I am SO excited to have Heather, a local "lactivist" and participant of the Nurse In at Forest Park Georgia, be a SPECIAL guest today! Not only did Heather participate in the Nurse In... but she also took photos! With such an amazing turn out, I thought it would be important to have someone tell us what it was like!
Late last week I was reading the news, a.k.a. scrolling through my Facebook page, when I came across an article a friend posted. Forest Park - a city near the outskirts of the perimeter of Atlanta, just a few miles away from my home - had passed a new ordinance aimed at cracking down on public indecency. On the next-to-last page of the ordinance was an exception: "Any female person exposing a breast in the process of breastfeeding an infant under the age of two (2) years" would not be held to the same prohibitions as the drug traffickers, prostitutes, and violent criminals.
(A sign from the Nurse In.)
While I applaud Forest Park for even remembering to include lactating mothers, the exemption was frustrating. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding "for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child," and states that "[t]here is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer" (2005). Furthermore, the World Health Organization advises breastfeeding "for up to two years of age or beyond" (2002). And while the exemption doesn't argue against the benefits of breastfeeding, its writers overlooked a few complications. How exactly does one determine the age of a nursling? Can those responsible for enforcing the law tell the difference between a 22-month-old and a 26-month-old? And if not, how does a mother go about proving her child's age? Photo IDs for all babies in Forest Park? Better yet, whose business is it to tell a mother whether or not she can breastfeed her child in public?!(Another sign from the Nurse In... I found this one to be PERFECT!)
Shortly after reading the article, I posted a link on my Facebook page, then immediately took it down. I try to pick my battles, and social media outlets make too-easy war grounds for those who find great bravery behind the safety of a computer screen. I get enough grief in my day-to-day life for having not started my almost-six-month-old on solid foods, using cloth diapers, saying no to vaccines, practicing gentle/attachment parenting, and giving birth to a frank breech baby the old-fashioned way (it hurt just as bad as you might imagine) - no need to add Crazy Hippie Lactivist Who Thinks 2-Year-Olds Should Nurse In Public to my list of titles.
Yet something was still irking me. I chewed on it for another day or two before noticing an event invitation for a nurse-in on Facebook (I might have a Facebook addiction..admitting it is the first step, right?). Here's where the six degrees of separation come in...the mother hosting the event was one of the mothers from the first La Leche League meeting I ever attended. Rewind to 2010: my daughter was nine days old, and my sister had convinced me to get out of the house and meet some other nursing mamas. The group blew my sleep-deprived mind - never before had I met such a group of positive, encouraging, empowered women who wanted nothing but the best for other mamas and their babies. No judgment, no unsolicited advice - just an environment of support, no matter where a mother is in her journey with her little one. Seeing that one of THESE mamas had created the invitation gave the event a whole other level of credibility for me, so I threw my initial hesitation out the window and signed up.
Within a matter of hours, the ordinance, the outrage, and the nurse-in had grown so much in popularity that nearly every news and radio station in the Atlanta area was trying to get a piece of the pie. Organizers Jessica and Elizabeth quickly delegated interviews and created t-shirts for the event over the weekend, all the while responding to the hundreds of comments and posts that began accumulating on the event's wall. Mothers from all over the world wrote in support of the cause, some even pledging to drive from out of state to attend the event.
The media coverage, for the most part, was positive leading up to the nurse-in, but all the decent reporting in the world won't stop the less-informed from passing judgment. Those in favor of keeping the exemption as-is wrote to news stations' websites and called in to radio stations, with commentary ranging from ignorant to obscene. As they soon learned, though, you don't mess with lactating mamas.
(Can you spot the NIP'ing Mummie???? I will give you a hint... she is tandem nursing!!!)
Monday arrived before we knew it. I pulled into the parking lot where we all agreed to meet, and my eyes welled with tears as I watched as dozens of mothers, fathers, and children pour into the park. The crowd was peaceful, yet bustling with positive energy. Children chased each other in circles and nursing mothers met one another in person for the first time, talking about the exemption, diapers, baby carriers...whatever came up. A local news reporter asked to interview me, and I answered her questions to the best of my ability while my daughter peeked out of her baby carrier.
Shortly after 10, we marched toward City Hall en masseBreasfeeding Education program for the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. My own nursling was fascinated by all the activity, and when she needed to eat, no one batted an eye as I nursed her, uncovered, in the 90 degree heat.
(The amount of people who showed was amazing!)
The overall climate of the crowd was calm and happy - what do you expect from hundreds of women experiencing increased levels of oxytocin? A few lawyers and police officers maintained a level of safety, and Karen Brandee-Williams - a councilwoman who abstained from voting on the new ordinance - showed her support by offering a statement of encouragement and assuring us that John Parker and the other council members would be reviewing the ordinance and exemption at the next council meeting. Parker surfaced twice - once momentarily to address a reporter, then again as he left the building, saying only that "I think if you check ordinances in other jurisdictions, you'll find the same verbiage exists in those, too." Lactivists were left with a feeling of encouragement in that Parker said that the changes in the ordinance would probably reflect those in Georgia law, which states with no limitations on age that "[a] mother may breast-feed her baby in any location where the mother and baby are otherwise authorized to be."(LOVE how this Mummie is NIP'ing while standing and holding a conversation!!!!!)
(And this one just says "PEACEFUL to me.......)
Lactivists - 1; City of Forest Park - also 1. Amending the ordinance to mirror state law would be a win-win situation. Regarding Parker's reference to Spalding and Dekalb counties, which have similar verbiage regarding public breastfeeding...be ready, city officials. Once Forest Park amends the exception, us lactivists will be on the move, and with all the positive energy this demonstration created, we'll be unstoppable.
Heather Bond is mother to a very loud baby girl and three even louder furbabies. She loves running, photography, and anything – from paint to dough to mud – that gets her fingers dirty. She blogs regularly at http://haphazardhues.