Above: My toddler, clearly a disruptive menace to the academic experience. It’s so obvious that children and families should be excluded from the higher education setting.
* * *
I teach in the undergraduate setting. I am also a graduate student, a mother, a lactation educator, and a public health researcher. I wear a lot of hats. Each hat makes up a part of my positionality—the experiences I bring with me when I walk into a room. Because my experiences shape how I interact with my students, my instructors, my family, and my research, I make it a point to be transparent about my positionality. On day one of any course I teach, I talk to my students about the cumulative positionalities that make up our learning space. Each individual in the learning community brings unique experiences to the room. By acknowledging the importance of these experiences, we generate an invitation to learn from, and with, each other.
Given this inclusion of experiences, I tend not to draw hard and fast lines between different aspects of my life. I lack the luxury to do so. When my daughter, M, was two weeks old, I showed up to class with bags under my eyes and an infant attached to a leaking breast. Having a newborn in the professional setting was difficult. Between finding a place to change a diaper to managing our novice breastfeeding skills, there were more tears than moments of triumph.
Fast forward to today. M enjoys bouncing off walls, but excels in the academic setting (at least on the toddler scale). With the exception of the occasional fart, if she has something to color and some goldfish to eat she will sit through a 50-minute class session quietly. It is magical. So, when she was sent home from school with the stomach flu, I knew there was a high likelihood that I would be bringing an extra course assistant with me the following day. With my husband tied up with a birth, M joined me on campus. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to get a sub, this was the best solution.
So there we were. M enjoying her favorite movie, and me leading a midterm review session for my 55+ undergraduates. We weren’t ten minutes into class when I looked down at her and knew that the projectile vomit that I thought was a thing of the past, was returning. In one fluid mom-ninja move, I scooped her up, simultaneously catching the contents of her tiny belly in my hand.
The moment that followed felt like an eternity. I recall the nigh slow motion reaction of my horrified students, the feeling of soggy goldfish swimming in a warm puddle of digestive juices, and my daughter clinging to me as I held her tight.
I did what I had to do. I grabbed a pouch of wet wipes, a cup of hand sanitizer, my baby carrier, and within moments we were vomit free, reeking of rubbing alcohol, M was tucked close to my body, and I was moving forward with the planned lecture. She pawed gently at the neck of my shirt, and I responded without thinking, nursing my little girl in the dark cocoon of our baby carrier. She slept the rest of class, I responded to questions, and we covered our midterm review material.
So when I saw this in course evaluations, I took pause…
It’s unprofessional to breastfeed in front of the class.
Perhaps you took on more than you could handle, and shouldn’t be an instructor.
(The above comments have been paraphrased to uphold privacy considerations.)
Since that first day of class, with a two-week-old infant cradled in my arms, my daughter has grown taller, and my patience for asshats has grown smaller. So when my role as a parent became a point of contention in a recent course evaluation, you can imagine my tolerance level.
Being a parent has an impact on my positionality. I have become a master at stealth nursing. I have learned how to work in fifteen minutes bursts and after bedtime. More importantly, I have developed a more comprehensive understanding of inclusion.
I have also made mistakes and let things slip. But guess what-I also made mistakes before I became a parent. The difference now is that my mistakes can be attributed to the small human in my care. Clearly, I make mistakes because I am a mom. There’s no way I can juggle the responsibilities of being a mom, a graduate student, and a teacher. *coughBULLSHITcough*
My inability to multitask aside, TO ANYONE WHO EVER THINKS IT’S OKAY TO CALL BREASTFEEDING UNPROFESSIONAL, I feel it is my ethical duty as a public health professional and a lactation educator to help you brush up on the legality of the situation. It is within my LEGAL rights as a mother to breastfeed my child in any public place. It is ILLEGAL to harass a breastfeeding mother (RCW 49.60.030 and 49.60.215). So, to those individuals who were offended by my LEGAL RIGHT to breastfeed my child…
I’m sorry you felt uncomfortable. I would be happy to facilitate an opportunity for you to discuss your discomfort with other lactating moms. It might even be helpful to have a sit down with M, and express your feelings about how her needs disrupted your day. I will do my best to abide by your vision of “inclusion” in the future. Heaven forbid anything disrupt your campus experience, and challenge your paradigm.