Days before our trip to Italy, a woman in South Dakota was kicked out of a Chick-fil-a for breastfeeding. She knew a state law protected her, and said as much, but it didn’t stop the manager from asking her to leave.
Despite another controversy over a magazine cover of a woman breastfeeding, one can only hope that was an isolated event. But truth be told, my breastfeeding has been an adjustment for friends and family. Everyone has been super supportive, but some can’t help but feel awkward or shy or embarrassed (or something). I get it. I haven’t seen anyone breastfeed since I was little—and it was my mother. Before I started breastfeeding even I wasn’t sure about the appropriate way to act—do you look or not look? Engage or give privacy? Does the response depend on the situation?
Until leaving for Italy, I had mainly breastfed in the comfort of my home (usually my bedroom). I had my special stack of pillows. I didn’t have to think about the logistics of Ariel’s position, the right clothes to wear, time limits, or being discreet.
The biggest anxiety I had about traveling and teaching abroad was breastfeeding. What if we were at a museum and Ariel wanted to nurse? Or at a restaurant? Touring a church? Standing in line outside in the cold?
We’ve been living in a Tuscan villa with 33 students for just over a month. Most days we go into Florence or are traveling. I could write a Dr. Seuss book called Oh, the Places I’ve Breastfed!
The day after arriving, the program director took our group on a walking tour of Scandicci. The day before had been a crisp, sunny 50 degrees and skies an optimistic blue. This day was a soggy 45. Ariel was closed up in the stroller bouncing along contentedly until, naturally, she became hungry. In the café where we sought refuge, not only did people not mind my breastfeeding, but I was praised for it! Strangers struck a balance between encouragement and privacy, and the owners themselves were sure to make me feel welcome.
Since that auspicious start, Ariel has nursed on a bench in front of the Duomo, at restaurants, cafés, the tram to Florence, the train to Rome, in a bookstore, at a pizzeria, and in front of one of my favorite paintings—Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes.
While at the Carlo Bilotti museum to see the exhibition of the sculptor Jago (called “The Modern Michelangelo”), I sat in a room full of de Chiricos nursing Ariel. My former professor and longtime friend accompanied me into the room and encouraged me to take in “l’arte” while I gave Ariel her “latte.”
It struck me in that moment how much a nursing mother needs nourishment, whatever form that may take—encouragement, understanding, inspiration, mobility . . .
Taking care of a baby is not just physically challenging; it is psychologically demanding as well. I love nursing Ariel in the privacy of my bedroom, but I also need to be able to move freely in public spaces without fear of admonishment or giving offense. But this isn’t just about me–it’s about giving my baby what she needs when she needs it, wherever that may be.