This story is shared with permission by a Greater Richmond Metropolitan Area mother who wishes to remain anonymous. She hopes that her story will be received as an opportunity to reflect on the impact of the actions described, and that local school systems, businesses, and organizations will examine their policies to ensure that they are compliant with Virginia's public breastfeeding law and respectful of parents’ need to breastfeed whenever their baby is hungry.
One of the most humiliating and violating experiences I've gone through was at my kid’s elementary school while having lunch with my son.
I had my baby with me. He was also hungry, and since I exclusively breastfeed that is what I did without hesitation, having breastfed many times in many different places before. I was covered and discreet. None of the other students were paying any attention and were too busy talking with each other.
As I went to switch sides I noticed the principal crouched down slightly to see what I was doing. She then abruptly stood up and said loudly "No ma’am, no ma’am, absolutely not, no no no, you cannot do that here!"
She made it abundantly clear that she was appalled by my nursing. I was shocked and just froze, not knowing how to react. I didn't say anything and tried my best not to cry so I wouldn't embarrass my son but I couldn't keep from crying. He and his classmates asked me why she did that and I didn't know what to say. My son was so confused by her disturbing response, because he had seen me feed his younger siblings like this many times before. He didn't see it as anything other than exactly what it was . . . feeding a baby! He too started to cry, laid his head on his arms, and didn't finish eating his lunch.
I'll admit my first emotion was guilt and I felt like I had done something perverted. Then once it started to sink in I felt nothing but disgust in her reaction.
After lunch was over she approached me and said she didn't mean to cause a scene, but that she just couldn't believe I thought I could do that in front of other students because they don't understand. I told her I felt sexually violated (and believe me I did!) She still said she could not allow that at her school.
I contacted the school board, told them all I wanted was an apology and to be told that I could breastfeed as that is my baby's and my right! The principal's apology consisted of telling me first that she was aware of the current laws, but was trying to protect the children and that she was sorry if she upset me. I told her that she was supposed to be an educator, and had just taught her students that breastfeeding was wrong and shameful. She was visibly upset by my comment and said she did not agree. My son never got an apology for how she spoke to his mother and humiliated him in front of his classmates.
This incident happened months ago and has plagued me ever since. I never felt like I got the apology my son and I deserved. Not only was I humiliated and denied my rights, but I had to see the person who violated those rights on a regular basis. Knowing that person is an important leader in my children's education, who is not only intolerant but also admitted that she is entitled to break the current laws! This whole experience has made me lose faith in the education system if this is who we let run our schools!
On the last week of school she and I spoke. I told her how hard this school year had been for me following the incident (I am at the school often because I volunteer). That she had tainted something so beautiful and sacred to me.
Her response was "well I'm sorry but I have never seen anyone do that before." I realized she hadn’t learned anything and still thought I was in the wrong.
This is why I finally decided to share my story, so hopefully other women will not allow people who are in higher positions intimidate them into not saying anything. We need to educate our children to know that breastfeeding is not sexual, nor is it something that women do to get attention or try to make people uncomfortable. It is a biological need to feed our hungry babies. Period. There really is no argument. It's science, plain and simple. And people who think it's wrong to do it in public need to ask themselves . . . is it wrong or does it simply go against your social norm? I can very well say, just because something might not be the social norm does not always mean it's wrong.
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