I believe breastfeeding in public shouldn't be an issue. We all eat in public so why can't a baby? Though far too many breastfeeding moms and babies have felt the daggers shooting from people's eyes when they disapprove or feel it's an obscene act. That's why when someone is thankful for feeding a baby that liquid gold, we have to celebrate.
Jackie Johnson-Smith was eating at Fong's in Des Moines, Iowa, when her baby got hungry. She was breastfeeding him and he was quite fussy so after a little while, Jackie went to the car with her infant while her husband took care of the check. What happened next made her speechless and emotional. And I got emotional as well. I reached out to Jackie and she shared the details.
Jackie said on her Facebook page that she breastfed three children "in countless of places both pleasant and unpleasant, discreetly and out in the open." Like many of us who have nursed our kids in public, she has received many looks and stares of the negative variety, but what happened at Fong's the other night overshadowed all of that.
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The server at Fong's, a woman named Bodi, wrote:
I bought one of your pizzas. Please thank your wife for breastfeeding!
Thank you, Bodi, for being accepting. Thank you, Bodi, for honoring a child's right to eat whenever and wherever that child is hungry. Thank you.
When I emailed Jackie, she said that she hopes something like this could help breastfeeding mothers feel more acceptance and more comfortable when nursing in public. I'm a mother of twins and I will admit I never felt comfortable nursing both my babies at the same time. I wish I didn't cower to society's view that breasts are sexual all the time. But I did nurse my babies in public, just one at a time.
I asked Jackie if she had been discriminated against for nursing in public and her views on how society treats breastfeeding mothers. She responded:
I have definitely been made to feel uncomfortable and unwanted. With my first nursling I rarely breastfed in public. I avoided it with all costs, nursing in our car right before entering an establishment and disappearing back to the car to nurse again. All out of pure societal fear. Thankfully I gained more confidence with each new baby. Having said that though I have encountered countless stares and obvious looks of distaste and uncomfortableness. I once overheard a woman mentioning how there were nursing rooms available in the mall while I sat near her nursing my son with a cover on. I have had people leave the room because they were so uncomfortable with me nursing in their presence.
I know there are more and more nursing mothers every day, but do we see them nursing in public? We either don't or they're so skilled you have no idea they're even nursing. Society has scared these mothers to be afraid to nurse in public. Will they be the next woman to be asked to stop or leave? Will she get confronted by a stranger who disapproves of how or where she is feeding her child? Nursing mothers are often seen as self-righteous as we band together. We're often misunderstood. Do we think breastfeeding is best? Of course we do, but it isn't a we're better than you thing, it's very much an equality thing. I would never want to make a woman feel inferior or uncomfortable about her parenting choices. Formula feeders can feed their babies anytime, any place. No one is offended by a bottle. No one thinks our babies shouldn't be fed either, but they are often quick to let us know that they want us to take it somewhere else where they don't have to see it. It is our right and our choice, yet we're always scrutinized for it. Society has made breasts sexual and people cannot cope with normalizing them. It still astonishes me how something so natural and rooted in nature can be so construed by society. Society doesn't bat an eyelash at any other mammal nursing her young. It's often ooed and ahh'd about even at zoos and petting farms. But ... women don't get that same support.
What happened to me was special and women are clinging to it because they're searching for the same affirmations. ... I don't need a pat on the back to feed my child, but that pat felt SO good. And I didn't even realize I may have been longing for it for far longer than I could have realized.
Jackie found Bodi's husband's on Facebook and wrote him a thank you note to pass along to her. She wants to return to Fong's to thank her in person as well. Jackie shared that note with me:
Please thank your wife for me. I should have re-entered the restaurant and thanked her in person. I still should. I didn't come from a breastfeeding family. I myself was formula fed as was common place through my family. My breastfeeding journey has been deeply personal with endless woes and triumphs. Your wife touched me in a place in my heart that is so tender, so raw and rooted and so very proud. Unbeknownst to her at the time it was also my 33rd birthday. I felt an amazing sense of belonging and optimism that day because of your wife's beautiful sentiment that is still carrying me days later. I couldn't even fathom two nights ago how many people my post would and could touch. Women across the country are tearing up and being touched by it because breastfeeding is so innately personal and society has made it so vulnerable. The widespread sharing of it is just a true testament of not only the need for normalizing breastfeeding and making breastfeeding mothers feel welcome and comfortable nursing in public, but in turn the need for women supporting and empowering one another.
That is exactly it ... women do need to support each other. No matter what. Bodi's small gesture is huge. It's refreshing. And beautiful. We all need to support and empower each other more.
And Jackie, you are a beautiful woman inside and out. Happy birthday.
What do you think of Bodi's note on the check? Have you ever been commended or chastised for breastfeeding in public?
Image via © iStock.com/IvanJekic