Saturday, July 17, 2010

Suffer the Children

Early this morning, I was saddened upon reading this email from a friend of mine who is a nursing mom. She sent it to me because the hospital where this happened to her is the hospital where I have worked in the past. I have changed the name of the hospital to protect, well, myself, for one, and to some extent the hospital, as this woman's attitude and actions do not reflect the philosophy of the hospital or the culture that it purports to value... and I have removed my friend's name and number from the end of the letter.

The letter went like this:

...Last night, I took my 4 year old son to the emergency room at X Hospital in X, NY. I was breastfeeding my 2 week old newborn while registering my son, when the woman at the desk in the ER asked me if she could get me a blanket to cover up. I told her no thanks, I am comfortable and I have a blanket for my baby already and she's comfortable. She continued on, saying (and I'm paraphrasing), no, I mean to cover up while you're doing that. I said no, I am not uncomfortable nursing in public. She continued on, being quite pushy, saying that "it is a children's hospital, and there are children around" and they shouldn't see what I am doing. She repeated this statement a few times, getting very pushy. She continued to strongly insinuate that I was going to do the other children harm in the waiting room if I nursed my infant there and they happened to look.

I told her that she had no legal claim, and that in NYS I have every right to nurse my baby wherever I am, and I do not have to cover up. She actually said to me that I could nurse my baby, but the law says that I have to cover up, and she would get me a blanket.
I couldn't believe it! At a hopsital that says they support breastfeeding in the ER!

I told her that she was wrong, that the law in NYS does not say that, and that I will not cover the baby's head up while she is nursing. I told her that I could not believe that she was giving me grief for feeding my baby, and here I was trying to bring my son into the hospital for a head injury, and that I was not going to continue to have this conversation with her.

I walked away disgusted into the waiting room. What should I do to be sure that this NEVER happens to another mom and baby there? Can you be of some help?

Ive read this scenario over a few times now. There are, as you can imagine, many things about this scenario that are just plain wrong. Right there on the surface. You really dont have to dig. Giving the benefit of the doubt to everyone involved, employee, mother and even corporation, it is at the very least an example of the ignorance that pervades this part of the world regarding breastfeeding, its normalcy and a woman's right to do so wherever she is legally allowed to be.

That, in and of itself, on a day when the stars are aligned just so, is enough to make me, well, angry.

But upon further consideration, I think the thing about this woman's response to a nursing mother that really makes me feel sad (and angry!) is the idea that she actually believes that the sight of a woman breastfeeding is something from which she needs to protect the children. Im not sure if her arrogance or her ignorance offend me more.

Children all over this planet, in industrialized nations and third-world countries grow up accepting breastfeeding as a part of everyday life. And those children do not require therapy secondary to PTSD from seeing a baby at the breast. Why is that? Because breastfeeding is Normal. Not sexual. Not perverse. Not exhibitionist. Normal. For insert-your-deity-here's sake, it's the way were are made to nourish and be nourished.

I really started to get angry when I thought about the environment in the E.D.. The culture, if you will, that this woman was trying to protect. There is a large flatscreen television in the E.D. that, at least every time I walked past, was perpetually tuned to SpongeBob Squarepants. This is a television show that I won't even allow my ten year-old to watch. Why? Because it is an adult show that masquerades as a children's program. Complete with adult humor, gratuitous violence, adult situations, loads of sarcasm, disrespect and veiled adult (sexual) references. Were I to take my children to the E.D. at this hospital, I would most likely have to find a seat away from the television. No seat, however, is out of earshot. So, like those who were exposed against their will to the sight of my friend nursing her daughter, I would be forced, along with my children, to consume this television program.
I believe that there is a lot more about SpongeBob Squarepants that warrants protection of our children than the sight of a woman feeding her baby.
What does this say about our values at X Hospital in X, NY?

Who's putting a blanket over SpongeBob?

I say that half tongue-in-cheek, but... truly.
What do we value that we are so willing to plop our children in front of animated innuendo for hours and hours but are frightened into a frenzy at the prospect of them seeing a partially exposed breast performing exactly as nature intended it to perform?
From what are we protecting our children?


  1. Oh my gosh, Heather...I just read this post after writing mine today. Is there something in the air? I like how we feel the same way about this! And I hate Spongebob! lol

  2. I have never been hassled in public for nursing even though I have nursed five babies...for a total of 100 months of my life (and counting). I don't know if I am just lucky, particularly discreet (I doubt that i am discreet with a 36G Bra Size), or if i send off "don't you dare confront me" vibes that scare even the most rude opponents away...but reading about this makes my blood boil! I cannot imagine having to download all of that stress hormone into my milk while my baby was front of MY INJURED SON to boot! Can you please send me the name and contact of the hospital so that I can write a letter to the hospital administrators about the need to educate ALL of the employees and staff at their fine establishment? And for those mommas in PA, I have created a PA Breastfeeding License to carry around in your wallet/diaper bag just for this kind of special occasion. They are available for a $1 donation to Doulas For All (contact me at to learn more)

  3. I posted the following comment on another blog about the same story. I'm copying and pasting because, well, it's the same sense in typing it up twice!

    This story has made me reflect on my own public nursing experiences. A year ago you couldn't have convinced me that I'd be a breastfeeding I nurse my 10-month-old son wherever and whenever he needs to be nursed. When he was 8 months, we went to Orlando, where I nursed him at 7 different theme parks (including Disney, Universal, and Sea World, all of which were teeming with children) and in several restaurants. Even if I had been a shawl user, I would have quit that week, as it was 90+ degrees, and that would have been cruel. I half expected to be harassed for doing something so disgusting surrounded by (literally) thousands of people, but NOT ONCE was I approached in a negative way, and trust me, there were plenty of opportunities to do so. In fact, I have since become friends with a woman who sat down next to me and started talking with me while I was nursing. I share this long story to make the following point--if I can safely nurse in very busy, very public theme parks, why can't a mother nurse in the waiting room of a children's hospital? Seeing a baby nursing is probably one of the LEAST disturbing things a child would see there!

  4. So many excellent points... love it!!!! Thankfully, I've never been asked to stop nursing, though I've nursed my 3 children everywhere and anywhere (though we do have certain rules set at age 2... no nursing in church, etc.) What usually happens is people approach me to tell me how cute my baby is or whatever, or talk to my other kids, and don't realize until the baby pops off that he was nursing. I have a quick hand at the ready (esp in public ;) ) to cover up, but the sound usually gives it away, ha ha. :) THEN they get embarrassed because they never realized it the whole time they were talking to me! ;)
    And I absolutely agree about "children's" shows like Sponge-Bob... MUCH more offensive than any natural thing like feeding your child ever could be!!

  5. The message I got from Nursing Mama's sister the morning after this happened just about made my brain explode.

    I am currently breastfeeding, and have done so about 5 of the last 7.5 years... not consecutively.

    I was talking with someone about this story because as you said, there are SO! MANY! THINGS!! WRONG!!! with what happened, and she brought up the Spongebob point you made.

    Our society is looking at the world through a telescope, but with the eye piece pointed out, and the wrong end crammed up it's backside.

    Great post.