By Danelle Frisbie
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."
"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."
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.