Monday, July 23, 2012

No Nursing Zone

My grandmother is a remarkable woman. She's worldly, stylish, smart and increasingly spunky even as she settles into her 9th decade.  She lives in  an assisted living community with other octogenerians + ranging from sharp and spunky to reticent and morose, as these places do.  Since I've been in the US we've visited her quite often, sharing meals in the dining hall.

Taking a baby and 3-year old into her world is a lot like being a goodwill ambassador.  We enter the space like minor celebrities, all the residents, in coiffed hair (it's mostly women in this demographic) and wheel chairs murmuring excitedly in our wake.

- Oy, did you see the cute baby?
- WHAT?  What did you say?
- The baby! Turn your aid up.  And the little boy?
- There's a little goy? What's everyone talking about?

Anyway, when they get it all sorted out the room breaks out in spontaneous smiles, and people stop and actually thank us for bringing the children and drop bits of "the days are long, years are short" wisdom on us. I almost want to teach Caleb the "elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist" wave pageant winners throw out at parades. It's like that.

The residents are loving and sweet and emanate all kinds of joy in our direction.  They relish the rambunctiousness of youth that we've grown weary of.  We've brought our youthfulness to the very place it will be most cherished - partly because of it's novelty.  We feel special and appreciated. They love us.
Bring us that baby!

Well, at least that's what I thought.  But I've come to learn that there is at least one aspect of our visit that far from bringing joy, has actually caused offense.

Apparently there's been a bit of a flap about my nursing my baby in the dining hall.  The offended residents complained to the manager about it and my grandmother was asked to tell me not to do it.

A few things.

First, hey guys, I'm hurt. Where did all that love go?

And second: Really?

It's not like I'm waiving my nipples around in front of grandpa when I nurse. I'm discreet. I wear shirts especially designed to hide the unmentionables of nursing moms. The whole affair occurs under cover of a blanket.
Nifty, huh?
The baby's head covers the hole and you'd never know I was doing something so disgusting.

So, what's really happening here is that my grandma's dining hall companions can't stomach the idea of breast feeding during their dinner.  I guess it ruins their dinner. (Though, I've eaten there. You know what's probably ruining their dinner?  Their dinner.)

You know what ruins Emmet's dinner?  Not eating.

And I get that I'm not going to change the minds of anyone who has been on the planet nearly a century, and I'm even willing to bend to their antiquated notions of propriety.  I really am. So, I would bring a bottle for Emmet.  But I know now for certain that this child will not drink from it.

You see, I was recently in the hospital and unable to breastfeed him and had no pumped milk.  For 48 hours, my parents tried everything - regular formula, soy formula, gentle formula, my sister-in-law's breast milk, 3 different kinds of bottles, eye droppers, rice cereal, spoons. Nothing worked. Instead of drinking the 50 ounces he needed over 2 days, he drank a measly 8.  The whole thing was devastatingly heartbreaking and then one of the great reliefs of my life to finally nurse him again.

You know that baby you think is so precious?  It's probably good that he eats something.  

And you know what ruins my dinner?  Missing the bulk of it because, like a fugitive, I'm holed up somewhere discreet, like a bathroom stall, to prevent inadvertently offending someone. I'm nice so I'd do it, but I'm not going to like it.

I guess I've gotten used to breast feeding with abandon or simply not noticing if it turned anyone's stomach.  In Kenya, it's a non-issue.  In the US, there's such a strong pro-breastfeeding movement, that I feel too empowered to care if some uptight prude thumbs their nose at me.  In fact, the most self-conscious moms I know are those who whip out not a breast but a bottle to feed their baby and immediately feel judged.  And frankly, I've always assumed that just about anyone would prefer the possibility of seeing a quick inadvertent peek of my nipple to hearing my baby shriek.

But the pro-breastfeeding juggernaut has not reached the Gadwitz Assisted Living Community, and apparently the argument that a nipple in the mouth plugs a baby shriek is lost on those who would struggle to hear the shriek in the first place.  So, the place is a no nursing zone.

But it's their world, their norms, their reality.

When I visit another country I fall all over myself to avoid causing inadvertent offense.  So, I'm just thinking of my visits there as to another place (or really another time), in which feeding your baby as nature has long intended is bizarrely cause for scandal.  And then leaving that world and feeling appreciative that my world is no longer that.


  1. Hey Kimb - Don't forget to give your Grandma props for defending you. And, I think the issue is not so much the nursing, but in their day, they did it privately. I do like metaphor of visiting another world.

  2. I like what your mom said. They did do it privately, and I think that may be when formula started to come on to the scene. Kudos to you for nursing, it's one of the greatest things you can do for your kids if it works. I'm sorry to hear that you got such a negative response. I was like you when my kids were babies...with the first I was more shy and did tend to go somewhere else, but by the second I decided that this is nature and there isn't anything wrong with it.

  3. I am amazed you can do that. I have 2 kids and breast fed both of them until they were 5 months old. But, once they hit 11 or 12 pounds (which for my kids was at about 6 weeks), i couldn't really do it without a pillow of some kind. How do you hold a child that heavy in that possition for 15-20 minutes (on each side!!!) without making your back and neck and sholder so sore that you can't move for a week? And I could never breast feed under a blanket or cover thing. It just didn't work. So, go ahead and breast feed in public. it doesn't bother me. But don't be surprised if i stare in amazement.

    And the idea of having a child who was completely dependent on me (and only me) for food is so terrifying that it makes me feel ill. [I forced my children to drink formula from a bottle once a day starting when they were 3-4 weeks old, just so i knew they could and would do it.] How do you live like that? There is no freedom. you are a slave!!! Breast feeding is great when it words. I'm not saying don't do it. I'm saying, forced your kids to take a bottle once a day so you can live a little too.

    1. Oh, the bottle! We struggle so much with it. I remember with Caleb about to enter daycare we worked at his using a bottle daily for weeks, but he was just stubborn about it and I wasn't willing to let him starve for a day to get him over the hump. Eventually I suppose it worked, but he was never great at it. Emmet seems to be the same way.

      You're right though - it does kind of make me a slave. I went on one overnight date night but Emmet really didn't drink anything and by the morning my parents were begging me to come home. I'm really not dogmatic about this breast feeding thing, and I do wish I could bow out for a half a day or so sometimes. But for the most part I love it and find it a lot more convenient that doing bottles all the time. I literally always have food with me (whether I like it or not).

      Oh, and as far as the discomfort. Yes! Not always easy when they get heavy and can't quite sit yet. Really, there's no easy way. My back just suffers. But that gets better as he can support himself a bit more.

  4. Such a fascinating, well-written post. I read it out loud to my mom and we had a great conversation about it. (Also, I laughed out loud at the big about their dinner ruining their dinner)

  5. It is another time, and I like the part about it being like another country. sometines its right to learn other acceptable sometimes much less convenient social norms not because its right but because you respect the people.
    oh, and I also like the part about bottle moms feeling judged. I breastfed all mine because they wouldn't under any prodding take a bottle, but sometimes it seems like we have gone the opposite way and bottle feeding moms are judged harshly too.
    mostly, I like this :)

  6. Oh, Kim...I've so been there!!

    Jen :)

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