At a brunch I held with a mixed group of ladies (about half and half single and married and only a couple with children), I had an interesting etiquette breach that I’d love to hear your opinions on. My sister-in-law brought her baby, whom I love since I’m baby’s aunt and all. So, totally cool. As the group sat and discussed things, had seconds, etc., she whipped out the boob and latched baby on for a feeding. Most of the ladies were okay with this (most of the uncomfortableness was because they didn’t really know her) and the conversation carried on.
Then… there was a smell. Baby needed to be changed and I told sister-in-law that I had cleared some space in another room for that purpose (what a good, thoughtful, thinking ahead hostess, right?). She said that it was all right and proceeded to open up a changing pad on the floor and change him in the middle of the room where everyone was still sitting. The smell was terrible and I could see the shocked looks on everyone’s faces as I tried to mouth “Sorry!” to everyone.
I feel like it’s reduced attendance at my subsequent brunches, even though she hasn’t been at them. It’s a somewhat moot point for the time being, but how should I address it with her to avoid it happening again in the future?”
As with all great stories, let me start with the boob.
Even though I’ve been breastfeeding my kid for what feels like one million years, and probably will for a million more (if she has any say in the matter), I do not identify, even a little bit, as a lactivist. I don’t have a bumper sticker that says “I make milk, what’s your superpower,” my profile picture is not Tiny attached to me at the nipple, and I don’t try to convince strangers and friends if they don’t breastfeed, it’s abuse.
I do, however, know what it’s like to be at a brunch when it’s time to feed the baby, and let me tell you, it sucks. Pun sort of intended. Not really, but once I saw it, I decided to keep it.
When it’s time to feed the kid, a breastfeeder has three clear options: 1) ignore the kid and try to put off feeding until later, which results in SCREAMING HORRIBLE DISCOMFORT FOR EVERYBODY; 2) take the kid into another room, which feels really isolating and weird and shameful and super, super boring, and then, when you come back, do you talk about why you left? Or is it just something that everybody should pretend didn’t happen?; 3) just feed the kid right there.
There are nursing covers to limit exposure, but I will tell you right now that some kids (mine included) won’t have it, and rip the cover off every time, sometimes getting distracted and unlatching and then the nipple pops out. Nipples are the offensive parts of boobs, right?
My solution, especially in any place where I feel welcome and safe, is to just pop out the boob. It’s the only solution that doesn’t end in the baby ruining everything for everybody, or removing me from what might be the only social event of the week. Aaaaand, there is approximately 1/10 of a second when the nipple shows, and then the amount of boob that you are seeing isn’t much more than if I were wearing a low-cut shirt.
Your brunch guests may have felt uncomfortable, but (and I repeat, I am not a breastfeeding activist) it seems like an awfully small discomfort to have to deal with. Particularly if everyone in attendance is a woman who has probably changed their clothes in a crowded locker room before. I can’t tell your friends to just get over it, but I can tell you that this initial problem, in my opinion, is not one of your sister-in-law’s making.
And, like all good stories, we’ll end with shit.
Baby shit is gross. So is adult shit. And dog shit and elephant shit and most any kind of shit on the market. Actually, in my experience, breastfed baby shit is less gross than most other kinds, but I will spare you the pros and cons.
Your sister-in-law clearly did not take the hint that you didn’t want her to change the baby in front of everybody. From the sounds of it, she thought you were being excessively polite but didn’t want her to actually use the other room, and she thought she was being polite by not making you prepare extra space for her. My guess is that she wasn’t trying to offend people with the dirty diaper. The truth is, after you’ve been a parent for awhile, you kind of forget that shit is shit. I mean, it’s still gross. But you are handling it on such a regular basis that it’s easy to forget that, for non-parents, it is shockingly gross.
For the future, if it should come up, just talk to her beforehand. You had set up the room just for that purpose, so it was on your mind before shit hit the diaper; giving a heads-up before the brunch will take care of any issues. Had she said, “No, my child’s shit don’t smell, I must change her right here,” that would be a different issue, but what happened was simple miscommunication. She heard what you said in a different way than you intended.
One last thing. Do you really think people have stopped coming to your brunches because of those two things? I know, you want to be a great hostess and have everybody be comfortable all the time, but for the 1/10 of a second of nipple and the”¦3 minutes? of shit-changing, your friends seem to be of the fair-weather variety. You were made uncomfortable by the diaper situation, and you have every right to communicate with your sister-in-law to say why. But if your friends are blowing you off over something so small? It honestly seems like they don’t value you as much as they should.
You get to decide what happens in your house, and if you don’t want open breastfeeding, or diaper changing, the onus is on you to make sure everybody knows the rules. In the meantime, think about the friends you have, and if they are actually willing to avoid you over such slight inconveniences. It may be time for new friends.