As I write this blog, following my last one about the stroller that’s been chosen for the royal baby, we are all still waiting for the birth of that baby – including the mind-boggling ranks of international media. What we are not waiting for are responses to my last blog. I had a small flood of responses from readers, all of which I loved because they signal the curiosity and courage to think beyond what is casually considered ‘normal’ in our world today.
One of the replies I received really highlighted such thinking. I want to feature that reply in this blog, because it helps to highlight just how limited our ‘normal’ can be. It reveals what mothers and babies are being asked to cope with in our modern world. Radical thinking takes us to somewhere that, on reflection, seems obvious. You wonder why radical thinking was needed to get us there.
Sarah, who confirms that she is happy for me to use her name and who agreed with her husband to send a public picture of the baby, wrote to me from her home in the north of England. In her role as an educational psychologist, Sarah has done some fantastic work enhancing professionals’ understanding of babies’ innate capacity for communication. It was, however, her experiences with her new baby Elyan (her third child, now 4 months old) that prompted her frustrated email to me.
“Suzanne, Right after you’ve solved the stroller problem, I think you should go on to open a chain of ‘connected baby cafes’ in major shopping centres across the country. I am so frustrated.
This morning I grappled with a large pushchair, the wheels of which don’t fit properly in the back of my car. It is very difficult to get it in the car at all, because parking spaces are too small to allow the manoeuver required to get the wheels in the back. I did all this because I knew I might be a while at the shops. I wanted to use the car seat component, which faces me, rather than put Elyan in the smaller umbrella stroller, that faces forward. Your last blog got me to thinking about stroller design again, which I have already been thinking about for awhile.
Later in the trip, I needed to feed Elyan. I’m not a confident feeder, despite him being my third child. I ended up in a respected department store in a major shopping centre, in a very hot, airless and windowless room, in a plastic chair not big enough for me to feed Elyan properly because he’s a long baby.
Ironically and infuriating, next to me was a sign about the VIP cafe service for babies, offered by the very same department store in which I was sitting. In that café, they sell formula, warm up your baby’s bottle, have a range of snacks for toddlers and some nice comfy chairs so you can sit back and relax. Can you see what’s wrong with this picture? The VIP café service doesn’t seem cater for breast feeding. In order to have the privacy that I need to help me feel confident, I ended up in an awful cupboard space. Why can’t they see this themselves, given that they have already thought up a VIP café?
So I do think you should open a chain of cafes, where women can breast feed in comfort and privacy, perhaps in a nice comfy booth, with a well designed chair, have a nice drink served to them, listen to some nice music and not feel like they are embarrassing the rest of the world or themselves.”
I love Sarah’s willingness to express her frustration, while I also sigh deeply at the need for it. Asking for a place to comfortably breast feed your baby does not seem like it should require radical thought. Does it?
But Sarah is far from alone. Stories of mothers struggling to breastfeed in public pop up all over the world, always courted by controversy. That controversy signals that something culturally significant is going on. Some of the stories in 2013 include:
- The 50+ mothers in Costa Rica who held a breast-feeding protest in a mall in San Jose, after the management there tried to prevent breastfeeding in public.
- The women in Denmark who also organized a breastfeeding protest, after one mother nursing in a café was told by another customer that they were disgusted by her public feeding.
- The 17-year-old mother in the USA whose secondary school says that when she returns to classes (lasting 8 hours a day), it will be impossible for her to breastfeed or even to pump or store breastmilk – thereby undermining her wish to breastfeed – because the pump is noisy and the refrigerator in the nurse’s office is for medicinal purposes only.
- The Italian politician, Licia Ronzulli, whose decisions over the past two years to bring her daughter with her to work in the European Parliament continue to generate an international storm of images and controversy.
When we take care of the needs of mothers (and fathers), we take care of the needs of babies. When we leave parents feeling frustrated and embarrassed, we are not taking care of anyone’s needs. Why does that sound radical?
Thank goodness for mothers who feel able to counter these feelings by telling their story even more loudly. Thank you, Sarah, for using your voice to tell a story that will speak for thousands of other mothers who have had similar lonely experiences of strollers and breastfeeding – and for allowing me to share your story so publicly in this blog, on their behalf.