First, I want to thank you for having an open breastfeeding policy. I found it very quickly after I was kicked out of one of your Mommy and Me classes because I was nursing my daughter.
I also want to thank you for calling me later to “get more details” about what happened, offer an apology and let me know you would follow up with me. Those are the right steps to take, but I think we need to push a little deeper.
I have known and loved the Y and its amazing staff for many years, and I plan on doing so for many more.
I would like to help you right this wrong.
In the many, many months I have spent breastfeeding my two children, I have only experienced the humiliation and shame of nursing ignorance once, and that was this morning. As I nursed my daughter to calm her down at the beginning of one of your dance classes, the instructor announced in front of everyone that I should stop because there are cameras in the room.
I said I didn’t mind.
She tried to clarify her point by saying that the video from the dance room could be seen elsewhere in the facility so parents in a waiting area can watch their daughters dance. She said, “Men can see.”
Still confused, I said I didn’t mind.
She finally told me that I would have to leave the class because that kind of “nakedness” wasn’t allowed. She said she couldn’t allow a little girl to change clothes in the room, so she couldn’t allow me to nurse.
Someone who has never breastfed a child may not understand why it is absurd to liken breasts that are used for their intended purpose to some type of inappropriate nudity. Someone who has never been shamed for nursing may not understand how humiliating the experience is.
As someone who “gets it,” I want to help keep this from happening again. With that in mind, can I suggest this:
Having a supportive breastfeeding policy is great, but it isn’t enough.
The YMCA policy, posted on a page titled “Healthy Eating Strategies #16: Increase Support for Breastfeeding,” did not prevent me from feeling that I was doing something lewd by feeding and comforting my child.
Your policy did not keep my cheeks from getting red hot as the other mothers in the room watched me gather up our bags and leave.
Your policy did not stop the tears from streaming down my face as I drove away, feeling hurt that something that is natural and healthy was just made to seem inappropriate.
Furthermore, your policy did not stop an instructor from essentially discouraging the other women in the room from breastfeeding in public, which definitely does not support your strategy.
Initially, I thought I would stay mum about what happened, assuring myself that the situation occurred because of just one person’s ignorance.
But that isn’t the case.
The situation occurred because it isn’t enough to have a policy saying that you support breastfeeding women.
You actually need to support them.
How about posting signs letting nursing mothers know they are welcome? Bonus: This also reminds your staff of your policy.
How about incorporating your breastfeeding policy in your new employee training?
How about sending a memo to existing staff to let them know that women are allowed to nurse wherever they want in the state of North Carolina?
How about holding sensitivity sessions for your staff so you can discuss issues like accommodating the disabled, welcoming nursing mothers and how to deal with unsatisfied members?
How about making sure that the people who teach your Mommy and Me classes – classes intended to strengthen the parent-child bond – know that at one point or another, a “Mommy” might need to nurse a “Me,” and that is normal, healthy behavior that should be accepted, no questions asked?
I am sure there are many more ways to resolve this issue. I would love to be part of any group you put together to brainstorm ways to prevent a mother from ever feeling as ostracized, hurt and embarrassed as I did.
EDIT: The Y called me after I posted this note on Facebook to apologize again and let me know that they have had a conversation with this instructor and will be sending a note to staff. I got the chance to share with them the ideas I presented here, and I hope they will take some of them to heart.