There's a nurse-in planned at the Hirshhorn Museum, where a mother a few weeks ago was told by more than one security guard to feed her baby in the restroom. There was no chair or otherwise designated breastfeeding area in the restroom. The law states that a mother may nurse her baby anywhere she and her baby are allowed to be, even if part of her breast is exposed during feeding. If we can't even get people to respect that, here in the fairly left-leaning nation's capital, what hope do women in more far-flung, more conservative areas have?
I'm trying not to nurse Mabel much in public these days. I am, at least, making an effort to have snacks with me and offer them first, or try to distract her. It's not because I'm embarrassed to nurse my two-year-old in front of other people: it's just that I'd like us to start winding down and that's a good way to begin.
However, if I have to briefly take a retrograde step and sit down in a public building with the express purpose of breastfeeding my toddler, I will do that to ensure that everyone else has the right to do it too. It's not about exhibitionism. It's not about thumbing my nose at other people's sensibilities. It's not about being contrary. It's about basic rights for mothers and babies, and helping normalise the act of breastfeeding for everyone.
No, I don't have to whip out a boob to feed my toddler. She can eat big-girl food. But if she was under six months old, that would be all the food she'd be getting. Why should a mother feel she has to hide a wriggly baby under a "modesty" cover - which, as far as I can see, just enrages babies and calls attention to what you're doing in a way that simply lifting your shirt and hiding everything with a baby on your lap rarely does? Or that she'd better pump at home, decant to a bottle, bring the bottle along, and feed the baby that way to avoid embarrasing others while out and about?
Some babies don't take to bottles and refuse to drink from them. Some mothers can't pump more than an ounce or two. (Me, last time I tried, for instance, though my supply is far from paltry.) Some mothers can't afford a pump anyway. Most mothers have other things to do, and really don't want another thing to have to remember before heading out for the day. One of the wonderful things about breastfeeding is the ability to just go, with the bare minimum of stuff attached. You always have the food, it's always the right temperature, it's always sterilised, and there's always enough.
But even if you do see a mother breastfeeding a baby who can walk, or - horrors! - talk? What of it? Would you rather listen to a screaming toddler meltdown? All the way home on the train? Wouldn't it be so much nicer all round if the mother held her baby close and comforted him or her, quietly, making everyone happy? You probably wouldn't even have noticed them. That's what nursing can do - even on the DC Metro System where if you stick to the letter of the law you may not feed your poor tired grumpy child so much as a goldfish cracker without transgressing Metro rules. (Here I am compelled to note that I do not stick to the letter of this law. My children have eaten more than one goldfish in Metro stations and on Metro trains. Am I alone?)
The bottom line for me is that if nobody ever nurses in public, then nobody will ever nurse in public. Breastfeeding whenever, wherever, should be normal, unexceptional, not-head-turning. If some of us have to turn a few heads in order to help make it that way, I'm up for that too.