Saturday, December 02, 2006

DFW Airport Nurse-in, Take II

(or: The Mommy Blawger Gets "Lactive")

I arrive at 10:30am. As I pull into a parking space, I notice two women in the car next to me unloading small children - one is wearing a sling. I think, "they're with me". And they are. As we head inside the terminal, we look for the Delta counter. One of the women spots the group - "I see baby carriers," she says, and we head that way. And indeed, although this is a nurse-in, it looks more like a baby-wearing conference. Ring slings, pouches, Mei Tais, simple pieces of cloth, shawls, you name it. In fact, there are nearly 30 children under the age of 5, and only 3 or 4 strollers.

Someone comes around with stickers featuring the new international breastfeeding symbol, and a sign-in sheet. Later I learn that a total of 27 adults signed in, although it looked to be more than that. There are a couple dads and a few women without babies. When I arrive, there are two camera crews, CW33 and another one, NBC5 I think. The around 10:45, Jeff Brady, the anchor from WFAA 8, shows up. All of the reporters and crews shake hands and say "hi there" like they are best buds.

The news teams do a bunch of interviews. The only disconcerting thing is that whenever a cameraman spots a baby starting to nurse, he comes right over for a close-up. Nothing screams "look at me, I'm breastfeeding!" like a news camera parked six inches from your boob.

Really, nothing much happens. We have no contact with airport police or Delta employees, except one official who will occasionally come by and remind everyone to keep the walkway clear. Mostly we just stand around and chat like mothers of young children are apt to do. I run into women I know from our local homebirth organization, a woman I met at CAPPA CBE training this summer, a woman whose garage sale I went to a couple months ago, and women I know online but have never met in real life. There were La Leche League people, attachment parenting people, homebirthers, and babywearing gurus. Younger moms and older moms. First-time moms and moms with a bunch. Crunchy and not-so-crunchy.

At about 11 am, the power goes out. I sense hopes for a top news spot vanish as the story shifts to "breaking news! power outage at DFW airport strands travelers". Thankfully, the power comes back on after 15 minutes or so. My milk lets down, and I take advantage of the distraction to nurse Andrew, completely unnoticed. Although I do breastfeed in public, and have ever since my first was two weeks old, it has taken me three babies and 4 1/2 years to become entirely comfortable with it. I don't really want to do it on camera.

Perhaps because I am standing towards the end of the long row of moms & babies, or perhaps because I just look approachable, passers-by keep asking me what is going on. One asks if this is a convention; another says excitedly, "is this a nurse-in?" I don't think anyone would have taken much notice if it weren't for the cameras and reporters hanging around.

By 11:30, cranky toddlers hit "meltdown" and folks start to leave. Jeff Brady has, apparently, contacted DFW Airport for a statement. Speaking with four of the women who were at the first nurse-in, he says that a spokesperson for the airport claims that they were passing out literature and holding signs, both activities which require permits, and that is why the police intervened. The women disagree, and are filmed giving their version of events. None of this is going to make the evening news, of course.

Later, I wonder what all the fuss was about. We made a point. We'll probably be on t.v. I met some interesting people. I talked to four or five strangers who know more about breastfeeding laws than they did before. Maybe we educated some people. Maybe we offended some people. No one got arrested.

In the afternoon, mom and I went for haircuts. When we told mom's stylist about the nurse-in, she related an incident that happened here in the North Texas area. She was at a restaurant, and a woman was feeding a small baby in the waiting area. She was totally covered by a blanket, and in fact the stylist and her husband were not aware she was nursing at first. Then another man in the waiting area began telling the woman she "should not be doing that". Next his wife started in on her. Finally the manager of the restaurant came out and told the woman she should either finish up in the restroom, or out in her car. The stylist and her husband were appalled that people would be yelling at a woman holding a small baby, nursing or not.

Then it struck me. For every Emily Gillette who is strong enough and educated enough to stand up for her rights - get a lawyer and file a complaint, know the right people to contact to inspire over 700 people in 40 cities to show up at their local airports two days before Thanksgiving garnering national and international media coverage - there are countless others who are intimidated, harassed, or embarrassed, and do nothing. Worse, think of the mothers who never breastfeed because they are daunted by the thought of nursing in public and want to have a life. Think of the babies whose hunger cries are ignored because they come at an "inconvenient" time or place, impairing the nursing relationship and reducing their mom's milk supply.

Modesty, or "discretion", is a red herring. I see women and girls all the time dressed immodestly. I would love to ask a woman with a lace thong peeking out of her ultra-low-cut jeans to just wrap a sweater around her waist. I don't want to see that, and I don't want my husband or young boys to see it either. What would be so hard about covering up a little? But I don't, because she is free to dress how she wants, and so am I. We invaded Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban (and their oppressive treatment of women), but some misinformed people here at home still try to dictate what a mother and baby can do in public.

This battle is about raising awareness of the law. Until policemen, flight attendants, restaurant managers, store owners, movie theater ushers, and last but not least the mothers themselves know that a baby has the right to breastfeed anytime, anywhere, and its mother is not legally required to be "discreet", the Nurse-in will continue to be used until society as a whole, "gets it".

To borrow a famous quote about childbirth, if you don't know your rights, you don't have any.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I just wanted to say that I love what you wrote. It's so true that there are so many women that are too afraid of what people might say to even give BFing a fair shot. I even find myself looking around nervously when I need to NIP for anyone that may give me problems (living in MA there really aren't any laws that I can use to my advantage).
Good for you for taking a stand!