Edgy Mama

Between my two kids, I breast-fed for a total of about 3 1/2 years. Yes, I spent that many years exposing my boobs in a variety of places to feed my kids, who never took a bottle and went straight from breast-feeding to drinking from a sippy cup.

I finished nursing my youngest almost five years ago but have fond memories of those years. For one, it’s a heckuva a lot easier to lift your shirt than to cook dinner for a family. Some days, I wish my kids were still so easy to feed.

As all of you news hounds and parents know, breast feeding in public is back in the news. About two weeks ago, Asheville mom Crystal Everitt says, while she was breast feeding at the Denny’s on Patton Avenue, she was asked to cover up or take her 1-year-old baby to the bathroom to nurse him. According to news reports, the Denny’s manager said Everitt’s lactating mammary was offending patrons.

Would you feed your kids in a publicly-used bathroom? Me neither. When Everitt refused the manager’s illegal request, she called the cops, who said they could arrest Everitt for trespassing, if not for lactating. Everitt and her family wisely, though hungrily, skedaddled.

According to state law, a mother is allowed to breastfeed in any public or private location.

So why hasn’t the manager at Denny’s been charged? As I see it, the manager failed to protect Everitt’s right to breast feed her baby wherever and whenever needed. Even if Everitt’s nipple was showing, she was within her rights according to the law (why do some folks consider women’s exposed nipples indecent, but not men’s? Does this seem sexist to anyone else but me?)

I breast-fed all over Asheville (and in several other cities). I never had a problem, other than with the leerers. As Everitt says, “They might be offended by my breast feeding, but I’m offended by them staring at me.”

“People don’t realize that I’m not trying to turn them on, offend them or disrespect them. I’m just trying to feed my kid. They aren’t in the equation at all,” she says.

I’m with you, sister.

However, I’m sure I provided entertainment for local diners on a few occasions during my nursing years. My left breast operated as a pretty powerful spigot, and when my babies would pull off (as they liked to do while nursing), breast milk often would spray across the table before I could staunch the leak. It was always exciting to watch my dinner companions dodge my milk squirt gun. It was a lot like when you’re a kid on a field trip to the local dairy, and the tour guide grabs one of Bessie’s udders and starts shooting milk at you. Fun!

People, listen to me for a moment, kay? Breasts, like udders, are food-conveyance devices. They’re naturally hygienic delivery systems. No need to sterilize bottles or warm the fricking milk. Boobs are natural bottle warmers. How cool is that?

I have tons more arguments (facts) about the efficacy, efficiency and power of breast feeding, but I’m going to change tacks here, and let Crystal talk, who has the honor of having her boobs star in a national brouhaha (move over, Helen of Troy).

Everitt’s a 28-year-old mom of two—a 6-year-old girl and the nursing boy. She moved to Asheville three years ago when her husband was transferred with the U.S. Air Force. Because he’s in the military, the family’s lived all over the country and in Europe and Asia. Crystal currently is a stay-at-home home-schooling mom. She said she had to stop nursing her girl when the child was about 4 months old when she was injured in a car accident. So she’s thrilled that she’s able to nurse her boy for longer.

Everitt says that while she did approach the media after the incident, the resultant feeding frenzy has taken her aback.

“I’m stunned and shocked that this happened in Asheville,” she says. “It’s crazy that this even has to be talked about.”

“All I want is an apology from Denny’s. … Denny’s management are making it sound like I was standing on the table doing a strip tease.”

She’s also been criticized for not covering her son (and her legal breast) with a blanket while she nursed. She notes that mothers who’ve nursed babies over 4 months old know that babies often won’t put up with being covered by a blanket, as her son won’t. She also says her son isn’t really eating solid foods yet, as he has a strong gag reflex. Hold the eggs, Denny’s.

I remember my oldest child had difficulty latching on initially. In order to help her, I really needed to be able to see where her mouth was and position her head correctly. So, on more than one occasion, I was in a public place or a restaurant, and to feed my screaming baby, I had to unbutton my shirt (I’d wear a button-up men’s shirt for this purpose), undo my nursing bra, and expose my entire breast to whomever wanted to look while I tried to get my baby latched on (and tried to keep the spigot from premature spraying). It’s not always easy to be discreet.

I attended the nurse-in and took some photographs (see the photo galleries at www.mountainx.com). I was surprised that Everitt refused to accept Rick Pate’s apology (he’s Denny’s regional director of operations—see videos at www.mountainx.com). She now wants a written policy change for all Denny’s restaurants. Given Denny’s past civil rights issues, this isn’t a bad idea. And yet, I talked to one mom who was breast feeding her baby inside while having a cup of coffee and another who was going to eat lunch and nurse her baby in the restaurant because she wanted to get her kids out of the cold. So it seems that Denny’s has been influenced positively by Everitt’s actions. I hope they’ll offer a policy change and that lactating moms everywhere can relax and enjoy eating out with their babies—wherever they are and without covering up.

Because this is about babies, not boobs.

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16 thoughts on “Edgy Mama

  1. Kristin

    If the national Delta nurse-in is any example, I wouldn’t be optimistic about policy change based on protest–no formal policy has been affected by that company, and I doubt Denny’s will be different.

    The law in NC (like most states) protects nursing mothers from arrest for indecent exposure but lacks provisions for recourse in cases such as this. We need a law which upholds the right to nurse in public as a civil right, with fines for harassment of breastfeeding mothers. A grassroots campaign to change the state law (or better yet, enact a national law, like the one in the Breastfeeding Promotion Act) would be more effective to this end.

    I’m sorry for the way Crystal was treated. But Denny’s is small potatoes–why not channel this effort into action for more significant change?

  2. Excellent post, thanks! There is a curious dissonance primarily in Anglo-Saxon cultures where highly ambivalent attitudes toward the female breast prevail. The only thing worse than adopting legislation to protect the right of mothers and children to breastfeed anywhere they otherwise have a right to be – in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland and many US states for example – is the very need to do so. Bottom line: As long as it’s acceptable to feed children in public it should be acceptable to breastfeed children in public. We are mammals; this is what we do, or at least what we should be doing. And the gentle irony here is that the more breastfeeding we see, the more breastfeeding will become invisible, that is once more totally normalized behavior.

    James Akre
    Geneva, Switzerland

  3. James Atkinson

    If state law already protects the right to nurse in public places, then a Denny’s in-house policy change is immaterial. Their policy already has been written for them.

    However, an apology that bows and scrapes in the most obsequious French-waiter manner would be helpful.

  4. Kriss

    Thanks for your comment, James (Akre). I had mentioned in a comment on another blog regarding this same topic that I doubted the Denny’s breastfeeding mother would have been treated so disrespectfully in many other countries of the world. As someone living in Switzerland, perhaps you could tell us something about European attitudes and if something like that would likely have happened there.

    My impression, based on some personal experience and knowledge, is that female breasts in Europe are seen as more of just a natural, normal part of the body whose primary function is to nourish the young, rather than the subject of puritanical condemnation from some people, which we’ve become all too well aware of recently in this country.

  5. k wolfe

    Remember the Malvern Hills Pool incident? Mother of a 2 year old, who was in the pool, was sitting on the side of the pool nursing her newborn when an uncomfortable adolescent life guard asked her to leave.
    I will never forget that our city councilmen Dr. Joe Dunn, a dentist, and Dr. Carl Mumpower both spoke out about the need for a mother to be discreet. I found this to be really outrageous seeing that nursing has many benefits to the oral cavity (where a dentist works) and many psychological benefits (where a psychologist works). I was dumbfounded that they did not speak out and use this as an opprotunity to educate the paying-attention public.
    Within days of all the press coverage, while waiting to pick up my nursing kids (I actually nursed 2 kids concurrently for 1 year, nursing a total of 6 years straight, and consider it to be one of my best memories of that timein my life) saw Carl Mumpower jogging Kimberly Ave with his shirt off. Ohhh, I saw his nipples!
    I agree AF, why is it OK for him to jog Kimberly with his shirt off, yet women can’t openly nurse? Does sound sexist.
    If seeing a mother nurse makes you uncomfortable, then don’t look is my advise.

  6. Kriss

    Excellent points, k wolfe. When was the Malvern Hills Pool incident? Perhaps that was before the NC breastfeeding rights law was passed. Though law or no law, a breastfeeding mother should have always had that right. I think the law just made it perfectly clear that there was no way anybody could accuse a breastfeeding mother of indecent exposure.

    Didn’t it? Now I’m not so sure. How could Denny’s ignore the law with no negative consequences?

  7. James Atkinson

    The law — any law — has no negative consequences unless someone with legal standing petitions for redress in NC court. In this case, the person with legal standing would be the injured party, Crystal Everitt.

    I would be interested to see an attorney give an opinion as to the viability of a case like this in federal court, as an infraction of federal Civil Rights law.

    What is the fundamental difference between forcing a mother to nurse her baby in the shit box and forcing a person of color to drink from a separate fountain? Or between effectively refusing service based on lactation status and refusing service based on skin color?

    Denny’s should be exquisitely sensitive to such things since they paid $54.4 million in the early 1990s to settle a class-action lawsuit stemming from flagrant violations of federal public accomodations laws.

    I note in passing that the Denny’s Corporation world HQ is just down the road from Asheville in Spartanburg, SC. If protests at the site of infraction gain no traction, perhaps protests at the corporate HQ might.

  8. K,
    I’d forgotten about the Malvern Hills pool incident–momnesia. Good points!

    James,
    So far, it seems that Everitt hasn’t received (or looked for?) legal advice. Though it would be interesting to see what might happen if she did.

    I’ll bet the Spartanburg Spark will be there if nursing moms want to take a stand at Denny’s HQ!

  9. Kristin

    The problem is that in NC, like most states, there is no enforcement provision to the breastfeeding law.
    “There are no laws in the US forbidding breastfeeding outside of the home, and only two states in which laws place any limitation on the way in which public breastfeeding may be done.1 However, in the absence of a law establishing and protecting the right, a woman who breastfeeds in a public accommodation—a privately owned place open to the public, such as a restaurant or shopping mall—might lawfully be asked to leave, either by the owner or in accordance with the owner’s instructions. If she refuses, she might be removed by the police or placed under arrest for trespass. Without a law to protect her, a woman breastfeeding in a public place such as a park, or state-owned properties (e.g., a courthouse), risks removal by the police and potentially (though this is rare) a charge of some form of indecent exposure. A basic maxim of American law is that a right without a remedy is no right at all.2 In plain terms, this means that although you may have a “right” to do anything not otherwise forbidden by law, if you do not also have a legal protection against someone interfering with that right, your ability to exercise it may be limited.”

    See more from this article (written by a lawyer) here: http://www.mothering.com/articles/new_baby/breastfeeding/lactation-law.html

    Denny’s, however ethically out of bounds, did not act unlawfully because NC law grants us the right to nurse in public, but falls short of allowing protections against others interfering with this right. A better law is needed, at least until nursing becomes so normal and common that no one takes offense anymore, which is a day I welcome.

  10. Piffy!

    …your belly button…

    (breasts are for marketing products, not nourishing children)

  11. Gratuitous

    Yeah, stop it all of you; all this talk about boobs is starting to turn me on… Remember the scene in “Something About Mary” where the dude masturbates to – of all things – breasts in bras from the lingerie section of a catalog? It doesn’t take much. Men are that pathetic. So sex really is the issue, accept it or not. The whole point of “decency” is to curb the number of men’s visual reminders of the possibility of procreation so that chaos will not ensue. That being said, what’s wrong with a special treat once in awhile? Glimpse of cleavage? Thanks. Nipple-slip? Score. Thong exposure? Now you’re just looking for an audience. Upskirt shot (yes, there’s a term?) It puts a knowing smile on my face every time. But every decent man on the planet will look away when a mother is nursing her baby. Just the presence of some other man’s newborn should be enough to drive down his ridiculously lascivious ideas. If not, well, maybe he’ll gain some maturity when he turns 19.

    Mamas, feed your babies, where and whenever they’re hungry. Men, keep your eyes averted and your thoughts to yourselves. Babies, enjoy the yummy. There’s no better way to grow.

  12. Kriss

    Gratuitous wrote: “…But every decent man on the planet will look away when a mother is nursing her baby.”

    Indeed. I think your post was right on point. Remember when I was asking someone on one of the other blogs to please tell me why breastfeeding in public made them “uncomfortable,” and couldn’t ever get an answer? I pretty much knew the answer, but couldn’t get anybody to come out and say it. The men who feel uncomfortable at the sight of a woman breastfeeding are the ones who are unable to control their lascivious (i.e., sinful) thoughts. The women who are uncomfortable at the sight of a woman breastfeeding in public are the ones who know what their men are thinking. All that talk about being “discreet” is so misplaced. Discretion in that case should be the responsibility of the observer, not the breastfeeding mother, who is only doing what she is supposed to do and has a right to do.

  13. James Atkinson

    Kristin is correct in an earlier comment. North Carolina’s breastfeeding law contains no enforcement provision. In fact, it’s not really a breastfeeding law at all, but only a clause within the existing indecent exposure statute (NC General Statutes § 14-190.9). Here is the entire text of the clause:

    “(b) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a woman may breast feed in any public or private location where she is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breast feeding.”

    It seems to me that one or both of two things need to happen:

    1. The state legislature pass a proper breastfeeding law with enforcement provisions built in, and/or

    2. The existing statute be tested systematically, repeatedly, and deliberately by persons in a position to test the provision in court and establish valid case law in protection of the statutory right. This essentially is what the Freedom Riders did in 1961 — deliberately invite violations of the Supreme Court ruling in Boynton v. Virginia in order to force legal enforcement of laws and regulations desegregating public places.

  14. For Kriss, who asked about attitudes in Switzerland and Europe generally toward breastfeeding in public: It’s difficult to imagine a breastfeeding mother being harassed in ways that are far too familiar in countries under what I refer to as the Anglo-Saxon Arc, the US of course but also Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Whole books could be – and no doubt have been – written on why this is so; but looking at it from a European perspective, it’s difficult for locals to understand what all the fuss is about when mothers feed their children.

    I don’t want to be understood as suggesting a total absence of sexual connotation to female breasts rather that the wider culture easily accepts their primary nurturing purpose, too. In my small community (pop. 3,000) in suburban Geneva there are numerous young families, and it’s hardly unusual to see mothers and children breastfeeding, for example during festivities of one type or another organized at the town hall. The notion that anyone would object to mothers feeding their children is far-fetched indeed.

    Some isolated information might help put this reality into perspective. The ever-breastfed rate in Switzerland is 94% with an average duration of 31 weeks. Next door in France the ever-breastfed rate is only 60% (it’s only about 40% in Ireland) but it drops dramatically to less than 15% at six weeks of age. In contrast, more than 98% percent of children are breastfed in most of Scandinavia, and in Norway for example 80% are still breastfeeding at 6 months. Thus, it’s not attitudes toward breastfeeding in public that are at play here, but attitudes toward breastfeeding per se.

    But please also consider attitudes in many parts of Europe toward the bare body resulting in women commonly going topless at public beaches, pools and parks for more than a generation; suits-optional bathing on public beaches, particularly along the Mediterranean; and mixed health spas and hotel saunas all over the Continent. Not surprisingly, this relaxed attitude is further reflected in advertising and television. Context then is everything.

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