Guys. It finally happened. After 3 years, 1 month and 28 days of breastfeeding I had a negative encounter.
Here's what happened.
It was the most gorgeous day DC in July has ever seen and we decided to go to the National Zoo. We walked past a woman breastfeeding a baby a few months younger than Aleko on a bench outside the Reptile House.
I looked at her for a long time. She probably thought I was creepy. I always worry that nursing moms will think I'm judging them negatively, when really I'm just scoping out their spot.
We walked past her and a zoo employee with pink hair as we entered the building. There was a camp full of screaming, rambunctious boys inside, and Aleko immediately got fussy. So I decided to join the lady outside to have a baby nursing party.
I sat on the bench next to her and said, "I need to do that too."
I started breastfeeding Aleko and the zoo employee very nicely said, "Can I actually ask you to do that somewhere else with all the kids walking right here?"
I looked at her and with my calmest voice replied, "No. Actually you cannot ask me to move somewhere else."
Things went downhill from there. She immediately got flustered. Her jaw clenched and her eyes rolled.
"I just asked you nicely if you could move."
"I know. You did. But, I have the right to feed my baby anywhere he needs to be fed."
"Yes, absolutely breastfeed."
She said something else about it being a problem because of all the children walking by to which I responded, "It's good for them to see and learn that it is completely normal to nurse a baby."
She huffed and crossed her legs to turn away from me. The grandmother sitting next to the other woman nursing gave me a thumbs up and mouthed, GOOD JOB. A woman passing by quipped, "She's fine!"
After a brief silence I felt compelled to say more...
"I'm not mad. You know, maybe you should talk to the zoo in order to find out their policy."
In true teenager fashion she crossed her arms, "Maybe YOU should."
"Well, I don't need to talk to anyone because I know what the law says."
(I actually didn't know what the law says, but I was pretty sure it was on my side. It was the first thing I checked when I walked in the door at home. Check out this link for state laws. You can breastfeed in any public or private location in DC. In my home state of VA, I just can't get arrested for indecent exposure).
Aleko had long lost interest by this point and started chewing on the bench instead.
When Yannos and Zoe exited the Reptile House, I stood up and said, "Have a good day!" to the pink-haired zoo employee who was furiously texting.
When we got home, I called the zoo. A woman named Sandra apologized immediately and said that would not happen again. She would be speaking to that employee and all the other employees.
Women in a Facebook group I'm a part off were calling for a nurse-in. A letter to the newspaper! A REVOLT!
But, I just felt so sad for this young woman. She really thought she was doing the right thing. Protecting the children from the extremely modest and almost completely covered woman on the bench who was breastfeeding a baby in a zoo filled with humping mice, masturbating gorillas, and nursing cubs.
|Gosh, I wish she'd use a cover|
Picture by: By Stan Osolinski
If I'm the most confusing thing a parent has to explain at the zoo then we have a real problem.
That society has somehow taught her breastfeeding a baby on a shady bench is more offensive than the woman who walked by with her boobs hanging out of a nearly see through white tube-top.
I do know that she is braver than I ever was at that age. I also know that if she had asked me to stop nursing Zoe three years ago, I probably would have cried and obliged.
But now, as brave as she was to stand up for what she thought was the right thing to do, I was braver. My confidence nursing in public has been slowly acquired. First through the necessity of getting a screaming, starving infant to stop crying in the middle of the mall even though I had forgotten my nursing cover at home. Then through watching other women easily nurse cover-less without anyone batting an eye.
Confidence from situations that originally made me uncomfortable. From attending La Leche League meetings where the leader nursed her 3 year old. From the waiters at an Afgan restaurant walking up to the table while I was nursing to take my order and talk to the baby like nothing out of the ordinary was going on at all. From my mother in law asking about how my breasts were feeling when I had thrush or mastitis. From my father in law kissing my babies on the head while I am nursing them.
All things that pushed me out of my comfort zone. But normalcy only evolves from everyone around you going on with their lives while you are doing something that feels scary.
So, to the pink-haired zoo employee sitting outside of the Reptile House...
I truly hope I gave you a positive memory to store. Sure. I know I pissed you off. But maybe if you have children and you want to nurse them, you'll have this encounter somewhere in the back of your head, encouraging you to feed your baby wherever you need.