It rarely happens to me – being speechless. I was sitting in Starbucks, cup in hand, and my mouth agape. Eyes wide. I could not believe what I had just heard – and trust me, I have heard a lot of crazy spew in my day.
On Monday evenings my son has cooking class with his best buddy and it just so happens that his mom is one of my best buddies. After the boys are aproned and spoons are in their hands, we practically trample over the gaggle of nannies signing-in their charges, to make the most of our alone time.
For forty-five minutes we gossip, vent, plan birthdays, and lament how we don’t fit into our skinny jeans since having our babies. Recently a new girl joined our coffee-talk, my girlfriend’s five-month-old daughter.
Obviously being 5 months old her addiction to caffeine has not yet fully developed and after some moments of being fussy, communicating her desire for both sleep and food, my friend removed her own down vest, placed it on the chair behind her and facing me, discreetly pulled up her top to allow her baby to latch onto her breast. Within seconds, her daughter was calmly nursing and the conversation returned to what skating lessons we’d be signing the boys up for.
That’s when it happened. A man dressed in a suit and tie, obsessively fondling his iPad, looked up. Red-faced, he extended his arms wide, as if to give a bear hug, and in a loud, obnoxious voice said, “Would you mind putting a blanket over you or something? You’re making me very uncomfortable!”
That’s when the mouth dropped, the eyes bulged and all the witty comebacks retreated from the tip of my tongue. I thought I was the only one having this reaction but I noticed a similar look on the mother of three sitting at the table next to us and the gum-smacking high-school girls behind us appeared more uncomfortable with his outburst than the feeding baby.
My friend mumbled that she didn’t realize he could see anything and reached for a blanket to cover her daughter’s face.
I never breastfed any of my three children but regardless I felt that this ignorant comment meant to shame was an attack on mothering.
First of all, breastfeeding a child is natural. If it makes you uncomfortable, then YOU turn away. Breastfeeding does not have to take place in a dingy washroom stall or underneath a suffocating blanket so other people are made to feel comfortable. I once saw a woman breastfeeding her baby while pushing a grocery cart. I wasn’t uncomfortable at the sight of her bare breast; I was more in awe of her dexterity. I am not able to talk on my phone and push the cart, never mind provide nourishment for my infant while plucking a box of Cheerios from the shelf.
Comments such as this and the one I received while bottle-feeding my infant son years ago (from a nosey witch well-meaning individual: “Breast is best you know!”) further perpetuate the struggle that many mothers, especially new mothers have. It’s hard enough being a mom without constant judgment from passersby. My husband believes that this man never would have said anything to my friend had a man been with us because men, whether we like it or not, are held to a different social standard. Had my husband been bottle-feeding our infant in public more likely than not he would have been perceived as a doting father, whereas I was practically hissed at.
Society bashes mothers over the head about the benefits of breastfeeding and to persevere through cracked, bleeding nipples, sleepless nights, and insufficient milk supply. What new mothers don’t need is to be on the receiving end of boorish comments and sideway glances.
Once the mother sitting next to us recovered from shock, she silently offered her support with a thumbs-up. After the baby had fallen asleep and was returned to her stroller, we got up to leave, the mood at coffee-talk definitely dampened. When we walked passed the table with the man, who had been joined by female companion, my friend politely said, “I am sorry if you were uncomfortable but next time why don’t you move to another seat.”
Before she could even finish, right after the word “sorry” was spoken, he interrupted and replied, “Well, I appreciate you covering up. I was very uncomfortable.”
Seeing that her message wasn’t heard, my hurt friend pushed her stroller out the door. I couldn’t let this go. I had to stand up for her and her daughter. I looked at him, sitting there with a smug expression on his face, and this time let the witty comeback flow freely from my mouth:
“She was feeding her baby. If it makes you so uncomfortable why don’t you go and sit in the corner with a blanket over your head. That would make me feel more comfortable.”
photo credit: http://pregnancy.about.com/od/feedingyourbaby/ig/Breastfeeding-Gallery/
That’s the way to go. Nowadays, mothers are being provided with the option of even leaving the workplace in order to go home and feed their babies. Which means that breastfeeding is being recognised as a newborn baby and mother’s right. You were right to give him a piece of your mind.
And women should be given that right. At the very least women should be able to feed their babies in a public place without fear of being lambasted or made to feel ashamed.
Thanks for commenting 🙂
Your comeback line was beautiful!!!! I bottle fed both my girls because my milk never came in with my oldest, and my youngest was a 24 weeker. I pumped for 6 months, but she never figured out how to latch on, so she was bottle fed breast milk. I gave a serious try to breast feeding for both girls. So I especially did not appreciate comments from “not well meaning” people that really had no idea what they were yapping about! Good for you for finding your voice, (and comeback line) and standing up for your friend!
You’re right. Being a mom is hard enough without having to deal with comments from the “peanut gallery”. Deciding what and how to feed your baby is a personal choice and I believe that as a society we should be supportive of an individual’s right to make those choices.
Way to go Beth-Anne.
Ignorance should not be ignored especially when HE was making a scene !
Oh and what a scene he made. No one was looking at the mother and baby but everyone was looking at him.
Good for you for saying that to him. What a total JERK…
That’s a nice way to put it . . . 😉
I would have said something too.
In response to the bottle-feeding comment: I can’t stand when strangers butt in and give their two cents. How can they make a judgment on someone they don’t know?
When someone gives me their undesired opinion, I try to hold back, but sometimes I can’t help but let them have it too! Thanks for the great post!
I know! Seriously, as if mothers don’t have enough to worry about . . .
This man makes me soooo angry!! I would like to smack that smugness right off his face! Sorry, emotional pregnant lady talking here! 🙂
It made me feel better to hear the female companion he was with ask him about the exchange as I walked away. I hope he felt uncomfortable having to explain his ignorance to her.
I’m so glad you stood up for your friend and said that. Even if it may have fallen on deaf ears it was important to say.
I was nursing my daughter at a restaurant once. I was there with my husband and our mutual friend (another male) NOTHING was showing! yet two tables away a table of men were staring and pointing and giving me the stink eye. No one dared say anything directly to me but I knew what they were doing. So instead of saying anything directly to them, I just said very loudly to my husband, “I guess they think they are the only ones with a right to eat in here. God forbid a baby get a meal!”
Of course no one reacted or changed what they were doing but it made me feel better to say it.
I am sure the comment did fall on deaf ears and that he thought that I was some sort of wacko, but maybe he will think twice before spewing such garbage again.
You’re right – sometimes just saying something is enough. After all, I did feel better.
I remember reading in Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting (by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn) that our society-wide obsession with breasts (the ones hanging out of advertisements everywhere) has been accepted as normal and alluring, while a woman breastfeeding her baby has been distorted into an obscenity within that same culture.
Why all the fear/rage? It’s just a breast. It’s just food for a baby. It’s just our bodies.
Society’s thinking is so messed up: Promiscuous half-naked women on reality, slutty fashions on tween girls and “role models” the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan are completely okay and breastfeeding in public makes people uncomfortable. Really? Glad to know that I am not alone in finding this logic completely distressing.
Perfect parting line. Sounds to me like this person might best go through life that way.
What a Neanderthal. Sheesh.
Well if he went through life with a blanket over his head it might be better for us all. Makes me wonder what else he is intolerant of.
Awesome comeback, and good for you for having the nerve to say it! And you are right: if he’s so uncomfortable, why doesn’t *he* move?
He’s probably the same guy who’s got loads of porn on his computer at home, yet is ‘uncomfortable’ seeing a breast being used for its intended purpose!
It is not surprising that as a society we objectify women sexually (from media to halloween costumes) so when women act naturally people don’t know how to react.
I’m so glad you stood up for your friend. I was lucky enough to be able to breastfeed all three of my children, but not without some difficulty for the first one. We were learning the latch together and often it was too difficult for me to latch her on properly AND cover myself with a blanket. I needed to see and she needed to breathe. Needless to say I am sure I flashed a few people in my breastfeeding life time but not once did anyone say anything to me (unless you count the time at the hockey arena that a few MOTHERS gave me a dirty look for daring to breastfeed in front of their teenaged sons – who weren’t even paying attention).
I did become very good at covering myself up while nursing but more for my own comfort than for anyone elses.
Good for you for standing up for breastfeeding mothers everywhere!
Sad to read that other mothers were not supportive. It goes to show that we can be our worst judges. We still have a long way to go . . .
Well done! I guess that’s the problem with a society where the breast has been sexualised to the point where, when it’s used for its actual, natural function it’s seen as obscene. My husband, who was brought up in Africa finds black breasts completely unsexual because it was so natural and normal to see them all the time, particularly being put to their intended purpose.
So you don’t know where to look when a woman pops her boob out, look away! It wasn’t like he was having a conversation with her and couldn’t look in another direction. He should be uncomfortable about WHY he feels uncomfortable. grr idiots.
It is upsetting to think that we live in such an over-sexed culture that sex-tapes, trampy clothing and raunchy lyrics are the norm and what’s natural is so far removed to the point where people don’t know how to react.
I once saw an Australian public health poster that I thought was brilliant. It showed a man sitting on a public toilet in a cubicle eating a sandwich. The caption said “Would you like to eat your lunch in here?” alluding to how women are always being asked to nurse in the bathroom.
Good on you, BA. Here’s hoping that this Neanderthal hasn’t actually procreated. You need a license to fish but any moron can have a baby….
Great post! I have dramatically insufficient milk supply, so always appreciate recognition that formula feeding often involves complicated and painful experiences that strangers do not comprehend. And, having had two babies who refused to accept that I did not make enough milk for them, and one who spent the first few months screaming any time there wasn’t a (real–no plastic substitutes accepted) nipple in her mouth, if it weren’t for public breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have ever left the house. Yes, I have breastfed while grocery shopping, while pushing a stroller, everything! With the sling, I think people usually had no idea, but in any case, I think that public breastfeeding made for a much more comfortable environment for everyone than listening to a screaming baby.
What a complete @$$!! Nice that you confronted this guy!!! Some people just don’t get it.
I am sure that he didn’t really hear what I was saying but it made me feel better. It’s sad to think that our culture is so sex and breast obsessed that some people don’t bat an eyelash when girls are dressed like tarts (read: Miley Cyrus) but when a breast is used for its intended purpose some people get up in arms. Really, I think that there is a disturbing disconnect.
Thank you for writing this! I want to be that friend, like you. You are inspiring!