This morning I was told by a group of fellow diners in my favourite vegetarian cafe that the sight of my breastfeeding was unpleasant. It is just another example of the warped attitude towards public nursing this nation has.
After a swimming session, me and my 4 month old grabbed a late breakfast at Wai kika moo kau. The staff are friendly, the food is good and I always feel comfortable enough to feed there. As the table next to me were leaving, a woman from the group of five adults, ranging in ages from about mid-40s to late 70s, spoke to me. “It was very unpleasant watching you feed, you should have been more discreet.”. I snapped out of my state of shock to retort, “It’s illegal to prevent a mother from feeding in a public place, I have every right to be here”, to which she replied, “I’m saying you should have covered up more, we could see everything.” I was aghast “It’s the most natural thing in the world to feed a child and I think I have been discreet.” I said, pointing at the pocket I had made among my layers to pop my JJ cup breast out. At this point all five of them joined in to ‘tell me off’, disputing the fact I was being discreet. The only male in the group remarked, “Most women use a towel to cover themselves, you should have used a towel.” This only left me feeling more desperate. I realised they weren’t going to listen, they wanted to put me in my place. The staff were busy elsewhere but thankfully a wonderful gentleman came to my rescue, helping me argue my point. He saw them off, standing at the cafe door shouting “You should get in the 21st century!”. Bravo.
I burst into tears. Firstly because it was just me and baby, I felt extremely vulnerable, despite the support of another customer. I had been publicly bullied, plain and simple. Secondly, I had already had a challenging week balancing life with toddler and baby, this tipped me over the edge. With my first child I was terrified, like many women. Being of ample bosom makes it slightly worse, as I can’t help but give people a 10 second viewing of flesh in order to feed. The woman who led the attack must have honestly only got a flash viewing of my nipple when Boo decided to pull herself off. I’m happy to admit that before I had children, I was uncomfortable with seeing it but just put that down to my social conditioning and opened my mind. Now I’m on the other side of the fence, living the life of a mum with a baby, I see how essential and perfectly natural it is to feed your child wherever and whenever you can. I prefer to cover up while feeding, I often throw a muslin over, or wear layers from which I can pop the nipple out (which was my attire this morning). What is so ‘unpleasant’ about seeing breasts being used exactly the way nature intended? What a warped society we have manufactured in the western world. We tolerate the dangerously young glamour girls on Page 3, which I’m sure some people browse while they are eating. Why is that not unpleasant? Would this group have found that offensive, if I’d been flicking through Nuts or FHM at the table in plain view? Would they have said anything if it did? Realistically not.
This isn’t the first story of its kind but I want to make it among the last. In the last few months I have heard tales of mums being asked to stop feeding by staff in public swimming pools and Churchill Square McDonalds. Thankfully Wai kika moo kau are supportive of feeding mothers and the manager was quick to tell me the customers were out of order and I’m most welcome. Our topic drifted towards the law, he didn’t realise it was not legal to prevent a mother from feeding in public, so it was comforting their supportive attitudes are genuine, not just from the fear of being sued. Knowing I was protected legally, gave me enough confidence to stand my ground, five against one, no less. Women are not obliged by law to be ‘discreet’ or cover up either. Some of us choose to do so through personal choice, although now I’m beginning to wonder what is the point.
I’m in a fighting mood but I won’t be rioting, just using my keyboard and social media for moral support. As a backlash to this attitude I’m organising a Breastfeeding Flash Mob Thursday 15th December. Details are here.