Thursday, May 06, 2010

Cedar Rapids, Iowa Nurse-In After Mother Harassed for Breastfeeding 5-Week-Old

By Danelle Frisbie
Bonnie McCall at home with her son, Nolan

My alma mater rests back in the cornfields of Iowa and since leaving the university full time to raise my child, I have the wonderful opportunity to return and teach a lecture series at several Midwest universities each summer. As a result, a part of my heart belongs to Iowa and its mothers/babies. Consequently, we also have many peaceful parenting readers currently living in Iowa. Because of this I'd like to draw attention to a nurse-in happening this Sunday, Mother's Day, at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the events that led up to it.

This past Sunday, May 2nd, Bonnie McCall, 24, of Cedar Rapids, nursed her 5 week old son, Nolan, at Lindale Mall while she and a friend sat and watched their older children playing in the mall's children's play area. The other mothers there quickly averted their eyes as McCall nursed her baby, and urgently shuffled their own children away from the play area.

Not long after McCall's son was done eating, a security guard approached her and told her, "There is a family restroom for THAT." Not once did the guard use the terms 'nursing' or 'breastfeeding.' He simply repeated that she "should not do THAT in front of children."

"I do not believe the security guard even saw me nursing, because I was done when he approached me." McCall reports. "He made it very clear that I should not be nursing in front of children."

McCall and her friend politely reminded the security guard that there are laws in place that protect nursing mothers and their children. They handed the guard a small business card with the Iowa breastfeeding law printed on it. He continued to say that McCall should not do that in front of children and that the other guests in the mall had complained because they were afraid for their own children. "You should be considerate of the guests," he told the women.

Side Note: I almost cannot help but laugh at this utter array of ignorance. There are actually people out there who fear that their children will see other children eating in the normal way that human babies eat? I am not naive, and very little surprises me anymore, but really, it is almost unbelievable that we could have such reactions within our own species. No other mammal would shun another mother feeding her baby. It is entirely counter productive to the survival of the race.

McCall and her friend gathered their own children and headed to the help desk to request to talk with mall management. The security guard hustled over to the help desk and informed them that he was the one on duty that day and there were no managers present on weekends.

It saddens me that this is not the first time McCall has received disapproving looks or grief from others while nursing. She has an almost 3-year-old who has also been normally fed growing up. This, however, is the first time she has been approached by an employee. And at a time when her new little one is just 5 weeks old! I do not believe I received any negativity or questions until my son was turning 1 year old -- it was at that time when a relative first asked, "So, how long are you going to do that for?" By 12 months (and encircled in a wonderful bubble of lactivism) I wasn't too phased by the question. But I cannot imagine having someone harass me for the normal feeding of my child just 5 weeks after I birthed him into this world. What is wrong with people?!

The women took their families home and attempted to contact the Lindale Mall managers and the owner of the mall, without any success, for the duration of the day.

The next morning, they called a press contact, and KCRG (local news station) interviewed McCall. The news story was soon put up online (with many details left out) and received so many comments that it broke the KCRG record for responses. Unfortunately, a fair amount of these commentators were hateful - attacking McCall. Soon, administrators made the decision to shut the news story comments down because "there were so many horrible things written," said McCall's friend. Strangers started to send McCall hate mail via Facebook messages, and she was harassed online. She had to change her privacy settings and 'hide' as best she could amidst a virtual world of attack. Someone posted her home address on the KCRG news story and her house was egged that night.

I don't know about you, but this literally brings tears to my eyes. There is absolutely NO REASON that any mother, anywhere, should be treated in such a horrific manner for doing what she can to mother her child in the most natural, normal way possible. No baby should have his mother face this sort of animosity just to defend his right to nurse - whether it be for food, drink, or comfort. It sickens and saddens me that this could happen in a state I once called 'home.' And it could have just as easily happened to me. Or you.

McCall's friends say they are concerned because this has caused her so much stress and strangers have been lashing out at her. Not only has she been threatened, but there have been people threatening "anyone who shows up" at the nurse-in on Sunday.

When the news media got a hold of the story, Lindale Mall managers were finally made aware of the situation. Lisa Rowe, a spokesperson for the mall, said that sometimes mall personnel will let parents know that the mall has a specific location they can use to feed their children, if they wish to do so. However, McCall said the guard made it quite clear, “He wanted me to go to the family restroom which was at the other end of the mall."

Lindale Mall also released this press statement in response to last Sunday's lactiphobic incident:

Lindale Mall fully supports mothers rights in every capacity. Our overarching goal includes perfecting the customer experience at Lindale Mall, which is evident by providing such amenities as the soft-play area and family restroom for our family focused customers. Action has been taken to address this issue and we appreciate the passion of our customers that make Lindale Mall a special place.

McCall feels that the news (and onlooking commentators) are turning this into a modesty issue, when in fact "it is a violation of rights by law." In fact, KCCI (a Des Moines, Iowa news station) has a poll on their report of the event. Currently, 32% of responders say that nursing mothers should have to relocate to a separate area to feed their babies! Vote in the poll here.

McCall continues, "I do not cover my baby when I nurse, but that is my choice, and in the state of Iowa that is a choice I am allowed to make for my own and my baby's comfort. I believe that every woman has their own nursing style, and that it changes constantly, according to the outfit she may be wearing, the bra, the location, the people around her, or even the chair she is sitting in."

What McCall relayed to me next is something I fully, completely, and intensely agree with - "Covering up, [or not covering up], is a feminist issue! Breastfeeding is a feminist issue! Breasts were made to feed babies."

YES!!!!

"And as far as NOT nursing in front of children -- that is ridiculous. Children should know what a breast is for -- just like their ears, nose, and eyes."

Agreed 100%!

Bonnie McCall with her newborn baby, Nolan


If you are in Iowa, join in the Nurse-In this Sunday, Mother's Day, May 9th, in the children's play area of Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at 4:00pm. All nursing babies of any age and their mothers are welcome, as well as all (non-nursing) advocates of breastfeeding, men and women alike. If you support human babies' right to consume human milk, come join with other Iowan lactivists at the nurse-in. Local La Leche League International chapters will be there, along with many other nursing mothers.

As much as I would love to jump on a plane and fly back to Iowa to nurse-in with my fellow mothers, lactivists, and supporters on Sunday, I will be cheering you all on from afar. May no one have to endure this type of ignorant hatred and violation of rights again.

Click here for the Facebook Nurse-In Event Page

Click here for additional breastfeeding resources and support - books, articles, websites.



44 comments:

  1. The ignorance of some people has actually left me speechless and in a state of shock. How sad. But a good on you to Bonnie and what a beautiful photo of her feeding her new baby.
    :-)

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  2. i had an incident in a restaurant when my then 8 month old baby stuck her fist in boiling hot coffee that the waiter had put directly in front of her. i quickly put her to the breast while my husband used the ice from his drink to rub her little red hand. the owner came rushing over to tell me people were complaining! i thought she was coming to apologise for her stupid waiter!!! we went to the papers and also got horrible comments and letters and yes, people found me on facebook and looked at my private pics (i had a nude one of my preggo belly with hands covering myself) and said 'oh look, she's a slut and an exhibitionist. someone posted my facebook profile in the nasty comments. awful! i had panic attacks for weeks!

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  3. Oh, I'd LOVE to go to that nurse-in! But I'm a bit too far away here in North Carolina... I was just watching an old episode of "Bullsh*t" with Penn and Teller about breasts. One woman interviewed said that a child seeing the breast of a nursing mother is just as destructive as a child having sexual relations with an adult. !!! I honestly do not understand where people get this from, but you can tell by the actions of the other mothers at that mall and the security guard that people really do believe bizarre things like this. It's like we're trapped in a sci-fi movie where people's brains have been taken over by aliens or something. BREAST=FOOD Sheesh. It's not that hard, people!

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  4. Wow! This makes me want to jump on a plane and get to that nurse in too. I will be supporting from North Dakota! Stay strong Mamas!

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  5. This situation is so sad! I can't even believe the amount of harassment she's received! I mean, I can see (not understand, but see) the original situation. People love boobs, but when a child is attached to one they freak out. I can't wait for the day that this is different. But for her house to be egged? For her to be receiving threats via Facebook???
    I'm utterly disgusted.
    I will be thinking of her on Mother's Day and with everyone at the nurse-in in spirit.

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  6. Great job Bonnie! I was part of the Old Country Buffet nurse-in in Minnesota last month. Its not easy to stand up for your rights - lots of boob-haters out there... but let those comment roll off your back and know that you are doing the right thing! You have tons of support. Stay strong!

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  7. OMGoodness. I cried when I read this. What is wrong with people?? And what was with the "You shouldn't do THAT in front of the children?" What a load of BS! When my youngest was born, I didn't wait 'til my other son was gone to breastfeed. All he did was ask what his brother was doing and I explained that he was drinking the milk mommy's body made for him and that was it...he was happy he knew the answer and continued on with his day. I never understood people who sexualize breastfeeding. That's THEIR own personal issue and they should get help for that IMHO!!

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  8. I can't believe it. Its almost like some kind of witchhunt. Not only now will future nursing mothers be afraid of the ignorant comments of the people immediately around her but now people are egging houses? What part of time are we in? Has no one grown up since discrimination based on race was made illegal? Those people should be ashamed of themselves for treating a mother with a new baby like that.

    In my opinion only a pervert would find anything sexual in nursing in public. Yeah, I may have just called half of my own country perverts but I mean it. Get over yourselves and leave if you find it so offensive. Just don't think you're going to find sanctity in any other country. Some countries actually have the sense to fine or imprison harassers. Maybe if our country weren't so enthralled with the female body as a sex temple someone would actually see women as people and mothers.

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  9. wish i was there to go! i may not be breastfeeding anymore but I sure would love to support them all. I havnt gone to a nurse-in before but I would go to this one! Her house was egged for breastfeeding. WOW!

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  10. I may not have nursed any of my children very long because of lactation issues but all of my boys will grow up knowing what the breasts are for. My five year old tells me that he used to eat my boob and so did his brothers. HE knows that it is OK. I never covered up unless I felt the need to, but I was never ashamed to nurse and think people shaming another mother is WRONG!!

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  11. But you can be damn sure the other moms and "Paul Blart" have no problem with the teen girls and adult women that are at the mall on a daily basis, dressed in provocative clothes, showing more boob than nursing moms ever do! Why aren't they disturbed by that?

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  12. This made me cry literally cry for that mother. To be so harassed because she was feeding her baby in the normal and natural manner that NATURE made us for and intended us to do! I am angry, sad frustrated. My HEART hurts thinking about this. I live in neighboring Illinois, but I cannot be at that nurse-in and that makes me sad to. I don't usually feel the need to be quite that active as a lactivist but I literally feel the need to cross the country for this one. It has always been disturbing to me that there is a need to be activists about nursing but THIS has me boiling!

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  13. Luciana RolsenMay 07, 2010 1:21 PM

    Go Bonnie!
    Good for her for being so outspoken, I can only imagine the grief that all this unnecessary harassment has brought on her (egging her house? seriously???). But most other moms would blush, say "sorry" and move to the family restroom, and it is AMAZING that women like Bonnie choose not to. There's unfortunately too few of us that do that.
    And for all the moms complaining about what their dear children see, maybe next time they should complain about the Victoria's Secret store front ads first.

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  14. Now I don't normally breastfeed in public just because it's difficult with the size of my boobs at the moment, but this makes me WANT to just to prove that I can, and that it's right to let me!!!

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  15. I had an experience very similar to this myself (although no where near the same level of harassment thank goodness) myself when my daughter was about 8 months old. This story just makes my blood boil! I will never understand the anger and ignorance shown towards women who nurse in public. It's a beautiful thing but if if you think it's not, it's very easy to avert your eyes.

    For the record, I will not be able to attend this nurse-in because I live in Minnesota. I will however, be pumping along in spirit. (I'm a surrogate mother and I'm currently pumping milk for my surrogate twins AND for a the baby of a friend who is unable to nurse.)

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  16. I am so saddened that this has happened to another mother. I hear of it happening far to often. I've had people congratulate me and I've been asked to nurse elsewhere, but each time I just shrugged it off. One time I was trying to find a nursing chair at BRU so I nursed my newborn in chair after chair. I was asked to go to the nursing room, then leave. We didn't buy a chair, we didn't leave, and several other moms showed up shortly. But we live in Canada, the only time I was ever made to feel ashamed was when visiting the states. I was ridiculed, insulted, and eventually chased until I left the area I was nursing in.

    I've also had mothers express their concern that their boys (3 and 5) knew what breasts were b/c I nursed my baby in public around them (playgroup). I said well I'm not going to wean so you can keep your children ignorant of what he female body is and is for. My older daughter was present when our younger was born, and they both were extended nursing, tandem for a while. WHy would I car if a child knew that breasts were for feeding babies?

    I hope the nurs in goes well, and that mothers will see they have support amongst the animosity.

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  17. This is appaling. I am shocked at the utter madness behind the way this porr woman was treated. How can people be so violent against a nursing mother. All but western society know that she is the one who needs most care and consideration

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  18. Way to go McCall! I support a mother's right to feed her child wherever she wishes.

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  19. i live in a very small town nelson, in a country called New zealand, and hearing stories like this makes me feel so greatful that i live where i live!! it is normal to see people breastfeeding everywhere and anywhere here, and we have lots of community support for it. i know that people werent always so accepting in my country either, i hope that they continue to become more educated and accepting in the states! :-) PS my 8 month old is still breast only and we love it.

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  20. Well done Bonnie for standing up for what's right and for putting your baby first. You are courageous! And I fear it will take many more women like you until the message that is heard is the right one.

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  21. Sometimes unfortunate incidents must happen to make a change! I WISH I could go! I would nurse my TWO YEAR OLD daughter there! Well, She has my support all the way from New York!!!

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  22. If I lived in that area, I would most certainly attend with my nursing baby and preschooler.

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  23. Bonnie, I just wish to give you lots of support all the way from Norway! I am utterly and completely shocked at the treatment you have received. I cannot believe it. In my country we breastfeed EVERYWHERE, it is the most normal thing in the world. I so wish I could go to the nurse-in, but the flight from Norway is too expensive ;) This is not good for the reputation of your country, I just can't believe it. I'm so proud of you for standing strong, hang on in there!

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  24. I think it was especially upsetting because the baby was so young. Every nursing mother knows that new babies need to be fed constantly, and breastfeeding is one of the only ways to make a baby this age happy and content, (they cannot play or intereact with other children, for example.) It's also a very vulnerable time for a new mother. There are all kinds of hormones running through a woman, making her very sensitive to critisism. I'm glad this happened to a very strong woman, but imagine how many young, shy mothers might be turned off from breastfeeding by this kind of treatment? That's what really worries me.

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  25. I breastfed my daughter until she was 2 1/2 and now continue to proudly breastfeed my one year old son. It is unimaginable to me that people feel so negatively about women, breasts and breastfeeding. Whenever I see a breastfeeding Mom I nod my approval and understanding. You go Mama's. Boobs rock!

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  26. This sort of ignorance makes me so angry. I wish I could be at the nurse in, I'm sending all my support & best wishes.

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  27. I'm a very proud, breastfeeding mom of baby number 2. I will nurse him whenever and wherever...if he needs to nurse, then he does. However, I don't feel like other people should have to look at my breasts in order for this to happen. I understand *breast*feeding is what breasts are for, but other body parts are for functions just as natural and shouldn't be exposed for all the world to see either. For example, we don't expose our intimate parts in public, even though they are what we use to create the wonderful life we bring into the world. Please, breastfeed your babies everywhere you go, but do be discreet about it.

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  28. I am deeply saddened that this continues to be an issue, especially in this day and age! We allow teens (and pre-teens!) to strut around with their breasts barely covered, and hesitate to enforce dress codes in the schools and work place for fear of harassment charges, or of violating their rights. Yet the issue of feeding babies in the best, most normal way possible is still considered offensive?

    I breast fed my four children 26-38 years ago, before it was considered 'normal,' but I'm afraid I relented to the cultural restrictions of the times and did so 'discretely' in the back rooms! I apologize that I wasn't a part of what brave young mothers of today consider is their and their baby's right to be nurished.

    We can no longer blame the store and restaurant oweners for this attitude as it is obvious other parents with small children were 'offended.' What more can be done to educate?

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  29. I would be there in a heartbeat if I lived closer! Happy Mothers Day Bonnie!

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  30. OMG thats absoloutley disgusting how anyone could treat another person like that just sickens me if i had passports and the money me and my kiddies would be taking a holiday to Iowa to join the nurse.
    i wonder what people would make of me breastfeeding my 2 yo ;-)

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  31. This makes me so sad! I live in Cedar Rapids and have breastfed all over the city, in many restaurants in the area, but never at Lindale Mall. I am sorry that I didn't see this in time to attend the nurse-in. I would be interested to hear how it went.

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  32. Unfortunately this doesn't really surprize me.... I've seen it so many times before, and organized several nurse-in's myself. it breaks my heart and enrages the mother in me... but no, it's not surprizing.

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  33. I read this comment somewhere and it gave me a good chuckle. Now I use it as a comment on a lot of stuff like this...

    "If you think breastfeeding is sexual, raise your hand. Now all those who raised their hands - go report yourself to the authorities for being a pervert."

    Really people, grow up.

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  34. Sending support! I had the same sort of incident happen to me at a grocery store here with my third child. The floor manager actually threatened to have me arrested for indecent exposure, and refused to believe I had it under good authority that breastfeeding is specifically exempted from that statute here.

    People can be so ignorant, but worse than that are the poor children who have to grow up with parents who get embarrassed by children eating normally.

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  35. Oh, this is so sad how complete strangers have retaliated against her for nothing! :( If something like this happened to me, I would be afraid to take it to the press, because so many average Americans just don't understand, and so they react with shock, anger, etc. So how do we make people understand? I think very specific, tactful words have to be used to explain it. Biology, that this is the way we were made, that babies cannot wait to be fed and that their shrieking because they are hungry is far more annoying than seeing them breastfeeding, that the majority of women who nurse in public do not show their breasts and you'd have to be looking just right to see anything... I don't know. The media sensationalizes everything, so they are looking for the conflict in a story, almost trying to pit people against each other. We need some clear, biology-based information presented to the general public about breastfeeding.

    As for being asked not to nurse in front of children, I would have asked, "Well, should I cover my baby's eyes while he nurses so he doesn't see it?" How ludicrous! However, I would be careful to not sound like I am trying to let other people's kids see me nursing... as stupid as I think it is, other parents have the right to shield their kids from seeing a woman nurse by removing their kids from the area. I do hope that kids see more and more nursing in public so it will normalize it. But sadly, because much of our culture is so passionately angry about nursing in public, I would be very careful to not make it sound like nursing in front of other people is something I do so they will see it and thus understand it is normal (even if that may be an unspoken secondary reason! ;P). The only reason that needs to be reiterated for nursing in public is that "my baby was hungry or upset, babies were made to nurse, mothers were made to nurse them with their bodies."

    Oh, how sad that we even have to have this discussion. It is because of how our culture is. My mother breastfed all three of my younger brothers for a year each, and I still was shocked the first time I saw a mother sitting on a bench on the side of the main street nursing her baby... I thought, "Whoa, she is nursing right there?" I was about 16 years old and just hadn't seen it done outside my own home! I am grateful that we know people thru LLL who nurse in public and my children will see it as normal.

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  36. i unfortunately live in a state where it is illlegal to breastfeed in public, or even in your own vehicle, thank you INDIANA. But i have breastfed my children in public restrooms(on the sly), you cannot choose when your children become hungry, and isn't it called neglet when we don't feed them? kudos to all of you public breastfeeders!! keep up what your doing and hopefully all states will adopt similar laws!!

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  37. Krystle - it is LEGAL to nurse in public anywhere, anyplace. However, there are also 44 states that have specific state laws protecting women's right to breastfeed in any public or private location, and Indiana is one of them.

    Specifically, here is Indiana's policy:

    Ind. Code § 16-35-6 allows a woman to breastfeed her child anywhere the law allows her to be. (HB 1510)

    Ind. Code § 5-10-6-2 and § 22-2-14-2 (2008) provide that state and political subdivisions shall provide for reasonable paid breaks for an employee to express breast milk for her infant, make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, other than a toilet stall, where the employee can express breast milk in private and make reasonable efforts to provide for a refrigerator to keep breast milk that has been expressed. The law also provides that employers with more than 25 employees must provide a private location, other than a toilet stall, where an employee can express the employee's breast milk in private and if possible to provide a refrigerator for storing breast milk that has been expressed. (2008 Ind. Acts, P.L. 13, SB 219)

    The rest of the 44 states (plus The District of Columbia and The Virgin Islands) include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

    Read more about the laws protecting YOU and every other nursing mother here: http://www.ncsl.org/issuesresearch/health/breastfeedinglaws/tabid/14389/default.aspx

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  38. and another mom feels the bite of injustice. I had the same thing happen to me at a six flags before MA got a breastfeeding law. It was humiliating. No mom should have to feel ashamed of feeding their child. It's rediculous.

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  39. That is absolutely ridiculous.
    Bonnie, that is a beautiful picture. I apologize on behalf of all of those ignorant people who have caused you so much grief. I can't even begin to imagine how you must feel. It is absolutely terrifying that people can be so hateful and ignorant about something so appropriate and natural. I am absolutely disgusted by the reactions of those people. Breastfeeding your baby is not only natural, it is a beautiful part of life.

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  40. How did the nurse-in go? I didn't see a follow up, so I was just curious if things remained peaceful.

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  41. Wow. Humans are the stupidest mammals on the planet. Only they would turn something that has ensured human survival into something dirty and shameful.

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  42. The nurse in was a success. We had ball park 75 people attend. Some nursing mothers, some there for only support. One lady proclaimed she nursed all 12 of her children 50+ years prior. Some women traveled 5 hours to attend to support me and mothers rights. I appreciate every kind word, and I hope that next time you see a nursing mother you thank her!

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  43. I cannot tell you how relieved I feel about finding this!! I am a 25 year old mom of a 15 month old boy. I used a cover in public, but STILL for glaring looks wherever I went. Fortunately I'm not very faint of heart, and decided one day enough was enough. luckily, no one ever had the guts to confront me. I had an acquaintance day something to me about how I should go into the bathroom. I promptly told them that that was fine, as long as they were willing to have THEIR dinner served to them in a public restroom stall as they were sitting on the toilet.

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