When a City pool manager told my dear friend Jes to go nurse in the bathroom two weeks ago, I don’t think any of us–him, her, or myself–realized the shitstorm that was about to ensue. The incident made national news, the City issued a formal apology, and there are now new training policies in place to prevent other Grand Junction moms from experiencing breastfeeding discrimination.
So how did we get from there to here? With a little bit of media savvy and a big bit of diplomacy. Below is a step-by-step guide to how we responded to the situation, and we’re sharing it in hopes that this list and these materials might be helpful to other mamas in similar situations.
- SPEAK UP - When the Manager confronted the Mama, she spoke up and explained Colorado state law to him. As the consumer who was paying for our birthday party’s use of the pool area, I also went to the main office and spoke to the Manager. Both Mama and I made sure he understood the law, and he made sure we understood that he wasn’t really concerned about upholding it.
- BE INTENTIONAL -Personally, I think it’s super important to remember that this experience belongs to the mama who was publicly confronted. She may not necessarily want to create a scene or draw broader attention to what just happened. In our case, once the Mama overcame the initial shock and emotion of the incident, she knew clearly that she wanted to turn it into an opportunity to create positive change. She was up for the task, but not everyone will be–and that’s ok.
- SPREAD THE WORD - Just by mentioning the incident to a few friends on Facebook, concerned phone calls began to pour into the City’s Parks and Recreation offices the very next morning, before we even urged families to call and voice their disapproval. Don’t be shy about spreading the word. Thousands of moms in your city or town have breastfed their babies, and many of them would probably love the opportunity to speak up in defense of public breastfeeding.
- WRITE IT DOWN - While the incident is still fresh in your mind, write out a personal statement that describes where you were, what you were doing, who said what to you, and so on. Make sure to include how this experience made you feel. In our case, the City gathered statements from their involved employees as soon as they became aware of the incident, so it was important for us to get the story written down, too.
- SCHEDULE A MEETING - There’s no better way to have dialogue than to…well, have dialogue! Mama Jes visited the City’s Department of Parks & Recreation right away to schedule a meeting with someone to calmly discuss how this incident went down. By opening up this line of communication, she showed the City that we were interested in using this as an opportunity for positive change, not just bitching about how awful the experience was.
- CREATE A FACEBOOK PAGE - The population of folks who are concerned about breastfeeding rights are not necessarily people you already know, or people who you have much in common with otherwise. By creating the Facebook page Grand Junction Supports Breastfeeding, we reached out to moms and community members who would would have otherwise never met. Aside from giving us a centralized place to post information about this incident, the page has created a new network of connections around our shared commitment to breastfeeding.
- ISSUE A PRESS RELEASE - Working with the media can be intimidating, but when you have a message you want to be heard, newspapers and TV news stations can be a powerful tool. We created a press release, and within just an hour of sending it out, we already had three interviews scheduled.
- SET GOALS - Mama Jes went all out and created a list of goals for our meeting with the Department of Parks & Recreation. This way, our expectations of them were clear, and they knew that we would be following up and not just dropping the issue after the media attention faded.
- FOLLOW UP - At our meeting, we were assured that the new policy regarding protection of a mother’s right to publicly breastfeed would be implemented with the Parks & Recreation staff by a particular date. By following up with the Department on that date, we’ll either be pleasantly surprised to see that all has gone according to plan, or we’ll have a new job on our hands of encouraging them to follow through on their end. Either way, it’s beneficial to all involved parties–us, the City, and the community–to make sure this is all resolved, so it’s up to us to follow up.
- HOLD A NURSE-IN - Last but not least, there’s always the ever-popular nurse-in event. A nurse-in is a gathering of breastfeeding families and allies who are making a point of breastfeeding in a location that has recently been discriminatory towards a nursing mom. These events garner tons of media attention, and can really help to engage public dialogue around the issue–on all sides of the issue.
Our experience in addressing this particular incident has been so positive and gone so well, that we felt it was more appropriate to frame our nurse-in as a celebration of the City’s new policy change, rather than a protest. We’re looking forward to it this coming weekend, and can’t wait to show the community how grateful we are for the City’s hard work to comply with State law and defend our rights to nurse our babies openly. Stay tuned for nurse-in photos!