The Drinking Fountain

Before I begin this post, let me say that I consider myself an ardent feminist. I believe in a woman's right to choose. I believe in equal pay for equal work. I believe it's an individual choice whether a woman decides to stay home or return to work after having children, and that she shouldn't be chastized for either. That said, an opinion of something I encountered this weekend has caused at least one friend of mine to question my feminist views. I, on the other hand, don't think my views have anything to do with feminism, but more to do with public decorum. So without further ado, here's what happened.

I attended the wedding of a close friend of my husband's this past weekend. It was a backyard wedding, followed by a reception in the same location. The wedding was attended by about 100 people with many children and babies running around.

A high school friend of my husband and his wife attended. For the sake of anonymity (yes, I am paranoid that someday they'll discover this blog!), I'll call them Jane and Sam. We used to see them every few months or so before they had children, but since they had their two daughters (ages 3 and 1), we see them about once a year. But we enjoy their company when we do see them. A group of about 10-15 of us were sitting around on lawn chairs arranged in a circle following the ceremony. Jane and Sam's daughters were running around playing with the other kids. That's when it happened.

The little one-year girl ran up to her mother and started yanking on her shirt. Jane immediately lifted up her shirt, picked up her daughter and began breast-feeding. A few moments later, Jane set her down, pulled down her shirt, and the little girl tottered off. This happened at least five more times that day. Whenever the little girl was hungry, she ran up to her mom, pulled at her shirt, and had a drink. A quick glance around me following the first "feeding" told me that my friends were shocked and surprised by this. I saw Jane's breast several times that day, and at least a dozen others did too.

I was somewhat disturbed by this. Now, let me say that I believe breast-feeding is a completely natural process. I understand the need to feed your baby, and you're not always going to be home, in private, when baby needs to eat. And if it were a one-shot deal, and Jane's daughter was fussing and crying because it was her eating time, and Jane had fed her once to settle and nourish her, I would have been fine with that. However, it happened more than once. More than four times, actually. And at no point was her daughter crying or fussing. Just thirsty. What actually happened was very off-putting for me, and I think a bit inconsiderate of the comfort level of others on Jane's part.

I believe that simply because a couple decides to have children does not mean that those around them without children (and even some with kids) have to suddenly make accomodations and exceptions to deal with certain aspects of parenthood that might make them uncomfortable. And for me, at least, breast-feeding as Jane did at the wedding, falls into this category. Now, I have seen many of my friends breast-feed their infants, and I've never thought twice about it. However, the setting in all instances was a far less public one-in their homes, in the hospital shortly after giving birth, at my home, in a restaurant booth, and each of these times, my friends acted discreetly. And this wasn't uncomfortable for me at all. But seeing Jane function essentially as a drinking fountain for her walking one-year old made me (and those around me, both parents and non-parents alike, as I found out later that day) uncomfortable.

So, am I a bad feminist? Is my NOW card going to be revoked? What do you think?

12 Responses to “The Drinking Fountain”

  1. # Blogger Caryl

    I’m in total agreement with you Kristi! I understand breast-feeding infants – at home or in public. More often than not, I usually don’t even notice. Most moms handle the situation discretely. However, once the child starts teething, and can eat table food, I believe that, if the parents want to continue breast feeding, it should be done in private. “Jane” should have excused herself and gone to a bedroom.

    I’m wondering – how did Rich react? What is a man’s view on this?


  2. # Blogger Clare Eats

    I don't know what to say!  

  3. # Blogger CAL

    Here's one man's point of view: She should have gone inside the house. Most women are discrete when they breastfeed, but some seem to need to turn it into a political statement. (Those are the ones who are escorted from the mall because they've been openly breastfeeding in the middle of the food court.) And the only thing I'll say about the age issue is this: If the child is old enough to walk, it's time to start thinking about solid food.

    Oh, and equal pay for equal work? I don't think the country's ready for that yet. ;)  

  4. # Blogger Amy

    Hmmmm. I guess I'll be the voice of dissent here. I agree with Waning Liberal that some women turn breastfeeding into a statement and put themselves on display far more than is needed, although they wouldn't HAVE to make this statement if people on the whole were more comfortable wtih late breastfeeding.

    On the other hand, I totally (and respectfully) disagree with Caryl and Waning Liberal about expecting the mother to go in the house. Mothers should not have to excuse themselves to feed their children. Breastfeeding is a very natural part of life and the longer you do it (even after a child is walking, talking etc), the better it is for your child. Just because society has changed to the point where bottle-feeding is more common than nursing doesn't mean that nursing mothers should sit in a backroom like what they're doing is something to be ashamed of.

    Mothers have been nursing their children since time began and it's only made people uncomfortable until recently, because of modern lifestyles. Years and years ago, no one would have thought twice about seeing this.

    I think that more understanding is needed on both sides--mothers who nurse older children defnitely should practice discretion and understand that some are uncomfortable. Others should understand that nursing your children is not something that needs to be hidden in a closet. It is a beautiful, natural, healthy way to raise children.

    Oh, and hi, Kristi! I know it's been awhile and I am hopefully sending out Book Swap assignments today!  

  5. # Anonymous Janet

    What is she, a water fountain? Not being a mother, I really can't comment yah or nay, but...c'mon. Enough is enough. Feed her, then give her a bottle to suck on. Really.

    Oh, and hi, Michele sent me!  

  6. # Blogger Guppyman

    Personally, I'd like to see more m=women do this... It's healthier for the kids, plus it's a turn on! Win win situation as far as I'm concerned!  

  7. # Anonymous MissMeliss

    I'm all for breast feeding, but what you've just described is just disturbing.

    And...yeah, what Caryl said.

    (I came to get a better feel for you before sending a bookswap book. You are now on my blogroll. Hope that's okay?)  

  8. # Blogger Kristi

    Caryl-Yup. As I wrote, I don't even notice women breast-feeding half the time. But I think it was the age of "Jane's" baby combined with the setting and the frequency that made the whole thing very...awkward. Rich had the same reaction I did.

    Clare-Speechless, huh? ;)

    WaningLiberal-I don't necessarily thing she should have relegated herself to the house, but perhaps either fed her daughter once, and left it at that, or else moved off to a more private part of the yard each time she fed her.

    Amy-You make some really good points. It's true that breast-feeding is completely natural and shouldn't be something women have to be ashamed of. I agree also that perhaps more consideration is needed on both sides of the issue. In this case, though, given that her daughter was 1 years old and not an infant, given that she fed her at least five times, and given that this was occuring in a very public setting, I think "Jane" could have exercised a little more discretion and consideration.

    Janet-LOL. Yup-that was my tongue-in-cheek reaction (see the title of my post). And I think a bottle would have been a good alternative after the first feeding.

    Guppyman-LOL. Well, that's a perspective I can't exactly relate to. ;)

    MissMeliss-Hi book swap partner. Thanks for blogrolling me!  

  9. # Blogger PractiGal

    Hmmm. Sounds like this "feeding" is probably about comfort, rather than nourishment (if it's happening so often). In that case, I say, show your child that there are other ways to comfort her in public when she's 1+. I doubt the child is getting much milk at all, just by what you've shared & from what I know from others who've nursed through the first year.

    If it's soothing to the child, fine, but if it's causing discomfort to many others, it seems like there could be an alternate way to soothe the child -- as a way to be considerate!  

  10. # Blogger Suzanne

    Ok, so I decided to start back at the beginning instead of working backwards, and since I haven't made my way to the "baby is here" blogs yet, I'm not sure what your stance on breastfeeding is today. But I have to comment.

    I have four boys. I nursed my oldest til he was 6 months old. I was terrified of nursing, I gave him a bottle whenever we were out because I didn't want to embarrass people, and I hid in bathrooms or bedrooms whenever a bottle wasn't available. Sagan wasn't a good nurser (maybe because of all that). It was a miserable experience, and I gave up when I reached my 6 months goal.

    I nursed Bodhi, my second, until he was 6 1/2 months. I worked full-time with him too so I pumped, and we mostly fed him from a bottle. I rarely nursed in public, and if I did, I hid.

    Several years and much drama later, my 3rd son arrived. I swore it would be different with him. My situation allowed me to nurse him on demand so I did. When it came time to feed him in a public setting, I did. I threw a blanket over me or covered us with my jacket, but I had no problem feeding him whenever and wherever. I was so proud of myself. When he was 6 months old, I had to go back to work full-time, but I still pumped and went to his daycare at lunch to nurse him. When he was 9 1/2 months old, I became pregnant with his brother so I stopped.

    His brother will be 15 months old tomorrow, and he still nurses. He's been an excellent nurser since the day he was born. Nate's a gulper so it's always been somewhat obvious what he's doing, but I've once again always nursed him whenever and wherever. I've always covered him with a blanket or jacket to spare anyone embarrassment, and I've always tried to find an out-of-the way place to feed him where no one would easily notice. Of course, that's not always possible. The only time I've ever had a comment made was on Valentine's Day when we were having brunch at a popular restaurant. I covered him as usual and let him eat while I ate (he was almost 3 months old at that point, and I was NOT taking him to some filthy bathroom or to the car in the freezing cold.) A woman behind me made a rude comment about how I should be doing that elsewhere. That was the first time I'd ever been embarrassed for feeding my baby in public.

    Now, all that being said, when we're out and about these days, Nate does try to pull down my shirt (as he does at home.) I distract him, I put him down, I stop him. I will only nurse him in public now if we've been out for a long time and there is no sippy cup available. And although when we're at home, I let him pull up my shirt and go to town (I feel like a cow most days), I would never do that in public.

    So, I suppose I'm saying I agree with you that a child that old should not be allowed all-access to Mommy's feeding vessels in such a public setting. But at the same time, if I saw a mom doing that, I'd feel for her because I know what it's like to be your child's only nourishment/comfort food...

    BTW, a bottle has never been an option with this one. He's never taken one and only reluctantly drinks from a sippy cup. And giving a kid a bottle outside of the home when he's a nursing baby is laughable. If you've ever been in the situation, you know what I mean.

    All that being said, I remember seeing a woman pull down her tank top and feed her baby at the front desk of the pediatric practice where I worked. I was shocked and disgusted. I hadn't had kids yet...  

  11. # Blogger Kristi

    Suzanne-This post was written a year before my first child was born, and after becoming a mom, my opinion on public nursing has changed a bit. I nursed all 3 of my kids until they were 13 months old. Nursing twins that long is no joke, let me tell you. :)

    Now, I completely understand that it's not always possible to find a bedroom or another more private area to nurse. Sometimes your child just needs to eat! But I think my issue then (and still is now) is the age of my friend's child. She was well over a year old, and at that point, as you do with your youngest, a little more discretion is needed because the child has needs that are different than a starving 6 week old who needs breastmilk for nourishment.  

  12. # Blogger Suzanne

    You nursed twins til they were 13 months old? Twins? You deserve a medal! I'm an identical twin. My mom only nursed me for a week and my sister for a month. I couldn't imagine nursing two of Nate!

    I thought about this entry some more last night and came to the conclusion that some people just seem to forget they're not at home. I mean, would you kick your shoes off and lie down on someone's sofa? Or go through their fridge and drink all the milk? Just basic respect, you know?  

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