THE FEARLESS CONSUMER- Let down: Theater request irks nursing mom
On July 29, Brian and Kristin Bell took their three-week-old son to a matinee at the Regal Cinema on the downtown mall. What started as a fun outing, sadly, ended in anger.
In a written account of the incident that Brian sent the Hook, he states that at the end of the movie, Kristin (who was wearing a shawl-type nursing drape) was breastfeeding their baby. The theater emptied, the lights came up, and employees began cleaning the theater for the next show.
When they were done, Brian claims, a male employee asked the couple if they "could move this to the lobby." Brian says Kristin replied that she was nursing their baby, "and it would only take five minutes or so for him to finish." According to Brian, the employee urged them to leave, saying, "I can't sign off that the theater is ready for the next movie until everyone has left."
Brian offered to talk to the manager if their staying for a few minutes more would be a problem (he claims the next movie wasn't scheduled to start for another 30 minutes), but "the worker sighed and said, ‘No, I'll just wait.'"
While Kristin was in the restroom changing the baby's diaper, Brian states that he went to the lobby and spoke to manager Kenneth Sosnowski "to let him know that his worker should have some sensitivity training for the needs of young infants and moms regarding nursing." He claims that Sosnowski "sarcastically" replied, "Yeah, I'll be sure to tell him that." Brian then asked whether Sosnowski had children, and he said no. After another testy exchange, according to Brian, Sosnowski said that breastfeeding in public was "inappropriate."
Here's what makes this situation more charged than it otherwise might have been: the Bells' baby has cystic fibrosis (a chronic lung and pancreatic disease), and the Bells have been encouraged by his doctors, Brian says, "to breastfeed him on demand as a way to boost his immune system and to get the nourishment he needs to gain weight."
When I called Sosnowski to discuss the incident, he refused to comment. I persisted, asking, "Did you say that breastfeeding in public is inappropriate?" "I have no comment," he replied.
The Bells sent a letter to Regal's corporate headquarters in Tennessee on August 27, but claim they got no response. I tried twice to speak to someone in Regal's public-relations department, and got a voicemail message after my second attempt. I called back– two more times– but never got a response.
Since I have no experience with breastfeeding, I called my sister Karen, who not only nursed children for about six years, but was active in the La Leche League (a breastfeeding advocacy group) as well. Would it have been feasible, I asked, for Kristin to walk to the lobby while nursing the baby and continue feeding him there?
"Physically, it would be easy," she said, for Kristin to have stood up and walked into the lobby while nursing. For the baby's comfort, however, staying put made good sense: "For one thing, the lobby would have been noisy, and he might have stopped nursing and started crying."
I spoke to Kristin about the situation, and she said that the Charlottesville La Leche chapter is considering staging a "nurse-in" outside Regal Cinemas. And Jenny Ragsdale, after reading about the incident in an online group, wrote the Hook a letter that said, in part, "Why is it acceptable for women to wear low-cut or tight tops and display their bodies sexually in every establishment on the downtown mall, but unacceptable to use their bodies to nourish their babies?" Good question.
The owner of the fencing company in last week's column ["Off the fence"] is Kelly Hensley Jr. His father, Kelly Hensley Sr., has no connection to the company.
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