Breastfeeding Rights: On Being Asked to ‘Cover Up’ By a Home Depot Employee

by Svea Boyda-Vikander on December 18, 2013

I noticed how polished she was. Flirting with a guy who was loitering around the taco truck and asking her again when she got off work. She said, “Nine.” I considered complimenting her on her perfect ankle boots.

I sat down on the gray wooden box that probably holds pylons or road salt (but wait – it’s California – no ice here) and put my shopping bags beside me. Baby Evie wasn’t in her carrier because we had taken the car. My husband and son had gone to Home Depot, and baby and I to my preferred big box store. It’s a craft emporium and sells such craft-making necessities as “Christmas scent” and “One hundred things you might need someday”.

I waited. We were supposed to meet at the Home Depot checkout but I needed to nurse Evie. She had been patiently smacking her lips and making occasional lowing noises since half-way down the Mod-podge aisle. In the thousands of square feet of the craft store, patronized mostly by women, there was nowhere to nurse her. Outside in the new evening there were some wire-frame benches at the bus stop but to reach them I would have had to cross a busy parking-lot street with a baby, a purse, and two full shopping bags in my arms. I’m always scared of being hit by a car anyway.

So I sat on that gray box outside the Home Depot exit and cuddled baby up. I wasn’t wearing a nursing top, just a v-neck sweater and a tank-top underneath. I pulled them both down and latched her on. She nursed contentedly. I found I couldn’t meet the eyes of the well-dressed security woman checking receipts at the door. I found I had already known she would disapprove. Much to my chagrin, I found that I cared. I didn’t want to, but I did.

She asked me to cover up.

In my two-and-a-half years of nursing I have breastfed in public places across Canada and in parts of the US. I have breastfed in front of friends, family, strangers, public officials, flight attendants, doctors, my husband’s boss, and at least one family pet. Nobody has ever asked me to cover up.

She said people were staring.

I asked who. I looked around. I saw no one. I shrugged. She rolled her eyes and huffed. Like, if I want to be a slut, that’s my problem. Which it is. I mean, which it would be.

My heart was pounding. But my baby is hungry. She has been so patient. She doesn’t nurse with a cover and would inevitably pull it off. Why would I have to cover, anyway? I’m not doing anything wrong. My right to do this is protected by law, dammit! And breastfeeding in public won’t become culturally accepted until women start breastfeeding in public. 

Kristie Robin I

As if on cue, Evie felt the (immense) milk letdown coming and pulled off. So now my nipple, spraying like a geyser, was exposed. I pulled her close so it would just spray onto her onesie (babies are supposed to smell like milk, right?). Under the stare of the security worker, I let her latch back on. We nursed for a few more minutes. I stopped it early and gathered my things, walking around to the entrance of the store so I could look for my husband. I just didn’t feel safe.

The moment of breastfeeding is more than just a soft, intimate act. It’s also a moment of vulnerability. It feels primal to me. No female ancestor could fight off a saber-toothed tiger while holding a baby to her breast.* While only I can decide whether or not I want to breastfeed, my success in breastfeeding requires consideration from other people. When I sit down to nurse Evie, I depend on other people not to insult me, ostracize me, sexualize my actions, or invade my space. You know, to take a turn battling those saber-toothed tigers – not to come running at me shouting caveman obscenities.

boobs gif

*It’s reflected in the biology of breastfeeding – for most women, stress inhibits their ejection reflex (instead, I have an ejection reflex like those bullet-shooting ta-tas in Austin Powers, but that’s another GIF altogether).

Because let’s face it: I’m human and if people told me to leave or cover up everywhere I went, I would stop nursing in public. If my husband acted grossed out or jealous when I nursed at home, I would stop nursing there, too (or just get a divorce, but then who would take our kids to Home Depot every week?).

In a culture that fetishizes female bodies, their exposure is not inert. Maybe some people were staring, just as they would stare at a woman wearing a revealing shirt. But I can’t imagine an employee asking a woman who was baring her breasts in that way to cover up. In fact, she might even receive better service. In any case, it’s up to me whether or not I am concerned about people ‘staring’ at me.

I don’t give a rat’s ass about people staring at me. I’m just that kind of gal. I do care about having society’s shame thrust upon me when I am feeding my baby. It was the Home Depot employee who felt uncomfortable and it was wrong for her to project her discomfort onto me. I’m starting a correspondence with the store manager the moment this post goes live. Stay tuned for a follow-up.

Home Depot, you messed with the wrong mama.

Kristie Robin II
Have you ever been told to cover up? What did you do? How did you feel about it?

**Images of breastfeeding at Home Depot by Kristie Robin of Kristie Robin Photography.

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