It has been a little over a month since I wrote about nursing in public. Unfortunately, I have now joined the ranks of mothers who have been humiliated for doing what is their right as a mother in public. Admittedly, I have been expecting this to happen at some point since breastfeeding a 3 year old is not that common. Nonetheless, I still felt hurt by what occurred. Here’s what happened to us. I am sure there have been far worse confrontations with much more harsh words spoken but this is our little story. I will lead in to it with where we were and why we were there so that you can get a clear picture of how we were feeling.
Violet had been coughing for 3 weeks and had been to 2 different doctors to get medicine for it. I had also been coughing and had a fever ranging from 102-104 for the last 3 days. We were both tired and ready to feel better. I decided to take her to the pediatrician at the hospital that Monday morning because she was out of medicine and needed it to help stop coughing at night. It is as common to go to the hospital to see the doctor because it is all covered the same with our social insurance.
I got there as early as I could to beat the crowds because the only other pediatrician in town is closed on Mondays and cold season has begun here in Iwate. When we arrived there was only one other little girl there with her mother. I was certain that we would be seen quickly. The crowd started piling in and soon there were not enough seats for everyone waiting to be seen.
It turns out there is a way to make an appointment ahead of time because we waited for over an hour before we were seen. In that hour Violet nursed once. She didn’t feel like eating breakfast that morning so I knew she was hungry.
We were finally called in and the doctor decided to do a blood test and take a chest x-ray since she had been coughing for so long. We were asked to go across the hall to the blood lab this time for blood work. Usually they just do the finger prick right there in the pediatric ward. Now that she is 3 they wanted us to go to the blood lab and have a needle stuck in her tiny arm and fill a small vile with her blood. Wow!
We got to the lab and sat down to wait. I decided I needed to tell her what was about to happen. I tried to explain it as calmly as possible to her. I said “Today the doctor needs to check your blood to see if there is any bacteria in there. It will help him decide what kind of medicine to give you. Usually they stick your finger to test your blood. Today it will be a little different. The nurse is going to put a needle into your vein to take your blood test. I am going to be honest with you sweetie, it will hurt, but it will be over really fast and then we can get some ice cream.”She looked at me with wide eyes and clutched my hand.
A 6 year old girl was called before her and Violet watched very closely. That little girl did not shed one tear nor did she even wince. Violet was so surprised. She looked at me and said “I’m going to be brave like Onechan (big sister in Japanese).”
It was her turn and I carried her up to the chair. She put her arm on the table and started to cry. She made the mistake of looking at the needle, or I rather, made the mistake of not distracting her when it made it’s appearance. I tried to tell her “Look at mommy baby, don’t look at the needle. Look at Mommy sweetheart.” She couldn’t pull her eyes away from what was happening and said “I’m trying mommy but it hurts so bad!” It took all I had not to loose it and cry along with her. Instead I just held her tight and whispered in her ear that I loved her and it was almost over. It was done and she flung her arms around my neck and trembled with fear.
We made our way over to the x-ray lab and she was not anymore fond of that experience either. I struggled to get her to hold still in front of the machine as she shook again in fear of what might poke her this time. I tried to tell her it was just a picture. I don’t know how, but the technician got the x-ray done and told us we could leave.
We made our way back to the pediatric ward slightly traumatized and very exhausted. Violet wanted nothing more than to cling to my breast and be held close. I figured we would be out the door in 30 minutes since the blood work usually takes 15 minutes with the finger prick test. We looked around and finally found a spot to sit and we did what felt natural. She snuggled up on my lap and pulled down my shirt and started to nurse.
Some of the other kids around looked on curiously and smiled when they realized what she was doing. One little girl was so tickled by it that she pulled on her mother’s shirt to get her attention. Her mom looked up and hugged her daughter from behind while they looked on smiling. I imagine they were a nursing couple once upon a time.
Then I realized there were some other glances coming our way. Not so friendly glances. One mother glared at me and turned her son’s head away from us. Luckily, we did see an acquaintance from a play group we used to go to before I returned to work. She was there with her second child, a 3 month old baby boy. She stood next to us and smiled and laughed with us. She commented on how wonderful it was that Violet was still breastfeeding and said she felt like she gave up to quickly with her boys. She stayed and talked with us until she was called in.
That’s when it happened. A nurse came up to me and bent down low to speak to me. She said (in Japanese) “Have you already seen the doctor? Are you waiting here? Did you finish the blood test?” “Yes, I am still waiting. I have seen the doctor once but I am waiting for the test result,” I replied. “There is a room around the corner for breastfeeding. Let me show you where it is. You can wait there”, she said.“I am ok here. Thank you.” She began again, “People are looking at you. People are looking uncomfortable. Why don’t you use the room. Here in Japan…” I quickly interrupted her, “That is not ok. I don’t care. This is natural. I will stay here.” She started again, “People in Japan…” Again, I interrupted, “That is not ok. I will stay here.” Finally she seemed to understand that I was not going to leave. She said “Yes, I see” and hurried off quickly while avoiding eye contact.
I felt my face turning red with anger and I looked around the room to see who had been watching us. Violet looked up at me and said “What did she say Mommy? Are you ok?” I assured her that everything was fine and that we were not doing anything wrong. Once she finished nursing I got up and walked away to find a place to call my husband. The moment I heard his voice my anger turned to tears. I felt humiliated. I felt sad. I felt angry.
I was not and am not embarrassed to nurse my child in public but I was embarrassed by being put on display as if I was doing something wrong. My husband assured me that he fully supported me and that he was grateful for what I do for our daughter. He helped calm me down and then we went back to wait for our results.
We had been at the hospital for 3 hours now. We were tired and ready to leave. Violet was getting sleepy so I put her in our sling (she still fits quite snuggly in our Baby K’tan) and she started nursing again. When we got back to the waiting room this time, I decided to stand right near the entrance to the exam rooms so that the nurses would see that I was still waiting. A different nurse approached me and said that blood lab results usually take an hour and that we would be called in soon.
We finally got the results. Violet had mycoplasma otherwise known as walking/communal pneumonia. The doctor was fairly certain that I had it to so he suggested that I go to my doctor as well. We got our prescription and were able to leave the hospital.
We bought the promised ice cream and took a cab home. I was too exhausted to go to another doctor. When my husband got home he drove us to see my doctor where I had blood work and a chest x-ray as well. The doctor decided to put me on antibiotics for mycoplasma just to be safe. I asked repeatedly if these meds were safe for breastfeeding and he said “she is 3 now it won’t hurt her.”
When I got home I decided to do some research of my own. I asked some other breastfeeding mommies in a facebook group and also sent an email to my mother-in-law (who is a General Nurse Practitioner). Everyone said the same thing. Levofloxacin is not safe for breastfeeding. So I decided to not take it and go back to the doctor in the morning to ask for Zythromax.
When I got there the nurses thought I was crazy for questioning the doctor. I tried to explain that this drug was not recommended for breastfeeding. They kept telling me that the dr said it was ok because she is 3. I tried again. Then another nurse came out and sat down next to me. She said “Violet only drinks at night so it is ok.” I don’t know why she thought that. I have never said that she only drinks at night. I had to explain that she drinks often and when we are together she drinks very often. The nurses all looked at each other surprised and said “OK we will tell the doctor.”
When I got called in I could tell that he was a bit exasperated. He smirked at me and said “Violet is 3 now. She doesn’t need your milk anymore. Her metabolic system is complete. She doesn’t need to breastfeed anymore.” I told him that I know she doesn’t need it but she wants it and that is ok. He tried again, “this is a chance for her to be independent from you. This is a chance for her to stop.” This went on and on. Apparently he thinks that weaning is an easy thing to do.
Finally, I told him “I am not going to stop. Especially not right now while we are both sick. I am not going to stop and I am not going to take the medicine. I am uncomfortable with it.” He resided with a smile and said, “OK, then I will write you a prescription for Zythromax.” I walked out of the office knowing that the nurses were all talking about how I was still breastfeeding and that I had questioned the doctor’s prescription.
It was a rough couple of days. I felt humiliated. I felt sad. I felt angry. I also felt empowered by using my voice as a mother and a woman to stand up for my child’s right to do what is natural. I was thankful that I found the courage to question my doctor (whom I respect and love) about the medication I was going to take.
Speak up Mamas! It is our right. It is our duty. You’ll be amazed at how strong you feel after you’ve done it. This whole experience has strengthened my desire to keep going, to keep nursing and to keep doing it wherever and whenever my child needs me.
Here she is snuggled with her friends on the couch. Home sick for a week but feeling better now.