Eleven years ago, about two months after my son was born, he and I took a trip to the mall to buy a birthday present for my husband. Other than quick trips to the grocery store and visits to my new mom’s group, we had not left the house much. It was a snowy winter, not unlike this one, and bitterly cold – and this nervous new mom didn’t want her new baby boy around any germ-ridden people. So after being housebound for more than 60 days, we ventured out to the local mall to pick-up something to surprise “Dad” with on his b-day.
We were there for about 15 minutes when “A” started to wail – and not just any cry – that hysterical, unstoppable howl of a newborn. Of course, like a camera zooming in on its subject, every person in Banana Republic turned to stare at the lady and her screaming baby. Embarrassed and a little panicky, I turned and left the store – shushing, and cooing, and unsuccessfully trying to get the pacifer into his little mouth with my one free hand while lugging the car seat carrier and my handbag with the other.
Leaving the store was a mistake – the mall’s atrium acted as an echo chamber for his shrieks, and as I passed the hordes of other shoppers I could only think of one thing that was sure to quiet his cries…nurse him. Back then, there were few, if any, nursing areas in malls, but I knew that there was a lounge area just outside the rest rooms not too far away (I had been at this mall a lot while I was pregnant and knew EVERY bathroom in the place!). Luckily, the area was completely unoccupied and I removed my jacket and peeled back the very discreet (and well designed) nursing top that I was wearing and latched that baby on. His crying, and my anxiety, stopped immediately.
Wouldn’t you know it, about two minutes later, a middle-aged man came strolling down the corridor looking for the men’s room. He halted in his tracks when he saw me, leered at me in a disgusting and dirty way, snickered, said something intelligible and walked away. I had never felt so humiliated in my entire life. I pulled my coat around myself and my infant’s head and finished nursing him, gathered up my belongings and left.
After that episode, whenever “A” needed to nurse when we were out, I grabbed a dress off a rack and settled into a dressing room or nursed in the back seat of my car. As he got older and would take a bottle, I pumped every last drop that I could before leaving the house, just so I would never be in that situation again.
Eleven years later, I still carry this around with me and still feel ashamed that I was visually groped by a stranger while nursing my son. What right did that man have to do that? It wasn’t as if I had removed my top and was shaking my boobs in his face! But it made me feel small, and embarrassed, and dirty.
So, to that man in the Stamford Mall in February, of 2003, I am giving you a big, “Fuck You, Asshole!” and telling you this, I’m taking back my power, my right to do whatever I want with my body, whenever I choose to do it. Your sexism and immaturity no longer have any hold on me. I am letting go of these feelings of shame and humiliation for good….for ever.