I am not as uncomfortable nursing in public as I thought I would be. I knew I would do it, of course, but I thought I would be self-consious. In fact, I've found that I'm not uncomfortable at all at this point. ("I guess I'm just that kind of girl," I told Brian today as I settled down to feed the baby in the grass at Farragut Square at lunchtime.)
The first time I had to nurse in public was at Kaiser, when we took the baby in for her first visit with the pediatrician. I nursed in the exam room while we were waiting for the doctor and I thought Adriana was full, but when we went down to the lab so I could have some bloodwork done, she started fussing to be fed again. The waiting room was small and full, with no corner to hide in, and since we were only just getting the hang of latching, I wasn't sure I could be very discreet. I bounced the baby and hoped she could wait. Finally, Brian went to ask the receptionist how much longer I would be waiting, figuring that we could go find a place to nurse if we were going to be waiting much longer. We were assured it would be just a couple more minutes, but Adriana was getting more vocal about her hunger, and I decided I'd rather have people see me nurse than be the woman with the screaming baby. As I struggled to unfasten my nursing bra without lifting up my shirt (learning quickly that turtleneck sweaters are not appropriate for new nursers to wear in public), I noticed that there was a man standing beside me, looking down at me. He was just looking at the baby, I'm sure, while he was waiting his turn in line, but his presence made me fumble more. Before I could get the hook undone, my name was called, and I handed the baby to Brian, hoping he could keep her gone while I was in the back. Once I was done, we found a quiet corner near the pharmacy where I could feed the baby while facing away from everyone else.
Since then, it hasn't been a problem. In the beginning, I needed a boppy to get into a good position to nurse, but was able to improvise with the diaper bag, my jacket, or the sling. Now, I've nursed the baby in various bookstores, by the receptionist's desk at my former office, the birth center, a La Leche League meeting, a babywearing meeting (okay, perhaps those last three aren't surprising in the least), Whole Foods, a yoga studio, a restaurant at brunch with friends (holding baby with one hand, mimosa with the other), the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum (just feet from the Wright brothers' plane!), and in Farragut Square. For the most part I think I've been pretty discreet, although sometimes I see someone looking at at me and I start to wonder. One day I sat in the cafe at Barnes and Noble to feed Adriana. I got her latched on and looked up to see a man a couple of tables away staring at me. I knew that with the angle of the tables and where the baby was, he hadn't seen anything, and I don't think I would have cared if he had. I looked back down at the baby, but when I glanced up again, I saw that he was still looking my way. I made eye contact with him and smiled. He looked away. I kept checking to see if he was going to stare again, but he never even glanced in our direction. I was disappointed: I thought it would be funny to wink at him if I caught him looking again.
Brian asked me at one point whether there were laws in Virginia and the District to protect breastfeeding. I remembered that a year or two ago there was a bit of a stir when a woman was asked not to nurse her baby in a Starbucks in Maryland, which violated both Maryland law and Starbucks corporate policy. La Leche League has a good list of breastfeeding laws on their website. I was happy to see that Virginia does protect women's right to breastfeed in public, and that they even exempt breastfeeding women from jury duty. The District isn't so great: there are no breastfeeding laws in DC. But federal law does protect women breastfeeding on federal property--including museums, so we were totally cool at Air and Space last weekend.
I complained about the lack of laws in DC to a friend, who pointed out that there may not be any laws on the books because it hadn't been necessary: women breastfeeding in public generally aren't asked not to do it. I thought he had a point. And I don't know if he was just unobservant, or if I am really becoming more discreet, but he had no idea I was feeding the baby at the table at brunch that day.