Last week, Wittney Hale made a decision that would change the course of her day, her week, and — perhaps — even her life. The 23-year-old mother stopped to feed her toddler while they were out running errands, after her 18-month-old grew hungry as they were shopping at Dillard’s. However, as Hale later explained in a viral Facebook post, even though she had asked a store employee for permission to feed her baby, as soon as she began to do so — by breastfeeding — there was suddenly a problem.
Next, Hale was allegedly told by the associate that public breastfeeding was not allowed in the store, and Hale was promptly asked to leave.
Hale further explained the incident a post to Dillard’s Facebook page, which has since been deleted:
“This afternoon while shopping in your store … my daughter got really fussy. I searched for a quiet secluded area to nurse my child. When I found a place I asked [an employee] if it was okay for her to eat here. The employee at customer service nodded. I didn’t use a cover up … [instead,] I discreetly pulled my shirt down and her head covered me up. The same lady then told me I could not ‘do that’ here. She told me I would need to go to the restroom.”
At which point, according to Hale, the employee directed her toward the women’s room — which was an elevator ride away. To say Hale was shocked would be an understatement:
“I was completely shocked, as I have never had anyone comment on me breastfeeding in the whole 18 months I have been nursing, yet alone, [by] another woman, possibly a mother herself,” Hale continued.
Hale’s post has since gone viral, and for good reason. You see, along with her story, the young mom shared a photo of herself in that same Dillard’s store, this time breastfeeding her daughter under a nursing cover. Behind them, a large ad can be seen, featuring a woman standing in a semi-see-through bra, and showing off far more than Hale does by breastfeeding. In doing so, the mom perfectly called out the irony of being told to cover up while being surrounded by advertisements of female nudity.
The good news is, in the week since Hale first shared her post, the matter appears to have been resolved. In a statement issued to Hale’s post, Dillard’s claims the entire incident was a misunderstanding.
The statement reads:
“Dillard’s strives to create a pleasing and comfortable shopping experience for all our guests at all times. Accordingly, we respect the right of mothers to nurse their children wherever they feel comfortable in doing so. Upon becoming aware of this situation, our store manager immediately reached out to our customer and apologized. Our associates have been reminded of our breastfeeding policy.”
As Hale tells Babble, Dillard’s formal apology and moves to remind employees of their in-store breastfeeding policy was the only justice she needed. What’s more, Hale harbors no lingering resentment toward associate who shamed her — she only wanted to make a point and see it addressed. In fact, if she could speak to the employee herself, Hale tells Babble:
“I would like to say sorry … I think this whole situation has grown rapidly and I often wonder what her current situation is. Yes, she was wrong. Yes, she deserved to be addressed. Does she deserve public bashing? No.”
You see, while Hale could still be angry and upset about what happened — and rightfully so — she’s choosing a different path: She’s choosing to be compassionate and understanding. And she is using her experience to help educate others about breastfeeding, to remind others that breastfeeding isn’t about being brazen or bold or making a statement. It’s about feeding and caring for your child, plain and simple.
She tells Babble:
“A breastfeeding mother is not nursing to make a statement. They are nursing to feed their baby so they can go on with their day … Stopping what you are doing — putting away your groceries, clothes, or whatever — to go nurse in a restroom or a lounge is not always going to work.”
And Hale is right. More than right, in fact. Because while not all mothers may breastfeed, when a breastfed baby is hungry, it needs to eat just like any other. And yes, sometimes that means eating in public. Sometimes that means breastfeeding your babe in front of others. It’s up to the rest of us to support her in that, and not shame her, banish her, or make her life more difficult in the process.