Her Bad Mother

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Under The Blanket

It was the kind of thing that would have outraged me, had it happened any other day, any other week. It was the kind of thing that would have had me out of my seat, demanding explanation. It was the kind of thing that I would have written letters about, that I would have blogged and twittered and shared, about which I would have said, I would have hollered, to anyone who would listen, look, this just shouldn't happen, we need to make sure that this doesn't happen, why the f*ck does this still happen?

But it was the wrong day, the wrong week, and I just wasn't up for it because my heart was too heavy and my head was too full and the last thing I needed was an argument with a flight attendant about whether or not I really should cover myself up with a blanket while nursing.

When she approached me in my seat near the back of the plane, blanket in hand, I ignored her. Jasper was tucked in at my breast, wrapped in his own blanket, his head pressed against the white half-moon of flesh that was barely visible beneath him. His head was damp from the stream of tears that had been running down my cheeks from the moment of our departure, the tears that I'd held back while saying my goodbyes. I bent my head over his, shielding my face, my breast, my baby, my tears from view with the veil of my hair. I didn't even look up when she spoke to me.

Excuse me, perhaps you'd like to cover up with a blanket?

I don't answer.

I brought a blanket for you.

She crouches slightly, bending closer. I gather my voice. I'm afraid that it will crack.

I'm fine, thank you.

She stands up, still holding the blanket in front of me.

Well. Perhaps I'll leave it with you?

I don't answer.

She reaches across me, across Jasper, and drops the blanket on the empty seat beside me. If you need help with it, let me know.

Thank you
, I say, my jaw clenched, my throat closed. I am trying to not cry anymore than I already am.

Some women are more comfortable nursing with a blanket. I can't see her, my head bent as it is, but I imagine that she stiffens defensively.

My tears are getting hot. I swallow my anger.

Thank you.

And then she walked away, and I kept my head bent over my baby for as long as he nursed and as long as he slept and until the tension in the back of my neck became too much to bear.

I didn't say anything. I had always though that if that happened to me, I would say something. That I would I would ask why she was pressing the blanket upon me, that I would ask if it was WestJet policy to 'suggest' to nursing mothers that they cover up, that I would say that if I was comfortable with blankets I would have one with me, that I would say that no nursing mother wants a stranger bent over her while she nurses, asking if she wouldn't rather cover up for privacy, that I would, if I had the nerve, ask are you serious? Are you really serious? Do you not see that I might be offended, be made more uncomfortable, by your hovering, by your suggestion that I cover up? To say, no nursing mother should ever be told to cover up. To say, it is my right, it is my child's right, to nurse and be nursed here, right here, right now, in the manner that best serves us both. To say, fuck your blanket.

I always thought that I would say something, if it happened to me.

I hadn't figured that I might, if happened to me, be caught in an anxious, unguarded moment, that I might be feeling vulnerable, that my heart might be sore, that I might not be the cocky self-assured self that I can be when I'm protected by my words, by the screen, by the condition of being virtual. I hadn't thought that, in the reality of such a moment, I might just fold under the weight of my anxieties and my hurts and my self-consciousness about those anxieties and hurts, about my self-consciousness, full stop, and just want to disappear. Under a blanket, maybe.

Which is precisely the problem, as I've said before. A nursing mother is very often a mother at her most vulnerable. A nursing mother traveling - a nursing mother traveling on her own - a nursing mother traveling on her own and weeping - is almost certainly a mother at her most vulnerable. To approach woman under these circumstances to suggest that she do something to modify her behavior is to exploit her vulnerability. It is - and maybe this is too strong a statement, although on the basis of my own experience I think not - to bully.

I wish that I had the emotional strength right now to be more outraged about this. I wish that I had the emotional strength, even, to express a measure of outrage that amounts to more than this heavy sighing, this defeated complaint. I wish that I had the mental and emotional wherewithal to write a letter, to send an e-mail, to make a phone call. But I don't. I'm spent, completely and totally spent. Everything that I have is going toward supporting my family and keeping my own emotional ballasts stable. There was, there is, nothing left over.

All there was to do, all there is to do, is to take cover under the blanket, and hope that it doesn't smother.


One of you, anonymously, took the initiative to get the contact information for media relations at WestJet. If you're so inclined to express your opposition to policies advocating the blanketing of nursing babies on airplanes, here it is: Gillian Bentley, Media Relations, e-mail: gbentley@westjet.com.

Many of you have told me that you've already sent e-mails linking to this post. You are all so, so awesome. It's warming, to be so surrounded by heroes, bare-breasted or otherwise.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, yeh! Annoy a liberal, use logic!

3:44 PM  
Blogger Chrissy Johnson said...

....while I TOTALLY agree that you should be 100% allowed to feed your baby in any way that is comfortable to you and the baby in ANY situation (which is like, never in a public bathroom like a lot of men like to suggest - ever eaten YOUR lunch in a BATHROOM?) I feel a need to go out on a limb and state that perhaps the flight attendent REALLY WAS TRYING TO help in the nicest way? Of course, I wasn't there, so she could have been giving you the evil eye for all I know. But I do know this, as a former children's librarian, I used to be asked for "some sort of blanket" ... we had a stash for this purpose, of hoodies, blankets, etc. We were a children's room, so of course we also didn't mind when moms didn't use one. Come into the Children's Room, expect to see boobs, or puke, or poop, or naked babies, etc.
Maybe this lady was one of those REALLY overly helpful people who don't know how to let something lie? I mean, she didn't take the blanket back (the fa) and stomp her feet and say, COVER YOURSELF trashy mom! You said you didn't see her face at all. Maybe she really was trying to be absolutely helpful. In case you did CHANGE YOUR MIND. In case the baby's head was cold, or your BOOB was cold or something? It is cold on those airlines. They didn't reprimand you.

Sorry, but I kinda feel for this woman who might have really had the best of intentions at heart, who really knew that it was your right to feed the baby as you saw fit, but thought, "Aw, shucks maybe this lady needs or wants a blanket. I'll help. Maybe she hung around because she saw you seemed upset initially? Maybe you were crying b/c you were embarrased not to have a blanket or something as a lot of mums I know are? I'm a mom myself, but I can see both sides. Maybe this fa is a mom, too, and was one of those moms who liked to have a blanket.
Let's not send out the lynch mob to this flight attendant. That's kind of unfair.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Chrissie - no one is out to lynch the flight attendant (although for the record, my sense of things was that the offer of a blanket was not made out of a desire to comfort me) - the larger issue here was that West Jet made a point of stating that its policy was to ask mothers to cover up if another passenger complained.

They've seen revised this, based on the feedback that came out of this story, but that was the larger problem.````````````

4:08 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

Yes Anonymous. You're right. The issue IS being able to breastfeed in public uncovered, un-harrassed, and unashamed. (Not sure what you mean by "happening" though.)

The LAW is that women have the right to breastfeed in public without being told to go to the restroom, cover up, or anything else.

If you see someone breastfeeding you do not have to look. And I guarantee that in the VAST majority of cases you will not being seeing even HALF as much breast or nipple as you see in magazines and on television (not even talking about cable and porn here. Look at any fashion magazine or tv show these days). There is a big baby head in the way.

And what makes you so squeegy about it anyway? It's ok to see a ton of cleavage bursting out of a skimpy top but if there's a baby getting food from it it's all the sudden icky? Obscene? Dirty? What? It's not sexual. It's not gross. It's how babies eat. Get over it.

4:17 PM  
Blogger J said...

UGH! What part of "some babies don't like to be covered up" don't you people understand? My son is 10 months old and will do acrobats in order to get from underneath a blanket all while continuing to eat. I wouldn't have taken the dirty plane blanket either. I don't use them to cover my legs let alone my child's head. My son makes the decision to only breastfeed when he is with me, he will not take a bottle when I am there..that is not something I can control. Should I starve him as punishment for his preference? She was on a plane. You expect her to go to the bathroom and feed her baby while the plane is moving? The crew wouldn't even allow that if the seatbelt sign was on. You act like she was whipping them out and dancing around the cabin. She was sitting in her seat (that she paid for), feeding her child. Canadian LAW says that she can.

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Bec said...

Thank you, 'J' -- how so very right you are.

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Veronica said...

(((hugs))) Catherine. If some of these comments are making *me* angry, I can only imagine how out of energy you are.

10:08 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

For what it's worth--I'm a breastfeeding mother who breastfeeds in public, with or without a shielding blanket--I read this recounting and thought that the flight attendant might honestly have been trying to help a tired, weeping mom traveling on her own with her babe. There ARE a lot of folks who would rather be covered up, for their own comfort and not for the sake of the people nearby. They're not ashamed of their bodies but may not like sharing the sight of them with other people. There are people who, weeping and exhausted, wouldn't have had the energy to seek out a flight attendant to ask for a blanket, even thought they'd have wished for one.

I can see myself gathering my courage to approach someone obviously in pain and offering the only thing I can think of that might possibly address some minor component contributing to her upset--"I brought a blanket, I don't know if it might help. I brought it 'cause some women prefer to have one and you didn't have one, and I thought maybe you'd like it even if you were too tired and discouraged to ask for one." She offered it. You take it as implied criticism and an unvoiced request that you cover up, but it is perfectly possible, by the story recounted here, that it was the only thing she could get you and so she did. It didn't help you. In fact, you're hurt at the thought. But it might simply have been compassion for you. I hate crying in public. I'd have been glad for any barrier shielding me from the world, and if the offer of one was prompted by me nursing my baby....it would still be an offer of something that would let me hide from the world while I wanted it to go away.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: Angela's comment: "It's ok to see a ton of cleavage bursting out of a skimpy top but if there's a baby getting food from it it's all the sudden icky?" No, it's not ok to see a ton of cleavage bursting out of a skimpy top either.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

Re: Anonymous at 8:34

Are you really sure you want to go there? What exactly are you saying then. Women shouldn't be allowed to breastfeed in public, AND they shouldn't be allowed to wear clothes they want in public.

I think we can see where that is headed. Women should cover themselves to the degree that makes YOU comfortable.

Very Interesting.

And fortunately NOT something women have to worry about in this day and age in Canada, the US and many other countries.

9:58 PM  
Anonymous aqua said...

Wow, some of the comments here have left me speechless. It makes me so angry that people have such strong opinions about what I should or shouldn't do with my breasts, when men can take off their shirts any time they please.

I'm so sorry you had this horrible experience. Sometimes, when I breastfeed in public (without a blanket because my son would pull it down anyway), I catch men staring. At first, when I was still new to this, I used to feel uncomfortable. Now I just stare back at them, until they get the message and look away.

12:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: Aqua's comment "when men can take off their shirts any time they please." Men who take their shirts off in public are disgusting.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: Angela 9:58 PM

Are you sure YOU want to go there? Where? To the fact that you just made public what a hypocrite you are. For you it's ok for women to have a ton of cleavage bursting out of a skimpy top, push up bras, implants, tassels, you name it, everything to turn your boobs into sex objects. Then you turn around and say women should be able to go bare brested in public while breastfeeding and no one should think of your boobs sexually and the men who look are pervs! So YOU get to dictate when men can look at your boobs sexually and when they must turn it off... and YOU dictate they must turn it off when you flash your boobs in public with a baby sucking on them! What a perfect hypocrite you are!

I think we can see where you are headed. Men should think of your boobs to the degree that makes YOU comfortable according to the way YOU are thinking of YOUR boobs at any given time. You, no doubt, are a charter member of the Thought Police.

12:55 PM  
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