This is the sort of thing I read about in newspapers, but isn’t supposed to happen to me. But it did. A couple of weeks ago, after spending Rosh Hashanah in New York, we decided to travel back to Boston on the Acela train. Zev doesn’t love long car rides, and he’s got a great set of lungs, so we thought it would be less stressful and quicker (not to mention quieter) to take the train. Here’s how it went down:
We herd all three kids into Penn station and make our way onto the assigned track. By the time we board, there are no seats left together. A very unhelpful attendant tells us to just sit separately, but when the other passengers are faced with the prospect of having to babysit a child for the duration of the trip, they balk and miraculously a four-way seat opens up for us. Zev starts screaming at some point in the negotiations, which probably also goes in our favor.
So we’re finally getting seated, and Zev is really hungry. The other passengers, who looked nervous when we first boarded, are now silently apoplectic because there is a screaming infant in their midst. So my priority is to get him quiet and quell the growing anxiety on the train. I start nursing in a hurry. The attendant, who had been so unhelpful mere moments before, now comes running over brandishing a cloth napkin at me. “You can use this to cover yourself,” she says. I politely thank her, bewildered by her sudden attentiveness, but decline. A few minutes later, she approaches again; the expression of annoyance has returned. She stands in the aisle, hands on her hips and she says, “Ma’am, you need to cover your body if you’re going to breastfeed on this train.” I’m speechless and before I can recover, Eli reaches into my diaper bag, finds my Bebe au Lait nursing cover and throws it over me. As my surprise begins to crystalize into fury, Eli looks at me, his eyes pleading with me to stay calm. So I do. I wear my nursing cover for the duration of the ride, fuming through four states.
I update my Facebook status from my iPhone, the only available outlet to vent about my predicament. By the time I arrive at home, a friend who is a La Leche League leader has already emailed me this:
N.Y. Civil Rights Law § 79-e (McKinney 2002) guarantees a mother the right to breastfeed her baby any place she has the right to be, public or private, even if the nipple is exposed during or incidental to breastfeeding.
The next morning, I fired off a letter to Amtrak. I heard back from them by later that afternoon. I received a phone call from a customer service representative apologizing for my experience. She assured me that this is not the company’s policy, and that this attendant was acting on her own personal bias. She thanked me for my feedback and hung up the phone. I give them points for response time, but no credit for going the extra mile.
In any case, hopefully this won’t happen again. The Acela could be a very family-friendly way to travel, but not if the attendants are going to make a habit of harassing breastfeeding moms.
Cheers to the product that saved the day: my Bebe au Lait. I’m not shy about nursing in public, but I do like to keep this cover in my bag in case I’m ever in a situation where I feel uncomfortable or the baby is too distracted by his surroundings. It is a fabulous design, with a rigid hoop built in to the collar, so I can see the baby, he can see me, but no one can see what’s going on underneath. It folds up small enough to be an insignificant addition to my load. I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t had the Bebe au Lait in my bag. Either a big argument or a cloth napkin. Or both.