Recently a DJ from an Orlando, Florida, radio station interviewed a midwife about nursing in public. The DJ would prefer that women not nurse in public, and his questions to the midwife were very anti-breastfeeding in nature. At one point he said something to the effect of, “Well, if women are allowed to breastfeed anywhere, then smokers should be allowed to smoke anywhere they want.”
Today's piece is part of a collaborative effort that seeks to demonstrate why smoking in public is not an appropriate analogy for nursing in public (N.I.P.). Please visit the other writers' sites to learn more as links post throughout the week. The schedule of posts is as follows:
- Monday, July 19: Lauren at Hobo Mama gives suggestions on how to deal as the observer with either smoking in public or N.I.P.
- Tuesday, July 20: Annie at PhD in Parenting writes about the public health aspects of smoking and breastfeeding.
- Wednesday, July 21: Dionna at Code Name: Mama compares legislation on both smoking and breastfeeding.
- Thursday, July 22: Paige at Baby Dust Diaries discusses the effect on bystanders of smoking versus breastfeeding.
- Monday, July 26: Our posts will be posted as a whole at NursingFreedom.org, where they serve as a complete resource anytime smoking in public is compared to nursing in public.
When I was pregnant, I was fiercely protective of my unborn little one's health. I don't live with a smoker or have geographically close friends who smoke regularly, so I don't come across it that often. But when I traveled to be with my mother during a health crisis she was having in my third month of pregnancy, I had to walk the gauntlet of smokers lining the waiting area outside the airports.
What did I do? I took a deep breath before arriving near any smoker and held my breath as I passed, to the point that I could. When I had to stand outside waiting for a bus, I continually moved my position to be as far from smoke as I could.
What did I not do? I did not fake a cough or wave my hand in front of my face. I did not grimace at the smokers and point tellingly at my slightly protruding belly, reminding them that there were children present. I did not tell them that if they wanted to smoke, they should do so at home where it's decent, or that they should have planned their trips so that they smoked just before they left and just after they got back. I did not heckle them and threaten to call airport security on them.
I feel like there are a lot of people out there saying the sight of public breastfeeding offends them. And to those people I say, that's why you have a neck. That's why you have eyelids. That's why you have the right to go somewhere else or stay home.
In other words, we as citizens of this diverse planet have personal responsibility to deal with our own feelings and reactions to things that bother us but are perfectly legal. In a free society, I have the right to form my own opinions about smoking, about interracial partnerships, about homosexual partnerships, about children's presence in public, about breastfeeding in public or at all, about wearing low-cut tops or no tops at all (men in summer hereabouts), about being part of a religion or culture that requires dressing in a very distinct way, etc. (I hope it's clear I'm not listing things I'm against. I'm listing things some people are against.)
What I don't have the right to do is impinge on people exercising their legal rights to act as they see fit. I don't have the authority to hand a blazer to someone I think is too skimpily dressed and insist that person don it. I don't have the right to pull a cigarette from someone's mouth and extinguish it beneath my heel. I don't have the right to demand a couple remove themselves from my sight.
Granted, free speech does give me the right to be a jerk. It's not good manners, but I could certainly voice my opinions on everyone else's behavior and generally make everyone in earshot feel uncomfortable. But I don't have the right to coerce the people I'm targeting to abide by my opinions, or to call in authorities to enforce my opinions.
In short, people who are against breastfeeding in public should do what I do around smoking in public: Deal with it on a personal level.
If it bothers you, turn away. Leave the area.
Even better, educate yourself on why breastfeeding is important, and therefore why breastfeeding in public is important. Work through your own hang-ups about what you demand of nursing parents, and reconsider it from their point of view. (For instance, would you want to eat in a restroom or with a blanket over your head? Would you want to be told you had to stay home for a year or couldn't leave without a complicated preparation of sterilized feeding gear that must stay at a proper temperature?)
And even more so, meet people who breastfeed. Find out what it's like for them, and hear their stories.
This actually works for anything on the list of things that might offend you. The more you get to know the people who practice what bothers you, the more you realize: "Huh! They're humans, too."
In regard to smoking, I have done all of those things. I still don't agree that it's a good idea to smoke, but I know smokers I admire and like, and I know more now about the hold smoking's addiction can have on people. I also take steps to curb my exposure to smoke. Before indoor smoking bans were passed, I avoided restaurants that were too smoky for my taste; I've asked to change hotel rooms when I've been granted a smoking room inadvertently; and I will avoid standing near someone who is smoking. It's up to me to make myself comfortable. It is not up to me to make smokers bow to my every wish.
When other people are doing something that's perfectly legal and reasonable, even if I don't agree with it, I need to step aside and deal with my own objections. My objections do not trump their rights.
In the same way, my right to feed my baby anywhere I am allowed to be is legally protected, and no one's opinion is allowed to take that away from me.
P.S. This doesn't even get into the myriad reasons smoking is different from breastfeeding and the way public smoking impinges on my right to physical health (because other astute bloggers will be tackling those issues) or the fact that oftentimes now, I'll come across smokers breaking the law, smoking directly under No Smoking signs. In Washington State, it's now illegal to smoke within 25 feet of doorways, so that I should be able to wait for my bus outside the airport's sliding doors without being engulfed in a poisonous cloud.
Please visit the other bloggers when they post this week.