Have you heard about the woman who dared to—gasp—breastfeed her sick child in front of a room full of strangers? Well, it’s slightly more complicated than that…
The story begins with an American University professor, Adrienne Pine, who found herself in a tight spot on the first day of classes, when she discovered that her infant daughter had a fever and wouldn’t be allowed to go to daycare as planned. The story is further complicated by the following facts:
- She is a single parent with no spouse/significant other to call on to cover for her;
- As a teacher, I can attest to the fact that the first day of school is a BIG deal, and you really can’t miss it;
- Unlike some employers, American University does not offer backup childcare for circumstances such as this.
Taking the attitude that the “show must go on,” Pine decided to bring her daughter to class with her, and in the time that she was conducting her class, she found it necessary to nurse her sick child. This, apparently, was enough to spark a national controversy regarding the appropriateness of her behavior: breastfeeding in front of her students.
If you go onto websites like CNN.com and check out the comments on her story, it’s shocking to read how ignorant some people are. Here’s my personal favorite:
“I simply don’t understand why women think its their right to pop out their boob anytime they want regardless of place and let the little kid munch down on it in public. Specially in a full classroom, I believe most facilities have nursing rooms for feeding….I find it disgusting and immoral.”
Oh, come on! Seriously??? Where do I even begin?
Some people seem to overlook the basic fact that the act of breastfeeding is actually providing nourishment to a baby, and women have breasts for this purpose and this purpose alone. So saying that breastfeeding is “disgusting and immoral” is like saying that my having to see someone eat a sandwich is “disgusting and immoral.” Second, any reasonably informed person knows that you don’t have to “pop out [your] boob” to nurse. In fact, I’d guess that Pine used a nursing cover much like all the other women I’ve known to breastfeed in public.
Pine’s comment on the hoopla was this:
“Frankly I felt, and I continue to feel, that the most professional thing I could do was to carry out the class with as few as possible interruptions. Leaving class for 10 minutes would have been a serious interruption for my students. And I also feel that since I’ve been breastfeeding in public in every place possible—in buses, on planes—I didn’t realize the degree to which people are afraid of breasts in this country and in particular, in the workplace.”
For the most part, I couldn’t agree more with Pine, and in almost every instance like this, I would side with a breastfeeding mother (especially when we’re talking about a sick child!). But here’s where she loses me: Pine says that she wanted to do the “professional thing” and create as few interruptions as possible. But what about bringing a baby to class?
Being a teacher, I know just how much mental energy goes into keeping a class running smoothly, making sure your explanations are clear and concise, and your materials are offered at the appropriate time, managing students’ questions and sometimes their behavior. Especially on the first day of school, impressions are everything. But as a mother, I realize how very distracting my child can be, especially if she’s fussy because she’s not feeling well. On days like this, I can barely form a coherent sentence, because all my attention is going into addressing my child’s needs, and that’s okay, because I’m not also trying to engage a classroom full of students.
Thankfully, I’m not the only person who thinks this way, and part of the dialogue about the whole “incident” revolves around what she should have done with her sick child. I certainly can’t offer a good answer, being in a position, myself, not to have reliable backup childcare beyond my husband. We don’t live near family, and our close friends are tied up with their own children. So, on the one hand, I can chastise Pine for thinking she could adequately conduct a college-level class while also caring for her sick child, but I also really feel for her predicament of not having appropriate backup childcare.
What would you have done? Do you take issue with either the appropriateness of Pine breastfeeding in front of her students, or having her sick child as a distraction from her students? I’m so curious!