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How Breastfeeding and Nursing Discrimination Made Me Believe In Goddesses

Posted Mar 29 2012 11:59pm
Written by Rachelle Fordyce on March 29, 2012 – -



- by Chloé Jo Davis

I used to think people who had issues with women breastfeeding lived in the bible belt, had missing teeth, and didn’t believe in evolution. Until I lived this tit-tascular tale.

Yesterday morning I finished an average toddler gym class with my 18 month old son. As I was leaving, I popped over to the teachers station to thank them so much for an extra awesome puppet show, calling it their “best one yet.”

The always sweet teacher said, “Oh, I meant to talk to you about something. We’ve gotten a number of complaints from other Mothers about your breastfeeding in the circle, so we have to ask you to nurse in the lobby.”

My mouth dropped open and my first thought was “Wow, someone finally said something” as if I’d somehow expected and waited for a moment of nursing discrimination, since I’d yet to have one… ever. She went on…

I barely responded. Said something about sort of understanding. I looked at the other Mothers – who were totally listening – one of which I knew from another class and NEITHER OF WHICH SAID A DAMN WORD TO STICK UP FOR ME. I grabbed my son and left. Let’s just clarify here that I’m usually one of the only Moms at any of these classes, this one had about three Moms in the room, the rest were Nannys. I would almost bet my bottom dollar that no kid in that class was currently breastfed. I can almost say with certainty, most were probably never breastfed. Welcome to New Yorks Upper East Side! Where Moms go to Prada to shop, and babies are strolled in Central Park by cell phone chatting Nanny’s. Maybe we should have to go get our plastic bottles filled with creepy powdered formula if our kid needs a sip. Maybe if things were as they should be, a sippy is as close as your nippy.

Moving on..

What happened next was 24 hours of sheer shock, upset, and realizations about my lactivism (lactation activism) and my powerful, juicy feminism. My like-minded friends rallied by me on the phone and online all day.

I had so many different emotional reactions – shame for being called out like I had done something wrong in front of other Mothers, anger for their stupidity, and helplessness for my child who doesn’t know exactly what was going on but certainly picked up on my energy.

So I did what any good yenta does, I got on the phone with my BFF’s.

My friend Alex was outraged and said they needed to rectify or I should take it further. Her suggestions included making sure they added the la leche league “breastfeeding friendly” decal to their door and giving a hand out of their supportive breastfeeding policy to all their Mothers. She mentioned that whether other Mothers felt comfortable with my breastfeeding or not was a non point since it’s ILLEGAL TO ASK SOMEONE TO MOVE THEIR BREASTFEEDING OUTSIDE.

Breastfeeding and NY State Law

My friend Krysta suggested a “nurse-in.” My twitter followers demanded to know where the space was and some called for a boycott. My husband Jeremy said “Disgusting that we live in a society that actually finds the most NATURAL thing for a child and mother to do as something that makes others uncomfortable. Horrified.” Moni said, “Fight back! I recently went to Chelsea Piers for a bowling party and surprisingly I was the only one in a pretty progressive group of people who stuck up for the lady who was breastfeeding at the next lane. Breast milk power!” Sandra said, “Fight back! Who do these people think they are? This sort of thing is so disturbing! Talk about backwards right-wing thinking? What year are we living in again??” Aimee said, “Scare the shit out of the school with a lawsuit. You are fully protected under NY State law to breastfeed your child wherever you see fit.” Gayle said, “Seek legal council if you do not receive a personal apology. Also, they need to make a public apology if they said it in front of anyone else! Those Nanny’s are their to represent the mother, not to be the Mother. If they don’t like it, look away. Next step threaten to go to the community newspaper so that local mother’s can find out. Nobody will want to take their child there!” James said, “Someone’s about to get schooled in the art of “I shouldn’t have said that.” Matt called it “boobgate.” Barb said, “Boobs make her mad? She needs to take a long hard look at that situation.” Julie said, “Umm I wouldn’t be returning to that class again, so wrong on so many levels.” And these were just a few of the many, many responses I got. And let me just say, THANK YOU for all that sweetness. I was a tired, upset Mommy and you all saved me from total meltdown with your loving, supportive voices.

As the daughter of a lawyer, and my husband being the son of a lawyer, we know from lawsuits. I wanted to give them a chance to rectify the situation, particularly because this was a woman owned small space, so I have (and continue) to keep this business anonymous… for now. I realize people can make mistakes, lordisa knows I’ve said some absurd things in my day that I had to make right. I hoped my bad experience would inspire (or force them into) policy change and understanding. There are a lot of issues I care about that I see people being afraid of – veganism, lgbt issues, green living, animal rights, et al – but now, I have to add breastfeeding to that list.

I left a message on the gym’s machine, saying how horrified I was by what had gone down and requesting a call from the owner of the establishment.

I spoke with the owner, let’s call her Betty, a few times. We went back n’ forth. She was breastfeeding supportive from the start but worried that me breastfeeding on the gym floor could cause an accident. I told her I had always breastfed to the side on a radiator, and that the one time I had breastfeeding the circle was when songs were being sung and Panther had just gone for it (all you nursing Mama’s know how easy it is to stop your baby from wanting the boob when they want it – yeah right.) She told me the teacher who had taken me aside is a Mother of 3 and currently pregnant. That she too breastfeeds. I kept responding with no matter how you rationalize, this request is illegal. I can go breastfeed Panther wherever I like.

Chloé Jo Davis breastfeeding Panther in Italian Elle, shot by Amanda DeCadenet

Chloé Jo Davis breastfeeding Panther in Italian Elle, shot by Amanda DeCadenet

Let’s go back in time for a minute. My breastfeeding journey was a hard one – it was incredibly painful, I worried about production, lack of sleep (we also attachment parent), and scabs. I cried almost every time I nursed for the first 3 months. And then, like a phoenix rising from flames, one day the pain subsided and breastfeeding became what it was meant to be – a nutritional, emotional, and beautiful bonding experience between myself and my little boy. Many women come up to me when they see me nursing places to say it didn’t work for them or that they couldn’t get enough milk. Yep, it didn’t “work” for me either right away. I was tenacious and I was driven to give my baby the best. Formula wasn’t an option. I was going to go down nursing if I had to. I think so many women don’t even give themselves enough time to get in the groove. And then many get in the groove, and then stop before their time.

My final conversation with Betty ended last evening. I asked her how she could control younger babies nursing non stop in the younger classes. She said she couldn’t and didn’t. I realized this was not only nursing bias, but TODDLER nursing bias.

According La Leche League:

Toddlers breastfeed for many of the same reasons infants breastfeed: for nutrition, comfort, security, for a way to calm down and for reassurance. Mothers breastfeed their toddlers for many of the same reasons they breastfeed their infants: they recognize their children’s needs, they enjoy the closeness, they want to offer comfort, and they understand the health benefits. (See the FAQ, “What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding My Baby?” for more information.) The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that “Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child..” * The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that babies be breastfed for at least two years.

Breastfeeding a toddler helps with the child’s ability to mature. Although some experts say a toddler who is not weaned will have difficulty becoming independent, it’s usually the fearful, clingy children that have been pushed into situations requiring too much independence too soon. A breastfeeding toddler is having his dependency needs met. The closeness and availability of the mother through breastfeeding is one of the best ways to help toddlers grow emotionally.

Breastfeeding can help a toddler understand discipline as well. Discipline is teaching a child about what is right and good, not punishment for normal toddler behavior. To help a toddler with discipline, he needs to feel good about himself and his world. Breastfeeding helps a toddler feel good about himself, because his needs are being met.

Just as babies do, toddlers receive health benefits from breastfeeding. Your milk continues to provide immunities and vitamins, and can help protect your toddler from illness and allergies. If your toddler does get sick, nursing will help comfort him. In fact, a toddler with an upset stomach may be able to tolerate nothing but human milk.

Toddlers have a huge world to explore, and breastfeeding provides them (and their mothers!) with some quiet time in their busy, waking hours.

Betty said I was doing what was best for my child, and that she breastfed her own children. She claimed the teacher had no complaints but just fumbled because she was nervous to talk to me about breastfeeding (hm, perhaps because she knew what she was saying was innately wrong.) She stayed on the whole “We just need to be cohesive and have all snacks in the lobby” trip. I refused. She agreed to my terms. Let’s see how that plays out. If it doesn’t, I may be asking some of you to make some supportive requests and emails to the space. Til them I’ll allow them this time to rectify their err in judgement and give them the sisterly nod I wish I had been given.

I went to the bathroom after getting off the phone with Betty, and behold, there it was. My first period since getting pregnant. It has been a big topic of conversation in my household.. when will the period return so we can work on baby #2. And here it was. On the most ovarian-positive, female-swelling, girl-powered day I’d had in years. You can’t make this shit up. I ran for my Lunapads, and then called my cousin Jennie who said “That’s some real crystal shit.” Crystals, Stevie Nicks songs, and patchouli too. This is the power of our lunar rosé, our amplified vag-voiced chorus. We will not be stopped. We will have each others backs – as Mother warriors, sisters in the army of femme. We will feed our babies ourselves, from our bodies. We will not shut up and shut down.

Repeat after me, hell NO, my boobs won’t go.

*** Do you have any stories to share about breastfeeding in public? Did you experience discrimination? What did you do? We’d love to hear! Please leave a comment below and share. ***

Chloé Jo DavisChloé Jo Davis, is the founder of GirlieGirlArmy.com your Glamazon Guide to Green Living; a call to arms for badass baby divas and head turning cougars, who want to save the planet from hacky sack and doom at the same time. Newbies, vegan vixens, the Mom next door, sexy emo boys, and anyone who wants to do their part without sacrificing their facials hearts this online destination that give you tips on fashion, food, and fun – in the greenest, most compassionate way possible! With twelve years of badass archives, people have called us their online “Sex in the City,” with brains and a pitbull.  And of course 100,000++ Monthly readers who die for their tips n’ tricks! Featured everywhere from Italian Elle to The New York Times to Jimmy Kimmel, this is the site that keeps your high heels as clean and green as your yoga toned bod.

WISH: Women's International Summit for Health

Chloé was also a recent speaker for WISH: Women’s International Summit for Health. If you missed Chloé’s interview, you can listen to it here.

There’s still time to sign up for WISH! We’re just past the half-way point for WISH 2012, but there’s still just under three whole weeks left of fabulous inspirational interviews just overflowing with wisdom and insight! Want to learn more about WISH? Click here.




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Posted in WISH Summit | 11 Comments »

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  1. By Janelle on Mar 30, 2012

    I have nursed all five of my babes until they weaned themselves and I never had problems nursing in public. My problem was some “friends” who didn’t like the nursing toddler. A baby was fine but once they could talk it was a huge problem for them. Guess there are some “friends” you just don’t need.
    I also worked at our local WIC office as a counselor for nursing moms. It always seemed like it was the non-nursing women who made the most stink. Glad this mom followed through with the problem and stuck to her guns. Awesome.
    This is the first time in fifteen years I have not had a little one at the breast.

    [Reply]

  2. By tc on Mar 30, 2012

    Hey there,

    People who have a problem with breastfeeding mothers who are in public are just as wrong as people who have a problem with women who choose to use formula. It’s a personal choice. We all make the best choices we can when we have newborns – through the hormones, lack of sleep, emotions and newness of it all.

    I did NOT breastfeed my first son. He is a wonderful, happy, attached, confident and curious boy. I do breastfeed my second son though, who is also wonderful, happy, attached, confident and curious.

    It was equally wrong for people to stare and judge my choice to bottle feed my first son (which I noticed a great deal) as it is for people to do so for breastfeeding my second son in public (for which I’ve had no incident).

    I can tell you that I felt highly unsupported in my bottlefeeding. I felt judged and full on despised. As women, shouldn’t we be steering toward understanding, compassion and support for each other?

    Some mom’s go back to work, bottle feed and hire a nanny…perhaps this makes them happy. Some mom’s stay home and breastfeed…perhaps this makes them happy. Some mom’s work and breastfeed…perhaps this makes them happy. Some mom’s stay home and bottlefeed…perhaps this makes them happy. Arent’ we all just trying to do what’s best for our families – for ourselves – for our lives?

    I also know that it is human to judge. What someone may think/say about me has nothing to do with me and it isn’t personal. It’s their perspective and they have a right to have it.

    My two cents that I felt I would write :)

    TC

    [Reply]

    Reply by Allie.Duckienz on March 30th, 2012

    Great point!!! I felt that this article discriminated too. Just that this time it was the authoress who felt that it was OK to judge. We are all here to support one another and NOT judge. Trust that their decision is right for them and send them loving vibes. Sure give people information so that they can choose for themselves but you have no right to judge them.

    [Reply]

    Reply by tc on March 31st, 2012

    And don’t get me wrong. I’m all over healthy, respectful debate and sharing of different idea’s and opinions :)

    How else do we challenge ourselves, grow and learn.

    Let’s come to each other with a spirit of openness and really listen to what the other is saying. AND we still don’t have to agree at the end of it ;p

    T

    [Reply]

  3. By Jeremy Bell on Mar 30, 2012

    Ms. Chloe,

    I see that you have a lot of tenacity and concern about your child and I think that’s great. You listed many of health benefits of breast feeding and you are most certainty right of its many benefits.

    I’m curious though if you weigh the pros/cons of “fighting” for your right to breastfeed in the circle, and letting them “win” that battle and just breastfeeding your child in peace in the lobby? You mentioned energy in your article and how you believe it affects your child. I sometimes wonder if a baby would gain more benefit bottle feeding from a mother – in a state of peace – than a baby breastfeeding from a mother – in a state of outrage. It seems like besides the negative energy, high levels of cortisol would be swirling in the breast milk. I can’t see how that would be healthy for the baby.

    Just some thoughts. Best regards.

    [Reply]

  4. By Bobbie on Mar 30, 2012

    To access that awesome “trubreast” poster,

    when we were exhibiting at the ICEA conference in Detroit, 1980, giving away the posters, two RN’s saw the posters, totally missed it and asked where they could see the units.

    [Reply]

  5. By Sarah on Mar 30, 2012

    I support breastfeeding 100%! Your blog entry highlights some very important information about breastfeeding. I hope to breastfeed my children until they wean themselves.

    However, I took some offense at your political generalizations. I’m from Tennessee (went to the same high school as my grandparents), right there smack in the middle of the Bible Belt. In my little hillbilly town, you will be hard pressed to find someone bottle-feeding an infant. I’m at the age when all my friends are starting to have their first babies. No one has even considered a bottle. You lose a huge audience when you start making political accusations that, in fact, have nothing to do with the topic at hand. Maybe you were just trying to be funny with that first comment??

    Anyhow, I’m surprised this entry was published on the Tera blog. While it has a lot of good information, I thought these entries were supposed to be more about empowering each other and building each other up with good information. Not drawing political lines and perpetuating stereotypes. If you really want to make a difference, you should make an effort to reach everyone, not divide your audience from the beginning. Sometimes we’re so busy pointing fingers, that we forget we’re all in this together, trying to do our best according to the information we have. Spread information! Not prejudice!

    [Reply]

  6. By Audry on Mar 31, 2012

    In an ever-so-human way, Ms. Davis does seem to exhibit just as must judgement towards formula feeding mamas as the women at the gym class who thought it inappropriate for her to nurse her toddler there. However, it might be worth noting here the difference between being judged and being discriminated against. Would you agree that one is simply common human behavior while the other is in fact a violation of basic human rights? Or is there more to this situation?

    Another possibility is that she was not being judged by these women at the gym, but that they simply were feeling uncomfortable with her nursing a toddler. There are many things to admire about Ms. Davis: she is fierce and committed! Ready to turn her anger into productive action and ultimately she is trying to make the world a better place! However, I think she, and others who feel strongly about breastfeeding rights (including myself), will make the biggest impact through taking a more non-reactive, gentle approach….for starters we can ask questions. Maybe we could try to understand the reasons why those who are uncomfortable feel that way? Is it because of a lack of information? Is it because of a lack of understanding? Is it because they might feel violated in a sense? After all, many times a breastfeeding woman is exposing herself to others without their consent.

    So is it also a violation of basic human rights to expose oneself to others without their consent? After all, if someone other than our children or romantic partners “flashes” us, in most cases we feel violated, right?

    Granted, body parts above the chest are different than those below it…I bring up this point to empower breastfeeding mothers to better understand the side of those who might feel uncomfortable in their presence, so that they can identify with them and be better equipped to create a more harmonious situation.

    I am a breastfeeding mother of a toddler and I have been asked not to breastfeed in public. I have also felt strange at times around other mothers who were breastfeeding. So I can relate to both sides. Different women have different styles of breastfeeding. Some women are more discreet while others have a very open style. Just because a mother doesn’t mind showing her breasts in public doesn’t necessarily mean other people feel comfortable seeing them. After all, they are a special and intimate part of us!

    Although breastfeeding (esp. toddlers) isn’t normal/accepted in our culture yet, I think this can change. I also think the most effective way to help facilitate this change this will be to use an understanding, gentle, curious, compassionate approach.

    [Reply]

  7. By margo sorrentino on Mar 31, 2012

    These were interesting comments for me to read. I nursed my first child in the 70s when it was not the “in thing” to do. People then generally disapproved of me doing it in public but I always took the atitude that they din’t get it & I was going to nurse my baby whenever & where ever I wanted to. In the early 80s, with my second child I nursed the same way & ignored what people said although I did try to correct them on what was the right thing for my baby & mysef to do. I nursed both my first & second till they were about 6mos old when they chose to stop. I had another in the early 90s, things were pretty much accepted then but there were STILL people that were unhappy about me doing so in pubic. I have M.S. & told my Dr. that I felt, without question that the nursing was helping not only my child but also made my M.S. symtoms much better!He made a note of it & moved on. I read recently that women who nursed their children did in fact say they felt much better & now (thank God) there is in fact documentation that women who nurse do feel much better during the months they are nursing. Oh btw, I forgot to mention that I nursed my last child till she was 3 &1/2 years old, I felt better the whole time! Feel free to submit my comments but without m last name, my daughter may not be ready for everyone to know she nursed till 3&1/2. Thank u & good luck with all that u are doing!

    [Reply]

  8. By Meg on Mar 31, 2012

    I have been nursing for over three years (first my daughter and now both her and my son). I’ve only received one negative comment in that whole time. Sometimes I don’t think we have to have a nurse-in or big to-do about it. Just refuse to move or cover. If I experienced mulitple problems then my lioness would come out and I’d go out for the protests. I still feel sick thinking about the time I got called out, but I stood my ground, stuck to my guns, and fed my child the way God intended.

    [Reply]

  9. By Lucy on Mar 31, 2012

    Wow. I think somebody needs a hug…
    Anyway, I don’t think those women were discriminating you for choosing to breastfeed. They were probably just grossed out. You see, some things are just better done in privacy. I fully support breastfeeding, and when I’m older and have kids I’ll do the same. But I will never do it in public, because it would be to uncomfortable for both me and the people around me. I think it’s much more offensive to have some random person flashing you in public, than it is to be asked to leave because you are doing that very thing. The right to breastfeed and the right to show everyone your boobs in public are two very different things. Please be courteous to those around you :)

    [Reply]

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