If it weren't for the three television news cameras, the documentary maker, and the various reporters with notebooks and pens poised for action, Friday, September 4, 2009, would feel like any other day in Lincoln Square, a family-dominated neighborhood in Chicago.
The stroller brigade is out in full force. Women mill around with kids strapped to their backs and fronts, and the older, free-range children chase pigeons through the tree-lined, bench-lined central meeting place called Giddings Plaza. With watchful eyes, mothers sit on the raised stage portion of the square and feed their babies -- breastfeed their babies, that is.
Lauren Trost, a pretty, slight 33-year-old brunette Chicago resident, and her seven-month-old cherubic son, Hank, are at the center of what's being dubbed the Lincoln Square Nurse-In. Trost looks around in amazement at the crowd of more than 30 women. This wasn't exactly what she expected to see.
It all began Friday, August 21, when Trost was helping her sister and brother-in-law at their nearby jewelry store. It was hot inside the store, and little Hank was hungry, so Trost walked over to Giddings Plaza to nurse him while watching the lunchtime band play.
As an accordion player squeezed out "Edelweiss," a woman with two children approached Trost and told her that what she was doing -- breastfeeding -- was "indecent." She threatened to call the police. Trost was taken aback.
"I said, 'OK, well I'm well within my legal rights to breastfeed in the state of Illinois, anywhere I want," she said. She continued nursing and encouraged the woman to call the cops.
No cops showed, and the woman eventually left, but only after Trost heard her talking to anyone and everyone within earshot, trying to also get their ire up about Trost's breastfeeding. No one was interested in engaging.
Trost was shaken, so she went home and posted something on a message board about the encounter. Her friends read the post and decided that they wanted to help Trost turn the negative experience into something positive. The nurse-in was born when a few friends agreed to meet in Lincoln Square at noon with their babies.
Then, CBS 2 Chicago broadcasted a story on the conflict, mentioning the nurse-in, and suddenly Trost started getting friend requests on Facebook from women she'd never met who wanted to join in. Friends of friends on the message board also reposted information about the nurse-in, and without even intending it, Trost found herself in the middle of a giant support group, where, suddenly, she was the mouthpiece.
Her friends have come up with titles for her: "lactivist," "cele-breast-y," "celebrititty." Before this incident Trost had never been on television for anything, nor had Hank. "You need to get an agent," she says jokingly to her baby, who sits happily in a sling around her chest.
Turns out the women came out in force because many have had similar encounters of public scolding. Claire Shingler, a mother of three, was watching her daughter's swimming lesson and nursing her son in the stands, when she was told by the gym's staff that if she was going to breastfeed she needed to do it in the locker room. Laura Cohen was nursing her son at Garfield Park Conservatory when a security guard told her she needed to cover him up with a blanket. She tried to explain that it was too hot to do that, but says the security guard wouldn't let up.
All of the mothers cited Illinois' "The Right to Breastfeed Act" in their defense, which states that a mother may breastfeed in any location where the mother is authorized to be.
Lincoln Square is, of course, no exception. As dozens of women feed their babies on this sunny summer day, there really is nothing to see. Not only are they well covered in various nursing tank tops and nursing shirts, but they have giant baby heads blocking any kind of peep show. As the breastfeeding goes on en masse, the passersby on Lincoln Avenue certainly can't tell what's going on, which is ironic, considering this in-your-face "indecency" is what started this whole suckle-palooza. The stragglers who do stop out of curiosity only do it because they see the news cameras are out in force.
A woman with two kids walks past, eyebrows furrowed. "What's going on?" she wonders aloud, and then answers her own question when she sees a flier. "It's a 'nurse-in?' Oh good grief," she scoffs, and keeps walking.
Another man looks curiously at the crowd and then scrutinizes a Lincoln Square "Summer Concert Series" calendar, looking for answers. Not finding them, he asks around to find out what the fuss is. When told it's a nurse-in he chuckles, shakes his head, and keeps walking. "Must be a slow news week," he says.
--Kate Silver for Parents.com
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