On April 4th I sat down on a bench at the Gateway Fred Meyer to nurse my two-month-old son. It was about five o'clock on a busy Tuesday afternoon. The last place I wanted to be nursing was in that spot as it was noisy and distracting, but at the time, I couldn't think of better place to attend to my baby's needs. I also had my rather flighty three-year-old daughter with me, so wandering around the store to find a quieter spot would've left me instead chasing a toddler while carrying a bawling baby. Anyway, I've always made a point of nursing in public as part of my personal breastfeeding promotion campaign. So, I sat there, struggling to get my crying son to nurse while keeping an eye on my toddler in a busy store. Like many women living in a culture that has so thoroughly sexualized them, baring my breasts in public is not something I relish. At the same time, attending to my baby's needs is more important to me that maintaining my modesty. So, I do my best to keep myself covered and assume that people will be polite enough not to stare. It's not easy, though, to be discreet when nursing an upset two-month-old.
After nursing for five minutes or so, my son seemed comfortable enough for us to start shopping. As I reached into my bag to get my sling, Troy Hardig, Gateway Store Director, approached me. He had a weird look on his face and as I was trying to figure out why he was apporaching me when he opens with, "Oh, good. You're getting a blanket." He told me there had been complaints about my nursing, not that he minded, but that some people were offended. I was so stunned I couldn't think of what to say, except to remind him that Oregon law protects a mother's right to nurse in public. I felt absolutely humiliated. His comments left me feeling like I'd been doing something lewd. Unbelievably, when I spoke with Todd Heinle, Fred Meyers East Portland/SW Wash Operations Supervisor, a couple days later about the incident, he supported the store manager's claim that I should have been more "discreet" and that three people had complained. I'm outraged that Fred Meyer's corporate policy supports legitimizing the complaints of those offended by mothers who nurse in public, rather than the legally protected right of mothers who are trying to take care of their children. How can the offended sensibilities of even a dozen customers trump the legitimate needs of a baby?