Conversation I Had At My Church Job Yesterday

Young Woman (YW): Excuse me? I’m making a baby area, but I forget to make a sign before I left my house.

Amp: You want me to make you a sign? Sure.1

YW: Thanks! It should say “Mothers Room” in big letters. We’re going to make the parlor room a quiet area for feeding babies.

Amp: Okay.

YW: And below that, in smaller letters, can you put “for mothers and their young children?”

Amp: No problem. But what happens if a father wants to bottle-feed his baby?2

YW: Well, we don’t want to get too PC here.

Amp: You’re already setting up a nursing room, which is pretty PC of you.

YW: Nonono, it’s a “mother’s room.” A lot of people weren’t sure it’s all right to have nursing in church, so we’re calling it a mother’s room.

Amp: Oh.

To be fair, there are plenty of people in the church group who are very hip and liberal and play acoustic guitar and (if male) wear stylish stubble. But sometimes the culture shock still takes me by surprise…

  1. This is a common request at my job, so I have a bunch of sign formats saved on the office computer. []
  2. In retrospect, this was a stupid question; given how conservative these folks are, of course they don’t want any men in an area where mothers are breastfeeding. This didn’t occur to me at the time, probably because none of the nursing moms I’ve hung out with hesitated to nurse their babies in a mixed crowd. []
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20 Responses to Conversation I Had At My Church Job Yesterday

  1. 1
    Dianne says:

    My first thought when you asked the question about bottle feeding was that no one, male or female, would hesitate to bottle feed a baby in public, so a separate room wasn’t necessary for that. But after reading the rest of the post, I’m not so sure. Do people really hesitate to feed their babies in church even via a bottle? What are they supposed to do if the kid gets hungry? I would also have been confused by the sign: Is a room for mothers and their young children a quiet room to breast feed babies or a room where toddlers can run off their energy without disturbing the service? Maybe I’m just not meant for church culture.

  2. 2
    Nemo says:

    Maybe the women, in reality, wanted a room to be amongst other women with no men around. I don’t know if that’s entirely bad at times. For either gender.

  3. 3
    mythago says:

    More evidence that ‘PC’ really is shorthand for “Shut up, you liberal jerk. Nanana I can’t hear you.”

    I think the young lady was trying to say that she wanted a private room for moms to whip it out and breast feed, but she couldn’t bring herself to use the B-word with Amp.

  4. 4
    Barbara says:

    Well, I can tell you that when my company e-mailed one and all that it had (finally!) completed equipping a lactation room for nursing mothers who need to pump at work, I received at least a few juvenile e-mails from colleagues who couldn’t contain their snide, supposedly humorous comments at this straightforward announcement. However, to be fair to dads (and older siblings and nannies and grandparents or anybody else who might be tasked for the hour to keep the baby happy), it does seem to me that such a room should be used “exclusively” for nursing mothers, otherwise it just reinforces nasty stereotypes about who’s supposed to be feeding the baby, whether with bottle, breast or sippy cup.

  5. 5
    Susan says:

    Men think about sex a lot. I am told. I am further told that the “spectacle” of a mother breast-feeding a baby is upsetting to a lot of men, and stimulating to some of them. (Odd but true.)

    To disagree with what Amp says, men do not have to be “conservative” to feel this way, and women do not have to be “conservative” to want this emotional junk out of the way when we’re trying to feed our young.

    God forbid that we should listen to what the women involved actually want. That should undoubtedly be subordinated so someone’s idea of what is Correct.

  6. 6
    Barbara says:

    Right, Susan, except that many churches have “quiet rooms” that are used for fussy babies for any reason. I don’t think it would be fair to have a “quiet” room that is open to anybody except male caregivers because once in a while a mom uses it for nursing, if for no other reason that once in a while I’d like to send my husband back to the quiet room so I am not the only one who has to hold the baby. Men who are actively trying to quiet and bottlefeed a baby are probably among those who are less likely to be ogling a nursing mother in the quiet room of a church. Just guessing.

  7. 7
    Susan says:

    Yes, Barbara, I am familiar with “quiet rooms” aka “crying rooms.” These are open to anybody with a baby or small child who is being disruptive. Male or female. No one has ever imposed any other criterion to my experience. You don’t even have to be a parent even, it’s enough that you’re accompanied by a Screamer. :)

    Here we clearly need some clarity. Is this room for nursing mothers (whose babies, while nursing, don’t really make much noise)? Thus, for mothers who don’t feel comfortable nursing in public, and to protect those males who don’t have their eyes under any kind of control?

    OR, very different case, is this to protect the congregation from the Screamers? (Who may or may not be of nursing age anyway and who probably are not?)

    Is it both? Well, then, the moms have to be more flexible, no? If for nursing moms only, they don’t.

  8. 8
    Dianne says:

    There really should be two rooms: a nursing room and a room to calm screamers. But that would require making signs that are explicit about which room was which and, if I understand correctly, the church didn’t want that because the word “nursing” would have to be used.

  9. 9
    Kristin says:

    Didn’t know if it was OK to have nursing in a church? Oh for Pete’s sake! How the hell do they think Baby Jesus was fed? Holy Similac?

    And no, there shouldn’t be a “nursing room” at all. There should be an active understanding (as there should be everywhere else) that it’s OK for women to nurse their babies wherever the babies happen to be hungry, and that a woman who prefers privacy and quiet can be accorded any peaceful corner and respectfully left alone.

    Unfortunately, I agree that’s a bit too reasonable to ask people to be, right now, about the subject of hungry babies and women’s bodies. Sigh.

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:

    I’m guessing that people aren’t reading the footnotes. :-)

    For the record, I have nothing at all against them having a “mothers only” area where folks can breastfeed. Given the social realities of their subculture, a co-ed area is clearly out of the question for them.

  11. 11
    Raznor says:

    In all fairness, too, they did hire Amp, so they can’t be all bad.

  12. 12
    Charles says:

    Actually, they didn’t hire Amp. The congregation just rents the place that Amp works for (which was once a church, so it looks all churchy, and presumably this particular congregation doesn’t care about desanctification).

  13. 13
    Ampersand says:

    But it’s true they’re not all bad. :-) Many of them are quite nice, the younger members of the congregation especially are not as politically conservative as one might assume, and some of the charity work some of them do is really admirable.

  14. 14
    Nick Kiddle says:

    I think the young lady was trying to say that she wanted a private room for moms to whip it out and breast feed, but she couldn’t bring herself to use the B-word with Amp.

    Back when I was exclusively breastfeeding the xCLP, we were caught short in town. While I was at the bank paying bills, I asked whether it would be OK for me to use their seating area to feed the xCLP, who was getting pretty obviously stressed out.

    “Are you feeding her yourself?” asked the cashier. I thought that was a pretty stupid question, because we were on our own, so who else was going to feed her. It took me a while to figure that it was code for “are you breastfeeding?” She was perfectly cool with me feeding in the seating area, and even offered me a glass of water, but she had to ask in a confusing way rather than straight out say “breast”.

  15. 15
    Barbara says:

    That’s why there’s this handy term called “nursing.” It doesn’t require anyone to use the word breast. I watched a Dr. Phil episode in which a woman couldn’t bring herself to say anything that had any association in her head with any part of reproductive anatomy or breasts. She would avoid saying things like “Cheese nips” because they made her think of nipples. Dr. Phil told her that she should knock it off and that it was actually healthier to use anatomical terms and a hell of a lot less confusing to others in situations such as the one Nick described.

  16. 16
    Kaethe says:

    It never occurred to me to ask anyone whether it was okay to breastfeed anywhere.

    I think it’s sad that anyone else’s opinion matters.

  17. 17
    Elisabet says:

    Susan wrote:

    Is this room for nursing mothers (whose babies, while nursing, don’t really make much noise)?

    Obviously you were never around my son when he was nursing… let’s just say he would enthusiasticly enjoy his meals.

    I found it relatively easy to nurse a newborn “in public”, at least once we got the whole latching-on thing worked out. When the baby’s middle-far range vision developed (three or four months?) it became much more difficult – he was easily distracted by anything/anybody that strayed into his field of view. That’s when I started looking for the quiet retreat for nursing, and it had nothing to do with “modesty” or worrying about other people’s possible hang-ups.

    I share Amp’s unease with the “mothers only” policy, but if what the parents in this congregation need right now is for nursing moms to have a comfortable place to be and if part of that comfort means excluding men, then I can’t judge them too harshly for that.

    So, how I see it somewhat hinges on whether the women feel they are seizing an opportunity or are being exiled. (And how the congregation as a whole feels about it too.)

  18. 18
    Kristin says:

    Obviously you were never around my son when he was nursing… let’s just say he would enthusiasticly enjoy his meals.

    LOL! My son could be heard nursing from across the room. Gulping, guzzling and generally enjoying himself. My daughter used to hum to herself while she nursed.

    My experience with them is the biggest reason why I reject the “you don’t even have to know a baby is nursing if mom does it right” fallacy in defense of public breastfeeding. Know what? It’s not my job to make sure you can’t tell I’m feeding my kids, until it’s YOUR job to make sure no one else knows when YOU’RE eating.

    I am all about accomodating moms who feel they’re more comfortable or that it’s easier to nurse where there’s fewer people and distractions. But, it needs to be the mom’s call and not something we decide for her (like the people who have lectured me that this needs to be a speshul, priiiiiiivate moment between me and my baby, when all I usually want is not to be cooped up any more than I already have to away from adult socialization and activities).

    An important part of this, I think, is that when many moms say they feel “more comfortable” nursing in private or covered up, the unspoken second half to that sentence is “because then I don’t have to worry about the very real possibility of being harassed, humiliated or creepily stared at”. To me, this is very similar to women who “feel more comfortable” not walking alone at night or going certain places because of the possibility that they’ll be subjected to lewd comments or assaults; it has less to do, really, with the woman’s comfort levels, and more to do with the transgressive behavior choices of other people to influence what she’s comfortable with.

    Obviously, as a society, we need to make people accountable for that kind of behavior and make it clear that it’s unacceptable, so that moms can decide what they’re REALLY “more comfortable” about without having to factor harassment or embarassment into the equation. And I feel that for most of us to breastfeed unapologetically in public, without drawing attention to how “discreet” or “polite” we can be about it, is a huge first step in that direction.

  19. 19
    A.J. Luxton says:

    I am further told that the “spectacle” of a mother breast-feeding a baby is upsetting to a lot of men, and stimulating to some of them. (Odd but true.)

    I have to address this with a list of other “spectacles” that are stimulating to some men, and some women:

    Balloons popping
    Bare feet
    Leg braces

    People’s brains are quirky.

    I don’t have a prescription or proscription on this topic, I just hate to see “but someone might get aroused” used as an argument in most contexts.

    I have a weird sexual response to something which is random, nonsexual and public. I’m not going to go into the details, but I’m going to say simply that because it’s random, nonsexual and public, I learned as I was growing up to sort of tune out the stimulus: look down, look away, shrink in my seat. Most people I’ve met with similar quirks have similar responses.

    Treating something as a shunned thing seems to make it more acceptable to express arousal in relation to it, if anything.

  20. 20
    Krista says:

    My church has a “mother’s room”, apparently for mother’s too embarrassed or bashful to breastfeed in public. I, however, am not one of those mothers. But I have been chastised by older women in my church for nursing outside of the mother’s lounge, even if I do have a blanket on. Which I usually don’t because my son hates it, and why should I disturb my son for your comfort? So it’s a conundrum. And it makes me mad because I feel as though I need to nurse in the lounge, but then I miss m0st of church because I’m in there. Why even go to church?