It was the kind of thing that would have outraged me, had it happened any other day, any other week. It was the kind of thing that would have had me out of my seat, demanding explanation. It was the kind of thing that I would have written letters about, that I would have blogged and twittered and shared, about which I would have said, I would have hollered, to anyone who would listen, look, this just shouldn’t happen, we need to make sure that this doesn’t happen, why the f*ck does this still happen?
But it was the wrong day, the wrong week, and I just wasn’t up for it because my heart was too heavy and my head was too full and the last thing I needed was an argument with a flight attendant about whether or not I really should cover myself up with a blanket while nursing.
When she approached me in my seat near the back of the plane, blanket in hand, I ignored her. Jasper was tucked in at my breast, wrapped in his own blanket, his head pressed against the white half-moon of flesh that was barely visible beneath him. His head was damp from the stream of tears that had been running down my cheeks from the moment of our departure, the tears that I’d held back while saying my goodbyes. I bent my head over his, shielding my face, my breast, my baby, my tears from view with the veil of my hair. I didn’t even look up when she spoke to me.
Excuse me, perhaps you’d like to cover up with a blanket?
I don’t answer.
I brought a blanket for you.
She crouches slightly, bending closer. I gather my voice. I’m afraid that it will crack.
I’m fine, thank you.
She stands up, still holding the blanket in front of me.
Well. Perhaps I’ll leave it with you?
I don’t answer.
She reaches across me, across Jasper, and drops the blanket on the empty seat beside me. If you need help with it, let me know.
Thank you, I say, my jaw clenched, my throat closed. I am trying to not cry anymore than I already am.
Some women are more comfortable nursing with a blanket. I can’t see her, my head bent as it is, but I imagine that she stiffens defensively.
My tears are getting hot. I swallow my anger.
And then she walked away, and I kept my head bent over my baby for as long as he nursed and as long as he slept and until the tension in the back of my neck became too much to bear.
I didn’t say anything. I had always though that if that happened to me, I would say something. That I would I would ask why she was pressing the blanket upon me, that I would ask if it was WestJet policy to ‘suggest’ to nursing mothers that they cover up, that I would say that if I was comfortable with blankets I would have one with me, that I would say that no nursing mother wants a stranger bent over her while she nurses, asking if she wouldn’t rather cover up for privacy, that I would, if I had the nerve, ask are you serious? Are you really serious? Do you not see that I might be offended, be made more uncomfortable, by your hovering, by your suggestion that I cover up? To say, no nursing mother should ever be told to cover up. To say, it is my right, it is my child’s right, to nurse and be nursed here, right here, right now, in the manner that best serves us both. To say, fuck your blanket.
I always thought that I would say something, if it happened to me.
I hadn’t figured that I might, if happened to me, be caught in an anxious, unguarded moment, that I might be feeling vulnerable, that my heart might be sore, that I might not be the cocky self-assured self that I can be when I’m protected by my words, by the screen, by the condition of being virtual. I hadn’t thought that, in the reality of such a moment, I might just fold under the weight of my anxieties and my hurts and my self-consciousness about those anxieties and hurts, about my self-consciousness, full stop, and just want to disappear. Under a blanket, maybe.
Which is precisely the problem, as I’ve said before. A nursing mother is very often a mother at her most vulnerable. A nursing mother traveling – a nursing mother traveling on her own – a nursing mother traveling on her own and weeping – is almost certainly a mother at her most vulnerable. To approach woman under these circumstances to suggest that she do something to modify her behavior is to exploit her vulnerability. It is – and maybe this is too strong a statement, although on the basis of my own experience I think not – to bully.
I wish that I had the emotional strength right now to be more outraged about this. I wish that I had the emotional strength, even, to express a measure of outrage that amounts to more than this heavy sighing, this defeated complaint. I wish that I had the mental and emotional wherewithal to write a letter, to send an e-mail, to make a phone call. But I don’t. I’m spent, completely and totally spent. Everything that I have is going toward supporting my family and keeping my own emotional ballasts stable. There was, there is, nothing left over.
All there was to do, all there is to do, is to take cover under the blanket, and hope that it doesn’t smother.
One of you, anonymously, took the initiative to get the contact information for media relations at WestJet. If you’re so inclined to express your opposition to policies advocating the blanketing of nursing babies on airplanes, here it is: Gillian Bentley, Media Relations, e-mail: email@example.com.
Many of you have told me that you’ve already sent e-mails linking to this post. You are all so, so awesome. It’s warming, to be so surrounded by heroes, bare-breasted or otherwise.