How I Walk The Lactivist Line: Support Choice and Breastfeed On 1 Side

As a middle child, I am the consummate peacemaker. I want everyone to get along– the vegans and the paleos, the Tories and the Whigs, Sadie and Simon.  I walk the line to keep the peace, and I always will.  You can’t fight birth order, so I no longer try.

In the context of the lactivist debates (that terribly politicized question about whether to breastfeed and how long and where), I felt upset about the polarized opinions.  I was a working mother during my first time breastfeeding.  No one ever got in my face, but it was floating around in my social circle and in culture at large. I felt an imperative to give breastfeeding my very best efforts because I read the research.  Higher IQs! Better bonding! More secure!   I actually believe the messages, even though some of the messengers were sociopathic know-it-alls.  (There are jerks on both sides of every debate, right?)

I had my own nursing journey with my two kids, and I actually still nurse Simon.

BUT, I can credibly remain on both sides of the debate because I only nurse him on the right side.  Yep, my lopsided nursing has the beneficial upside of allowing me to supporting nursing on the one hand (and breast), and support the world of choice and formula on the other.

Win, win.

Except, it might be a bit of a “lose” for me since I have breastfed Simon only on the right side for about 11 months.  Use your imagination to picture how spectacularly uneven my rack is now that one side has been used a lifesource for my child (I think it’s time to admit he’s not a baby) twice as long as the other side.  Take it from me, there’s not a bra in all of Target that can address this situation.

“Excuse me, where are your half-nursing bra/half-sports bra hybrids?”   It’s fun to tell them that on your right side you want a nursing-style cup and on the left side you want a good old Champion sports bra.  Try that with one of those red-shirted employees at Target.  Report back in the comments.

I actually never think about this debate now that I am consumed with picking out outfits to wear when I do preschool pick up and obsessing about the stupid stuff I blurt out while we wait for our kids to come out and NOT tell us anything about their days.  But, one of my professor colleagues (one class per semester still counts, people) sent me this link to the college professor who breastfed her sick baby during class.

(Read about Professor Adrienne Pine’s breastfeeding in class here.  Even more interesting is Professor Pine’s response to the interest in her decision to (1) bring a sick baby to class and (2) nurse the baby during her lecture.)

Now, I teach 9 first-year law students the art of legal writing.  I personally cannot imagine nursing in front of them.  But I have a husband and resources that Professor Pine does not have.  I so don’t judge her for breastfeeding, in class or anywhere else. But, I do judge her for how she treated the student (female) reporter who approached her about the situation.

Pine treated the reporter as if she was one of those stupid chirpy birds that accompanies Snow White through the forest.  At the same time, however, Pine was pissed off that the reporter had the gall to “hound” her and catch her off guard, grabbing an interview when Pine was sick and vulnerable.

Pine writes: “But her questions were so biased and sophomoric—although she appeared to admire that I had committed some sort of radical feminist act, which was not in this context at all my intention—that it became clear that the goal of the article was to explore/create a controversy where there was none.”

If you see this woman, DO NOT ask about her in-class breastfeeding. (Image courtesy of American University via Slate.com)

If you see this woman, DO NOT ask about her in-class breastfeeding. (Image courtesy of American University via Slate.com)

I’m sorry, but Pine didn’t have to be such an asshole about the woman who interviewed her.  If her questions were sophomoric, maybe Pine, as a professor, could educate her.  Fine, if you don’t want to be the darling of a movement you want no part of, but then why didn’t you explain your position and the bias that incensed you.  Professors are hired for teachable moments aren’t they?  She doesn’t work in the Bursar’s office; she’s hired to teach.  The class she breastfed in was called Sex, Gender and Culture.  Why not use the situation to speak critically about culture, instead of about the student reporter?

So, Professor Pine, I don’t care who you show your nipples to, but I care about how you treat other women who are trying to make their way through the world, just like you once did.

What do you ya’ll think? Let’s engage in rousing debate before the weekend comes, and I have to come up with something fun for the kids to do.

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41 thoughts on “How I Walk The Lactivist Line: Support Choice and Breastfeed On 1 Side

  1. First, I could care less about the whole nursing idea. It’s so personal, yet so many want to make others conform to their idea of what is acceptable and not. I thought this was a free country, at least when it comes to personal behavior.

    But here, in this best of all possible worlds, it is certain that we will hurt each others. At least their feelings. The reporter you describe through the words of the professor communicated an agenda to the subject of her interview without disclosing it openly. This puts the subject into a defensive posture that is unlikely to produce a truthful response on the part of the subject.

    The interviewer will either learn that she didn’t get the most accurate portrayal of her subject, and she gets to ask herself, or perhaps her editor will ask, is the objective to report the truth, or is it her objective to report a reaction to a manipulative line of questioning.

    Truly an situation for learning, or as we say it in my circles, AFGO. Another F**king Growth Opportunity.

  2. You’ve hit a point I hadn’t considered at all – making an issue of breastfeeding seemed silly to me, but it could have been a really good teaching opportunity to help young women see in context the kinds of pressures working mothers find themselves experiencing, and question how things might be improved.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  3. “…while we wait for our kids to come out and NOT tell us anything about their days.” Yes! Why do they ignore those questions, those pleas for a detail of something they did in there all that time!? I think the preschool teachers just put on Dora and be done with it for 2.5 hours, and wipe a little glitter on their clothes to fake a craft-like activity?! I used to be a huge advocate for breastfeeding, judging people left and right (so to speak) for choosing formula over breast. Or for quitting after “only” six months, and so on and so fourth. Then I had my second child and I’m too tired to really give a crap what other people do. I’m secure in the decisions I’ve made for my bozos (boob-fed 13 months, both of them, hooray for me? Though others would judge I quit too early, zing!) I don’t mind breastfeeding in public at all, though bringing that noise to work seems unprofessional. You don’t see men putting together model airplanes in board meetings. Or do we…? Maybe only in James Bond movies.

  4. Indeed. I expect her future at AU may be under review soon, but not because of the breasts.
    I wrote about Ms. Pine yesterday, because I don’t think the AU brouhaha is really about breast feeding. It’s about professionalism. Ms. Pine’s students deserve her wholly undivided attention during scheduled class and office times.
    Back up day care is “expensive,” she claims? Yeah, but that is so NOT the students’ problem. Family friendly employment policies don’t extend to including the family on the job.
    I see Ms. Pine as much like the office worker who shows up in a tube top, and gets the summer casual dress code revoked for everyone.

  5. I wonder if she was worried about her job. She seemed to be just trying to sweep it under the rug because she didn’t want any attention – good (ala “teachable moment”) or bad. I don’t know how I feel about what she did but I can say that I certainly would have been distracted if my teacher started breastfeeding. As a college student I wouldn’t have been able to grasp the nature of feeding your baby or daycare complications, etc. and it would have distracted me from the lecture. Plus I was so naive I would have been more interested in holding the mushy baby than listening to a lesson. Things I would never say now…

    • Exactly! Except I am in the throes of serious baby fever so I would be fairly moony. As a student I would not have understood it but I would loudly profess I was pro feminism because everything was black and white.

  6. ok, the more I read, the more fired up I am. Until I read your post I’ve been sort of ignoring the chatter but now I am in it. People need to BACK OFF this woman. She admits there was no ideal option, no perfect solution. I doubt any of those students were being robbed of an education because the woman brought her kid in one day. On the first day! I’m sure all they did was go over the syllabus! And you know what, if they think she’s a sucky teacher for bringing her kid to school, they can drop the class easily given it is drop/add time. People really need to get over themselves. I don’t know what you think she owes you for being a professor, but it ain’t perfection. No one has that.

  7. I like your take on this situation and agree the professor could have used this as a teachable moment. How about a redo for everyone? Or a timeout? Love the idea of asking Target employees for help with your bra needs – that would be a fabulous You Tube video!!

  8. There are many issues at play here. Should she have brought a child to class, sick or not? Why does faculty feel so pressured not to cancel class? (I know that pressure well — I cancelled class about three times in nine years of full-time teaching. ) I find the breastfeeding issue minor but unfortunately that is the issue that was being focused on.

    I sympathize with the professor. She is in a difficult and vulnerable position as both a single mom working out of the home in a stressful occupation and an untenured faculty member.

    I cannot be too sympathetic with the reporter. If you read her account, it sounds as if Dr. Pine (or Prof. Pine but not Ms.) did try to explain things to the reporter, but the reporter was ignoring her points. The reporter also ambushed Dr. Pine instead of asking for an office appointment.

    However, I do understand the youthful eagerness of this school reporter. She was no doubt excited to have what she thought was a big story. Being a professor, Dr. Pine should have better understood that fact. At least she seemed polite to the reporter in person and in letters addressed to her. The quotation you made in your post came from an email to someone else that Dr. Pine should have kept private.

    It is too bad the story came out anyway and Dr. Pine is getting the attention she wanted so much to avoid.

      • I just realized there’s another issue. Maternity leaves are terrible in the U.S. In Canada women often take 9-12 mos off work while their job waits for them and they still get paid (great pay for at least the first 9 mos). So, this predictament may be less of an issue here with women still being at home to breastfeed.

        I thought leaves in the US were lucky to be 6 weeks. Is that right?

      • It’s likely there is no maternity leave if you are not tenured. I don’t know in this case, but non tenured professors may not have status to get all of the FMLA leave, which is about 12 weeks but I think you have to be full time. As a nation, our maternity leaves are really harsh.

        And on your earlier comment about canceling class, it’s do true. Our program is pretty regimented so I feel like I would need a papal decree to miss a class.

    • I have been thinking about it all day. My stomach hurts. At first I identified with the reporter who was trying to get her story and understand her world. Now, I just identify with having a sick little baby, which sucks. Is it just me or is it implausible that a little sick baby would make a room full of college students sick? Is the baby didn’t sneeze on them or spew fluids, how is that a risk? Weird how I keep thinking about this.

  9. So many opinions, so little time.
    Being untenured professor is stressful. I was an adjunct for several years, including a semester pregnant. Oh boy, was I sick. Couldn’t cancel.

    Sick baby doesn’t need child care. Sick baby needs mama and her milk. So I get bringing the nursling to class. Like you, I’m shocked she was short with the reporter, but, you know what? I would be, too. Seems lately teachers are bad guys, moms are bad guys, breastfeeding is for bad guys…Pine was under the weather with a sick baby. Am I an apologist? Maybe. But I don’t see anyone dogging bankers, asking them why they never see their kids.

    (Hands on hips, ready to take all comers on my soapbox…)

    Of course she should be more polite, educate, and save the namecalling for when her kid is Three. But as People Acting Badly goes? Doesn’t make the top 30,000,000.

      • I still agree with all the points in your post. I just tried to argue against her and couldn’t.

        Life with a tiny, sick nursling is too hard. I’m never coming down against a mama trying her best, even if she has a bad attitude.

        Gawd, I hope no bankers come over here on Christmas. I’d feel the need to be nice.

  10. My first thought was how great my support network is. I have friends and friends with nannies that I could call in a pinch and I am certain they would help me in an emergency. I can’t help but read Pine’s blog post and wonder if she doesn’t have this kind of support because she is a raging asshole. I want to point something else out too – the student newspaper had not run an article when Pine preempted it with her blog post. I don’t know if they have yet, but as of a few days ago they still hadn’t run the article. Pine was unnecessarily mean and demeaning about the student reporter. she alternately criticizes the reporter for being meek and then says she herself was too meek to refuse an interview. I thought the reporter was fair. This was a gender and culture class, its fair to think that this was part of a class narrative and ask questions to determine whether or not we should take Pine’s assertion tbhat it wasn’t at face value. It’s naive to think this wouldn’t be “newsworthy.”. I wish it wasn’t and it wouldn’t be if she had been nursing in the cafeteria or bookstore or sitting on a bench somewhere. Ultimately, it may the incoherence of her blog post that does her in, rather than the breastfeeding. AND, i am a huge proponent of breastfeeding. I’ve nursed on the bus, in line at the bank, restaurants, everywhere except at my job.

    • I definitely feel blessed that I could call my friends to help me out as well. I even have friends who would come to class and hold the baby while I lectured. And I can be an asshole too but I haven’t yet been an asshole to students. Maybe on Monday… I do have a sick child. The best place I have breast fed….once at work during an interview for a prospective hire. She didn’t accept the job. Now I feel responsible.

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