As I’ve written before, when it comes to nursing in public, I’m a wallflower. Imagine a deer in the headlights — only with more cleavage and fewer hooves — and you’ll get a sense of what I look like when trying to breastfeed my baby in the company of strangers.
Generally, I try to avoid it when I can. But during this last family vacation, I didn’t have much choice. We were out, in the evening, on the boardwalk of a Jersey shore town. Scrunchy Face had eaten two hours earlier and I thought he was done for the night. He wasn’t — his frustrated cries made it perfectly clear that the little man was in a “Feed me, Seymour” type of mood.
I left my husband and Saucer Eyes to their own devices — I’m pleased to report that no tattoos, piercings or broken bones happened while I was away — and went in search of a discreet place along the boardwalk to nurse.
Unfortunately, this being summer time at the Jersey shore, there really was no such thing as a discreet place on the boardwalk. Snooki dressed as a poofed-up Moses couldn’t have parted the sunburned throngs milling about, playing carnival games, snapping photos and grabbing snacks deep fried enough to horrify even Paula Deen.
The best I could do was a vacant bench across from a pizza place. I sat down, positioned Scrunchy Face, arranged my nursing cover and we were in business.
At first, I found the experience surprisingly transcendent. The baby fed happily while I did some people-watching — people, whom I was relieved to see, had no interest in watching me. It’d been a somewhat frenetic vacation so far but here, with my baby at my breast with the world whirring by, I felt at peace.
Then suddenly, I heard a booming voice say this: “¿Quién quiere pizza?”
The voice belonged to a man carrying a large, flat white box above his head. No fewer than six children, ages about 5 to 10, along with a few adults, crowded around him.
He headed in my direction, set the box down on my bench, about three feet away from me, and opened it, as if preparing to serve his family.
I froze. Should I say something? I thought. I hastily tried to conjure my high school Spanish skills to think of how to say, “Would you mind? I’m trying to feed my child.” I quickly thought better of it because a.) He’d probably still understand me if I spoke in English and b.) he had just as much right to use the bench as I did. After all, I assumed, he was just trying to feed his kids (and/or nephews and nieces) too.
I didn’t have too much time to mull this over because then came THE BIRDS.
Jersey shore seagulls are an aggressive bunch. I knew this firsthand because the day before, a bird had flown up to the restaurant where my family was dining — we were sitting on the patio — and snatched my husband’s pressed Cuban sandwich right off his plate. I was shocked and my husband was sad because he still had “at least three good bites left.”
Apparently a freshly made pizza has about 100 times the allure of a sandwich — at least, to seagulls. They flocked around the box, to the delight of the children, who gleefully screamed at the tops of their lungs and ran in circles with outstretched arms, trying to scare the seagulls away.
All of this, by the way, was still taking place about three feet away from nearly-topless me. My mind raced as I worried what would happen if one of the kids knocked into me or, worse, one of the seagulls — now angry after being taunted and hungry for revenge as well as pizza– mistook me for one of his tormentors and lunged at my chest.
There were, indeed, a few close calls with the kids — they bumped up against Scrunchy Face’s stroller a few times — and the birds definitely swooped too close for comfort, but happily, there was no beak-on-skin contact on my end.
In reality, the whole ordeal lasted all of five minutes…but with Hitchcockian visions in my head, it felt like hours. It ended when Mr. “Quien quiere” decided to close the pizza box and find another, perhaps less avian-infested, spot to set down his steaming pie. He walked away, with the group following him. Just like that, I found myself alone again.
Saucer Eyes, so enthralled with nursing, never looked up once despite the chaos. I suppose breast milk is to hungry babies as pizza is to hungry seagulls.
Maybe I’ve been swayed by the spirit of World Breastfeeding Week, but I’ve decided I won’t hesitate to breastfeed in public again when necessary. Despite my close encounters of the fowl kind, I refuse to let one bad experience deter me.
Giving up is for the birds.
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Photo courtesy lareign/stock.xchng.