Why Don’t You Put a Blanket Over Your Face?

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/