Monday, November 12, 2012

A Phone Call

I was given advice to meet with  my principal one more time and try to have a conversation about breastfeeding at school.  Since this has moved to the district level, I considered instead requesting a meeting with district administration.  But my gut has told me all along that I won't get this done alone.  I didn't want to be put off for weeks, waiting for a meeting, at which I would surely become emotional and feel vulnerable in front of the most powerful people in AISD.  I decided to instead call the person who has been in contact with me.  We have only emailed.  Her replies have always been curt.  I felt like I should give verbal communication a shot.

I procrastinated until the end of the day.  I'm an introvert.  I prefer to write rather than talk in many situations.  Finally at 4:30, I called.  She answered.  That was unexpected.  I didn't even realize I had her direct line.  I wasn't sure exactly what to say.  Somehow I introduced myself and said I wanted to know if the new policy was being reconsidered.  Which is weird, because that's not really what I wanted to know.  What I really want to know is whether the new policy was ever given any consideration.  Or rather, if my letter and the law were given any consideration before formalizing the policy.  But I digress.

Here's the gist of our conversation.

I was told that they followed the pattern set by the legislation that requires a private room to be provided for pumping mothers.  She said that they are not prohibiting mothers from breastfeeding.  For one bright, shiny moment, I thought perhaps I'd misunderstood the policy.  It does not actually state where a mom cannot feed her child.  I thought she was telling me that the private room was just an option.  But no.

I said, "So I can nurse my baby in the lobby while I wait for my son to finish speech?" 

No.  I must go to the principal and ask her to be let into the private room.

"But that IS prohibiting my right to breastfeed wherever I'm authorized to be.  It violates my right."

But they don't think they are prohibiting me from breastfeeding - they are merely offering me a private place to do it.

The question is not whether or not they are prohibiting me from breastfeeding.  It is whether or not
they prohibit women from breastfeeding publicly.  But I didn't say that.  She asked if it was a problem to nurse in private.

"Yes.  If I'm stuffing Thursday folders in an empty classroom, I don't want to stop what I'm doing to go nurse my baby in a private conference room.  If I'm sitting at the back of the room, out of the way, during a holiday party that I planned as the room mom, I don't want to have to make my crying baby wait while I walk to a private room..."  At this point I'm squeezing my husband's hand as hard as I did when I was in labor, trying to ward off the tears that are threatening to overtake my voice (darn breastfeeding hormones!), so it was fine when she interrupted me to assure me that no one wants my baby left crying.  She asserted support for breastfeeding.

She explained that when the legislature passed the law that employees must be provided a private room, that indicated that it's okay to breastfeed in a private room - or something to that effect.  I said "I see a big difference between discretely breastfeeding and attaching clear plastic cups to my exposed breasts to pump milk."  Apparently the volume on my phone is quite high; my husband could hear both ends of the conversation and started writing me a note, "You're not an employee..."  And he's right, of course.  Other than the topic of breastfeeding, the Fair Labor Standards Act has naught to do with Health and Safety Code 165.002, which says that a woman is entitled to breastfeed in any location where she is authorized to be.

I think I was over my verklempt moment by this point, and a bit cranky.  When she said it was a balancing of many perspectives, I got halfway to saying if this were a more backward town and this was a different civil right we were talking about - but then I looked at Adam shaking his head and remembered message discipline.

I went with a different comparison.  I said that Target cannot tell me that I can't nurse my baby pushing my shopping cart through the toy aisle (where there are children) or sitting in the cafe.  Target can't provide a private room to justify telling me I can't nurse publicly there.  I believe what she said was, "I don't know about that." 

I do.

She said that I'd started the conversation asking if the policy was being reconsidered, and that, having just been enacted by the superintendent, it was not.  That was my cue to end the conversation.  I said I thought, having only communicated by email, that I felt I should try verbal communication.  I said I wasn't sure where I could go from here.  And we hung up.

Alone, there is nowhere to go from here.  We need to work together now.

I'm not a blogger.  I tried to blog about my boys but never really found much time for it.  I dislike posts on Facebook that tell you to "Like" and "Share," and to me, when blog posts end with a question designed to encourage people to comment, it feels like that.  But I do need your support.  This is much bigger than just my story now.  So please, like, share, comment.  Or more importantly, contact AISD.  Tell friends who support the right to breastfeed about this blog and the facebook page.  Show AISD that there are more people who support the natural feeding of babies than oppose it.

Thank you.


  1. I have been following you on Facebook and on the Austin AP website. I applaud what you are doing here. After reading about this phone conversation you had I think more than ever that you should get the Attorney General or the ACLU involved. Apparently the Superintendent of AISD does not believe he is violating the law in any capacity and I don't think that letters and phone calls will change his/her mind if they don't think they're doing anything illegal. I think that even the whiff of a lawsuit or the possibility that they could lose federal funding if they are found guilty of discrimination would be enough motivation for them to change this "OFFICIAL POLICY". It is a plain and simple violation of women's civil rights. Someone with some authority needs to make them understand that and unfortunately the only motivator sometimes if money. They don't want to be sued. If they thought that was actually a possibility I have a feeling they might just see things very differently. Just my opinion. It doesn't have to be long and drawn out, sometimes just the threat of litigation is enough.

    1. This has been my reply to questions or comments regarding litigation:
      I really don't want my district spending money on lawsuits, I want it spent educating our children. And even in light of the form letter response sent out yesterday, I am not deterred. I still feel growing public pressure to follow the law can have an impact. My concern if lawyers are involved is that public pressure will stagnate around a lengthy litigation process. And if we "lawyer up," - that's Waxler's world, and we are at a disadvantage there in a way that we are not while out here spreading the story and expressing our disapproval.
      If a case is brought to trial, the intent of the law can be clarified, but if we lose, that's not good. And if we harness this grassroots movement to convince legislators to support an enforcement clause in the next legislative session, we'll be on stronger ground.
      Mel Waxler, if you haven't seen our recent facebook posts, is the Chief of Staff and has been the top legal adviser for AISD for some time; I believe he is still acting in that role, as well. He's been a lawyer for 30 years. He's very sharp. I'm told he does not lose.
      He's wrong. We know he's wrong. But he doesn't. It's my belief that the threat of litigation is not going to phase him. In fact, I wonder if a lawsuit could potentially mean that I could no longer communicate about the case. I don't know, but I wonder. And if we have to stop talking about it, their little PR problem is solved, isn't it?
      My first letter to the district did mention litigation. I worried once it was sent that it would shut them down to communicating with me, and maybe it did. But it did not urge them to do the right thing. So at this time, I think the best strategy is to continue to garner public support, and show AISD that nursing mothers and our supporters don't agree with their interpretation of the law that is intended to protect our right.

  2. Nowhere in the law does it say a woman, employee or otherwise HAS to nurse in a private room if one is provided. Besides that, you still have the right to nurse anywhere you have the right to be. Clearly, they are ignorant of the law and do not care to educate themselves. I'm pretty sure you have no obligation to follow any policy which violates state law. I would have a lawyer contact them and educate them about what your legal rights are and what the consequences could potentially be for knowingly violating those rights. There is no room to balance someone's "perspective" against someone else's LEGALLY PROTECTED right. By telling you that you may not nurse in a public place where you are authorized to be, they are violating the law. I would make sure to show up at the next school board meeting and address the issue to the school board directly, because they hold that principal's job in their hands, and they need to understand that the law has been violated and that, if their policy is not amended right away to come in line with the law, there could be serious repercussions for the school district. It only takes one person deciding to just jump straight to lawsuit to make big trouble for a school, and once you have informed them of the law, they don't have a leg to stand on in court when they are in clear violation of the law.

    1. Hello, Arthur & Jessica. If you'll check out the reply to the message above yours, I share my thoughts on litigation at this time. I hope you'll give my perspective some consideration.
      You're right, of course, I don't have to follow their policy. But I guess I like following the rules. Call me a goody-two-shoes, but I even use my turn signal to turn into a parking space in an empty parking lot. But more important than my experience is that many other mothers may be confronted as I was, regardless of the law and their rights. This confrontation, especially by an authority figure in your child's school, is shaming, and far more complicated than when a stranger in a restaurant gives a woman dirty looks or makes a rude comment.
      I agree absolutely that what's at stake here is a woman's legally protected right. If you're in Austin, I hope you'll join me at the school board meeting tomorrow.

  3. I think what you are doing is FANTASTIC. As a mother in Alabama busy with my second nursling, I have been the object of staring, pointing, whispering, and laughing. The day a man made a lewd comment about my breasts and my "lucky little titty baby" was the final straw for me. With my first nursling, I withered. I stopped nursing my baby in public, even though sometimes she would be broken down in tears, using sign language to basically beg me to feed her. And, I am now ashamed to admit, I made her wait. Women like you show me that if I don't learn to be strong, some OTHER mom coming after me may stop breastfeeding entirely. What a shame that would be! Please keep up the good work. Shame on the school system for further confirming that Americans are backward and immature in their opinions about the purpose and function of breasts.

  4. i applaud your courage and integrity. You want to do what is best for your child, you have taken the time to educate yourself, and have attempted to have a reasonable dialogue. You are a strong woman, and your strength and determination will make a difference to MANY nursing babies and their families. I am spreading the word among my friends, and will do whatever I can to encourage you in this just legal battle.

  5. Keep it up!!! And they are so backwards comparing breastfeeding a baby to pumping! I take my top off completely to pump, and the flanges are clear. I never take my shirt off to nurse and my son isn't see through!