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I Was Rejected From My Favorite Store for Breastfeeding

My first time being escorted ‘off the sales floor’ for breastfeeding. After purchasing $700 worth of clothing, my baby started crying, so I sat down in the back of a nearly empty store and put on a cover. Within moments, I was asked to do it elsewhere. Happy Breastfeeding Month, Anthropologie!

I took two steps outside the Beverly Hills Anthropologie before my shaking hands typed the Facebook update that would go viral within an hour, garner international press and launch an in-store “nurse-in.” If you want to know the details of what happened, you can read them here, or here or here. These articles tell you what happened, but I want to tell you how I felt: betrayed. How dare you do me like that, Anthropologie? I thought we had something special.

The day began with the idea to get baby out for our first postpartum independent journey. Anthropologie felt like the natural place for this experience. It had always been my special spot. It was where I went in my twenties when my heart was broken, where I went I my thirties when I had a bad day at work, it was where I wanted to go at forty-one with my six-week old son to feel like a woman again. Anthropologie was like an old friend, with me through the good and bad. I felt like I was sitting at my friend’s kitchen table, the perfect tranquil environment to breastfeed my baby when he began to cry. But just like an old friend can change when you have a child, the minute I revealed my breast and advertised my motherhood — Anthropologie was embarrassed to walk beside me.

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“I’m here to escort you to the bathroom and off the sales floor to finish breastfeeding your baby,” said the store manager. “We prefer this sort of thing happen off the sales floor,” she added as we rode up the elevator towards the staff bathroom.

Something was off about the entire experience. I was confused, embarrassed and angry. After 20 years of loyalty to this store, I was suddenly not welcome if I advertised my motherhood. It was a fear I had harbored since the day I discovered I was pregnant with my second child. One kid was OK, but two made it entirely impossible to be glamorous. Breastfeeding wasn’t hip and *gasp* neither was I anymore. My favorite store was just one more piece of mounting evidence that motherhood, and the sensible decisions that accompany it are not cool.

After 20 years of loyalty to this store, I was suddenly not welcome if I advertised my motherhood.

The rejection festered in my gut. I played out the events in my head over and over until I could no longer take it. I pulled the car over and called the store.

"Hello Meredith, I was just in the store, breastfeeding, and wanted to verify what just occurred. Did you ask me to leave the sales floor because I was breastfeeding?” I asked.

"I just thought you would be more comfortable, and that our other customers would be more comfortable if you breastfed in the bathroom," she said in a cheery voice.

I furthered, "Did someone complain?"

"No one complained, but other cultures could have a problem with it. So I thought you would prefer to be in the bathroom."

"To be clear, you weren't asking me. You escorted me to an employee bathroom without a chair. I was embarrassed."

"Well, I'm sorry you were embarrassed. Other women have breastfed, but they use a cover."

"Oh, so my cover wasn't discreet enough for you?"

"Well, I don't think it's fair to other customers to breastfeed on the sales floor."

"Is this a store policy?"

"Well, it's not written anywhere like our return policy but I just think other cultures might have a problem with it and we need to do what's right for everyone, not just moms."

"That's all I needed to hear."

And there it was. I hung up the phone and let the shock wear back into anger until I was gripping the wheel with white knuckles. Did that just happen? Was I doing something bad? Should I have asked for a private place to breastfeed? Have I been doing something wrong these last few weeks? Should I have stayed home today? Was I just shamed? How dare she shame me? What is wrong with the very natural process of breastfeeding a child? Did my favorite store just let me know that I am no longer an important customer?

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According to the hundreds of Facebook comments on my page by the time I arrived home, there were plenty of other women outraged by the scolding. By the time I got home and unfolded the tale to my husband at the kitchen table, the Facebook Likes had grown to over 300 and the post had been shared 25 times. Several of those shares landed on mommy group pages and, buoyed by the support of other moms, I spent the next 30 minutes composing a letter to Anthropologie Corporate and phoning 855-NIP-FREE, a hotline to report incidents like the one I had just experienced. It had been less than two hours since the incident when the first reporter called. I did four television interviews and spoke with eight reporters within the next twelve hours. The number of times the original post was shared skyrocketed. I received 428 friend requests, the comments in various threads throughout the Internet numbered in the thousands. Chatter multiplied. The haters entered the debate and that fueled more chatter and more interest. My complaint was copied and pasted to the Anthropologie Facebook page and there were already over 1,000 comments.

My adrenaline rushed; I felt like we moms had a voice. Things were happening. A nurse-in organized by the many moms on Facebook brought over 100 moms to the Beverly Hills Anthropologie and they made a statement. Anthropologie made a statement too.

We are disappointed to hear of the unfortunate experience that occurred in our Beverly Hills store. As a company comprised of hundreds of mothers, which seeks to put the customer first, we celebrate women in all of their life stages. Given our staff’s dedication to providing exceptional customer service, we welcome this as an opportunity to enhance our customer experience by providing further training and education for our staff. Our aim is that all women — all mothers — be comfortable in our stores and delight in their relationship with Anthropologie.

By the time Anthropologie posted this statement on their Facebook page, my anger was dissipating. I was being lifted by the voices of these other moms. I was moved by the collective power of their voices. And then this. This politically correct non-apology followed by nothing. No action. No publication of their training policy, no photo of a breastfeeding mom modeling in their next blog. No announcement to partner with mothers in making their stores breastfeeding friendly. No mention of my name or direct response to me at all. You can post a comment to the Anthropologie Facebook page about the size of a sweater and get a response in under three minutes. But somehow the hundreds of moms left unimpressed with this non-apology and demanding more were ignored.

It began to occur to me that Anthropologie doesn’t want to acknowledge this because they don’t want to encourage it. They don’t want women breastfeeding in their stores. They don’t care if they lose breastfeeding customers — in fact, they don’t want them! They don’t want the word "mom" associated with their product. The overwhelming reality of that statement washed over me like a wayward dampening wave on an otherwise calm summer day.

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According to a Forbes 2010 article, “Anthropologie’s ideal demographic is affluent, settled-down career women in their 30s and 40s, with an average family income of $200,000 a year.” I fit the demographic, so why the snub? Anthropologie, like most retailers, sells aspiration. And who truly aspires to be all the parts of being a mom?

A mom isn’t always glamorous. At any given moment, despite her best efforts, she likely has puke in her hair and poop stains on her shirt. Her bra strap is showing, her skirt is stuck in her butt crack and she doesn’t have a free hand to pull it out. She may carry a diaper bag, cart around a stroller that knocks into people while she walks, or have bright pink car seats in her once stylish sedan that is currently covered in Cheerio residue. A mom might have to use their vacation days for their toddler's sixth sick day in the past three months. Most moms can’t get drunk at the club on Friday night because they have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. with their child, make them breakfast and force them to brush their teeth. At some point, a mom may worry their kids aren’t eating enough, or worry they are eating too much; they may worry there child has no friends, or worry they have too many; they worry that they worry too much, or worry that they don’t worry enough. Mother’s make tough choices to do what’s best for their children and that may include choosing to breastfeed if they can. It’s not sexy, and it’s unfortunately not aspirational. It doesn’t sell clothes, but maybe it should.

We live in a society that largely doesn’t find motherhood sexy at all. Magazines sell celebrity moms on their covers that have “already lost the birthweight” — translating to “no longer looks like a mom.” And the breastfeeding thing, well, that’s just confusing for most of society because breasts are sexy to them. And a baby on a woman’s breast is not sexy. Apparently, women should always aspire to being sexy.

“What’s wrong with being a mom?” I wanted to ask my old friend Anthropologie. “Let’s celebrate motherhood and the tough personal choices women make to raise good kids.” But Anthropology turned their back on me.

Anthropologie would take my money, but they wouldn’t stand up for me. And I felt betrayed.

The store may have missed the point, but lots of great things came out of "Nipplegate 2014" — people are talking about breastfeeding and moms are showing they can come together and have a voice. And I have realized that I can’t be cool forever. It’s time to let go of those friends that can’t change with me and embrace the friends that will.

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