The first time I breastfed in public was awkward. So awkward.
I was a brand new mom in a crowded store and the bathroom – where I’d planned to nurse – was occupied. I stood there trying to guess how long I had until it got bad. Really bad. I looked at the line and took a deep breath. Jack screamed. Boy did he ever scream. There were the stares and glares from complete strangers. It was so transparent I wondered why they didn’t just speak up and say what they were clearly thinking.
What is wrong with her? Why can’t she calm her child? Someone shut that child up before I freak out.
It was obvious we were not welcome and besides, I knew what my baby wanted wasn’t on the end of the bathroom queue. But I also knew that I hadn’t come prepared. You see, 30 minutes earlier he threw up in the car. All over the Aiden & Anais blanket I typically used to cover up whenever nursing him in public.
Eventually I walked away from the bathroom line and out of the store. I crossed into the lobby. It was snowing so hard outside. The car would be too cold. There was no other bathroom or private area anywhere nearby. So I did it. I whipped out what the good Lord gave me and offered my son what he needed. He went silent instantly. Thank you, mama.
I looked up only to see a new audience. But these eyes were different from the judgmental ones in the store. They were curious. They weren’t sure how to react. The stares were equally transparent, but it was obvious they weren’t sure how they felt about my public display. A young girl stood by her mother in a deep red coat and that young girl was staring.
While all I wanted to do was turn away ashamed because, yes, my boob was out in public for the first time ever, deep down I knew what I needed to do. If not for me, then for the girl. With confidence, I looked up and I smiled at her. She smiled back – her curiosity still evident. Then I smiled at her mother. Immediately and surprisingly, she smiled back.
This time, I was chilled by the transparency of her expression and the message I could see so clearly in it: Mama, I’m on your team. I’ve got your back.
As I watched them walk away, her daughter looked up and tugged on the arm of her mom’s red coat.
“Mama? What was that lady doing back there?” she said.
With pride and without hesitation her mother responded, “She was feeding her baby just like I used to feed you.”
To the local mom in the red coat, thank you so, so much. You not only helped me, a first-time mom, feel comfortable and proud about my choice that day, but more importantly you also taught me a very important lesson.
As mothers, we will always have to face our differences, but in the end our ability to empower one another trumps all.