Friday, September 21, 2007

Breast May Be Best, but Baring Your Breast Is Not

As Sunday is about to roll around again, I wanted to post on something I've been thinking about all week.

Last Sunday I decided I wanted to be a real person at church again, as opposed to "just" a nursing mother in a baggy tee shirt and skirt. To achieve this end actually wore a dress. It is possible to nurse in said dress, but it is a little tricky and not exceptionally modest. I've always been a little bit clumsy when it comes to getting my tykes latched on anyway, and have never been one of these women that can nurse in sacrament without even taking her eyes off the speaker.

That is the set up. Anyway, we woke Captain Tootypants up to get to church on time, and I just decided I would feed him right when we got to church so we could be on time. Of course, in the parking lot, I realized I had failed to bring a blanket and only had a burp rag. Again, more points against modestly nursing, so I bee-lined for the mother's room, knowing that there are few babies in our ward and I would likely be alone.

(Aside: This is the nicest mother's room I've been in. Rockers with ottomans, books to read, a sink, a changing pad and a basket of diapers to share, it is no where near the bathroom and there is a frosted window and a good sound system.)

I push open the door and see the curtain pulled back. I hear a woman say, "Okay, you guys have to get off the chair. I told you that if a mommy came to feed her baby, you'd have to get off." I walked around the curtain to see a very harrassed looking mother feeding a baby and three kids aged about 9, 7 and 4 standing there. They followed their mom's directions to get off the chair, but they just stood there. The four year old boy parked himself on the ottoman about two feet from where I sat down and just stared at me.

Thinking she'd ask them to leave in just a moment, I bounced CT on my knee for a moment, knowing that at any minute he was going to start wailing. She explained they were in the other ward (which had been out for half an hour) and her little miss wouldn't make it home without eating. I smiled and made a polite reply. She said nothing to her older children who were still just staring at me.

I bounced the baby another moment or two and said, "And are they going to stay here?" as I nodded toward her kids. She told them all to get behind the curtain. Bear in mind that the whole room minus the cupboard is maybe 7 feet by 5 feet and there are two large recliners in that space. The area behind the curtain is only a few square feet and wedged behind the door. She's got three good sized kids. One of the three made a move to get behind the curtain, the others just stayed where they were. My baby started to fuss.

There was almost a momentary stand-off. I was smiling politely, but trying to communicate that there is NO WAY I was going to disrobe with her children standing in the room. She was giving me the look like, "Lady, you have NO IDEA what it is like to take care of four kids!"

She blinked first and started stammering excuses about Dad, and how he was somewhere in the building (I'd had a fair amount of sympathy before this, thinking she was a single mom or something and not wanting her kids to run around the church.) She then stood up, unlatched her baby who began really wailing and glared at me as she said, "C'mon guys, we'll go find and empty classroom or something."

I apologized and said, "I didn't mean for YOU to go."

"It doesn't matter. We're leaving."

She was quite admanant and very huffy as they left. I felt really badly. If I had known she was in there in the first place, I would have waited outside walking my baby until she left. Nor am I sure how I could have handled the situation better. The mother is not in my ward, but I feel compelled to figure out who she is and let her know I'm sorry for the bad feeling caused. There could also have been some kind of extenuating circumstances that made her feel like the kids had to stay in there with her.

Now, when I say I felt bad, however, it is because of the awkwardness caused and the knowledge I may have offended someone who is probaby a very nice person. I do not feel bad because I think I did anything wrong. But until I was in and sitting down, I didn't realize she intended those kids to stay. And it wasn't like they were little kids. I think the oldest girl would have been entirely capable of keeping her younger brother and sister in check for a few minutes. Also, the door does say "Mother's Room," and it is a very tiny place. Just because she has no qualms about nursing in front of her children, doesn't mean that she should expect a total stranger to feel the same way. I don't even nurse in front of my own kids if I can help it! I'm just really modest (or maybe uncomfortable) when it comes to body stuff.

Now, I have a few really diehard nursing friends out there. I'm not saying that nursing is immodest or uncomfortable in any way, nor am I critical of women who choose to nurse in public. I just am not one of those who can. While people need to be sensitive and not critical of mothers who nurse, I think nursing mothers also need to be sensitive to the fact that everybody doesn't regard the practice with the same level of comfort.

So, advice? Funny nursing stories?


Desmama said...

Wow, that's a tough one. I do believe the kids were probably old enough to amuse themselves quietly in a nearby classroom--and I don't think it's too much to ask that you have a bit of privacy to nurse. You did the best you could and you tried to politely request that they respect that. I don't think you were in the wrong--it's not like you were trying to kick them all out, and you clarified that.

I'm just sorry it happened, because I can see something like that happening to me as well. Just an awkward situation from the beginning.

You did the best you could. I can't fault you for that, and you were as polite as possible. Nothing wrong there.

Kimberly Bluestocking: said...

I agree with desmama - you did the best you could with an awkward, unexpected situation.

As for whether it could have been handled differently, perhaps you could have mentioned that you were going to take CT for a stroll outside until they were done, and asked how long she thought she'd be.

FoxyJ said...

I would feel uncomfortable nursing in front of someone else's kids too, especially if I had to take most of my dress off. I like the idea of asking her how long she was going to be, and maybe even explaining the dress thing. I generally nurse in front of my kids, but I would feel uncomfortable in front of other people's kids.

I once walked into our mother's lounge and ran into a lady who had the entire top of her dress off. She had a two-year-old that she was trying to wean, but apparently he really, really needed to nurse at church that day. At the time I didn't know her well at all and it was kind of awkward.

Doreen said...

Sorry to say this, but you broke rule number one for nursing moms. NEVER wear something you wouldn't feel comfortable nursing in public in. ;o) Would you have felt as hesitant if you had worn something that didn't require you undressing? Or had a blanket? There are cute nursing tops out there, it's worth investing in at least a couple. Of course, the mom really shouldn't have had all those kids in there, especially if the dad was around in the building. And I'm sure at least the older two would have been just fine waiting outside the room. I personally don't have a problem nursing in front of other people, but I understand everyone is different. Though you may want to consider nursing in front of your own children, they should know it's what boobs are for. ;o) Okay, now I'm teasing you, I understand some people just feel hesitant about those things. I personally don't think I'm any less modest because I do nurse in public, but if you feel uncomfortable doing that yourself, then people need to respect that.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

It is a tricky thing. And the dress wasn't a complete disrobe situation, but it wasn't just a subtle lift up either, like a tee shirt. and I wouldn't have worn the dress if I was going to, say, the mall where food court nursing would probably be necessary. By going to church with a mother's room, I didn't expect to be nursing in public. I think KB has had the best suggestion so far about asking how long they might be before even sitting down. I wouldn't at all be surprised if I had a repeat of the situation another week.

It is true, Doreen, that kids should know what boobs are for. Scallywag is so curious that the nursing thing has been a little strange for me this time around. I've answered his questions the best I can, but I really have this almost aversion to anybody seeing my body. I don't even let my kids shower or bathe with me; even as babies it made me uncomfortable. If the three pirates ever get a baby sister, they are all going to freak out that she is missing something.

I'm not saying this is the way people have to be; there are times I even wish I wasn't this way. I do think it is possible to keep the feeding of your child the top priority AND preserve the feelings of others at the same time. I'm not sure there has to be a trade off.

Girly Momma said...

no funny stories, but i do feel for you. i always hope that the mother's room will be empty so i don't have to try and cover up so much and so i can sneak in a snack:) but you know our ward. it usually doesn't stay empty long. i'm not one of those people who can nurse with no blanket in public. i feel really awkward trying to keep everything covered and get latched up and all that good stuff. i really feel for you.

Anonymous said...

This is an easy problem to remedy. Next time just turn your chair around to face the corner. I've done that many times while nursing my Crap Happy chillens to protect the dignity and privacy of the Crap Happy boobage.

Once I nursed my daughter in the car during a super hot summer day because some thoughtless lady changed her 4 year old's poopy diaper right next to me. Yes, a four year old. Why she didn't take him to the bathroom and chose to impose that kind of stench on us poor huddled lactating masses is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

You want a funny nursing story? You got it, sister.

Milking It For All It's Worth!

amyjane said...

Yikes. When Patrick was about three weeks old, I had had enough of my house and decided to hit sacrament meeting. I knew we were still awkward nursing partners, so I fed him beforehand. However, he must have been hitting that three week growth spurt, so off to the mother's lounge we went. Now, this was a BYU ward building and usually had three + mommies nursing away in there, so I knew we would have an audience. Only then... I got in there and there's this and her FOUR year old. She's lounging in a chai complaining abour pregnancy to about four other nursing moms and the kid is just runnning wild, terrorizing the place. Most offensively, he's tearing blankets off of every single nursing baby and yelling about "booby milk." So, Patrick's working up to a good holler, which I knew would be badder than bad, so I got situated, and got him eating. And then the kid approached me, I tooke my free hand, grabbed both of his wrists and said, "No. You go sit by your mom, now," in my very best teacher voice. It was awesome.
Anyway, I think you were totally fine to ask them to leave. I'd try to offer an apology, just to smooth things over but I think you were in the right. Good luck.

Desmama said...

And that story, by AmyJane, is why I love her so much. Because she has the courage to say what I would only be thinking (and fuming about doing).

*Drops eyes in humility before her*

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Thanks for the link. My own story pales in comparison.

And AJ, though it embarrasses my husband when I get my teacher voice on in public, sometimes you've just gotta do what you've gotta do. My favorite friendly lecture to give is to the 12 year olds at every parade trying to steal candy from toddlers.

Desmama said...

One time a gal told me about a friend of hers who was nursing her little girl. Her son, a bit older (perhaps 2 or 3) studied the goings-on for a moment before asking, "Does that thing make tuna fish?"

Karin said...

I remember when I attempted a family party when Abe and I were still figuring things out, it must have been when she was less than three weeks old. I still needed the boppy and weird positioning to get her latched right. Nursing in my dad's extended family has always been a normal event, so I tried. I felt so awkward...even though I was in a low traffic spot with another new mom. Everyone tried to "help" because she was so fussy. I probably should have stayed home except that I didn't get to see these people very often. The awkwardness of it and my reaction is one of the reasons I am a real advocate for the "babymoon" of at least two weeks. I would love for all women to feel comfortable and safe to nurse wherever they happen to be. I also know that's not always ideal. Women with older children do need to be sensitive to other nursing moms. If a women was nursing her baby in the RS room after class, it would make sense that her children might be there. Not in the mother's room. My pet peeve is when I go in there and there are teenage girls that won't leave. What do they think the room is for? I don't always use the mother's room, but when I do, it needs to be safe place. I think you handled it the best you could have under the circumstances. Maybe an apology would help, maybe it wouldn't. But it might make you feel better. Maybe her husband was "unavailable" even though he was physically there. I know some who won't ever take their kids if the wife is "free". I'm sorry this happened to you. I wish you better nursing experiences in the future. :-)

Science Teacher Mommy said...

In Texas, we had a teenage girl who would often volunteer to watch babies, including a young foster sister--whose diaper she had no qualms about changing in the stuffy, unvenilated mother's room. She would always take up a recliner, even if a mom walked in looking for one. Nobody ever said anything because she was on the verge of going right over the deep end anyway, and nobody wanted to offend her or her mother. She was the gal who probably thought it was ultra-glamorous to spend church walking the halls with your baby instead of being in class.

Thanks for everybody's great comments. I feel better equipped to handle myself tomorrow--convenient clothing (and I'll still find a way to look like a hottie); friendly, sensitive demeanor that says I know the other mommy is doing her best; test the waters in the room before I park my tooshy; large blanket; and I'll choose the recliner that can turn to the wall if needs be.

We are, after all, in this together! said...

I hate awkward situations. I don't think you should feel bad; she was probably a little defensive because she knew that her kids shouldn't be in there with nursing mothers. You shouldn't feel bad about being modest, we are all different.

Christie said...

Are you ready for some psychoanalysis by a known psycho? I think your whole dilemma boils down to communication. First of all, I'm betting that the mom with the kids in the nursing room has a hard time asking for what she really needs. (Hence she's there with ALL the kids while Dad is where?)

When you began to express your needs to her (it's not going to be okay for me to have your kids in here while I nurse), you were probably doing something she's uncomfortable with. It could have been a passive-agressive sort of situation for her. She's mad at dad, at herself for not being able to get what she really needs, and you became her outlet.

I'm working on telling my husband what I need instead of waiting for him to figure it out. (My counselor says that it's not fair to expect my husband to "crack my code.") I've had to tell myself that it's not nagging. It's communication.