We cover a lot of protests.
Students take over Duke’s Allen Building. Black Lives Matter demonstrators take over West Chapel Hill Street.
But suburban moms descending on Costco last weekend was a new one.
I got there as two dozen families were about to walk in and followed them to the little food court, where they held their “nurse-in” to support Yael Symes.
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Symes had felt unwelcome the day before after a manager suggested she breastfeed her daughter in the store’s lactation room, instead of amid the patio furniture where Symes was discretely nursing 7 and 1/2 month old Evelyn while her husband Jeff continued their shopping. The law allows breastfeeding anywhere.
We reported that story in the next day’s N&O and added to it for Wednesday’s Durham News with news that a Costco vice president later apologized to Symes and said the store needed better training and signs. Symes had not even known the store on North Pointe Drive had a lactation room.
But what didn’t make either version was part of a conversation I had with a mother sitting quietly with her baby during the hour-long event.
Unlike those who have taken over buildings and streets in recent weeks, I doubt many of the mothers, and a few fathers, at Costco would call themselves activists.
And here’s the part I hadn’t thought about.
It can be really hard to put yourself out there.
The decision to breastfeed can be difficult physically and emotionally, mother Diane Winner told me.
Does a woman heed her doctor, her family, her friends? How long should she nurse her child? Does she breastfeed in public?
Mothers at the “nurse-in” fed their babies from their breasts – as nature intended, several told me – and bottles, some filled with breastmilk and some with formula.
And that’s OK, they said. Being a mother is hard enough, and whatever choice a mother makes is the right one, they said, which includes deciding when, where and how to feed your baby.
But it’s one thing to say it, even to believe it, and another to live it.
“Breastfeeding is something I want to do,” the speech therapist told me as she held her daughter. “When it works it’s sweet, and I cherish the time with her.”
But it doesn’t always work “as nature intended.”
A breast isn’t a bottle, Winner said. You have to shape your breast a certain way, the baby has to latch a certain way, and when Winner’s used a breastfeeding cover or placed her daughter under her shirt, “I couldn’t see what I was doing.”
So think about all that, and then think about doing it in front of other people – even if you really, really want to and the law says you can.
“This sort of thing (what happened to Symes) just makes it harder, and it doesn’t need to be made any harder than it already is,” Winner said.
So that’s why she showed up last weekend, to “normalize” breastfeeding.
“I want people to see it. It should be nothing,” Winner said. “I want people to walk past it because it’s not that big a deal.”
At the nurse-in, there was support in numbers, comfort even. So I asked Winner, when she’s out on her own, how she gets over any hesitation she might have about breastfeeding her daughter.
“I’m not over it,” she said. “I’d love to say I am, but I’m not over it.”
I thought about that as I left.
And later I thought about others who have come forward in recent weeks. I thought about Michelle Doss, the disabled and transgender Gulf War veteran who rose last week in Chapel Hill as the Town Council formulated its response to House Bill 2. I bet Doss has never stepped in front of a microphone or TV camera before.
“There’s a lot of anger and hatred out there, and I think I deserve better than that,” Doss said.
And I thought how hard it can be sometimes to put yourself out there.
Mark Schultz is the editor of The Durham News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-8950.