good for you for standing up for yourself!

    I hate that managers are so often clueless about the laws they are supposed to be follwing. Even worse is when HR is lackadaisical about it, too. GRRRR! Sidenote: I don’t know about CA, but in TX the laws about having to provide a place for pumping only apply when the company has a certain number of employees or more (I think it’s 15 or so), which sucks, but I understand why they do it.

  39. Crystal

    April 23, 2007 at 11:39am

    Annika, I think you were very polite in your response to Lauren and got your point across well.

    I’d like to add that discomfort doesn’t make law, and people have to obey the law regardless of their feelings toward it. It makes me uncomfortable to hear someone pass gas, but it is just a fact of life (albeit much more unpleasant than a child eating) and I have the ability to walk away or plug my nose. Discomfort is going to be part of life no matter what. The best way to limit discomfort is to expose yourself to those instances more often so you are used to them. Nursing in public is going to happen no matter your feelings. Children need to eat, and nursing is also the best way to comfort them in stressful situations. If you don’t want to experience discomfort every time you see it (and you WILL see it), I’d advise you to expose yourself to it more. And I mean this respectfully. I understand it might not be taken that way – I was up 3 times last night tending to an infant.

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