Sometimes you can see trouble coming. But sometimes you don’t recognize it when it’s walking through the gate.
I was sitting on the edge of the baby pool, trying to keep my fearless little monkey-child from drowning.
I watched her come in, pushing the expensive stroller, laden with the baby gear, the dramatic bangs, the bandeau bikini–and the cherub-like infant.
I was focused on my own children—I’m the mom to whom strangers are always cheerily saying “You certainly have your hands full!” like it’s clever or original or observant. But I do have my hands full, especially with two young ones who can’t swim yet. I’m splashing my baby as he floats in his little ring, tossing a beach ball with the girls, watching my older son out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t watching her.
But when I noticed Expensive Stroller Mom was breastfeeding, my first thought was “good for her.” She was sitting on the edge of the baby pool, feet in the cool water on a hot day, her chubby baby pressed to her chest. I have nursed all my babies, exclusively and for over a year. I’m still nursing. But I’ve never felt comfortable breastfeeding in public—not even discreetly–and I wanted to support this stranger in sisterly solidarity.
Well. I wanted to.
The next time I looked up, I was, uh, surprised. Expensive Stroller Mom has pulled one side of her bikini down to nurse her baby (because how else are you going to do it?) and that worked at first. But bandeau bikinis have to fit really tight to stay up, and when you pull one side down, the other side can’t help but to kind of roll along with it. She was chatting away to her friend, oblivious to her bikini, which was continuing to slide down—and down—and down. The next time I looked up, the thing was practically off.
I see Twin Mom slip out of the gate. It’s creaky and heavy, and it’s hard to exit discreetly. She leaves her 3-year-old twins (commonly referred to as the twins from hell) by the edge of the pool, one screaming in my ear, one in the water trying to steal my daughter’s floaty. They can’t swim. Twin Mom whispers something to a blonde female guard.
A minute later, the Blonde Guard creaks through the baby pool gate and timidly approaches Expensive Stroller Mom. “Would you please feed your baby somewhere else?”
This is none of my business, but I’m straining to hear every word across the width of the pool.
She is clearly annoyed. “You can’t ask me to stop breastfeeding,” she says. “I have the right to breastfeed anywhere, and it’s illegal to ask me to stop.”
The guard protests–meekly. They’ve had complaints. Couldn’t she move away from the pool, wrap up in a towel?
Expensive Stroller Mom looks at her friend, rolls her eyes, and waggles her finger at the guard. “I’m warning you–you guys could get in a lot of trouble for even asking.” And she turns her attention back to her baby. Blonde Guard doesn’t say anything else before she leaves.
Expensive Stroller Mom mutters something to her friend, but I can’t hear. One of the twins from hell is whining in my ear: “It’s my ball! My ball! Give me my ball!” (It’s actually my beach ball, but you probably guessed that already.)
Another minute passes, and two male guards (also teenagers) come clattering through the gate into the baby pool area. Together, they put up one umbrella that doesn’t need to be raised, make a scuffle about straightening a bunch of already-orderly pool chairs, and walk around in circles. Now it’s my husband’s turn to roll his eyes—is their Teenage Maleness supposed to elicit a sense of modesty? But Expensive Stroller Mom continues to nurse, not heeding them.
I hate to walk out on this cliffhanger, but it’s time for us to leave. I’m aware of guards buzzing about near the baby pool gate, but the drama is on hold.
As we approach the main gate, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn to face a clipboard-wielding teenager, “INCIDENT REPORT” blazened in 20-point font across the top of the page. It’s Blonde Guard. She’s indignant. “You were in the baby pool, right? Would you be a witness to this mess? Did you see her?”
I did, more of Her than I’d like. But I’m not sure I want to discuss the ethical complexities of breastfeeding, nudity, parenting, grace and minding your own business with a bunch of teenagers.
Three guards gather around me. “I did see her,” I say slowly. “And I understand that you’re in a tough situation. She’s right about Kentucky law, you know,” (I doubted they did) “but I still wish she weren’t topless in the baby pool.”
A male guard throws up his arms in frustration. “Tough situation? We’ve had three complaints in ten minutes! And she can’t breastfeed in there! She’ll get bodily fluids in the pool! It’s not sanitary!”
(Are we still talking about the baby pool? Because breastmilk is the last bodily fluid I’m worried about.)
I pass on signing the INCIDENT REPORT. It’s still blank–who knows what they’ll say happened this afternoon at the baby pool?
When I catch up to my husband, he says, “What took so long?”
I tell him about the guards and their INCIDENT REPORT. “I wanted to tell them she was right,” I say, “and that she has every right to breastfeed her baby. But she was topless! Why didn’t the guards bust her on that instead of for breastfeeding? And I’m glad she was proud of breastfeeding, but I don’t think she was helping the cause today. No wonder breastfeeding moms have such a bad image!”
“And why is it okay for other mothers to complain about Expensive Stroller Mom breastfeeding, but not okay to complain about Twin Mom leaving her kids–who can’t swim–in the water to go complain? Or about the way-too-old-for-the-baby pool boys who beat up on each other and knock down the little kids? There are plenty of teenagers running around the pool wearing next to nothing–is anyone pulling them aside at the pool and asking them to cover up? Would 3 women lodge complaints in the space of 10 minutes about that?”
I am a breastfeeding mother. I have nursed 4 babies–at home, church, work, the beach, a hot car in the parking lot, the Chick-Fil-A playground, Panera, Starbucks, fancy French restaurants, mall dressing rooms–even at the pool!
That may explain why my kids were totally nonplussed about the whole thing. A nursing mom? They see that every day.