Saturday, August 23, 2008

Breastfeeding at the KY State Fair

Woohoo! It's State Fair time in KY! One of my favorite times of year. I love fair food (although it hasn't been as good as it used to be ... my mom says I'm just getting old), and Freddy the Farmer, and looking at all the crazy people, and I especially love walking through all the exhibits and seeing which 4H kid grew the best alfalfa, oohing and aahing over the cool decorated cakes (the Muppet Cake from last year was amazing!), and coveting all the great quilts, and freaking out about how cute the chickens are and how much I want some. I do not ride the rides, by the way. I don't even go to the midway. You do know that there is no federal regulatory agency checking those rides, right?

We do go to the Pride of the Counties, and in that wing is always a big "booth room" set up as the "Rock and Relax Room". It's designed to be a quiet place for people to change and nurse their babies. On one side, there is a diaper changing area with tables set up with rolls of paper that can be torn off to lay under baby, free disposable diapers, rubber gloves, trash cans, and a handwashing station. All in all, a very thought out set up. In the middle is a table staffed by (I assume) people from the Health Department and WIC office, and it has lots and lots of great info on breastfeeding, which this year included adorable "Shape the Future, Breastfeed" sticky notes and paper hand fans. The back of the fans also said "I'm a fan of breastfeeding", which I am in love with! All over the walls are beautiful, informative posters about nursing.

(Me and my two happy, healthy, breastfed babes. Oh, and I didn't tell Caleb to hold up that fan, but he is a big fan of breastfeeding!)

So far, this is all wonderful. But here's the part that makes me feel torn: on the other side of the "booth room" is a curtained off section for nursing mothers. It has several nice glider rockers with ottomans in it, graciously lent by Babies R Us, I believe. They are rather comfy. But did I mention how this is a curtained off room, in an enclosed booth? It just irritates me a bit. If the idea is to promote breastfeeding, then why is it so roped off and secretive? Why so hidden? Shouldn't we be promoting acceptance and integration of breastfeeding into the larger society? Because most places a mother goes are not going to have a special nursing area. But if mothers believe they must go into a secreted, closed off area to feed their children, they will end up ... in the bathroom. Which isn't a fit place for anyone to eat!

I totally understand that not all women are as comfortable with nursing in public as me, and that's fine. I don't begrudge them that. But it just makes me so very, very sad when I see that women feel so ashamed of feeding their babies that they practically jump through hoops to make sure that they will remain covered up and out of sight at all costs. I did go in the nursing room once to feed Wednesday, to see what it was all about. When I walked in, there was one mother in the room. And she had a full sized blanket draped over herself and her very small infant. Let me repeat to be clear: she was alone, in an enclosed booth, in a curtained off room, that is just for nursing mothers. Oh, my. My heart practically broke for her that she felt such a strong social need (and let's not kid ourselves that the urge to cover up when we are nursing comes from anything other than social pressures) to be so cloaked and hidden. I've seen Amish women who are less concerned with modesty when it comes to feeding babies! As I sat there, other mothers drifted in, including one who drug out one of those big nursing covers and tied it on, then stuck her baby under it; I noticed out of the corner of my eye that baby was NOT happy about being so covered up. I felt sad for both of them; the effort to get and stay covered up must make nursing in public very stressful. I couldn't help but wonder, if this is what must be done in a private, enclosed room, what happens in Target? Does the baby just not get fed? Does mom just never get to go anywhere?

So I am divided in my feelings about the Rock and Relax Room. On the one hand, I am stoked that the Health Department people are out there promoting breastfeeding and helping families and providing information. You rock, Health Department people! On the other hand, it pains me that the booth's presence seems to send the impression that if you want to feed your baby at the fair, you better get your naked breasts on in here, so as not to offend anyone. (Although I am a million times more offended by seeing morbidly obese parents pulling their morbidly obese children around in wagons (at 8 years old) as they all gnaw on corn dogs and slurp up buckets of cola.) And I know in my heart that that wasn't the intention of the lactivists at the HD when they came up with the room. They intended it, I'm sure, to just be a quiet-ish place with comfortable chairs where fair going parents could sit for a bit to soothe and feed their overtired babes.

This is all about me wanting to change the world in one fell swoop, I know. I want people to understand the importance and beauty in breastfeeding, and I want all mothers to find themselves in such a supportive, loving, and informative environment that they wouldn't dream of feeding their babies any other way. And I know that that's not going to happen immediately. But in the meantime, when I visit the KY State Fair, I'm going to sit on a bench wherever my family happens to be when my daughter wants to be fed. I am going to nurse her there, and while I do, I'm going to smile at every pregnant mother and mother of a baby that I see. I'm going to try and pass on to her the knowledge that this is okay, this is good, this is normal. And for everyone else, I hope that seeing me nursing there will help to remind them of the same things.

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