I want to eat too

Yesterday morning, while I had a shower my phone started buzzing with messages from the various mom groups I am a part of. The community was abuzz with news of a popular mall in Kolkata and their shameful response to a moms review about their mall having no feeding room for her to breastfeed her baby.

It took the collective complaining of hundreds of mothers who were aghast at the mall’s behaviour to bring this issue to light in mainstream media. While I felt great that a newspaper found this issue worthy to be written of the reality is that mothers across India face this issue on a near daily basis.

Today, it is okay for men to pee in just about any place they like or sleep drunk on the roads with their body parts exposed. What is NOT okay is catching a small glimpse of a woman’s breasts as she removes them from her bra to feed her child.

A few months ago I had written about why I will not cover up when breastfeeding. While I sympathize with the mother who could not even find a basic corner to feed her infant in a mall that houses luxury brands, I also believe it is upto us women to normalize breastfeeding. Why look for a room to breastfeed or formula feed your child when outside? Simply sit just about anywhere be it the bus, train, cafe, ship and feed your hungry child . Cover up your breast if you must; though I personally prefer the two T-shirt method or simply using the palm of my hand to cover my exposed breast.

Turns out, it isn’t so simple. A fact I discovered just a few weeks ago myself.

I had gone to a friends restaurant to have a dinner, a place I frequent every fortnight. For once, the place was quiet and my friend and me got to chat. When M2 got hungry I instinctively removed my breast to feed him only to catch my friends glancing apologetically at me. “Can you please feed in the outdoor area where there are no guests, she asked?” Apparently, someone had complained to her. They were offended they had to see my breast while they ate their meal at a restaurant. In that instant I was so shocked and my child so hungry that I meekly moved outside, covered myself with a cloth and fed him. Later I was ashamed that as a mother I didn’t stand up for my child’s right to eat when he is hungry.

Turns out I am not alone.

When I shared this story on my group, a fellow mom Sayantani shared how she was told not to feed her child at a local Busago outlet. It did not matter that the baby was in a carrier with the hood on so the breast would barely be visible. It didn’t matter that the restaurant was empty and the mom had anyways turned towards a corner while feeding. The manager requested her to stop feeding as there were cameras. What difference does this make?

Various other moms who wish to remain unnamed also spoke of retail stores refusing to allow them to feed their children, even in changing rooms presumably because it ruined the shopping experience for others. As a mom of two, to these managers I’d like to say, it takes humongous effort for new moms to pack their babies and their gear and to get over their fear of going out alone with them. Passing such thoughtless comments may not mean much to you but it could really break a mother’s confidence!

Let’s forget about malls and restaurants for a minute. Surely a baby store would be more sensitive? Nope. Batul, another mother told me how she was at a local Mom & Me store. While they have a breastfeeding room she was turned away as the staff were eating lunch there and she would have to wait till they finished before she could feed her child.

As if this wasn’t enough there are also moms who have faced breastfeeding taboo’s at a paediatrician or gynecologist’s office. In these instances the doctors themselves have told them to not feed their child in the waiting room (even though there was no other patient in the waiting area) citing the excuse of a CCTV camera recording the space. The mothers could instead go to an airless closet of a space and feed their child there if they liked.

I don’t know about you but as a breastfeeding mother when my child gets grizzly my instinct is to feed them and to do it soon. After all they want to eat too. Like my mom friend Aarti Arora says, “If you are at a place where they were stupid enough to not have a dedicated space for breastfeeding (toilets don’t count), then you have no right to tell a mother to not feed her child”.

To all these people that get offended at the sight of a mother “exposing her breasts” please use your time to productively complain about the many other civic issues that need resolving. Urinating in public is offensive, people spitting on the road is offensive, creepy men whistling at the sight of a woman crossing the road is offensive. Breastfeeding is not.