Under The Blanket

September 9, 2008

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.

Thank you.

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: gbentley@westjet.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.

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    Wyliekat September 10, 2008 at 9:36 am

    For what it’s worth, I’ve flown WestJet a good half dozen times with a child at the breast, and have never been treated in that fashion. In fact, it was flight attendants who strongly suggested that I *did* breastfeed through take off and landing. Never once had a problem, and I was never a blanket nurser.

    Just wanted to give a different perspective.

    Tiffi33 September 10, 2008 at 9:44 am

    THIS is a very appropriate t-shirt for ya..till you can get a F the blanket one..heh

    Jenny, the Bloggess September 10, 2008 at 10:40 am

    After all the drama you’ve been through lately I’m just proud that you didn’t just give up and accept the blanket. To continue to tell the woman “no, thank you” even after all of this emotional havock has run you raw is really quite heroic.

    Her Bad Mother September 10, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Satsuki Rebel – I make every effort when I nurse to not flap my boobs around, in part because I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable, but also because *I* would be uncomfortable doing it. But here’s the thing – and I am pretty uncompromising on this point – it’s much easier – and more reasonable – for someone who is made uncomfortable by the sight of a partly exposed breast to just look away than it is for me to just not feed my baby, or to cover him up, or to skulk away to a washroom or whatever. As I’ve said a gajillion times – my baby’s right to nourishment trumps, by a thousandfold, any other person’s right (if such rights can be said to exist) to not be made uncomfortable. I extend a courtesy to others around me by endeavoring – within reasonable bounds – to be discreet, even though I balk at anything that implies that the nursing breast is something to be ashamed of or hidden. Is it so much to expect that others will extend me and my child the courtesy of setting aside their discomforts and allowing us to nurse peacefully and without interference or embarassment?

    Elisa September 10, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Satsuki rebel -

    What is a “happy medium”??? a nursing mother is not a peep show.

    I am not comfortable nursing in public but respect that right in other moms and admire those who do it, especially in the US, where there are close-minded, repressed individuals who are willing to watch boobs on TV but not when they are feeding a child. Which brings me to this: if you don’t want to see it, DON’T LOOK.

    Anonymous September 10, 2008 at 11:31 am

    I am crying as I read this and write this. I understand why you cannot write to them or deal with it at the moment. I will be writing to them, as I am sure many other people will be. By writing this post, you have made a difference by inspiring other people to act. Thank you.

    lavandula September 10, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    hi catherine i’m sorry you’ve had such an emotionally draining time of it lately.and i’m sorry you were offered a blanket to cover up with.what the hells wrong with people?you were clearly upset.so why was that flight attendant making matters worse? when is society going to stop making nursing mums so frikkin uncomfortable when they are only providing food and comfort to their babes?! argh…and for the record not one of mine would have nursed with a blanket covering them.all 4 of them would have pulled it or batted it off of themselves!sending you a big hug…am off to e-mail westjet now

    Laural Dawn September 10, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I’m glad you did what you did.
    I would have been mortified if that had happened to me and may not as have had as much dignity to just say “no thank you”.
    I think it’s just a little ironic that they chose you to pick on considering about a billion people read your blog.

    torrie September 10, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    I’m so sorry.
    I nursed my daughter until she was 13 months old and I nursed her in public- everywhere. Her face and my shirt covered most of my breast. There was a lot less of my tits on display than all of these woman I see walking around in low cut tops. It amazes me that we are doing the best, most natural thing for our children, and it makes people uncomfortable. What a sad world.
    I only ever had one person say something to me while I was breastfeeding. I think more people didn’t say anything because if they looked uncomfortable I would give them the “I fucking dare you to say something” look.
    I’m sorry you were alone and sad and your defenses were down, otherwise I’m sure you would have put the flight attendant in her place.

    pamelamunsell September 10, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    This is what I've written & done:

    To: Gillian Bentley
    Media Relations
    West Jet

    I cannot believe that in the 21st Century any corporation would have a policy that would require a woman to be covered while breast feeding. I suggest, no I demand that after reading http://www.badladies.blogspot.com/ and the September 9, 2008 post that a public apology be written to her and this archaic policy be removed. I will be using my entire e-mail address to inform my people of this outrage and ask them to join me in boycotting West Jet until such apology and recanting of policy.

    Pam Munsell

    Winkin1 September 10, 2008 at 2:20 pm


    Totally feel your pain. I never got more than looks, but frankly, I think you handled it with a becoming grace.

    I became more and more comfortable BF my DD in public, and did so at airports, on airplanes, and at many-a-restaurant. I have to tell say also, I never could have used a blanket. I always had thought I would want to, but with breastfeeding, my always large breasts were darn near unmanageable. Holding baby and a bowling ball sized breast was always a two handed affair. How on earth is lady to adjust a blanket with one hand supporting the boob and one the baby? Am I supposed to let a stranger touch me/us rather than let another stranger see a half-moon sliver of booby? I don’t think so. This mama’s not using blankets and not letting strangers touch her booby (or baby) either.

    Lisa b September 10, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    oh no she didn’t.

    I will be writing them too. Westjet was on my very short list of Canadian Airlines that I enjoy flying with.
    I will be writing Gillian and I cannot wait to hear their apology. I won’t be impressed unless it includes a free return flight out west.

    Anonymous September 10, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    I’ll never fly WestJet. Too many stories just like this. I’ll warn people, too.

    Some women do feel more comfortable hiding under a blanket. I respect their (shame) modesty. I can’t find a reason why people wouldn’t just avert their eyes if breastfeeding was making them uncomfortable.

    How About September 10, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    If anyone receives a response from West Jet, please post it here!

    Punk Rock Dad September 10, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    May not mean a whole lot coming from a dude but I dont get the social aversion to nursing. Just another example of a socially programed response that needs to be done away with.

    Goldfish September 10, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Today’s the very first day I’ve ever read your blog. And I am also breastfeeding, and you are so very right that we are often at our most vulnerable. I am so very sorry, and can relate to every word that you said. Thanks for writing this.

    Laura September 10, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Did you have your pants on? Because if you were nursing naked from the waist down, I could understand the blanket. Try that next time. Go panty-less. That oughta’ take the focus off of your nursing baby.

    LinLos September 10, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    I believe you had more impact on that stewardess and others on that flight than if you had any other response.

    Thank you.

    Jenica September 10, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Unfortunately we all express life in very different ways. Perhaps this woman was suggesting that you modify your behavior for the comfort of others, but maybe she saw a woman in tears, nursing, and truly thought she was being helpful, either based on her own experiences, or out of ignorance. Isn’t it possible that she really thought she could be helpful, and didn’t necessarily know how to respond when you seemed disinterested? Obviously you were there and may have had a better idea of her intent, but I also think it’s possible that it was just a meeting of two different people with two very different life experiences, causing her to offer up the completely wrong thing and causing you to completely misinterpret her intent.

    Pamela-Atl. September 10, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    At the risk of being the devils advocate…Maybe she felt a little sorry for you. Maybe seeing a new mother, in tears, made her want to do SOMETHING to help. I have never nursed a child, nor do I find it uncomfortable to see a mother nursing. It’s natual, beautiful. Put in her place though, seeing you with a little baby, crying, my heart would go out to you. I might have done the same thing. Not meaning any harm but trying to lend a little sisterly aide. That’s just my thoughts. My best to you and all of your family.

    Curious September 10, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    I’m usually as lurker, and I’m sorry this situation upset you. I have to ask and maybe others can enlighten me-what’s the big deal about covering up? Why is it SO not okay?

    Her Bad Mother September 10, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Curious – there are two problems with covering up. 1) It’s uncomfortable and awkward for the mother (who already needs about three hands just to hold and balance baby, get boob out and get baby onto boob – this is a trillion times more difficult if baby is squirming or fussing) – not to mention less than ideal in terms of comfort for baby. Would you want to eat with a blanket over your head? Some babies won’t tolerate it at all.

    2) It implies that there’s something shameful about nursing, such that it needs to be hidden. It’s like a boob burka – it suggests that what’s underneath is too much for observers, not fit to be exposed. If I choose to cover up, because *I* feel uncomfortable exposing part of my breast, that’s one thing. But for someone to tell me that I *should* do that, that’s quite another thing. That’s shaming.

    Her Bad Mother September 10, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    Pamela-Atl. – that’s possible. But I was really, really tucked in with my crying – i just had tears running down my cheeks and my head was bent well over Jasper. Would have been hard to see – impossible to see – from the back of the plane. I’m not saying that the FA was evil – I assume that she was either following policy or just thought that covering up was best. Whatever the case, there really needs to be either a change in policy or some sensitivity training.

    Haley-O September 10, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    I’ve been nursing my rascal for almost a year now. A year of “ew”s and “uch”s from my own family. A year of “why don’t you go in the back room where you’ll have more privacy” and “he just spit up Haley’s breast milk — ew” (again from the family).

    We’re also most vulnerable hormonally. I find myself on the edge of tears all the time lately — from the sheer exhaustion that comes with breastfeeding. And, if one more person gasps at how large my breasts are, I’m going to TOTALLY lose it.

    A woman once yelled at me in synagogue for nursing. I was in a far corner. In the lobby.

    I’m thinking of you. My heart goes out to you and your family. And, I’m sorry you had to experience what you did on the plane. I don’t know about other babies but NEITHER of mine wanted to nurse under a BLANKET.

    Bec September 10, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Still no response from Worst Jet?

    Her Bad Mother September 10, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    Nope. No response.

    88*Keys September 10, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    Well, the good stuff’s already been said, but still … on your behalf,


    I like coming up to women who are nursing in public, making eye contact, and very quietly (so as not to disturb the baby) saying “Good for you.” It’s wonderful seeing their faces light up, since that’s generally not what you hear when a 30-something-woman is bearing down on you when you have a baby at the breast. Oregon has good laws about it, but public tolerance still has a long way to go.

    I am sorry that you had to suffer from it.

    just beth September 11, 2008 at 1:32 am

    Total bullshit.

    I have a La Leche League meeting tomorrow, and you bet your ass you’ll get some more letters written.

    I wrote one tonight and cc’d you.

    I’m so sorry.



    Bedlamite September 11, 2008 at 1:42 am

    I’d like to give a (possible) alternate explanation for what may have happened. Do you think the way you were hunched over your baby could have led to the incorrect assumption you were trying (uncomfortable as it may have been) to cover up? Is there any way you may have overreacted or misinterpreted the offer of a blanket? When I first read your post, that was my first thought…
    I support a mother’s right to nurse her child in public or in private on the damn moon if she wants, but can I get some clarification on everyone’s own idea of what exactly breastfeeding in public means? I nursed all five of my children all over the place, in shopping malls, McDonald’s, public washrooms/lounges, etc. I usually kept us covered loosely with at least a receiving blanket. There may have been the occasional (unintentional) flashing of booby here or there when the baby suddenly detached, but for the most part I think I was pretty discreet without being uncomfortable. I lifted my shirt up to nurse and pulled it down the second the baby was done.
    I have seen women breastfeed who for some reason needed to expose both breasts at the same time while only nursing on one side, or who didn’t cover up while burping the baby afterwards. That was a little weird to me, but unless it was somehow in my job description to monitor such behaviour I would never bother to voice my opinion.
    I don’t find that kind of exposure to be appropriate or something I personally would be comfortable with. I’ll never forget nursing my 3rd baby in the back bedroom of my 86 year old grandfather’s house, only because it was quieter and I thought she might fall asleep easier there. My grandfather actually kind of gave me shit because he thought I was too embarrassed to nurse in front of everyone and he told me I didn’t have to hide that baby and could nurse her wherever I wanted! Go Grandpa!
    One time in university I was nursing my child in one of the lounge type women’s bathrooms. I only was in there because they had padded couch type furniture that I thought would be more comfortable for us both than the plastic chairs offered out in ‘public’. I actually had a woman come up to me and praise me for not feeding my baby in public. I was annoyed that she felt the need to say that to me, but I was too young and inexperienced to speak up for my right to feed my baby wherever we happened to be.

    Vanessa September 11, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Add me to the list of the enraged, and I’m 21 and childless. Goodness sakes, when I have a baby, I want to be able to feed him or her wherever the heck I please, without worrying about whether or not someone doesn’t like my rack. Too bad, son, its there for a purpose and the purpose isn’t for you to oogle it.

    I’ve sent an e-mail as well, and BCCed you, Catherine.

    Vanessa September 11, 2008 at 8:01 am

    OH! One more thing.




    Steph September 11, 2008 at 8:39 am

    I’m guessing you’ve already read about the other women on westJet:

    facecat September 11, 2008 at 8:43 am

    Flashing a bare breast in public is called indecent exposure and if anyone other woman did it she'd be arrested. Why you and other breast feeding mothers think you are so special that the laws don't apply to you is beyond me. The attendant was kind & attempting to be understaning, you were not. No one wants to see your engorged, sagging, post-partum anatomy or your little 'bundly-o-joy' while he feeds. Cover up & grow up. You aren't entitled anymore than anyone else. You aren't the only person on this planet nor the only one having a bad day. And no, I am not against breast feeding – but I also don't want to see anyone doing it.

    just beth September 11, 2008 at 9:51 am

    facecat, you are not only ignorant, but stupid and mean. Breastfeeding is nowhere near the same thing as flashing a boob, and if you were educated and or informed, you would know that. If you are so adamant about not wanting to see anyone ‘doing it’, then…um…DON’T LOOK. It is a woman’s right to feed her baby, and your right to look away. I think you’re the one who needs to grow up, sweetheart. You obviously have some issues.

    Plus, ‘engorged, sagging…’really? You expect to be taken seriously when you are just blatantly mean?

    You should call your mother, I think you guys probably have some problems.

    Catherine. This person is stupid, ignore them.



    Anonymous September 11, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Oh am I mad now! I wasn’t going to write anything until I saw that last comment from “facecat.” Well, let me respond to a few of your kind and oh-so-mature remarks. First, most countries, states, provinces, etc. in Western Civilization recognize a huge difference between flashing breasts (i.e. indecent exposure) and providing nourishment for a helpless individual (i.e. breast feeding). These governments recognize that nursing women actually are special and so there are laws PROTECTING THEIR RIGHTS. Second, if you do not want to see the direct results of bringing life into this world then I have a simple suggestion for you…DON’T LOOK. Turn your head, look away, distract yourself by gazing as something else. You never have to watch anyone breastfeed. Third, someone can see more actual “boobflesh” from media, modern clothing, and swimming suits than from a woman feeding her child. The nipple is IN the mouth; the surrounding “boobflesh” is blocked by a largish head. Low-cut shirts are more immodest. Next time you eat, I suggest you eat on a toliet or covered under a germ infested blanket so that the rest of us do not have to watch your rude mouth. Practice what you preach “Cover-up and grow-up.”

    Oh and HBM, I was never able to breastfeed but I will fight for your RIGHT and others to feed their children.

    ChurchPunkMom September 11, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Bristling with anger…

    LD September 11, 2008 at 10:34 am

    so so stupid. Consider the email already sent!

    Her Bad Mother September 11, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Vanessa ROCKS!

    Meryl September 11, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Woah there asshat–who gave you the right to speak for us all? “No one” wants to see Catherine breast feed? Really? Cause actually I think it’s kind of encouraging to see a woman proudly breastfeeding, and I think there are over a hundred other commentors here who would agree.

    zchamu September 11, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Actually, Facecat, you are wrong. It is not indecent exposure. Women are legally permitted to bare their breasts, at least in Ontario.

    If you don’t want to see someone breastfeeding, feel free to turn your head.

    And don’t be a douche, because nobody likes douches.

    Noelle September 11, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Don’t engage facecat. She is clueless and to argue point by point will not change her mind. Babies were meant to be fed. The way we are meant to feed them is by the breast. The rest is all other peoples cultural hangups.

    Alli {Mrs. Fussypants} September 11, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Mah boobies have been exposed all up & down the East Coast for a decade, 5 boys and all, planes, trains and automobiles.

    It's a natural God given function.

    The fact that people may get uncomfortable astounds me.

    The airline will hear from me, also.

    Cagey September 11, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Catherine, you are not the first to have had issues with WestJet – check out this article. I was thinking of you when I read it.

    Your Fellow Lactating Cow. Just call me Bessie (or “Kelli” would work just as well :-)

    Anonymous September 11, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Man boobs highly offend me. Maybe next time I head to the beach I should bring a blanket with me.

    Backpacking Dad September 11, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Facecat: flashing a breast indecently in public is called indecent exposure. Breastfeeding mothers don’t get arrested for breastfeeding in public because we’ve collectively said “Oh yeah, it would be monumentally stupid to keep public breastfeeding illegal.” It’s not special treatment; it’s respectful treatment. Because babies and their nutrition are more important than whatever psychological damage has been done to you by your upbringing. Way to piss on someone though. Congratulations.


    Vanessa September 11, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Methinks Facecat has some boobie issues. Wanna bet that you noshed on the titty as a youngin? And at the time, you probably didn’t care that it was engorged, cause hello, that meant full of food for you. Fool.

    Moving on.

    I asked for a “read response” with my e-mail, and I got one this morning, so I know she’s reading our letters. Any response yet?

    Badness Jones September 11, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    My son is 21 months old and still nursing. I never thought I’d be nursing a baby this long, but I have and I am, and it’s right for us right now. Last week we stopped at a restaurant on the 401 halfway through a very long drive. After our meal I offered my son a quick nurse before getting back in the car. A family sitting across from us, parents and two teenaged daughters, picked up their meals and moved across the restaurant away from us. It was the first time in nursing two children that I’ve felt shunned and humiliated. I was shocked and hurt, and all my husband’s assurances that it was their problem and not mine didn’t help. I’m sorry for you, and for everyone else that has experienced similar. I hope that if we all keep nursing in public, by the time my daughter, and your daughter, have babies, nursing in public will be a non-issue, and they won’t have to think twice.

    Anonymous September 11, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    I nursed both of my kids for 2 years each, everywhere, anywhere, on many many long international flights, without a blanket. Facecat, if I had run into you or your kind at any point during this time, you would be getting an indecent exposure of my postpartum, stitched up, saggy white ass. And I would hope that that would damage and confuse your fragile little pysche more than it’s already damaged/confused.

    Mz X September 11, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    I have very little beef with the OP but the drama in the comments is astonishing. Would someone be so kind as to explain to me why it is ok, in fact, ‘beautiful’, to breastfeed a baby in public, but it is ok for you to insult women who wear low cut tops and hipster jeans? Why should the child free be any less proud of our beautiful bodies than you? There’s a lot of OTT bullshit on both sides of an argument like this, and everyone needs to put their toys back in their pram and go for a nap. Self included. I’m going to go look at some funny pictures of cats, have a nice day.

    GeekLady September 11, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    I’d have squirted her. (Okay, not really. I’d have been severely tempted, though. I have a pretty good range.)

    I WILL squirt Facecat, if I can track it down. The asshat.

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