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First Person

Nursing a Baby Shouldn't Be This Much of a Problem

April 28, 1999|KERRY MADDEN-LUNSFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Borders Books & Music on a Saturday night at the Marketplace in Glendale. Things are hopping. I'm sitting in the children's section nursing my 3-month-old while her older sister studies "Kristen's Cookbook" from the American Girl doll series. My 10-year-old son, in a rather relentless Christopher Walken phase at the moment, has just returned from attempting to order 007's "A View to a Kill" with Walken, since I have ruled out "The Deer Hunter" for at least five years.

"But, Mama," he assures me in his best Walken accent, "I am sure . . . that I . . . can handle it. I'm very mature, for my age, you understand."

Then I see her coming. The clerk. I realize I'm at the table that says "Reserved for Children Only," but technically a child is at this table, because I'm nursing one under my sweater. But before I can explain, she says, 'You can't do that in here."

"What?" I ask.

"You can't do that in here," she says again, this time indicating the nursing child whose head is under my turtleneck.

My heart suddenly feels like a hummingbird's, but I reply, "I'm feeding a baby."

Then she announces again, "You can't do that in here." After a beat, she adds, "There are children present."

OK, now she's done it. The out-of-body thing is happening as the blood rushes to my head. Still, I don't want to start screaming at her because I know my voice is going to come out sounding like a cross between Deep Throat and Alvin and the Chipmunks, so I take a breath and say, "That's ridiculous, I'm feeding a baby. You can't see anything."

"It's a comfortability issue."

A what? I guess when you work in a bookstore, you're allowed to start making up words too. She continues, "It's a comfortability issue. If you want to do it, you have to ask the other parents if they are comfortable about it."

Oh? So now I get to stand up, take a poll, asking strangers' permission to feed my child? I say, "Get your manager, please."

"I'll be happy to get the manager." She splits, and I'm fuming. My husband has just entered to catch the tail end of the drama. Tears rising, I tell him, "They say I can't nurse her in here." He looks baffled as nothing like this ever came up with our first two, and I nursed them everywhere.

He stays with the kids in the children's section. I stroll over to the CDs, baby still on breast under turtleneck, under sweater. I'm hungry and tired, and I don't need this. I hear the clerk page the manager several times. I just want to get out.

Eventually, I walk back to gather the family so we can leave, and the clerk says, "The manager is on her way. She's coming." She won't look me in the eye as she continues to nervously stack books.

"Forget it," I say, mortified.

She hisses, "If a parent hadn't complained, I wouldn't have said anything."

Then the manager appears with a male employee, hovering bouncer-like nearby. I recognize him as the one who helped us order the Walken video, only now he won't look me in the eye. The manager says, "We really think you'll be more comfortable if you nurse the baby in the bathroom."

Now why didn't I think of that?

My husband asks, "Can she nurse in another part of the store?"

The manager eyes him. "No, it's not allowed anywhere in the store."

"Is that written down somewhere?" he asks.

"It's policy," the manager assures him with a determined smile. "It's not written down, but it is our policy. The company has made it clear we don't allow it anywhere in the store."

"We come in here all the time," I say. "I'm a novelist. I've done book signings at Borders in several states."

They are unimpressed. Why do I tell them this anyway? As if what, we're family? They don't give a damn. They just want this lactating woman and her brood gone.

The manager says again, "You'll really be more comfortable in the bathroom."

I wish I'd thought to say, "Maybe you enjoy eating where people use the toilet, but my baby doesn't." Of course, I can never think of the perfect retort in the heat of the moment. As we walk away, I hear her call after me, 'Oh, isn't your baby cute! She's so cute! What a beautiful baby."

I'm ready to throw up. My husband sets down the two books we were going to buy. My daughter asks, "Are you OK?" My son trails along at my elbow. "Are you crying, Mama?"

*

I learn very soon that what they did was illegal. In an e-mail from Paula Pearlman at the California Women's Law Center, she includes a copy of the bill penned by Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles). "The statute is California Civil Code section 43.3, which states: "Breast-feeding rights: Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast-feed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present. . . ."

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