Harvest Horror – No Breastfeeding Here
Yesterday was Harvest Festival and it turned out to be a lot more eventful than I was anticipating. Having delivered Bean to the playground, I went straight to the hall where the assembly was taking place, to serve teas and coffees, as part of my PTA duties. I had my baby on my back and my daughter installed on a seat in the front row, saving a seat for me. When I finished serving, I took my seat and my baby son, having been woken early to be here, immediately asked for milk. I began breastfeeding him, feeling happy about my choice of top which meant I could feed him without exposing flesh to the people crammed into the seats around me.
As the children began to come in and sit down, the head teacher rushed over to me and told me to “hurry up and stop” breastfeeding my son. Apparently, some year 6 boys had noticed what I was doing when they walked in and she was afraid they would be silly and disruptive. “The staff and children have worked so hard, it would be a shame to spoil it for everyone, wouldn’t it?”.
I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. I have been breastfeeding for almost five and a half years altogether now, and I have never had a negative comment, let alone been asked to stop feeding one of my children.
I pointed out that the boys in question (who were, as it happens, sitting on the floor a couple of feet away from me, facing the other way, just like all the other children) could not see anything even if they did turn around. Apparently, they knew what I was doing though, and that was enough. The vague suggestion of a breast being used for its prime function was not something they should know about. The head teacher went as far as saying it was her responsibility to protect the children from such things, and many parents would not want their children “exposed to that”. She asked why I had not sat at the back where no-one could see me. I pointed out that my two year daughter would not be able to see her big brother perform from the back (not to mention she would have been swamped by all the adults standing in every square inch of space). She said I should have been more discreet, but could not say how this could have been achieved, other than to say I should hide away.
I mentioned that the law protected me and allowed me to feed my son here. Apparently, she knew I would bring that up and I was invited to see the bigger picture. I told her that I was offended by her request and refused to discuss it any further at that time – in front of all the other parents and grandparents seated to watch the harvest festival.
I continued to feed my son, and then my daughter (and not just to be contrary), the harvest festival went according to plan, the year 6 boys behaved impeccably and all was well. Of course.
After the assembly, when everyone was filing out, the head teacher asked if I had time to discuss the situation in her office. I agreed to. On the way there, she told me that she fully supports breastfeeding, that she breastfed her own children but that she thinks there is a time and place for it. I in turn told her that our area has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the UK and that the figures won’t improve by asking people to hide away.
In her office, she reiterated that I must see the bigger picture; that she didn’t want my breastfeeding to disrupt the whole harvest festival, that she had a duty of care to the children, that parents would not want their children exposed to breastfeeding. She also told me I would not change the breastfeeding rates by feeding at school. She made it clear that although she knew the law, she did not believe that it should count in this case.
I asked her if she would rather I let my son cry and disrupt the assembly. Of course, that wouldn’t have been allowed to happen, since she makes an announcement at the beginning of all these occasions asking parents to take crying or noisy babies and toddlers out of the room. So I asked if she would rather I let him cry and then have to take him out, taking my daughter with me, so that we all missed the assembly and my eldest son would be disappointed at not seeing us there when he performed. Apparently, this would have preferable.
Annoyed beyond belief by now, I said that I did not agree with her that I was doing anything wrong, and neither did the law. She told me that to try and assert my rights under the law was “to make it all about me, me, me and that’s just selfish isn’t it?”. She then said we would have to agree to disagree.
Well, no. We won’t. Because this isn’t about opinion. This is about the fact that breastfeeding my son in public is OK – by law. He has the right to be fed in the harvest festival if that’s what he needs or wants. He has the right not to have to be hidden away or suffocated by so many people standing so close at the back. He has the right not to have to be covered when he feeds (not that he would let that happen anyway). I told her this. I told her that I would be complaining to the governors. She told me I had every right to do so, but that she believed a lot of the parents at school would support her in this.
And there speaks a bully. Do things my way and don’t complain because no-one will agree with you.
She seems to have missed several points – the irony of asking someone not to breastfeed in an assembly celebrating and giving thanks for the food provided to us; the fact that boys who I was going to cause to be silly were impeccably behaved; the fact that the only person drawing any attention to what I was doing was her. Oh, and the fact that she is completely in the wrong on this one.
I will be penning my letter to the Governors this afternoon.
Edited to add that you can read the updates to this situation: