My older kids are 4 and 2 and both were breastfed. They’re used to seeing me and almost all the mothers they know breastfeed their babies, and not just at home. To them, it’s just normal.
They tell me when their sister is hungry. “Feed her, feed her!”
They remember not to share their snacks. “She’s too little for [toddler snack food], she only drinks breast milk.”
They breastfeed their dolls.
And they ask lots of questions. “Why don’t daddies breastfeed babies?”
So I was worried about what they would think after this whole thing.
They didn’t really notice what happened in the store. And later that day, they just knew that I was upset. Little kids always notice when their parents are upset. Even when their parents are doing their best just to hold it together.
But they definitely noticed the reporters and the TV cameras. They noticed my phone wouldn’t stop ringing and buzzing and beeping for two whole days from first thing in the morning to 10 o’clock at night.
And they noticed the extra security guards following us around at the mall the next time we were there. There were a lot of them, and because my photo had just been in the paper, I’m sure they recognized me. They followed me around all day. The kids kept staring at them with their big bright eyes.
And they noticed me feeding my baby in the bathroom, in tears, like I should never have to do, because of the constant scrutiny of huge male security guards following me around.
And they heard me call up my husband in tears and tell him that I didn’t ever want to go to the mall ever again, or really anywhere ever again, and how I didn’t even want to breastfeed anymore. (I’ve since reconsidered on all three points.)
And once I had decided I would attend the nurse-in, I had to explain to them what was going to happen and why.
I had to explain that the people in the store didn’t want me to breastfeed there.
“Why?”, said in utter disbelief.
An excellent, heart-wrenching, impossible to answer question. The kind that 4-year-olds are best at.
“Because some people don’t think mummies should feed their babies in the mall. But that’s just silly. Babies need to eat, and mummies can feed them where they want to.”
“They are silly”. Two-year-olds are quite good at sounding very serious and grown up when they want to.
“But why?” Four-year-olds are more persistent.
“Because they’re grumpy.”
Grumpy explains a lot to little kids. When you are 2 or 4, not having a snack, or a nap, or a hug when you need it, is the end of the world.
“Yes, she was grumpy.” They both agreed.
It’s not exactly the full history of the fight for women’s rights, or a careful analysis of women’s traditional roles, or a manifesto for change. But happy people don’t usually chase away mums and babes. Happy people don’t frown and mutter something about public decency under their breath. And if I teach my children to ignore “the grumpy people”, they’ll probably do all right.
And then I explained to them that that’s why all the mummies and babies were going back to the mall, so that everyone knows that they can feed their babies where they want to.
They liked this plan, since it did, after all involve lots of kids and the implied promise of snacks. Friends and snacks are very nice things, especially when you are small and having a rough time.
And when we got to the nurse-in they were thrilled to explain to my friends in great detail, why we were all there, and why it was important.
“We’re here so all the mummies can feed their babies”. Which we were.