Nips, Lips, Hips, ‘N Fingertips

{November 21, 2006}   Suck my “perfectly acceptable” left one, Freedom Airlines!

Just in case you live in a cave, I’ll fill you in on the latest juicy mommy story:

A woman (and her family) was kicked off a plane for openly breastfeeding her baby!

You know what? I don’t even want to try and fill you in on the formulaic details (is anyone else starting to see a pattern here??). Just go read the story for your self and then come back and read my lactivistic rant if you find that afterward you’re parched.

You can read one of MSN’s very brief versions of the events right here:

Here’s the quote that really got my goat: “A breast-feeding mother is perfectly acceptable on an aircraft, providing she is feeding the child in a discreet way,” that doesn’t bother others, said Paul Skellon, spokesman for Phoenix-based Freedom. “She was asked to use a blanket just to provide a little more discretion, she was given a blanket, and she refused to use it, and that’s all I know.”

I would really like to have a word (or a thousand) with the cretinous ignoramus Skellon, let me tell you. A breast that is being used to feed a baby is not a sexual object, period! Thus, there is no need for discretion. To me, the whole notion that a flight attendant on an airplane can have a family removed for something legal that she finds personally offensive is about as ridiculous as a server in a public restaurant asking a customer to not chew with their mouth open (something that really disgusts me) because the inside of the mouth is used for oral sex and they find it offensive- and going on to say how if they insist on chewing with their mouth open, they must do so while covering their mouth with a napkin. To take my analogy all the way, imagine if a server could have a patron removed from a restaurant for refusing to hold a napkin over their mouth while eating.

You may think my analogy is far-fetched, but I assure you that for most breastfeeding mothers, breastfeeding is as natural to us as chewing ones food well before swallowing (with our mouthes closed because our mothers taught us not to chew with them open).

And I really find it funny discordant how babies have so many rights *before* they are born in our country, but not while they are too young to do anything but cry about not being fed.

Airplanes are Hell on Earth if you ask me, and flight attendants have the efficacious opportunity to make it better or worse. From the moment we board an airplane, it is the flight attendants who set the tone for the flight. Some are business-like, some friendly. Some make funny faces or lip sync to their co-workers voices while going over the emergency procedures. Most see it as their job to help get you settled in, some are authoritarian about it. But either way, once the plane takes off and climbs to the cruising altitude, one quickly feels that the cabin is cramped, and the stale air smells like B.O. and farts.  The flight attendant with the headphones quickly becomes one’s best friend. Veteran flight attendants offer blankets and extra pillows to those who look sleepy. It is a small luxury that affords a measure of comfort and privacy in a public setting. The blanket is not intended to cover up shameful behavior, but to provide warmth.

But the blanket offered to Momma Gillette was a blanket of shame. It was intended to provide privacy for someone else who is capable of looking away, and it is symbolic of our society’s completely conflicting rules about nudity and sex. Breasts can be flashed on TV to sell the latest Victoria’s Secret push-up bra that juts unnatural breasts into even more unnatural positions (and by the way, in case you hadn’t heard, the secret is that Victoria doesn’t support breastfeeding) . But god forbid a woman ought to use her breast for what it was created/evolved to do best: to nurse a troubled baby/child. 

Babies can experience horrible, piercing pain in their eardrums as the plane ascends and descends. A baby who is breastfed (or given a bottle or sippy cup for that matter) on a plane is a quiet baby. Most people seem to loathe babies and children in general on planes. I know this from many, many personal experiences flying with my children- the longest flight being from Salt Lake City, Utah to Honolulu, Hawaii. I have heard comments ranging from “Oh great, it’s Romper Room” to “I hope they aren’t sitting behind us” while boarding flights with my boys, who are usually better behaved than the adults on the flight. I’ve been known to make direct comments to the people who say such rude things, usually something along the lines of : “So did you spring to the Earth fully grown?” or “I guess your parents never took you anywhere when you were little!” but anymore I just let my children’s good-natured and almost always polite in public behavior speak for itself.

I have nursed both of my boys while flying- with the youngest, most recently, at about 2 years old. I was almost hoping the last time we flew that someone would say something about it. You could say I was ready for a fight. I had my fierce rebuttal prepared about how it was my right to breastfeed whenever and wherever I could legally be- and certainly in a seat which I had paid for was one such place.  I would have further added that any part of my breast/nipple exposed during breastfeeding was not considered indecent exposure or a lewd act and that any suggestion in that vein would be defended by my attorney, a family lawyer who we have on retainer.

I never even got a chance as the (Frontier) flight attendants completely adored us. They kept bringing things by to entertain the boys, flirting with them and playing peek-a-boo and things like that. When I had to breastfeed Smooshie, who refuses to even allow my shirt to cover my breast a tiny bit, one of them flashed me a great big smile. Another one, an older guy, gave me a thumbs up! I was so completely blown away and we will loyally fly Frontier from now on whenever there is a choice. And yay, their hub is here in Denver!

I have never flown on Freedom Airlines so I didn’t have any particular opinion of the airline until I read this appalling story. I have flown Delta and I have had experiences ranging from cold and callous to Midwesternly friendly. But now, I have an entirely negative concept of Freedom Airlines because of the actions of one flight attendant and an ineffective spokesman.

The flight attendant ought to be fired or seriously reprimanded at the very least. I can’t even believe that one flight attendant can make a comment that can then cause an entire family to be removed from a flight. It seems like since 9/11, we have given flight attendants power that supercedes their human, subjective judgement. We now err way too far on the side of caution and trust that if a flight attendant or a paranoid passenger thinks someone is suspicious then they must be doing something wrong. How much education does the average flight attendant have? How much sensitivity training? How  much diversity awareness? Apparently,some of them don’t even have a basic understanding of the law as it pertains to breastfeeding in public.

I hope that the Gillette family sues the airline *and* the pants off the flight attendant, too.

I would be willing to bet my breastpump that the flight attendant wasn’t breastfed. Those are usually the people who are the most easily offended by breastfeeding in public places. It has to be difficult to see what you were not given as a baby/child. It must bring up a lot of feelings…intense feelings like anger, denial, hunger, inadequacy, jealousy, sadness.   

But I also think that flight attendants have just gotten too big for their britches.

On one trip to New York from St. Louis, when we had to change planes twice (and take three different flights) to get there, I patiently explained what a sling was about five times to five different people who told me I had to put our son in his carseat. I had one flight attendant tell me that I could not have my son in the sling for take-off as he could be killed or seriously injured in a crash. I said something about how if I could have him on my lap then the sling is the same thing. She insisted that I could have him on my lap but not in the sling.  I repsonded that I was going to have my baby in the sling and I was going to be breastfeeding him when the plane took off and that it was my choice to do so and there was nothing she could do about it. She left me alone for the rest of the flight but had a male flight attendant answer our call when we dinged to ask for another blanket. She glared at me as we exited the plane. I just smiled back at her. Happy baby, happy mom.

I can’t even imagine if I had been asked to leave the flight for refusing to buckle my infant son into his car seat during takeoff. We had not even paid for a seat for him and had been allowed to bring the carseat on at the last minute since there was an emtpy seat next to mine. I think that was probably the only reason she didn’t make a bigger deal out of it.

Why am I going on and on about this? I don’t know. I think I am just sick and tired of people who think that they can tell us parents how to raise our children. The Scolders. Those who think they know more about the proper care and feeding of a baby than the baby’s own mother. Baby experts and baby cops need to take a permanent time-out. They are often “childless by choice” (or the father who was in medical school and doing his residency while mom was home raising the kids he is a so-called expert on parenting) and have no Earthly idea what they are talking about- but yet we are supposed to be concerned about their sensibilities? Children ought to come first. Adults ought to have the maturity to turn the other cheek of they don’t like something. The intense needs of a baby who has to nurse on an airplane to feel comfortable and safe are more important than a flight attendant who is fully capable of averting her eyes. 

After all, our children will be their doctors, fire fighters, lawyers, and nurses someday. They will be glad then that we breastfed them and attachment parented them and homeschooled/private schooled them. But until then, because we tend to be a kind and tolerant lot, we will put up with their whining. We are parents, and that’s what we do.


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